Tuesday, July 09, 2019

We are losing the war against digital sleep


One of the most accessible explanations of the teachings of the Armenian mystic G. I. Gurdjieff is Colin Wilson's book 'The War Against Sleep'. Gurdjieff (1866-1949) is together with Osho and Krishnamurti one of a select group of flawed but perennially relevant teachers. Central to Gurdjieff's 'Fourth Way' teachings is his use of music and movement to reawaken the life force within us. There is a major corpus of music composed for this purpose by Gurdjieff in collaboration with Thomas de Hartmann, and recordings of this by Keith Jarrett, Frederic Chiu, Cecil Lytle, Alain Kremski, Wim van Dullemen and the Gurdjieff Folk Ensemble have featured here over the years. One of Gurdjieff's disciples Max Gorman explained that true mystics are not culture-bound - they have gone 'beyond'. And in the spirit of going 'beyond' the boundaries of orthodoxy comes a valuable new addition to the small but select Gurdjieff/de Hartmann discography in the form of the album seen above.

As we sink deeper into the digital Kali Yuga perennial wisdom becomes ever more relevant. We spend hours sleepwalking online securely protected by the filter bubbles created by selective algorithms and the approval culture of social media. Gurdjieff forewarned eloquently of the dangers of this hypnotic addiction. To understand the relevance of his teachings to, for example Facebook, follow the links I have embedded in this quotation:

In order to awaken, first of all one must realize that one is in a state of sleep. And in order to realize that one is indeed in a state of sleep, one must recognize and fully understand the nature of the forces which operate to keep one in the state of sleep, or hypnosis. It is absurd to think that this can be done by seeking information from the very source which induces the hypnosis ....One thing alone is certain, that man's slavery grows and increases. Man is becoming a willing slave. He no longer needs chains. He begins to grow fond of his slavery, to be proud of it. And this is the most terrible thing that can happen to a man.
Could there be a stronger endorsement of Gurdjieff's teachings than this explanation of the immense political and commercial value of behavourial addiction in Anne Wilson Schaef's book When Society Becomes an Addict?
The best-adjusted person in our society is the person who is not dead and not alive, just numb, a zombie. When you are dead you're not able to do the work of the society. When you are fully alive you are constantly saying "No" to many of the processes of society, the racism, the polluted environment, the nuclear threat, the arms race, drinking unsafe water and eating carcinogenic foods. Thus it is in the interests of our society to promote those things that take the edge off, keep us busy with our fixes, and keep us slightly numbed out and zombie-like. In this way our consumer society itself functions as an addict.
In an essay for his newly released BIS album* Ex Oriente - music by G.I. Gurdjieff guitarist Gunter Herbig explains that his attempts to transcribe Gurdjieff/de Hartmann's music for classical guitar always ended in frustration. So he said 'no' to received wisdom and experimented with a Gretsch 'White Falcon' electric guitar and Fender amp to produce a sonic texture compatible with the piano voicing of the original compositions**. With his transcriptions Gunter Herbig travels well beyond the other excellent but, nevertheless, culture-bound advocacies of G.I. Gurdjieff's music***. For me this album was a slow but powerful burn, with its growing impact reflected in the number of times I have returned to it: listen via this video.

Another proponent of the mystery schools Idries Shah explained that "It is a fundamental mistake of man's to think that he is alive - when he has merely fallen asleep in Life's waiting room". Ex Oriente - music by G.I. Gurdjieff has received little critical coverage in the media because professional music criticism was decimated by disruptive online business models while we were all sleepwalking zombie-like on social networks. Soon even modest attempts to maintain a thoughtful narrative such as On An Overgrown Path will be gone - stifled by the incessant banalities of social media. So please do not waste time sharing, liking or retweeting this post. Instead heed Gurdjieff - wake up, log off and taste life outside the virtual waiting room. I was also going to urge you to hurry down to your local music store and buy Gunter Herbig's very rewarding album. But of course that neighbourhood store was nuked by Amazon some time ago while we were all sleepwalking online. Sorry, but we are losing the war against digital sleep.

* Credit also to BIS for the environmentally friendly plastic-free packaging for the CD which uses soy ink, eco-friendly glue and water based varnish. And before the inevitable sleepwalking smart alec points out the CD itself is made of polycarbonate, please read a new study which reports that streaming music creates at least 200 to 350 million kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions annually. And more credit to BIS for their second recent release - the first was ORBI - of an album that sits outside art music's overcrowded waiting room.

** Gunter Herbig misses an auspicious spiritual coincidence in the sleeve essay when he describes using the Gretsch 'White Falcon' guitar. Gurdjieff was deeply influenced by the cosmology of Ancient Egypt. In this the falcon deity Horus partakes in the ritual of 'self remembering', a practice Gurdjieff incorporated into his teachings.

*** While on the subject of reconsidering Gurdjieff it is worth giving a heads up to Shambhala Publications newly released Gurdjieff Reconsidered: The Life, the Teachings, the Legacy by Roger Lipsey.

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2 comments:

Lyle Sanford, RMT said...

Thanks so much - have ordered the CD. That clip let me hear the music has two things I value more and more - freshness and space. I tried reading Gurdjieff/Ouspensky 30 or 40 years ago and didn't get very far - maybe need to try again. What a treasure your blog is!

Pliable said...

Thanks for that Lyle. What my colleague many years ago at the BBC wrote Libby Purves wrote about radio applies to all the performing arts:

'To run radio you must be like an old-fashioned publisher, a 1930s Gollancz or Faber and Faber, working on faith and idealism and wanting to share what you yourself love. All that you can do is make - and publicize - the best and most passionately well-crafted programmes you can think of. Ratings have to be watched, but calmly and with a sense of proportion. You have to believe that if even one person is swayed, or inspired, or changed, or comforted, by a programme, then that programme has been worthwhile'.