Tag Archive for G.I. Gurdjieff

Book Review Part II: Rene Daumal, The Life and Work of a Mystic Guide

Here is the second half of a review of the English version of my book, Rene Daumal: The Life and Work of a Mystic Guide, SUNY Press, 1999. The review is by Lee Irwin Associate Professor, Religious Studies, College of Charleston, Charleston, SC (IrwinL@CofC.Edu). The original French version was entitled: Rene Daumal: Au-dela de l’Horizon, published in Paris by Jose Corti, 1993.

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Rosenblatt presents the middle stage of Daumal’s life as influenced by eastern thought, particularly Hindu religious and aesthetic texts, and his study of Sanskrit. His reading of the Bhagavad Gita made a lasting impact on him and reinforced his natural bent toward asceticism, renunciation, non-attachment and the mystical quest for transcendence. Increasingly, Daumal viewed the material world as “poison ” (p. 91) and symbolizing a higher world that had been falsely reduced and controlled by religious institutions and various professional classes of church authorities. He interpreted the classic Hindu codex (The Laws of Manu) as a repression of the lower classes (varna) by self-glorifying Brahmans.

In general, Daumal was adamant in his rejection of organized religion and particularly the Judeo-Christian bourgeois institutional structures. Increasingly, Daumal gravitated toward a more “gnostic” orientation based on a direct personal search for spiritual knowledge. Influenced by themes of correspondence, Baudelaire’s “forest of symbols,” and such ideas as Swedenborg’s’s “universal analogy,” Daumal sought a coherent theory of relationship between the material and spiritual worlds. Reading Schopenhauer, the Theosophists, and finally Rene Guenon’s history of the decline of Western thought, Daumal sought to align himself with European esoteric traditionalists that looked to Islam and Hinduism as the only authentic representations of spirituality in the face of western materialism.

Rejecting the Freudian unconscious, Guenon emphasized the “supraconscious” sought by Yogi and Sufi masters–a teaching consistent with Daumal’s concept of the Beyond (l’au-dela). However, while Daumal agreed with much of Guenon’s writing, he apparently found him too exterme in his views. Rosenblatt’ s review of Guenon’s philosophical writing is particularly good and well worth reading as is her review of Hindu aesthetic theory; these were high points in the book for me.

In the final phase of Daumal’s life, he came under the influence of two followers of Gurdjieff, Alexandre and Jeanne de Salzmann. While the latter became his personal teacher, he also studied with Gurdjieff during his visits to Paris. The stage was set for Daumal to meet a teacher who could fulfill the role of spiritual director and the de Salzmanns and Gurdjieff filled that role to his complete satisfaction. A heightened “self-remembering” had long been part of Daumal’s practice and this was key to Gurdjieff’s “Work”–a breaking down of the automatisms of conditioned learning and unreflective habitual response.

Another of Gurdjieff’s teachings was the importance of suffering and sacrifice, both of which appealed to Daumal’s ascetic nature as a means for breaking down the “imaginary” nature of internalized beliefs, ideas, and socialized attitudes. The “awakening from sleep” prompted by the de Salzmanns through a variety of practical techniques such as breathing exercises and group practices with movements, song, and music, had a powerful, transformative effect on Daumal.

Further, Gurdjieff’s theory of “objective art” was compatible with Daumal’s belief in the importance of art as a way of confronting social malaise and as offering alternative pathways toward more authentic spiritual values. His prose works clearly reflect these ideas, synthesized with influences from his early poetic works, Hindu religious traditions, and Guenon’s attitudes toward the sentimental decline of European culture.

By 1938, Daumal learned he had advanced tuberculosis in both lungs. While he continued to write, he and his Jewish wife Vera were forced to constantly move about during the war years, often living in conditions of poverty. By the time of his death, Daumal had thoroughly internalized the struggle for spiritual authenticity and his later prose works, also discussed by Rosenblatt, show his deep commitment to an ongoing process of self-development, often in the face of social chaos. Today, Daumal stands out in the French cultural landscape as a true forerunner of an emergent global esotericism and this work is central for understanding how his struggle reflects this continuing search among many contemporary authors, artists, and scholars.

