Reviews:  Perspectives on
Beelzebub’s Tales

Richard Smoley, author

Richard Smoley, author of Inner Christianity, is specializing in spirituality and religion.

The best study that I have seen of the profound labyrinth that is Beelzebub’s Tales. Highly recommended for all students of Gurdjieff. The discussion of the hydrogens alone is worth the price of the book. In addition, the design and execution of the book are magnificent.

April 15, 2005

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Seymour B. Ginsburg, Delray Beach, Florida

Students of Gurdjieff’s teaching who have dared to really study Beelzebub’s Tales, have discovered and continue to discover layer upon layer of hidden meaning throughout the forty-eight chapters that comprise the book. But how few of us there are today who can bring to our inquiry the more than fifty years of study that Keith A. Buzzell has devoted to the Tales beginning almost from the time of its publication in 1950! In this 21st century, for which Gurdjieff may have been preparing humanity through his teaching, Gurdjieff study groups have been more and more willing to encounter the challenge of studying Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson. Small groups of students throughout the world now meet to read and to discuss their own perceptions of what Gurdjieff has wanted us to understand through page after page of the book. . . .Through reading Perspectives on Beelzebub’s Tales, this wonderful collection of essays, the student may discover more than the ordinary share of “ah ha’s,” and find him or herself saying, “Yes, this probably is what Gurdjieff meant.” This book is a must read for serious students of Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson.

April 4, 2005

Read full review on Amazon by Seymour B. Ginsburg, 2005

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Living Traditions Magazine, Australia

I will not deceive the reader; this is a book which demands concentration and analy­sis.
It is condensed knowledge; each chapter is carefully constructed and reads as though every word has been considered time and time again. It is well illustrated and the many charts and diagrams do help us appreciate the insight being offered. Like Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, work is required to come to grips with the ideas and concepts presented. Being honest, it is not a book for a beginner; how­ever, anyone who has tried to understand Beelzebub’s will gain something profound from this volume.

April 5, 2007

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Dr. Joseph Azize, author

(Dr. Joseph Azize’s website can be found here)

The various essays in this book are united by their focus upon Gurdjieff’s writings, and
the presence in this book of what I might call “active thought”. Reading these perspectives, it was forcefully impressed upon me, time and again, that the mind of the author has sensitively and carefully moved over this material. Buzzell has studied not only Beelzebub, but also his own thought, and has produced a work which attempts to transcend the inevitable partiality and limitation of the individual mind. After all, we can only think
as we do. But it is possible to expand the scope of our thought.

To explain what I mean: this work is addressed to those who are studying Beelzebub. Buzzell has provided helpful extracts from Gurdjieff’s writings, and some signal quotes from other sources such as Alfred Orage, who had a key role in the production of Beelzebub. But I doubt that these perspectives would mean much to a person unacquainted with Beelzebub, or at least with Gurdjieff’s ideas. Buzzell will feel rewarded if the reader of this book is inspired to return to Beelzebub with a new impulse to profit from studying it (p.2). Thus, this volume can be considered both as fruit of Beelzebub, and as pointing us back there, to reap further harvests.

Buzzell brings to the page his remarkably diverse background in medicine, medical practice, music, science, teaching and practical study of ideas. Rather than simply write about Beelzebub, or what he thinks of Beelzebub, Buzzell thinks under the stimulus of Gurdjieff’s practices: he writes only what he understands, even if pointing to a mystery
or a limitation in his understanding.

The diverse chapters can be read sequentially, but they are not sequentially linked, and
can be read as individual essays. Each piece shares original insights into “hydrogens”,
the enneagram, the “organ kundabuffer” and so on. The book is flawlessly presented, with a type face which is obtrusive and clear. The page setting is uncluttered, and the glossary
is helpful. The diagrams are gems of simplicity and legibility. I shall return to these.

I was first struck by Buzzell’s learning, the unhoped for clarity of this work which ambitiously brings modern scientific understanding to Gurdjieff’s ideas, and the masterly presentation. The first shock I received came as early as page 10, where Buzzell
writes: “naming (a separate wholeness or identity)”. For many years I have been pondering the invocation: “In the name of the Father …”. I had come a certain way, but I was still far away from understanding why any action should be undertaken in a name. Here,
in one almost casual aside, I found an idea which now serves as a key for further pondering: the idea that naming is a recognition of separate wholeness.

