330

JOSEPll AZIZE

2003. 7i£ I'Aimeras. Charles Antoni l'Originel, Paris.
Gurcijiejj! A Master in Life. Toronto: Dolmen Meadow Editions.'
Wehh, j. 19Ro. The Harmcmiou.< Circle. London: Thames and Hudson.
Well beloved, S. zoog. Gurdjiiiff: The Key Concepts. London and New York: Routledge.

Tchechovitch, T.
-

. 2006.

FROM OUSPENSKY'S 'HOBBY' TO GROUNDHOG DAY:
THE PRODUCTION AND ADAPTATION OF STRANGE LIFE OF

NANOSOKJN
DAVID PECOTIC

introduction

: Tchcchovi tch (2003) is. apparently, a fairly faithful reproduction of Tch ech?vitch's
own written reminiscences. It follows no discernable order. Tchekhov1tch (zoo6) IS an
English translation and rearrangement of most but not all of the text of the earlier book.
Where possible, 1 have used the English translation, as the French •s now praCtically unob·
tainablc. However, there arc some signilicanl omiss ions from the English, セオ」ィ@
。セ@ the
piece on the Movements I quoted in this chapter.

It is safe to say that the film Groundhog Day (1993, hereafter GD)- directed
by Harold Ramis, starring Bill Murray and written by Ramis and Danny
Rubin-has become an established part of contemporary popular culture
and everyday vernacular. Originally intended as a modest romantic comedy, it was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant"
and added to the United States National Film Registry in 2oo6, and is now
considered one of the masterpieces of 1ggos Hollywood cinema, much to
the bemusement of those who brought it about (Gilbey 2004).
What may perhaps be more surprising is that CD has also come to be
seen as one of the great 'spiritual' films of all time (Kuczynksi 2003). It is
not immediately obvious why this would be the case for a film in wh ich
Murray plays Phil Connors, an egocentric Pittsburgh television weatherman who, during a hated assignment covering the annual Groundhog
Day event in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, finds himself indefinitely
repeating it. An equally surprising resolution to this puzzle may lie with
the only novel penned by the Russian joumalist and philosopher Piotr
Dem'ianovich Ouspensky [Ouspenskii] (1878-1947). Ouspensky is better
known as one of the earliest and greatest followers of the Greek-Armenian
virtuoso of twentieth centmy 'unchurched' mystical religiosity, George
lvanovitch Gurdjieff (1866?- t949), the founder of the new religious movements (NRMs) known collectively today as the 'Work'. Ouspensky's (1947)
novel Strange Life ofIvan Osokin (hereafter Osokin), as "a haunting novella
about eternal recurrence" (Needleman 2oo6b: 912), is a prime candidate to
be a major source of the film's mystique.
The purpose of this chapter is to briefly trace the thread that leads from
the novel to the fi lm. An initial stumbling-block for the purposes of establishing a common methodological approach to this, is the seeming incommensurability of a popular film with a NHM. However, as a 'Gurdjeffian',
Ouspensky contributed to the creation of one of the largest bodies of

332

DAVID PECOT ! C

FROM OUSPENSKY'S 'IIOBHY' TO GROUNDHOG DAY

literatu.re of any NRM (Heelas 1996: 8; Driscoll 1985; Driscoll 1994). A
high proportion of writers have also been attracted to the NRM (Rauve
2003; Byrd 1990; Patterson 1999; Rosenblatt 1999; Taylor 1998; Taylor 2001).
Gurdjieff (1993( 1950]) was himself an author of the NRM's primary text.
The production ofli terature is clearly central to the organisations involved.
Given the context of creative production from which both novel and film
arise, a 'production perspective' t hat looks at "how the symbolic elements
of culture a re shaped by the systems with in which they are created, distri buted, evaluated, taught, a nd preserved" will prove fruitful (Peterson
and Anand 2004: 311). It provides one method that is "useful for systematically understanding the working of diverse cultural production systems•
behind each (Peterson a nd Anand 2004: 321). In adcUtion, contemporary
film adaptation theory with its concern to proble matise the "indefensibility of fidelity as a criterion for the analysis of adaptations" (Leitch 2003:
162) provides another useful method regarding the production and reception of the adaptation of Osokin into CD.
A valid criticism of the production perspective employed here is that it
tends to "ignore the meaning of culture productions" and that"( d)educing meaning from reading texts is not part of the perspective" (Peterson
and Anand 2004: 327). This is pertinent to an analysis of the relationship
between the production ofNRM literature and a 'spiritual' film, especially
with reference to the "intertextuality" that is the focus of adaptation theory (Leitch 2008: 63). To mitigate the consequences of this theoretical
blind-spot, an initial reconnaissance of Ouspensky's literary production
will be brielly canvassed. Then how the novel was 'created, distributed,
evaluated, taught, and preserved' will be addressed and which \-\rill enable
the examinatio n of Osokin's textual meaning. [tis only at that point that
the 'intertextuality' between the novel and fi lm can be considered. The
chapter concludes by examining the problematic notion of 'orthodoxy'
in a NRM and the accompanyi ng paradox of quantitative marginality but
qualitative impact.

