At dawn on 2 October 1947, Piotr Demianovich Ouspensky died at Lyne Place. He was buried in the churchyard of Holy Trinity Church in the parish of Botley’s and Lyne, and a requiem service was held at the Russian church in Pimlico. When the elders of the Historico-Psychological Society sought guidance from Mme Ouspensky in Mendham she unexpectedly referred them to Gurdjieff in Paris. Several complied (Walker, Tilley, Wolton, and Pentland): others held aloof (Roles, Mayor, Collin-Smith). After two years of intense activity, focused on Gurdjieff’s apartment at 6 Rue des Colonels Renard and more briefly on the Wellington Hotel in New York, Gurdjieff himself died at Neuilly on 29th October 1949... The vexed politics of the ensuing Gurdjieffian diaspora – however fascinating historically, psychologically and sociologically – are not ideally addressed within the paradigm of a Gurdjieff/Ouspensky dichotomy.
As the author of Tertium Organum and A New Model of the Universe, Ouspensky’s substantial and quite independent literary reputation is assured. His position within the Gurdjieffian canon is more equivocal: inevitably so, since he quickly repudiated Gurdjieff and ultimately repudiated his ideas. From the time that he struck his independent posture in England in 1921, Ouspensky assiduously projected himself as Gurdjieff’s equal (so successfully that the image prevails, even today, in journalistic borrowings and middle-brow assumptions). Yet no repudiation, no historical revisionism, can cancel out the simple fact that Gurdjieff taught Ouspensky; that in thirty years Ouspensky brought nothing except a superb expository skill, to the ideas he received from Gurdjieff in 1916.
In his precociously assumed role of teacher Ouspensky exercised great natural authority, probity, industry, and organisational ability. During his twenty year dispensation in England, no-one promulgated Work theory with more fidelity and intellectual virility than he; and arguably no-one tempered it less with feeling, or buttressed it less with praxis. Ouspensky drew no understanding from Gurdjieff’s Movements or Sacred Dances; in group he offered small personal counsel or encouragement; nor – despite Essentuki – did he grasp the pivotal importance of Gurdjieff’s exercises in attention and bodily sensation. By 1925, when he first acknowledged a certain deficiency, he revealingly situated it in the domain of knowledge (‘the missing parts of the System’) rather than in the quality of his work on himself.
Ouspensky will be remembered for centuries. His enduring memorial will be his posthumous book In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching, a masterpiece of clarity and psychological juxtaposition. “No system of gnostic soteriological philosophy that has been published to the modern world,” writes the critic Philip Mairet, “is comparable to it in power and intellectual articulation”. Yet the paradox is breathtaking, for here par excellence is the book of the abandoned System, comprising for three parts in four the words of Ouspensky’s repudiated master George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff.
Holy Trinity Church
(Photo © Gurdjieff Studies)
(Photo © Gurdjieff Studies)