So, Buzzell gives evidence of some close intellectual attention to detail. Then, the force
of his thought not infrequently takes the English language into new avenues. Speaking
of Gurdjieff’s writing, Buzzell states: “it must be read … with a sustained consciousing of
its entirety, while a focus of attention moves through it.” (p.19) This original usage, and
the poems which appear almost as grace notes throughout the text, do not strike me as forced. Rather, the quality and texture of Buzzell’s collected thought organically manifests in these ways. I am fortified in this conclusion by a consideration of the diagrams.

These drawings help to clarify ideas in the text, but they do more than that. They expand the ideas, and they allow one to make more discoveries. They are, at times, enigmatic, but this allows one the legitimate intellectual pleasure of seeing more as one renews study of them. A good example of this is offered by the annotated enneagram at p.160. I experimented, and turned to it before reading the embedding chapter “Higher Centers.” It
raised questions for me, and I started to wonder about certain points. I then read the chapter. Some of my ideas were confirmed, and some were not. But the most important thing for me was the experience of teasing my mind, an experience rather analogous to
the small joys of playing with a new camera.

We have had many books which restate the ideas in new ways, or which present a personal and practical approach. They are about Beelzebub, or help us to elucidate the ideas there. I am not criticizing all of these: while some are minor classics of mediocrity, others such as Bennett’s posthumously collected volume of talks, are quite valuable. But this, I think, is not enough to maintain the Gurdjieff tradition as a vigorous set of ideas. Perspectives on Beelzebub’s Tales gives evidence that the thought of the author has developed under the stimulus of Beelzebub. Buzzell applies Gurdjieff’s system to modern science, not by the “compare and contrast” method, but by the fact that in his own thought, feeling and sensing, the two co-exist, even if perhaps at different levels, or with different degrees of vivifyingness. This means that the system and modern science can be related to each other, because they stand within one person’s arc of thought. In a volume such as this, the Gurdjieff ideas actually spiritualize the encounter with modern medicine and chemistry.

Perhaps one can say that Gurdjieff struck the note DO by bringing his ideas and methods. Maybe Gurdjieff’s pupils sounded the note RE by transmitting the system to Beelzebub’s grandchildren. If so, then this book strikes me as one student’s sounding of the note MI by developing the ideas in a manner which is proper for one of his background and abilities. In other words, this book represents Buzzell’s work, not yours or mine, or someone else’s. But because it is Buzzell’s, and because it presents an appreciable impulse, it can arouse us to make our own proper individual efforts.

Buzzell can relate the otherwise diverse elements of Gurdjieff ideas and modern science because he encompasses something, even a little something, of both of them within one glance. He has stretched his brain to obtain this partial glimpse. And this is the action of the higher part of the intellect. No other faculty, not emotion, not sensing, and not even lower parts of the intellect can do this. Hence I say that Buzzell has attempted to transcend what he can do, to think and feel what he never could have before. And if Dr. Buzzell could catch the flame from Gurdjieff, why can’t we?

March 26, 2005

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Anthony Blake, DuVersity, United Kingdom

Buzzell’s study of Beelzebub’s Tales is a brave attempt to tackle some of its obscurities. It addresses the complexities of the book not only in terms of its special language but also in regard of how it can be read. I well remember my first readings of it, when as a student I scurried to the bookshop to paw through it in my lunch break and experienced a special ‘shock’ of recognition of my own inner processes. I think that Keith has achieved a great deal in helping the reader participate more strongly in understanding the text.

Keith brings to the task of exposition a thorough grounding in modern medicine. For many years, he has investigated the meaning of Gurdjieff’s model of the human psyche by study of what is known of neurology and allied sciences, and part of his mission is to form a bridge or synthesis between what we can know in our ordinary waking consciousness, which gives us a view of the universe as limited and material, and what we can access in our ‘subconscious’ – or true consciousness, according to Gurdjieff – which gives us the sense of a trans-material universe, unlimited in its foundations.
To some degree, Keith is emulating the work of the various brotherhoods of learning described in Beelzebub’s Tales who worked on breaking the spell cast by the organ Kundabuffer through active mentation and being efforts.