outline of Ouspensky's life and work which might be useful for the casual
reader-and despite the fact that Ouspensky is not yet a household name
even in his native Russia (Stevens 1997)-as the author of the first and
classic Gurdjieffian text In Search of the Miraculous (hereafter Search )
of
the major details of his life should be well-known at least to セエオ、・ョウ@
Anglo-American 'unchurched' ci rcles and NHMs.
A number of academic assessments of Ouspensky have also appeared
in the last few decades (Rawlinson 1997: 293- 298; Well beloved 2003: 233z34; Needleman 2oo6b; Pecotic 2oo8b). Th is is in line with the maturing of
scholarly interest in Gurdjieff and the 'Work' more generally (Fa ivre 1994;
Heelas 1gg6: Faivre a nd Needleman 1995; Rawlinson 1997; Taylor tgg8;
Taylor 2001; Wellbeloved 2003; Moore 2006; Needleman zoo6a; Taylor
2007; Pecotic 2oo8a; Tamdgidi 2009). Given that, as one observer has
already noted, "the pre-Gurdjieff (and non-Gurdjieff) writings have been
relegated to a position of secondary importance" (Presley 1999: 14), the
focus will be instead to provide the necessary biographical detail around
this literary output. It is for this reaso n that Osokin is almost always absent
from academ ic assessments of Ouspensky a nd the Work'.
Ouspensky's publication history falls naturally into three distinct phases;
Russian, English and posthumous. Ouspensky's Russian phase began with
the publication of his first book The Fourth Dimension in 1898 (Webb tg8o:
576; Hunter 2006: 35). His interest in the 'fourth dimension', commonly
understood to be duration or time, was longstanding (Ouspensky 1973: 123;
Ouspensky 1986: :wo). The complete loss of his immediate family, together
with the intellectual and social unrest characteristic of early twentieth
cenrury Russ ia, catalysed Ouspensky's セiョ。A@
abandonment of scientistic materialism (Reyner 1981: tog). Ouspensky subsequently joined the
Theosophical Society, through which he discovered nineteenth century
occult a nd mystical literature (Webb 1980: wg- uo; Carlson 1993; Carlson
1997). A series of mystical 'experiments' undertaken by Ouspensky during
1910-1911, to alter his no rmal states of consciousness and verify for himself
various occult a nd mystical claims, led to his break with Theosophy in
1912 (Webb 1980: 112). This resulted in the publication of Tertium Organum
(hereafter TO), wh ich made his reputation. In it he identified mysticism
with "knowledge received under conditions of expanded receptivity"
(1920: 251), and firmly concluding that "our world is merely our incorrect
perception of the world," especially when it came to our conventional perception of time (1920: 242).
All of his other Russian publications also had their origins originating
in Ouspensky's 1910- Igu ··experimental mysticism" (Webb rg8o: u6). They

Ouspensky: A Biography of his Literary Production

Since his death. numerous biographical studies about Ouspensky (Webb
1980: 94- 191, 213- 231, 379- 411, 439- 460; Reyner 1981; Wilson 1993; Patterson
1996; Lachman 2004; Hunter 2006) and memoirs of his form er followers
(Walker 1951; Bennett 1964; Nott 1961; Nott 1974) have become readily
available. Although considerations of space prevent a comprehensive

