The First Series of Mr. Gurdjieff’s All & Everything, entitled An Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man, and more popularly known as Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, provides an essential counterpart to practical Work. Grappling with it sincerely requires a great deal of sustained attention; it challenges us to endure the discomfort of “keeping the question open” and to mentate actively if we are to understand it at all. The book is a true Legominism, its depths accessible only to initiates.
The Gurdjieff Work without the Tales risks falling short of the mark; reading the Tales without engaging in inner work renders the book merely a frustrating curiosity. The synergy between the two has real power to transform.
Our group is currently engaged in a close-reading of the Beelzebub’s Tales in weekly online video conferences to which we invite members of the public. In these classes, we apply some firm exegetical principles, which we lay out at the start of each meeting:
The exegetical principles:
1) Purely for the sake of study, we assume that Beelzebub’s Tales is a product of Higher Mind. As such, when we find something confusing or contradictory, we will turn our critical eye on ourselves and our own understanding rather than undertaking to critique the author.
2) In keeping with the assumption that the Tales is a product of Higher Mind, we assume that every detail means something, even if we’re not sure what.
3) As we are not on the assumed level as the author, we hold that we do not know everything about the text, and perhaps even that one person cannot know everything about it unless they are on the author’s level.
4) Nevertheless, as a corollary to the above, we need not assume that the book is so far above our level that we can’t find insights and teachings in it, nor that doing so requires becoming dogmatic.
These principles have proven very fruitful in producing insight.
Check out “The Tales Themselves”, an excellent introduction to Beelzebub’s Tales written by Dr. Anna Challenger.