To bring out what I regard as really important in this study, I need to begin with what may appear to be carping criticisms of its scope and approach; evolution begins with denial, as is portrayed by Beelzebub himself.

I find that the book is somewhat marred by its reverential idolisation of Gurdjieff, so that no other work is even mentioned. While Keith has done so much to bring into the picture the knowledge gained through contemporary science, he makes no account of the remarkable work in literature of the twentieth century. As the novelist – and staunch admirer of Gurdjieff and Bennett – William Pensinger has pointed out, twentieth century literature was not only an experiment in writing but, more importantly, an investigation into new ways of reading. Just as Gurdjieff’s movements were generated at the same time that dance was undergoing remarkable revolutions, so his writings have great resonance with the work of Joyce and others. I well remember Bennett saying to me that Ulysses can be regarded as the most important novel of the twentieth century because of its depth of depiction of the psyche of contemporary man.

Keith is also preaching to the converted as his first chapter makes no concessions to any reader who may be unfamiliar with the language of triads, the octave, the enneagram and so on. He uses the enneagram throughout as a means of structural analysis to great effect, but the reader has to be very familiar with Beelzebub to make sense of what he says. It would have been a good thing to have spent some time in laying out the methodology and thinking it through from scratch, so that the reader could the more easily see what he was saying. Gurdjieff himself, in the chapter Heptaparaparshinokh goes back to fundamentals.
It is also arguable whether Gurdjieff did in fact follow the enneagram closely in his exposition but adopted a freer and more versatile approach.

Keith rightly points out the mythological nature of the book and that it impacts both the conscious and subconscious minds. In the chapter on Religion, Gurdjieff speaks directly about the need for an effective exposition to evoke ‘emotional nodes’ in us. The enneagram speaks to the intellectual brain and is only one third of the whole picture. Recent studies have shown that all important ‘spiritual texts’ such as the Masnavi of Rumi – which I believe had considerable influence on Gurdjieff – on investigation, disclose an intricate structure. Just as with Beelzebub, this structure need not have been drawn up as a plan of writing but would emerge from a source of understanding, a meaning in which conscious and subconscious were united. This has to some degree been studied in psychoanalysis also, as in the ideas of Ignacio Matte Blanco that the unconscious is composed of ‘infinite sets’, and projects itself into the conscious mind in ways that seem ‘illogical’.

In general then, the examination of Beelzebub’s Tales in isolation detracts somewhat because it portrays Gurdjieff as a unique and special figure. There is a suggestion that this book is being treated rather as ‘revealed scripture’, a position that is not untenable but implicitly relates it to a whole corpus of works. People such as Bennett and Denis Saurat have attested to its extraordinary originality. It would be difficult to find many other books so much based on understanding and with so much explicit involvement of ‘laws’ or structures. The ‘laws’ are as much characters as the ‘sacred individuals’ who appear in its pages. And Keith does make a case for asserting that in the actual reading of the book something can happen in the reader that is like an enactment or realization of the working of the cosmic laws. This is totally unlike what is usually taken to be ‘understanding’ because it is a real action that takes place and not just the formation of associations and pictures. Hence it is ‘objective’ in the Gurdjieffian sense, a kind of ‘movements of objective reason’.

I have brought myself into a contradiction: that Gurdjieff is totally unique and also that his insights are echoed by many other people. I think the nature of this contradiction can be understood by the title also given to the Tales, which is All and Everything. It is this sheer encompassing of so much diversity that makes the Tales so remarkable. Bennett, I believe, consciously attempted to bring out the importance of this ‘allness’ in his development of systematics, offering to people a way of beginning to do the same themselves.

April, 2005

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Andrew R. Carr, Jr., Memphis, Tennessee

But let me say this: the physical quality of the treatise (and graphics) as well as the perfect editing . . . were most impressive. I cannot recall when I have read any book without the slightest imperfection; none. And your manner of writing is pellucid, and hits the mark emotionally . . .. I have now read through Perspectives twice. Later, I will highlight for you the material I found most illuminating. For now, let me say only that the experience has increased my valuation of Gurdjieff, and the material he left for us.

July 24, 2005

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