333

334

DAVTD PECOTIC

were comprised mostly of articles on various topics, which Ouspensky
later revised and published as a collection. None were as significant and
substantial as TO, the book that led Gurdjieff to first meet with Ouspensky
in 1915. In 1917, responding to the growing social unrest and with a shift
in Gurdjieff's teaching emerging, Ouspensky began to separate from his
teacher (Ouspensky 1949: 372). He left Russia in1918 for the Georgian capital ofTbilisi and began to lecture approximately one year later (Ouspensky
1949: 380 ), beginning a career as the far more popular independent teacher
in his own right of what he called the 'Fourth Way'.
During his lifetime Ouspensky published only two books in English: TO
and A New Model o,f'the Universe (1931). In 1921 an unsolicited translation
of TO provided him with an invitation to teach in London (Ouspensky
1950: 384; Webb 198o: 219- 231). In 1924 his followers were forbidden to
contact or reference Gurdjieff; and required Ouspensky's permission to
talk about the 'System' (Bennett 1964: 126). By 1930 Ouspensky no longer insisted on secrecy. I Ie told his senior followers that as Gurdjiefl had
lost contact with the "Great Source from which our System has come" the
only chance to re-establish contact was to make the 'System' more pubHc
( Bennett 1964: 154; Webb 1980: 399). With the publication of A New Model
ofthe Universe (hereafter Model) and still more after the second edition in
1934, recruits, especially from the literati, bolstered the ranks of his private
meetings (Webb 1980: 399). The number of pupils soon increased from
fifty to approximately one thousand.
Model was Ouspensky's grand synthesis and his answer to Gurdjieff's
own literary direction: in it he brought together notions about the 'fourth
dimension', 'higher dimensions' and other aspects of what was then the
'new physics' of Einsteinian relativity. He combined this with the central
idea of 'esotericism' as the evolution of higher consciousness, through
the prism of an experiential approach to verifying occultism, mysticism
and various anomalous states as well as personal yet abstracted reminiscences that culminated in an exposition of how he understood eternal
recurrence. As might be guessed, the collection of essays found in Model
were the revised translations of Ouspensky's Hussian articles "begun and
pwctically completed before 1914" (Ouspensky 1934: x:xi).
Most of Ouspensky's work was published posthumously. The first and
most famous of these is Search, but he had been rewriting the unpublished
manuscript for decades prior to his death (Ous pensky 1973: 128; Webb
1980: 394i Hunter 2006: 168-169). This was mosl probably the case for all
the unpublished manuscripts that were part of his literary estate and later

FROM OUSPENSKY'S 'HOBBY' TO GROUNDHOG DA Y

335

published (Ouspensky 1951; Ouspensky 1972; Ouspensky 1973; Ouspensky
1986; Ouspensky 1989; Ouspensky 1993), including Osokin (1948 [1947]).
Plot and Creation ofOsokin

ln early 1946 a seriously ill Ouspensky returned alone to England, where
he died in 1947. Kenneth Walker, one of his EngHsh followers, noted that
he often spoke of recurrence to his pupils in the last weeks of his life,
and that Ouspensky made frequent trip.s across Britain in an attempt to
fix in his mind the places he had known with a view to 'remembering'
them in his next recurrence (Webb 1980: 453; Walker 1995: 108). More than
forty years before, Ouspensky won this admission from Gurdjieff on the
subject:
[a]nd if you understood why I do not speak of this, you wiU be still nearer
to it ... Knowledge about the repetition of lives will add nothing for a man
if he does not see how everything repeats itself in one life ... and if he does
not strive to change himself in order to escape this repetition (Ouspensky

1949: 250- 251)
Almost immediately afterwards, Gurdjieff proceeded to undermine his
own response and the identity of his prize pupil by calling recurrence
"Ouspensky's hobby" (Ouspensky 1949: 250). However, when seen in the
context of their shared background in Russian Cosmism, this admission
appears less inexplicable (Hagemeister 1997; Pecotic 2008a; Pecotic zoo8b ).
Moreover, recurrence would also not have been foreign to Gurdjielf's psycho-cosmological 'law of octaves' (Ous pensky 1949: 127-129; Wellbeloved
2003: u6-n9, 121-122) which states that all processes at crucial junctures
are deflected from their aim; if the process continues for long enough, it
wi!J eventually end where it began. Aside from the meaning and import
of this exchange for the doctrinal struggles between competing lineages in
the NRM today, the notion of recurrence as 'Ouspensky's hobby', in addition to its persistence, is a useful way to think about the implications the
novel must have had for him.
Before considering the circumstances of the novel's creation, it is pertinent to sketch its plot. Osokin is a brief and simple narrative which is easily summarised. It opens in Moscow in1902. The protagonist, Ivan Osokin,
is a low-ranking sold ier who after a series of unfortunate circmnstances
exacerbated by personal fai lings has lost his entire fortune. Osokin is certain he has lost the affection of Zinaida, the women he loves, because of

