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Fourth Way Perspectives

Voices in the Dark
An Interview with William Patrick Patterson

We interviewed William Patrick Patterson in his home in Marin County on one sunny afternoon about his newest book.

The Gurdjieff Journal: How did you come to write Voices in the Dark?

William Patrick Patterson: Little has been known of Mr. Gurdjieff's life during the Nazi Occupation of Paris 1940–44. In researching Ladies of the Rope, I came across transcripts made from notes taken by his pupils of the meetings Gurdjieff held during these wartime years. I began to wonder what it was like to be in the Work at that time, attending meetings in that atmosphere. All of my books and the video have been inquiries into my own questions.

TGJ: Did you answer your questions?

WPP: When you really involve yourself in anything doesn't one question's answer open up into a still deeper question? I like what an American expatriate author once wrote about this: "When all things are lived through to the end, there is no sadness, no regrets, no false springtime, but each moment opens up to a new, wider horizon and there is no escape—save living."

TGJ: Living under an enemy occupation and attending meetings?

WPP: The constant uncertainty, the danger of simply getting to and from a meeting, given that there were informers and German checkpoints everywhere—well, it took a real effort, a courage.

TGJ: What about ordinary circumstances? The lack of food and fuel?

WPP: Paris was occupied in mid-June and food rationing started that September. In the beginning people got 2,400 calories a day, but by 1942 food rations had dropped to 1,200 calories—barely enough to survive. There was little fuel. Instead of driving everyone rode bicycles or walked. They might take the Metro as well, but service soon became unreliable and the Metro closed early. Electricity was erratic. And people had to watch their tongue—who could know who the informers were?

TGJ: No one ever spoke about this at the meetings?

WPP: No, not at all. I suppose everyone realized they were powerless to change outer circumstances, so talking or complaining about it—well, to talk about food when you are hungry only makes you more hungry.

TGJ: What was discussed at the meetings?

WPP: Interestingly, there is not one question about the psychological oppression under which people lived.

TGJ: Did you get any new sense of Gurdjieff from the meetings?

WPP: To read/hear Gurdjieff's actual words, to experience his humanity and humor—this comes across in the material in Ladies of the Rope but is much amplified here. It's interesting, too, to see how he handles questions and gives exercises.

TGJ: Why haven't these meetings been published before?

WPP: Well, in one form or another these meetings have circulated for some time, passed from hand to hand (I first saw some transcripts in 1982 or '83).

TGJ: The reviews of the book have been very good. Several called the book "unusual," "different."

WPP: I think this is because of the book's structure. I realized that to read the meetings "cold," so to speak, without having some feel for the conditions under which they were held—the insanity outside Gurdjieff's door, the reason and caring within—wouldn't give a sense of how unique they are. So I interleaved the meetings with the history of that time, using direct quotes from people who lived under the gun of those days like Camus, Gide, Sartre, de Beauvoir, agents of the Resistance, and so forth. The aim is to give a direct sense of the madness in the streets contrasted with the sanity of Gurdjieff and the teaching.

TGJ: I understand he helped many people during the war.

WPP: Yes, he always managed to have a full pantry and he gladly shared it with others. The luncheons and dinners he gave were perhaps the only full meal his students got that day.

TGJ: What about Jews. Did he help them at all?

WPP: The first ordinance the Germans posted listed businesses in which Jews could no longer be employed, such as banking, teaching, the arts. When the ordinance came ordering all Jews to wear a yellow star, Gurdjieff had his students provide hiding places.

TGJ: Who were you writing for?

WPP: I wanted to reach people who knew little to nothing about Gurdjieff, people who were interested in history. It would be a new way of introducing Gurdjieff and what he represents. During this period, as Gurdjieff would call it, of "mass psychosis," there was this "island" of weekly meetings filled with silent space, vibrating with life, integrity and wisdom.

TGJ: Had you been interested in history?

WPP: In temporal history? No, not at all.

TGJ: What did you learn, would you say?