Gurdjieff & Fritz Peters, Part II

by William Patrick Patterson

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     What did Gurdjieff see in Fritz Peters? Why did he take him so intimately into his life? Why did he give him personal lessons? He spoke about this in part in 1931 when he told Peters: “When you come Prieuré first time you not yet spoiled, have not learn to lie to self. Already even then you can maybe lie to mother or father, but not to self. So you fortunate. But these people [Jean Toomer’s Chicago group, who Peters thinks are phonies] very unfortunate. Like you, when child, they learn lie to parents, but as they grow up also learn lie to self and once learn this is very difficult to change. Lying, like all other things, become habit for them.” It is this quality of self-honesty suffusing Peters’ writing that makes his books so immediate and vivid. His evocation of his experiences with Gurdjieff at the Prieuré and later as an adult, along with his portraits of Gurdjieff through the years (1924–1945), are without parallel.1

     The extraordinary significance of Gurdjieff’s work with him at the Prieuré is revealed when Gurdjieff tells Peters that others “must make effort, go to meetings, read book. If you never go to meeting, never read book, you still cannot forget what I put inside you when you child. These others, if not go to meeting, will forget even existence of Mr. Gurdjieff. But not you. I already in your blood—make your life miserable forever—but such misery can be good thing for your soul, so even when miserable you must thank your God for suffering I give you.” [Emphasis added.]

“You Poisoned for Life”
     Five or so years later, Peters complains to Gurdjieff about the New York group, saying he disagreed with the reverence Gurdjieff was given and felt uncomfortable and so did not attend meetings. Gurdjieff tells him, “You remember I tell you that what I teach is in your blood; that you cannot forget, no matter how you try? What you tell me is proof of just this teaching. Group work is important, when people work together they can help each other, can make work easier; but since you have not right feeling with group you now make, unconsciously, difficulties and suffering for yourself. Just because of what I teach you in past you now make extra struggles for yourself. This can be good for your future, but also very difficult. You poisoned for life.” [Emphasis added.]

     As an adult, Peters’ most telling experience with Gurdjieff came in the late summer of 1945. Having had several near-death experiences in the Army, and in a dangerous state of nervous exhaustion, Peters sought Gurdjieff out in his Paris apartment. When Gurdjieff saw him he cried out—“My son!” Later, as Peters slumped in a chair in the kitchen, Gurdjieff filled him full of “a violent, electric blue light,” his hanbledzoin, to recharge Peters’ energy and atmosphere. Afterward the two sat and drank coffee. It was then that Gurdjieff spoke to Peters of being his father. “I play many roles in life,” Gurdjieff told him “…this part of my destiny. You think of me as teacher, but in reality, I also your father…father in many ways you not understand.” [Emphasis added.]

     They continued talking, joking and laughing together. This is significant. Only two other pupils had been able to joke with Gurdjieff. Both were extremely close. One was Orage, of whom, when he died, Gurdjieff said, “This man…my brother.” The other was Alexander de Salzmann, one of Gurdjieff’s oldest pupils. “Among the devout there were a few who fenced with him verbally,” said Peters, “but, in the long run, they seemed to be the ones who were the most ‘possessed’ or ‘convinced’; daring to joke with him [Gurdjieff] became proof of a certain intimacy with him—a privilege accorded to them because of their total agreement with his ideas—and in no sense an indication of rebellion.”

Peters at the Foundation
     The author saw Peters only twice. On both occasions it was in a remodeled basement, known as the Gallery, in a Manhattan townhouse a block from the Foundation. A probationary group of some 12 people met there under Lord Pentland’s direction. Lord Pentland had said that at this particular meeting we would discuss sex. To make it easier to speak, the group would be divided into two groups, one male, one female. Males would meet first. Someone special would speak with us, he said. At the meeting I had no idea who the man was sitting up front next to Lord Pentland. He looked rather preppy in glasses, a bow tie, a striped shirt with a tweed sports coat, khaki slacks and brown loafers. The line of our questions—all about sex—seemed to surprise him. I don’t think Lord Pentland had told him of the topic. He seemed uncomfortable, smoking one cigarette after another. I felt embarrassed, sorry for him. But as the questioning continued, my respect grew. He answered as honestly as he could. Often when he had no answer he said so, without excuse. Only later did I learn that the man was Fritz Peters.

     A few weeks afterward, we held a small bazaar in the Gallery, selling handmade Christmas items. During my shift as a salesperson, I noticed Fritz enter the basement. He looked much the same, still wearing a bow tie, sports jacket, slacks. It was like a uniform, a disguise of sorts, I felt. Almost immediately he was pounced upon—I use that word because energetically that’s what it felt like—by Anthony, an Italian from Massachusetts whose father or brother was in the Mafia. Anthony, aggressive, intense, and perhaps gay, made a show of displaying the crafts, bullying Fritz to buy one. Suddenly, Fritz flushed, broke away and stalked out. Ten minutes later he returned, gripping an ugly-looking snub-nosed black revolver. He was in Anthony’s face in a second, sticking the revolver into his chest and shouting—“Here, shoot yourself!” Then he put the revolver in Anthony’s hand, turned, and stormed out. The revolver turned out to be a toy. Although I had yet to read his books or hear anything about him, I sensed that much of Fritz’s life was like that—tormented.