DAVID PECOTIC

FROM OUSPENSKY'S 'HOBBY' TO GROUNDHOG DAY

his position. Rather, it is obvious to the reader that it is his personal failings, a combination of pride and self-pity bordering on paralysis, which
have driven her away. Osokin's thoughts turn soon enough to suicide, and,
pocketing his pistol, he seeks the solace of his friend, known only as the
Magician. Consumed with the wish to have another chance at living his
life over again, Osokin pleads for the Magician to send him back imo his
past armed with the knowledge of his presem dire situation. The Magician
cautions Osokin that, "( e )verything can be brought back ... [but) even
that will not help" (Ouspensky 1987= n). Incredulous, Osokin persists and
the Magician reluctantly agrees, warning Osokin that he will only succeed
"as long as you do not wish to forget" (Ouspensky 1987: 16).
Sent back, Osokin finds himself committing the same mistakes he had
made in the past as he quickly forgets his future, experie ncing deja vu
each time, but only able to watch as events unfold: the prank which led
to his expulsion from school and his mothe r's death, a nd which eve ntually
prevented him from attending university; an affair with his uncle's ward
which results in being sent to a military school where he would grad uate
an officer but from which he is also expelled; as a stude nt in Paris where
he gambles away the small inhe ritance that s upported his study. In the
final chapters, he again meets Zinaida and loses her again, and once again
visits the Magician. As he asks to be sent back once more, he remembers
that he has a lready asked that question untold times and realises that it
can change nothing. In horror, Osokin asks the Magician if anything can
be done. He replies by giving perhaps the most central message of the
story: "[y jou know that everything repeats again and again ... If you could
change something in yourself, you would be able to use this knowledge
to your own advantage" (Ouspensky 1987: 156). He then takes Osokin as
his apprentice.
It is unsurprising, given the plot and how little that is known for certain
about Ouspcnsky's early life, that Osokin has been understood as largely
autobiographical (Pentland 1999: 38; Bennett 2000: g; Webb 1980: 96- 97).
This position, however, requires a strategically convenient ignorance of
the fact that the novel is a work of fiction. By looking instead lor the circumstances of its creation, a more useful analysis about why th is novel
came to be written can begin. Two elements immediate ly stand out. The
first is the degree to which Osokin reflects the artistic spirit of t he times.
It was written in a mix of precise observation and carefully constructed
mediocrity popular in t he Russian literature of Ouspensky's youth (Webb
1980: 95- gG; Mirsky 1949: 182-183). There arc references to Nietzsche's
notion of recurrence and t he 'Nietzschism' popula r in Russi:1 at the lime

(Webb 1980: 99i Ouspcnsky 1987: 108, 120, 149), as well as the version of
recurrence found in Robert Louis Stevenson and C.H. Hinton who were
avidly read in the Russia intellectual circles of his day (Webb 1980:104, 119;
Ouspensky 1934: 470).
The second clement of note is that the original version, entitled The
Wheel ofFortune and drafted during the revolutionary tumult oflgos, was
a film script (Webb 1980: 100, 453). It would be another ten years later
before it would be published in St Petersburg under the title Kinemadrama
(Webb 1980: 100). It is this second version that was translated into English
and published as Osokin. Something of this must have survived as the novel
is liberally peppered with what sound like stage directions: for example:
"[o ] n the screen are seen a series of pictures of school life" (Ouspensky
1987= 29); "(o Jn the screen a scene at Kursk Station in Moscow" (Ouspensky
1987= 1, 14o); as well as itemised scene-setting descriptions and fragmentary opening sentences to most cha pters.
Further, both Webb a nd Rcyner cla im that t he Magician was absent in
the first draft; Reyncr adds that instead Osokin's thoughts are overheard
by a divine power and is given the cha nce to live his life again with the
same the same results as before (Webb 1980: 453; Reyner 1981: g). All of
these elements will be important to bear in mind with reference to the
relationship between the novel and GD.
The English novel was first printed on the private press used by his followers just before he died (Webb 1980: 459). This is not, however, the first
reference to the distribution and institutionalisation of Osokin. Previously
unavailable archival material (llumcr 2006: 171- 172) captures the earliest direct reference to the novel (dated 1937) made by its author while
addressing a group of his followers a boll[ the money needed to continue
expanding the teaching and announces a fund-raising experiment:

