Peter D. Ouspensky. A New Model of the Universe. Arkana, 1984.
Wojtek Gaworzewsky, Magonia 18, January 1985
George Ivvanovitch Gurdjieff taught a system of philosophy and psychological/physical exercises which would, it was claimed enable a person to gain full consciousness and hence control over their own destiny. Throughout his life he was a controversial figure and it appears that this controversy continues to grow as time elapses since his death (in 1949).
Reading his works, and the voluminous literature about him and his system, it is difficult to doubt that he did have access to ideas and insights into the human condition, which were not previously available. His effect on those who met him suggests strongly that he was, at the very least, a man of mesmerising presence. He always insisted that his system could only be taught by personal contact between pupil and master in a 'school '.
lt is ironic that since his death all his writings including those meant to be limited to a circle of pupils) has been published. The volume of literature about him continues to increase, a film has been made of his life, and an underground 'school' in London sells his ideas (without acknowledgement) for £12 for a course of lectures.
However pale a reflection of the man, his words give us an insight into one of the most distinguished minds of the century. Views from the Real World is a collection of Gurdjieff's teachings, compiled by his pupils, first published in 1973. It is a good introduction to the flavour of his thought, for the beginner: although a more structural approach may be found in Ouspensky's In Search of the Miraculous.
For those familiar with Gurdjieff's thought the book is full of illuminating insights. Apart from a small circle of devotees, many of whom knew him personally, Ouspensky is chiefly remembered today as the foremost interpreter and exponent of the teachings of Gurdjieff. His In Search of the Miraculous is still the best explanation of Gurdjieff's system, more comprehensive than any volume to appear since, and clearer than Gurdjieff's own voluminous writings which were intended to provoke thought and action rather than provide an easy exposition of his system.
A New Model of the Universe was written in 1914 (published in English in 1930) just before Ouspensky met Gurdjieff, and is a summation of his own philosophy. His Tertium Organum published in 1912 tried to formulate a picture of the universe based on a number of disparate concepts. Chief of these was Ouspensky's concept of the fourth dimension, which drew heavily on Theosophical ideas; his theory of the various levels of reality accessible to humans; and perhaps his most important contribution - a revival of the Pythagorean idea of Eternal Recurrence. This last concept is in some ways the most terrifying of all ideas concerning the human condition. All humans are condemned to relive the same lives over and over again; at death one experiences the identical birth which brought one into the world, and the same life is repeated until eternity.
In A New Model of the Universe he expands on these ideas and adds an exposition of subjects which were new and startling to his readers at the time: Esotericism, Yoga, and the Tarot. To the modern reader Ouspensky's thought is dated. The physics he knew predates the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics, his psychology predates modern dream research. In addition his work is imbued with a curious melancholy typical of the intellectual atmosphere of Tsarist Russia; who but a Russian could have written on "The Feeling of Inevitability Connected with Sex"?
Nevertheless, his book is thought provoking, and invaluable in giving us an impression of Ouspensky's mind before he came into contact with Gurdjieff's system.