Gurdjieff International Review

Solange Claustres

Laszlo Hollan and Christian Chanel

S

olange Claustres was among the figures who played a major role in the direct, faithful transmission of the teaching brought by G. I. Gurdjieff.

Born on October 20, 1920, in the sacred city of Kairouan, Tunisia, Solange spent the first part of her life in the Mediterranean region, notably Marseille, where at the age of fifteen she won first prize in piano at the Conservatory of Music. This achievement confirmed at an early age her extraordinary sense of rhythm, which she went on to embody in a unique way in the Movements. This talent, alongside a difficult childhood and adolescence, proved to be her preparation for her meeting with G. I. Gurdjieff, a meeting that decided the course of her life.

In 1941, in Paris, she joined a preparatory group for the study of the ideas and Movements, led by Madame de Salzmann.

I went to Mr. Gurdjieff at the age of 20, with a nature that was filled with force, filled with questions about human life, and a deeply wounded feeling which hid itself and struggled without mercy—fierce, stubborn, and desperate—to live at whatever cost.

Gurdjieff responded to my questions with the quality of his being, his knowledge, his intelligence, and generosity.[1]

He alone gave me a deep feeling of confidence, which I had never received from anyone else. Through the quality of his listening, I could be myself and express myself. He called forth and tested my possibilities, made me aware of them and gave me confidence in them, which is what I most needed.[2]

Until his death in 1949, fully benefiting from his direct influence, Solange stayed close to Mr. Gurdjieff. Her questions will be found, though not identified as such, in the published notes of the group meetings of that era,[3] questions that bear witness to her total and sincere commitment to inner work, to which Mr. Gurdjieff generously responded by giving her appropriate new exercises.

He confirmed and oriented what I was seeking, what I felt and sensed. My life took a more precise direction on a road I followed, still in a fog, finding my way, reading everything, observing everything, discussing, wanting to know everything, to understand everything.

In her book, Becoming Conscious with G. I. Gurdjieff,[4] Solange describes strong moments experienced in his presence in different life circumstances, which shed light on his way of being and his extraordinary capacity to teach directly.

But it was above all through the Movements, received directly from Mr. Gurdjieff, that Solange’s qualities were revealed. She was truly ready to receive them. As she once said to her pupils:

I was immediately capable of repeating the movements, even the most difficult ones, which Mr. Gurdjieff showed only once! As if I already knew them.

Mr. Gurdjieff gave her, relatively early, a role in their transmission, as Elizabeth Bennett recounted:

Movements at 6, a practice with Solange, and from 7 till 9 with Mr. G. He was very fierce with us, and everything we did was wrong, until we did his favorite No. 17, the Multiplication. Obviously this has for him some quite special significance, and luckily we did it well tonight. He smiled and said if only we did all the Movements like that.[5]

Solange understood the sacred meaning of the Movements in the deepest part of her being. She knew that the Movements are inseparable from inner work. She could immediately feel the absence of work in a class, sometimes to the point of furiously leaving the room and slamming the door behind her. She expected active presence in the class, which apparently wasn’t always there... In the same way, Movements films on the Internet made her suffer because they are produced by people who have distanced themselves from the source and teach without the demand which she carried naturally, deeply, and sincerely, sometimes to the point of intransigence.

But beyond these relatively anecdotal aspects, the respectful and faithful transmission of the Movements became over time the principal, if not the unique, aim of Solange’s entire life. She directed Movements classes for more than sixty years, in Paris, elsewhere in France, and in Holland, England, and the United States.

Her transmission of the Work did not stop with the Movements. On every occasion, she sought to awaken others—and this, delivered through her authoritarian and intransigent character, did not always facilitate personal relationships.

But her legendary furies did not stop her—sometimes in the next moment, totally disarming!—from expressing humor and companionship which, paradoxically, was irresistible. At times she would even make fun of herself, and at those times we caught a glimpse of her inner freedom in front of any and all situations.

But for those who could survive her holy fury and reprimands, the goodness, force, and intensity of her eyes and face revealed an impeccable love of the truth, which she expressed with modesty and discretion, perhaps at first imperceptible, nonetheless real.

Solange searched for the force of Life, which she felt as a demand at every moment, always, and now. According to Solange:

There is not work and life, there is only Life.

Feel that I live, feel that I am.

Sense that I live, sense that I am.

Think that I live, think that I am.

At the same time, the same moment.[6]

At the end of her life, Solange was tested by a long illness, endured with dignity. When, near the end, she began to lose her mind, with force and truthfulness she still asked the fundamental questions we all ask ourselves: “I don’t know who I am, where I am, why I am.” Having lost the normal functioning of her mind, she still maintained a sensitive presence with which we were able to communicate.

Solange left us on February 15, 2015. Those who worked with her keep a living memory of her whole presence, of her intense and questioning look, and of her demand for honest, active, true work. The images of her in the first row of the original Movements films remain a testament to her contribution to the teaching and the work of Mr. Gurdjieff.

~ • ~

Laszlo Hollan, Ph.D., was a pupil of Michel Conge in Paris and Vichy and of Solange Claustres for the Movements. Still active in the Paris groups, he leads the Group in Budapest, also shares the lead of the group he founded in Bucharest. He also participates in the work of the groups of Sao Paolo and Bayerdilling in Germany. He translated Gurdjieff’s three books of the All & Everything series into Hungarian.

Guitarist, pianist and organist, Christian Chanel has grown up in the Gurdjieff Work in Paris since the 1950s. A pupil of Henri Tracol, he participated in the Movements films with Mme. de Salzmann during the 1970s. He recorded two CDs of Gurdjieff/de Hartmann music with the ensemble Resonance. Playing piano for Movements classes for years, he is one of the instructors of Movements classes in Paris, and also during summer sessions in Gordes and Budapest with his wife, Marie.


[1] Solange Claustres, Becoming Conscious with G. I. Gurdjieff (2005) Utrecht: Editions Eureka.

[2] Retranslated by Roger Lipsey in his book, Gurdjieff Reconsidered (2019) Boulder: Shambhala Publications.

[3] G. I. Gurdjieff: Paris Meetings 1943 (2017) Toronto: Dolmen Meadow Editions.

[4] Claustres, op cit.

[5] John G. Bennett, Idiots in Paris (1991) New York: Samuel Weiser.

[6] Claustres, op cit.

 

Copyright © 2019 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Spring 2019 Issue, Vol. XIII (2)
Revision: October 1, 2019