Gurdjieff International Review
Our Money Has No Value
On the Foothills of Mount Analogue
By René Daumal
You do not go into a foreign country to acquire something without a certain amount of money. For bartering with prospective “savages” and “natives,” explorers usually carry with them all sorts of junk and cheap goods—pocket knives, mirrors, knick-knacks from Paris, suspenders and stockings, trinkets, cretonne, bars of soap, eau-de-vie, old rifles, anodyne munitions, saccharin, képis, combos, tobacco, pipes, medals, and lots of cordage—not to speak of religious articles. As we might, in the course of the voyage and perhaps even in the interior of the continent, meet peoples belonging to ordinary humanity, we were provisioned with such merchandise as a means of exchange. But in our relations with the superior beings of Mount Analogue, what would constitute a trading currency? What did we possess that really had any value? What could we use to pay for the new knowledge we sought there? Were we going to beg? Or acquire on credit?
Each of us made a personal inventory, and each of us felt poorer from day to day, seeing nothing around us or in us that we could really call our own. In the end, we were just eight poor men and women, shorn of everything, watching the sun sink on the horizon.
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A long wait for the unknown dampens the force of surprise. Here we are, settled for only three days in our little temporary house at Port-des-Singes, on the foothills of Mount Analogue, and everything is already familiar. . .
A man in mountain dress received us on a carpet. He spoke French perfectly, but with the occasional secret smile of someone who finds quite odd the expressions he must use in order to make himself understood. He was translating, to be sure—unhesitatingly and correctly, but obviously translating.
He questioned us one after the other. Each of his questions, although quite simple—Who were we? Why had we come? caught us off guard and shook us to the core. Who are you? Who am I? We could not answer him as we would a consular representative or a customs agent. Tell one’s name and profession? What good would that do? But who are you? And what are you? The words we pronounced—we had no others—were lifeless, repugnant, and grotesque, like cadavers. We knew henceforth that we could no longer pay the guides of Mount Analogue with words. Sogol courageously took it upon himself to give them a brief account of our voyage.
The man who welcomed us was indeed a guide. All authority in this country is exercised by the mountain guides, who form a distinct class, and in addition to their strict profession as guides they take turns assuming the administrative functions indispensable in the coastal and foothill villages. He gave us the necessary information about the country and about what we were expected to do.
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The first stage would require a full day; there was a good trail, and we could use the large, agile donkeys native to the country. Later, everything would have to be carried on the backs of men. So we had to make arrangements for renting donkeys and hiring porters. The currency problem, which had so intensely preoccupied us, had been resolved, at least provisionally, upon our arrival. The guide who had received us had given us, as an advance, a sack of metal tokens that served here as a means of exchange for goods and services. As we had foreseen, none of our money had any value. Every new arrival or group of arrivals received this kind of advance to cover initial expenses, and one was committed to repay it during one’s stay on the continent of Mount Analogue. But how could it be repaid? There are several ways, and since this question of currency and repayment is at the basis of all human existence and of all social life in the colonies along the coast, I must go into some detail on the subject.
One finds here, very rarely in the low lying areas, more frequently as one goes farther up, a clear and extremely hard stone that is spherical and varies in size—a kind of crystal, but a curved crystal, something extraordinary and unknown on the rest of the planet. Among the French of Port-des-Singes, it is called peradam. Ivan Lapse remains puzzled by the formation and root meaning of this word. It may mean, according to him, “harder than diamond,” and it is; or “father of the diamond,” and they say that the diamond is in fact the product of the degeneration of the peradam by a sort of quartering of the circle or, more precisely, cubing of the sphere. Or again, the word may mean “Adam’s stone,” having some secret and profound connection to the original nature of man. The clarity of this stone is so great and its index of refraction so close to that of air that, despite the crystal’s great density, the unaccustomed eye hardly perceives it. But to anyone who seeks it with sincere desire and true need, it reveals itself by its sudden sparkle, like that of dewdrops. The peradam is the only substance, the only material object whose value is recognized by the guides of Mount Analogue. Therefore, it is the standard of all currency, as gold is for us.
Truthfully, the only loyal and entirely satisfactory way of paying one’s debt is to repay it in peradams. But the peradam is rare and difficult, even dangerous, to find and collect. Often one has to extract it from a fissure in the rock wall of a precipice, or pry it out from the icy edge of a crevasse. After efforts that sometimes last years, many people become discouraged and return to the coast, where they find easier ways to repay their debt. For this can simply be reimbursed in tokens, and these tokens can be earned by all the ordinary means. Some become farmers, other artisans, others stevedores and so forth. We do not speak unkindly of them, for they make it possible to buy supplies on the spot, to rent donkeys and hire porters.
“And what if someone does not manage to pay his debt?” Arthur Beaver had asked.
“When you raise chicks,” he was told, “you advance them the grain which, when they become hens, they will repay you in eggs. But when a young hen doesn’t lay when it matures, what becomes of it?”
And each of us had swallowed his saliva in silence.
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The economic life in Port-des-Singes is quite simple, if lively, much like what it must have been in a small European town before industrialization; no thermodynamic or electric engine was admitted into the country, and indeed, any use of electricity was banned, which in a mountainous land rather surprised us. The use of explosives was also banned. The colony—mostly French, as I have said—has its churches, its city council, its police force. But all authority comes from above, that is, from the alpine guides whose delegates direct the administration and the municipal police. This authority is uncontested, for it is based on the possession of peradams. The people who have settled on the coast possess only tokens, which allow all purchases indispensable to the life of the body but confer no real power. Once again, let us not speak unkindly of these people who, discouraged by the difficulties of the ascent, have settled on the shore and the foothills, and make their small living there. Thanks to them, thanks to the initial effort they made to come this distance, their children at least do not have to make the voyage. They are born on the very shores of Mount Analogue, less subject to the nefarious influences of the degenerate cultures that flourish on our continents, in contact with the mountain men, and ready, if the desire takes them and their intelligence is awakened, to undertake the great journey from the place where their parents have given it up.
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These excerpts are taken from René Daumal’s Mount Analogue: A Tale of Non-Euclidian and Symbolically Authentic Mountaineering Adventures, Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 2004, pp. 76–83. Copyright © 1981 Editions Gallimard, Paris. English translation Copyright © 2004 by Carol Cosman.
Traditional Studies Press has published a recording of Dr. William Welch reading René Daumal’s Mount Analogue. Dr. Welch saw this book as a many-facetted jewel, and appreciated its poetry, its humor and its truth. He reads it with great gusto and delight. Look for it at: www.traditionalstudiespress.com.
|Copyright © 2005 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing|
Featured: Fall 2005 Issue, Vol. IX (1)
Revision: June 1, 2008