337

I have certain books I want to publish ... In Hussia I published all my books

myself and had quite a good income from them ... The novel is connected
with the idea of Eternal Hecurrrncc. Some of you may have read it. It needs
time to prepare it for publicntion. fゥイセエ@
I must go tJ1rough the Hussian text

(for it was written and published in Russian long ago) and tJ1en through thl·
translation and work on the translation takes a great deal of time ... If books
are published and successful, then nil our problems arc solved (Ouspensky
1993: 126- 127 ).
A number of observations can be made from this passage. First and toremost is that Osokin. dearl y hud D function in Ouspcnsky's new teaching
mission, that he was keen to commcrcia lise it in an entrepreneurial fashion much as he did as a frccl;mce journalist in pre-revolutionary Hussia.

DAVID PECOTIC

FROM OUSPENSKY'S '!lOBBY' TO GROUNDHOG OA Y

and that he intended to relate this to the conlent of the other books of his
English publication phase, TO and Model. Secondly, being read aloud was
also part of the novel's function.

real, but at the same time more like a dream- a very strange dream which
is more real than reality and compared to which all reality becomes like
a dream" (Ouspensky 198T H4, 120) . Osokin's daydreams have the same
flavour to them (Ouspensky 198T so, 51, 77, So, 87, g8).
In Model, Ouspensky devotes numerous pages to the study of his own
d reams (1934: 271-298, especially as an aid, to ex.p laining the phenomena
involved in spiritualism); in fact, he writes that "from my earliest years
the world of dreams attracted me, made me search for explanations of its
incomprehensible phenomena and try to determine the interrelation of
the real and the unreal in dreams" (Ouspensky 1934: 271). Much of this section on dreams has its analogue in the ontological skepticism of Osokin.
For example, Ouspensky too was "struck by recurring dreams, dreams
which occurred in the same form, in the same surroundings, led to the
same results, to the same end, and always left behind the same feelings. •
In attempting to "preserve consciousness in sleep" (Ouspensky 1934: 273)
in order to study his dreams Ouspensky experienced "'half-dream' stales"
so powerful that, without care, they could easily "grow and expand and
encroach both upon sleep and upon the waking state" impairing everyday life (Ouspensky 1934: 274). This led him to conclude that it "is not
at all necessary to be asleep in order to observe dreams. Dreams never
stop" (Ouspensky 1934: 295). He also noticed that during these observations "if I let myself go into it I shall forget the most important thing I
have to remember, namely, that I am asleep and am conscious of myself"
(Ouspensky 1934: 279).
In Model Ouspensky associated "the dreams observable only in a waking state" with "(i n my case) the strange sensation ... the sensation that
this has happened before" (Ouspensky 1934: 298). This sense of deja vu,
the experience of repetition, was to prove the gTeatest single impulse in
Ouspensky's life, beginning when he "was six years old. After eleven, they
became much rarer. One of them, extraordinary tor its vividness and persistence, occurred when I was nineteen" (Ouspensky 1934: zg6- 297). The
same sense of presentiment penetrates the entire novel; it would not be
going too far to say thal it is the foundation of Osokin. Ouspensky establishes its presence even before Osokin's visit to the Magician (Ouspensky
1987: 3· 10, 12, 13, 15). Osokin's experience of deja vu becomes all-pervasive
when returned to his past, and especially so during his school days, when
the memory of his now future was still strong: "You always knew, but you
never stop" (Ouspensky 198T 21, 25, 26, 27); "What a strange sensation!
This is exactly what happened constantly at school before" (Ouspensky
1934: 33); "It seems to me .. . that even then I always repeated to myself

