Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Guénon and the Salzmanns

Time for an update to the discussion that started in April 2008 with my post on “Guénon and Jeanne de Salzmann?” The conclusion seems to be that there was a long and even respectful relationship between René Guénon and both Alexander and Jeanne de Salzmann, two of the leading followers of George Gurdjieff.

The main sources for this are the letter from Guénon to Jacques Masui of March 15 1950 that an anonymous reader kindly posted almost in its entirety as a comment to my original post, and a comment in Roger Lipsey’s Gurdjieff Reconsidered (2019).

In his letter to Masui, Guénon concludes that Gurdjieff’s school was not “authentically initiatic” as Gurdjieff was not “attach[ed]… to a particular traditional form.” Despite this, Gurdjieff was “something other than a charlatan.” Further, Guénon tells Masui that he had once known “Salzmann” well (presumably Alexander de Salzmann) and that he had read Peter Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous (1949) in typescript before its publication. In Search of the Miraculous, one of the key texts of the Gurdjieff school, had been circulating for some time in typescript among Gurdjieff's followers before publication, and so was evidently available in more than two or three copies, but even so it is significant that someone had lent a copy to Guénon.

For the other side of this relationship we turn to Lipsey, who reports that Guénon’s works were once “all but ‘required reading’ for participants in the Gurdjieff teaching” (p. 279). Lipsey does not give his source for this, but it fits with the reported visit by Jeanne de Salzmann to Guénon in Cairo after Gurdjieff’s death, i.e. in about 1950, for which the source is Whitall Perry’s Gurdjieff in the Light of Tradition (1978). If Guénon had known Alexander de Salzmann well, that would have been in Paris before Guénon left for Cairo in 1930, so a visit by Jeanne de Salzmann in 1950 indicates a friendship lasting more than twenty years.

As Lipsey notes, Gurdjieff in the Light of Tradition is an attack on Gurdjieff, and was presumably approved by Frithjof Schuon, so we can conclude that the relationship of mutual respect between Traditionalists and the Salzmanns had ended by 1974, when Perry published (in Studies in Comparative Religion) the first of two articles on “Gurdjieff in the Light of Tradition” that later became the book.

My thanks to whoever posted the comment with the letter to Masui, and to Xavier Accart for help with the letter and for the reference to Perry for the 1950 visit.


Anonymous said...

Guénon stating that Gurdjieff was "something other than a charlatan" is far from being any praise at all : it mainly helps him put into perspective why, according to him, Gurdjieff was someone dangerous ("Gurdjieff est d’un tout autre genre, mais il n’est pas moins inquiétant", Guénon to Louis Cattiaux, 8 juin 1949).

Also, where actually in the letter of Guénon to Jacques Masui you mention do you find proofs of a "long and mutually respectful relationship between René Guénon and both Alexander and Jeanne de Salzmann" (because on the contrary, if you read carefully, Guénon rather tends to criticize Alexander...) ??

As to this letter, the reproduction can be found in Xavier Accart's thesis ("Guénon ou le renversement des clartés", Arché Milano, 2005) on pages 49 and 50.

Mark Sedgwick said...

In response to Anonymous (above) I have deleted my original comment that "something other than a charlatan" was "almost praise, given how mercilessly [Guénon] normally condemned those he saw as non-traditional." That was going too far, and is distracting from the main point I was trying to make, which was about Guénon and the Salzmanns, not Guénon and Gurdjieff.

The letter is, as Anonymous says, on pp. 49-50 of Xavier Accart's thesis. I cannot see anything in it that is critical of Salzmann. Critical of Gurdjieff, yes, but not of Salzmann. The evidence for what I should perhaps call a "long and even respectful relationship" is that given in my original post.

Anonymous said...

A simple question that arises, with regards to these letters, original manuscripts and even unfinished novels, is their origin. Where do all these people procure these private documents from? And under who's permission? Are you sure they can be trusted as valid primary or secondary sources? Of course, all this research is appreciated since it sheds light on otherwise obscure matters, but a dose of skepticism is always healthy.

Mark Sedgwick said...

A dose of skepticism is always healthy, yes.

As I said in the post, neither Lipsey nor Perry give their sources. My main source is Guénon's letter to Masui, and this can certainly be trusted--Accart even reproduces the original, and it is in Guénon's own handwriting. As to privacy and permission, permission is only needed to (re-)publish something that is protected by copyright, and Guénon's works are now out of copyright in the public domain. Privacy is generally not thought to be an issue with public figures. My aunt's correspondence with her brother is probably private from an ethical perspective, but Beethoven's correspondence with his butcher (if it existed) would not be private.

Anonymous said...

When I saw the name Salzmann, I initially thought of Nancy Salzman, whose name has been in the news in connection with the NXIVM cult. I doubt there’s any connection between Traditionalism and NXIVM, though (NXIVM has more of of a Randian bent, as in Ayn Rand). But both Traditionalism and Objectivism share a history of forming cult-like groups.

Anonymous said...

To Mark Sedgwick

you write "For the other side of this relationship we turn to Lipsey, who reports that Guénon’s works were once “all but ‘required reading’ for participants in the Gurdjieff teaching” (p. 279). Lipsey does not give his source for this [...]”. However this is not really news, since this particuliar topic has been already explored in 2005 in Xavier Accart's thesis mentionned above (especially page 849 to 851, "L'expérience des groupes Gurdjieff")...