International Journal for the Study of New Religions, Vol 6, No 2 (2015)

Orality and Refractions of Early Literary Textualizations in Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson

Michael Pittman
Issued Date: 21 Jan 2016


In this article I present and discuss some of the literary aspects of G.I. Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson (published in 1949) and analyze, in broader strokes, the reflection and residue in his work of oral and early literary cultures. Written in the 1920s, and revised into the 1930s, Gurdjieff’s 1,200+ page magnum opus draws significantly from pre-existing literary and religious traditions and stands in the liminal space between orality and writing in a number of notable ways. Not only is Beelzebub’s Tales told in the mode of a dialogue, between Beelzebub and his grandson, Hassein, but the text of the Tales themselves reflect an influence both direct and indirect from oral storytelling, popular culture, and early literary forms that were prevalent in wellknown, as well as lesser known, literary texts particularly from the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries. I first address briefly Gurdjieff’s own attitude toward oral culture and language as expressed in the preface to his work. I then focus on Beelzebub’s Tales and several points of correspondence with early textualizations of oral culture such as The Arabian Nights, Boccaccio’s The Decameron, and a notable example from the second century, The Golden Ass. Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales stands in its own time and context between oral and literate cultures and employs and parallels many of the formal and cultural elements of these early textualizations in the same way that they did in their own time.

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DOI: 10.1558/ijsnr.v6i2.29250



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