Textual Meaning in/ofOsokin: Film. Dreams and Presentiment
Having sketched out the novel's early distribution network among
Ouspensky's followe rs and interaction with his other English texts, it
would be appropriate to explore the meaning of the text itself and how the
author went about creating th is meaning for lhe reader. When read in the
light of the ph ilosophical visions of TO and Model familiar to oオセー・ョウォケG@
fo llowers, three rhetorical structures of this psychological narrat1ve come
to the fore to echo the other two books; the circularity of film, dreams and
presentiment or deja vu.
Ouspensky frequently used the analogy of a film in TO (Hunter 2006:
21-22). He saw in the new ente1tainmenl medium a reflection of the way
he believed our lives are replayed agai n and again like a fi lm, the light of
our awareness projecting the recorded scenes on the screen of our senses
(Hunter 2006: 36). He also used the film metaphor as a three-dimensional
approximation of the "fourth-d imensional body" (Ouspensky 1920: 13).
Again, this core idea of TO is found in Osokin; "we not only live in one
time and in one place, but that we live in different times and in different
times simultaneously" (Ouspensky 198T 61). The repetition of circularity
as a motif also describes Osokin's primary existential obstacle to changing
his past. "His thoughts move in a circle, continually stopping at certain
particularly painful points" (Ouspensky 1987: so, 55) is the line which best
encapsulates it.
Dreams, especially recurring dreams, are a major thematic component throughout Osokin, lending Osokin's 'second life' an atmosphere of
unreality. For example, we read of Osokin immediately after he is sent
back by the Magician to his schoolboy youth: "Did I dream all that and
what did il mean?'' he says to himself. "And what I see now, is this too a
dream?" (Ouspensky 1987: 19). In Osokin's interior monologue, the reader
re!!ularlv encounters the same ontological scepticism. "Usually, in dream,
エィᄋセ@ mo;11ent I begin to realise that I am dreaming, I wake up at once"
(Ouspensky 1987: 25, 27); "Where does the dream begin and where does
reality begin'?" (Ouspensky 198T 30, 35, 37); "when dreaming he remembers another dream" (Ouspensky 198T 42, 43); "there arises in his mind the
memory of the magician's room and their last conversation ... It fee ls very

339

DAVID PECOTIC

FROM OUSPENSKY'S 'IIOIHlY' TO GROUNDHOG DAY

that everything must be changed" (Ouspensky 1934: 37); "when I was at
school before I was equally bored, because then too l knew everything"
(Ouspensky 1934: 71).

Ouspensky, analogous to any of the lines we know, as each branches ofT
at every point (Ouspensky 1934: 429- 431); and each is connected to all,
constituting one whole (458). What Osokin fictionalises is the impact of
the three dimensions of time upon human existences, and how an inner
ascending line can gradually lead them out of the circle of eternal recurrence and cause them to pass to another plane of being (Ouspensky 1934:
480-481). Inner development or individual evolution for Ouspensky is
equated with discovering, attaining and then escaping from the wheel of
the fifth dimension and passing into the spiral of the sixth dimension.
Recollection is central to achieving this, but it does not by itself engender
evolution. As Osokin also well illustrates, it may be the cause of still-worse
bondage in the fifth dimension (Ouspensky 1934: 484-485). More is clearly
required, and in the plot ofOsokin th is role is fulfilled by the Magician.

340

Textual Meaning in/ofOsokin: The Dimensions ofTime
As events unfold leading Osokin inexorably back to the Magician, his
experience of repetition becomes a metaphysical insight into the nature
of time: "everything that is happening now was the past then; and what
happened then is now the past" (Ouspensky 1987: 43); "all this both 'was'
and 'will be'" (Ouspensky 1987: 44, so); "[e ]verything exists forever. It
is we who go away from it" (Ouspensky 1987: 103, 107). Osokin's insight
acquires an almost existential quality: he becomes "terrified by the fact
that everything is beginning to happen exactly as before, as though the
wheel of some terrible machine were slowly turning" (Ouspensky 1987:
63), and "is pierced by the cold sensation that it has all happened before,
and happened in exactly the same way. He feels himself disappearing in
this sensation. He is not! He does not exist!" (Ouspensky 1987= 73. 79· 91).
Osokin's understanding of time parallels that found in both TO a nd
Model. Ouspensky's only other direct reference in Model to the "sensation that this has happened before," apart from the chapter on dreams, is
Chapter XI on eternal recurrence (Ouspensky 1934: 464- 513) where he situates these experiences within his understanding of time as the measure of
motion, as explained in the previous chapter (Ouspensky 1934: 423-463).
As movement through space requires that it is possessed of dimensionalicy, so too does time: and as space has three dimensions, so does time.
The three dimensions of time can be regarded as the continuation of the
dimensions of space, the 'fourth', the 'fifth', and the 'sixth' dimensions.
Every six-dimensional body becomes for us a three-dimensional body
existing in rime, and the properties of the fifth and sixth dimensions arc
usually imperceptible. The fourth dimension can be represented by a line
determined by th ree points 'before', 'now', and 'after' (Ouspcnsky 1934:
425- 427). It is this 'h igher dimension' that is the focus of TO and that
Model moved beyond.
The fifth d imension is eternity, the perpetual now of a given moment
and in which every moment participates, the fourth dimension of lime
taken as a whole. It is the curvature of time, an eternal ci rcular movement
th<lt has no beginning or e nd. The sixth dimension can be represented as
the spiral, the way out of the circle. A spiral of time is not, according to