Gurdjieff’s “Son?”

     I had always assumed from those experiences and the stories I heard that Fritz Peters had never developed, was certainly not conscious in any real degree. How could anyone who lived the life he lived have come to anything? I had enjoyed his books on Gurdjieff and that was about it. Then I reread his books and saw that among the portraits and scenes there was a lot of valuable information, even teaching. It’s interesting when you come upon an unconscious assumption. Suddenly you see what it’s been blocking out. I began to take seriously what Gurdjieff said to him about being in his blood— being poisoned for life—and about being his son. Peters’ life seemed fated to be disharmonious.2

     In seeing these things, I realized I had assumed that someone who developed in the Work, say to the fifth level, would lead a conscious and therefore harmonious life. On reflection, that’s obviously not true. One’s life depends on one’s fate. So one could live a tormented life without it being indicative of one’s level of development. I saw that I had never separated a person’s outer life from their inner life. I had unconsciously judged one by the other. That let Fritz Peters live for me again. I saw I didn’t know who he was. Then everything I had read, like the turn of a kaleidoscope, instantaneously took on a new shape. Just as it could be said that Orage was Gurdjieff’s brother, Bennett his Judas, and Lord Pentland his St. Paul (all of which Gurdjieff said outright), Fritz Peters was Gurdjieff’s son.3

     Now a number of insights flashed. What did Peters have to work through in life? “A colossal ego”—inordinate self-love. And who had the identical chief fault? Wasn’t it Beelzebub, hero of Gurdjieff’s First Series? This very Beelzebub, a being with an “extraordinarily resourceful intelligence” who had “an exceptionally strong, fiery, and splendid youth” but whose “unformed Reason due to his youth” led him to make trouble about something which he found “illogical” in the government of the World and consequently, along with the rest of his tribe,4 was sent into exile…couldn’t this in miniature be the life of Fritz Peters? From start to finish he had lived5 the life of an outsider, a maverick, a rebel, “a lone wolf,” as he called himself and, definitely, like his ‘father’ before him, that of a born troublemaker. That said, his intelligence, will, honesty, and capacity to suffer stand without question.

Objective Doubts
     After the day in 1945 at 6 rue des Colonels-Renard when Gurdjieff pointed him out as his successor, Peters says that in reflecting on what happened, he “was forced to admit to myself that I had, at least momentarily, felt chosen.6 That, in fact, I still did. I was pleased with my behavior at that moment—I had learned enough from him to be cagey about it when I had been accused by the lady—but the feeling of triumph was not unadulterated, and I was besieged by questions and doubts.” He then begins to objectify his doubts, make a list of them, and to recapitulate his work with Gurdjieff; as he says, “to think back over my entire experience with this man.” He sees that “It is at least possible that he [Gurdjieff] was actually referring to me as his ‘successor.’ It was possible on many counts: a) it was actually true; b) it was intended to ‘expose’ my ego to myself; c) it was intended to produce various reactions in the other persons present; and d) it was a huge joke on the devout followers.” He sees, too, that “I did not honestly know in what his ‘work’ consisted. How then [given he was the successor] could I carry it on?” Assuming that he could “carry on” Gurdjieff’s Work, he reasons that “…if there was some way in which I could ‘cull,’ as it were, what had seemed valuable to me from what had seemed, if not valueless, at least ‘incomprehensible,’ I would like to be able to pass it on in some way.” [Emphasis added.]

     And that Fritz Peters certainly did in Boyhood with Gurdjieff and Gurdjieff Remembered, both of which give a unique sense of Gurdjieff and his relationship with the young man and adult he knew as ‘Freets.’ Without doubt Fritz Peters fulfilled the task he set himself. That was his gift to his ‘father,’ to himself and to us. From the life of Fritz Peters and his relationship with Gurdjieff we can all learn a good deal. He deserves a reevaluation, a serious one.

Notes

  1. The only other books that approximate Peters’ are Thomas and Olga de Hartmann’s Our Life with Mr. Gurdjieff and Margaret Anderson’s The Unknowable Gurdjieff.
  2. One can isolate oneself from the general laws which govern collective fate. Living in essence, not personality, one can escape accident and have the fate that belongs to his type. See In Search of the Miraculous, pp. 161, 164.
  3. Blood sons of powerful fathers usually have difficult lives, and perhaps it is no different with the spiritual.
  4. The sins of the father…
  5. To the Little Review question “What is your world view?” Peters answered, “I am not reasonable and I am not in a reasonable scheme.”
  6. In 1951 Fritz Peters published his autobiographical novel Finistère, meaning “the end of the earth.” With it he cut the ground away beneath himself, for in it he spoke candidly of his homosexual affair with an older man. It was a fragile time for the Work as Gurdjieff had only been gone two years, so if Peters had any thought of leading the Work in some way, of being the conventional successor to Gurdjieff, Finistère surely ended it. One wonders if his subsequent collapses were not in part, or in full, caused by his having bared a truth he found difficult to integrate.


First printed in The Gurdjieff Journal.

William Patrick Patterson is the author of seven books on The Fourth Way, the latest of which is “Spiritual Survival in a Radically Changing World-Time.”