Note: Originally published in “STOPINDER – A Gurdjieff Journal for our Time” – Number Twelve – Spring 2003
Here is a true story Gurdjieff told in connection with Objective Art.
“In the course of our travels in Central Asia we found, in the desert at the foot of the Hindu Kush, a strange figure which we thought at first was some ancient god or devil. At first it produced upon us simply the impression of being a curiosity. But after a while we began to feel that this figure contained many things, a big, complete, and complex system of cosmology. It was in the body of the figure, in its legs, in its arms, in its head, in its eyes, in its ears; everywhere. In the whole statue there was nothing accidental, nothing without meaning. And gradually we understood the aim of the people who built this statue. We began to feel their thoughts, their feelings. Some of us thought that we saw their faces, heard their voices. At all events, we grasped the meaning of what they wanted to convey to us across thousands of years, and not only the meaning, but all the feelings and the emotions with it as well. That indeed was art.” (P.D.Ouspensky – IN THE SEARCH OF THE MIRACULOUS)
This description of the strange figure has come to my mind many a times during my years of reading and studying BEELZEBUB’S TALES. I remember that during my first reading the book produced upon me the impression of being a curiosity, much as the strange figure did to Gurdjieff and his friends. In the beginning I took it to be a very funny description of the history of the Universe and of the history of the planet Earth. But as my readings of the book progressed, I began to feel that it contained “many things, a big, complete, and complex system of cosmology.”
It was in every chapter of the book, in its heavy arguments and in its funny stories, in its strong indictments and in its compassionate views; everywhere. By my fourth reading, when listening to the tales of Beelzebub to his grandson Hassein, I began to hear Gurdjieff s thoughts and to feel his feelings. By now I am convinced that in the whole book there is “nothing accidental, nothing without meaning.”
And here we come to one of the major characteristics of Objective Art as described by Gurdjieff: “There can be nothing accidental either in the creation or in the impressions of Objective Art.” I must confess that I have struggled with this determinant every time I have come across statements in the TALES that baffle me and make me wonder why they were put in the book in the first place. But having been able with time to decipher statements that at one time seemed undecipherable I no longer doubt that in the whole book there is nothing accidental. Each and every statement in the book has a purpose and has a meaning. And I no longer doubt that thousands of years from now readers and students of the TALES will be grasping the meaning of what our Teacher wanted to convey to them across all those years, and not only the meaning, but all the feelings and emotions with it as well. That indeed is art.
But is it Objective Art?
We need to examine the question on the basis of both the grand scale and the small scale the TALES reveals to us.