341

Transmission and Preservation u.f Osokin.
It is clea r that Osokin had a strong function with in Ouspensky's groups.
Reading Osokin was a corporate exercise as it was standard practice for
all his manuscripts; a senior follower noted the practice of"reading aloud
from his books at group meetings, including Search" (Ouspensky 2ooo: 5).
There is archival evidence that chapters from Osokin were read to his
groups in London (Taylor 1978). This was certainly the case before it
was translated, for example, when in 1932 Ouspensky started a group for
Hussian emigres (Anonymous 1997: 145-148; Hunter 154- 155).
As we have seen, the meaning and structures of the novel underwent
a number of iterations through being read aloud and in groups. Strong
emotional reaction to the novel by his followers was common. Walker
noted that recurrence as presented in Osokin is •an idea that could be
approached ... emotionally from what one felt about one's own life"
(Walker 1995: 108). Another mentions "Ouspensky himself set considerable store by it" (Pentland 1999: 38). The question of why can be answered
by exploring how the novel supported analogous spiritual practices within
the NRM. Webb referred to a practice explicitly referred as "analogous"
in import to Osokin being sent back in time by the Magician; "to relive
the events of their lives in order to avoid repetitions-or 'recurrences' which provide each person with his persona l blind alleys" (Webb 1980:
453). Similar exercises were given to his s tudents; the ability to "move
through the 'Time-body' was one or the exercises I was taught," according
to Nicoll (Hunter 2006: 176; Pogson 1961: 252). This sheds new light on a

342

DAVID PECOTIC

passage from one of Ouspensky's posthumous books that appears to be
describing the same practice:
イ セ j オーッウ」@
you put yourself back ten years and find that you remember certain momems well. Then imagine that you know all that will happen. and
that you have to live it all over again, knowing it all- livt' through all the
mistakes, all the nonsense and so on. Then you will have a different view
of the whole thing. Everything is in you now if you study your life by going
backwards and then forward again. By using your imagination you will do it
consciously (Ouspensky 1957: 433).

More evidence of analogous spiritual exercises are provided by Walker,
who writes that during his final months Ouspensky "advised people to go
back into their pasts and to try to recall everything that had happened to
them, and particularly to recall those cross-roads at which it might have
been possible to have taken a different turn ing. He called this 'reconstructing' one's life" (Walke r 1995: 107).
The publicatio n of Osokin coincided with Ouspensky's death; it was at
th is j uncture that the functions it played for the group for which it was
wrillen became increasingly irrelevant as most former 'Ouspenskyians'
realigned themselves with another group, particularly that of Gurdj ieff,
who outl ived Ouspensky by two years. The 'reconstruction' exercise that
Ouspensky taught and which Osokin supported has most likely been lost
and is no longer practiced. The only evidence of an exception among his former fo llowers was Livin9 Time (1952), a book published by Maurice Nicoll,
based largely on Model and Osokin. Central to that text is Ouspensky's
interpretation of're-incamation': "the possibility ... for individually evolving men to go into the past and struggle against the causes of the present
evil which lie there" {Ouspensky 1934: 493-4; Nicolltgsz: t8o). According
to Hunter (zoo6: 49) this innovation is original to Ouspensky.

Preservation, Adaptation and Groundhog Day
llowcver, the novel was reprinted several times, and continues to find an
audience beyond that which it was inte nded. Yet, it is the lilm Groundhog
Day that gave Osokin its largest audience. The best evidence for this is a
blurb that llarold Ra m is contributed o n the back cover of t he Lindisfarne
edition of Osokin, which is worth quoting in full:
Strange Life of Ivan Osokin, whi le not the original inspiration for our fi lm
Groundhog Day, was one of those confirming cosmic arti rma1ions that we
had indl'l'd tnppcd into o ne of the great unive rsal problem of being. In n

FROM OUSP r:NSKY'S 'IIOBBY' TO GROUNDHOG DAY

343

novel that itself reads ike a v<•ry entertaining high -concept film, Ouspensky
suggests the antidote to the existential dilemma at the core of Groundhoy
Day: that trapped as we are on the karmic wheel of cause and effect, o ur
only means of escape is to assume responsibility for our own destiny and
ヲゥョセ@
the personal meaning that imparts a purposeful vitality to life and frees
us from the limitation> of our comcmpt (Ouspensky 2002) .

