The Gurdjieff Legacy Foundation Archives
Arthur "Fritz" Peters (1913–1979)
Fritz Peters, born in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1913, was shaped by many physical and psychological "disasters" at an early age. His brother accidently blinded Fritz's right eye with a crochet hook; his parents divorced when he was about 18 months old; his mother subsequently married a lawyer who was cold towards Fritz. When Fritz was eight or nine, his mother experienced a nervous breakdown and was sent to a sanatorium. Fritz and his brother were then adopted by Margaret Anderson, his mother's sister, and Jane Heap, editors of The Little Review.
In 1924 Anderson and Heap brought 11-year-old Fritz to George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff's Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man at the Prieuré in Avon, France. Peters was under the impression Gurdjieff was a "prophet" or perhaps the "second coming of Christ." His initial trepidation vanished when he found Gurdjieff to be a "simple, straightforward man." Gurdjieff asked him how he saw life. "Life," Peters said, "is a gift." Gurdjieff, greatly pleased, asked what he wanted to know about life. Peters told him—"I want to know everything."1
Gurdjieff made him his personal caretaker, having him clean his personal quarters, serve as his waiter, as well as receiving private lessons. At one lesson, Gurdjieff made an analogy between mankind and oak trees:
Man is also organism. Nature make many acorns, but possibility to become tree exist for only few acorns. Same with man—many men born, but only few grow. . . . Nature always give—but only give possibility. To become real oak, or real man, must make effort. . . . In west—your world—is belief that man have soul, given by God. Not so. Nothing given by God, only Nature give. And Nature only give possibility for soul, not give soul.2
At another, Gurdjieff spoke to the young boy of the necessity of suffering:
Suffering important because is also part of life, necessary part. Without suffering man cannot grow, but when you suffer, you think only of self, you feel sorry for self, wish not to suffer because this make you feel not comfortable, make you wish escape from thing that make you feel bad. When man suffer, he feel only self-pity. Not so if real man. Real man also sometimes feel happiness, real happiness; but when he also feel real suffering, he not try to stop this thing in self. He accept this because he know is proper to man. Must suffer to know truth about self; must learn suffer with will. When suffering come to man must make intentional suffering, must feel with all being; must wish with such suffering that it will help make conscious; help to understand.3
According to Gurdjieff, Peters had been able to remain "open" despite his childhood traumas, and thus had been a "garbage can" in which Gurdjieff could "dump" some of his accumulated learning.4
In October 1929, Peters, now 15 years old, returned to his mother and stepfather in Chicago, only to discover his mother had experienced another nervous breakdown. Soon after Fritz found himself living on his own.
In 1934 Gurdjieff came to New York and Peters describes a nightmare train ride with him to Chicago in which Gurdjieff did everything in his power to annoy Peters and the other passengers. Upon their arrival, Gurdjieff proceeded to publicly denounce Peters in front of the Chicago group. Peters, reaching a breaking point, hurled some choice four-letter words at Gurdjieff and stormed out of the gathering. Several months later, Peters realized that Gurdjieff had intentionally forced an end to his unquestioning, idealistic love for Gurdjieff.5
Peters contacted Gurdjieff groups in Chicago and New York, but invariably perceived them as phony and humorless. Gurdjieff told Peters: "You not learn my work from talk and book—you learn in skin, and you cannot escape."6
Drafted during World War II, Peters was appalled by the different types of people he met and the effects of war. Peters' horrific experiences left him with grave doubts concerning the meaning of human existence. Finally, shell shocked and in a state close to madness, he went to see Gurdjieff in Paris. Gurdjieff did not immediately recognize him, but after Peters stated his name the two embraced and Gurdjieff loudly exclaimed, "My son!" Inside the apartment, an already weary Gurdjieff healed Peters by transmitting "a violent, electric blue light."7 A month later, at a luncheon in Gurdjieff's apartment, Gurdjieff said he could now die as he had found someone to whom he could transmit his life's work. Raising his arm, he made a dramatic sweeping gesture from student to student, only stopping when his extended finger pointed directly at Fritz Peters.8
After the war Peters returned to America and began to establish himself as a successful author. His first novel, The World Next Door, published in 1949, is based on his experience in a VA hospital after World War II. The next year saw the publication of a children's story, The Book of the Year, and a short story entitled Hello Emily. In 1951, Peters' second novel, Finistére, followed, detailing the adolescence and homosexual encounters of its main character; it has been described as autobiographical.9 The Descent, published in 1952, explores what happens to those involved in a tragic auto accident. In 1966 Peters released Blind Flight, a novel about a mentally disturbed woman reevaluating her relationships to her family and herself. In 1978, a year before his death, he published his last book, Balanced Man, in which he further discussed Gurdjieff and his legacy:
. . . give up your dreams, your illusions, your aspirations for something illusory and in the dream world. Heaven and Hell as he says exist here. The message is, at least to me, starkly clear and in no way painful. The fact of life is a simple one: we are here and living. With a certain amount of effort—tempered with drinking, play and perspective—let's try to live as if each day is what it is: maybe our last moment on earth. Don't let the sun go down without saying good night to it. Life is a miracle, after all. Let's live it.10
The themes in Fritz's novels are drawn directly from his own life, which was filled with nervous breakdowns, alcoholism, a broken marriage and homosexuality.11 Very little has been written about the life of Fritz Peters or his relationship with Gurdjieff. William Patrick Patterson's novel, Struggle of the Magicians, includes an essay specifically exploring Peters' relationship with Gurdjieff. Peters can be seen through the eyes of others in such works as Ladies of the Rope: Gurdjieff's Special Left Bank Women's Group; Dear Tiny Heart: The Letters of Jane Heap and Florence Reynolds; The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas; and Gertrude Stein: Her Life and Work. Reviews of Fritz Peters' major literary works are available, and there are some journal articles and books written about his contribution to gay literature. His daughter, Katherine, delivered a collection of Fritz Peters' papers to Boston University a few years after his death in 1979.
1. Fritz Peters, Boyhood With Gurdjieff (California: Bardic Press, 2005), 3–4.
2. Ibid., 40.
3. Ibid., 94.
4. William Patrick Patterson, Struggle of the Magicians (Fairfax, CA: Arete Communications, 1998), 200.
5. Fritz Peters, Gurdjieff Remembered (California: Bardic Press, 2005), 200–204.
6. Ibid., 177.
7. Ibid., 200.
8. Ibid., 255.
9. Patterson, 254.
10. Fritz Peters, Balanced Man (California: Bardic Press, 2005), 339.
11. Eric Neagle, "Fritz Peters Collection" Fritz Peters.info. http://www.fritzpeters.info/index.htm.