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Review of my book: Rene Daumal, The Life and Work of a Mystic Guide

Here is a review of my book on the French Surrealist author: Rene Daumal, The Life and Work of a Mystic Guide, published by SUNY Press in 1999 and in Paris in 1993, Rene Daumal: Au dela de l’Horizon.  I will present it in two successive blogs. Here is the first half. Please share your feedback in the “Comment” box below… That helps the viability of my blog!

Daumal: The Life and Work of a Mystic Guideby Kathleen Ferrick Rosenblatt (NY: State Universityof New York Press, 1999).Reviewed by Lee IrwinAssociate Professor, Religious Studies, College ofCharleston, Charleston, SC (IrwinL@CofC.Edu)This overview by Kathleen Rosenblatt is an excellent introduction to the writing and life of the French avant-guarde poet and esotericist Ren Daumal (1908-1944). While Daumal has received considerable recognition in France, in America this book, a revision of the original French publication, is a primary introduction to his work. Ms. Rosenblatt offers the reader a very well integrated presentation ofDaumal’s life, organized according to the stages of his spiritual development. Drawing heavily on his letters and correspondences, personal interviews with his associates, and his published works (particularly the poetic collection Le Contre Ciel, and his two prose works, La Grande Beuverie (A Night of Serious Drinking)and Mount Analogue), she draws an intimate portrait of his inner development.Daumal’s life passed through a number of stages: from his literary debates with early French surrealists, to his study of Sanskrit and Hindu sacred and aesthetic texts, to the impact of Rene Gunon and later, Alexandre de Salzmann and his wife Jeanne who were followers of the Armenian-Turkish master, George Gurdjieff. Daumal’s tragic death at 36 from tuberculosis during the deprivations of the second world war brought to a sudden end his lifelong quest for the Beyond. In the May 1968 student uprisings at the Sorbonne, the author notes the rediscovery of Daumal, whose iconoclastic quotes were written on the walls and seemed highly appropriate for the tenor of the sixties.The author strongly emphasizes Daumal’s rebellious asceticism, his youthful rejection of convention, and his search for the “experience of the sacredness of the inner self” (p. 32). At the age of seventeen, Daumal experimented briefly with alcohol, drugs (opium), and inhaling carbon tetrachloride whose effects gave him a brief glimpse of “higher levels of consciousness” but at the price of ruining his lungs. As a young experimentalist, he also studied his dreams, successfully learned to initiate out-of-body experiences, and cultivated various psychic abilities. He became increasingly dissatisfied with the
(photo taken three days before his death)
normative state of “common, foggy perceptions” (p. 35) and was convinced that it was possible to live, ascetically, in a more conscious state of being, one that sought to break the bonds of conventional thinking and perceptions. Having rejected drugs and alcohol, Daumal formed a 1927 literary journal, Le Grande Jeu (“The Great Game”), with several young companions whose articles engaged the writers with surrealist authors such as Jarry and Breton, earlier symbolic and hermetic poets and writers (like Baudelaire and Rimbaud with whom Daumal closely identified), and a general malcontent with the conventionality of the times.Daumal experimented with automatic writing, both satirical and absurdist, rejected dualistic thinking, and came increasingly under the influence of symbolic, imaginary thought, termed “pataphysics” (borrowed from Alfred Jarry), best represented in dreams.During this period, Daumal’s psychic sensitivities became increasingly more active, and he recorded techniques for successfully inducing astral or out-of-body experiences. He also became an acutely sensitive telekinetic, able to “read” objects with his fingertips (using what he called “paraoptic” perception). In attempting to close the gap between a psychicmetaphysics and realpolitiks, Daumal became an avowed Marxist but later questioned the efficacy of Marxism in the face of its caricature in French intellectual circles. In 1932 the journal ceased and Daumal turned to other projects…

 

To be continued in the next blog…!                                         Comments below!

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