While it indicates that CD is clearly not a dtamatisation of Osokin, it would
be disingenuous to deny it influencc• through some degree of adaptation,
at least for Ramis. Rubin has always claimed that the draft screenplay was
inspired by the Anne Rice vampire novels, but other statements about
the film suggest some tamiliarity: for example, he "realized that having a
person repeat the same cay turns an eternity into a circle"; and that 'Just
thro ugh the act of repetition and paying attention and rem em bering, he is
fo rced to change who he is and by changing who he is, he changes ... the
world around him" ( Rubin 2010). The commentary on the fifteenth anniversary DVD, furthe rmore, reveals tha t in the early drafts of the script
Connors' recurre nce was caused by a magic spell similar to the situation
found in early versions o.· Osokin {Anonymous zou).
It is more t han coincidence, accord ing to Lachman (2004) who was a
practicing Gurdjeffian in New York in the early tgSos, that Bill Murray
was a nother New York Gurdjeffian. Murray spent four years after that in
France, studying, among other things, at the Paris Gurdj ieffFoundation. He
could not have been unaware of the novel's existence when he accepted
the role, which may be the reason Murray was reported to have argued
with Ramis during produ : tion, wanting the film to be more philosophical
than comedic {Anonymous zon). Other points of similarity with Osokin,
such as the central role played by a love interest to spur the lead role to
overcome recurrence, and the necessity of the lead character to realise
that the only escape from the wheel they are stuck on is to change oneself,
collectively speaks volumes about familiarity.
It is this philosophical component, redolent of so much in Ouspensky's
novel, that- along with perfect casting- has Jed to the film becoming
popular enough for the 1; hrase 'Groundhog Day' to be used as shorthand
for the concept of spiritu31transcendence (Daughton 1996; Spence zoo 5 ).
However, it is the emotional impact engendered by the simila r structures
e mbedded in both novel and film t hat a re mo re important: the fi lm also
a ttempts to ac hieve a sh1ila r emotional impact, a nd it does this more
immediately tha n through t he applic<ltion of a direct, positive philosophy.
Wl1ile enthusias m amo ng Buddhists is inevitable, its infl uence lies in its
appeal to wider the contemporary "spiritual pluralist" and "simula tional"

DAVID PECOTIC

FHOM OUSPENSKY'S 'HOBBY' TO GROUNDHOG DAY

meta-religious culture, and the one to which Ram is is closest (Brummett
zoo6: 271; Garfinkel 2009; Sluyter zoos). That the film is aligned with the
general 'spirituality' from which modern NRMs arise is exemplified by
the main difference between GD and Osokin: unlike the novel, the film
never explains the mechanism of recurrence and so is empty of doctrinal content and consequently of sectarian divisiveness. It is important to
recall here that fo r contemporary adaptation theory fidelity is no longer
an appropriate criterion for critically assessing an adaptation.
The next question that needs to be asked is through what channel or
mechanism did this influence occur. Osokin was first published in 1947
and was then out of print for twenty-four years. It was published again as
part ofThe Penguin Metaphysical Library, one of the first series of its kind
aimed at the general public in the wake of 196os counterculture. The general ed itor was the same jacob Needleman who is now a leading Gurdjieff
scholar, but was then better-known for coining the term 'new religions' for
t he mostly Asian spiritual traditions that were establishing themselves in
the United States. It was reprinted due to popular demand in 1972 with a
fineword by 'J.P.'
That these initials stand for john Pentland is almost certain (Pentland
was no 'Work' teacher. See Needleman [2009]). Pentland was the representative in America of the Paris Gurdjieff Foundation, and lead the
GurdjieffFoundation in New York. That foreword argued that "Ouspensky
saw ... cinema is uniquely fitted to reproduce the real history of a man
through showing a series of these deeper impressions .. . and the strange
sense of 'not existing' which connects them together" (Pentland 1ggg: 40 ).
This suggestion in a widely read series would not have been lost on a filmmaker deeply involved in contemporary spirituality. It also an example
of what cultural production elements are involved in the adaptation of a
novel which has its own shifting relationship with a NHM to a popular but
strongly 'spiritual' fi lm.

to their creation, distribution, evaluation, t ransmission and preservation
is that "net\vorks serve as conduits th rough which products and services a re replicated across diverse markets" (Peterson and Anand, 2004:
318). Whether these networks are comprised of texts, NHM groupings,
or Gurdjieffian actors living in. New York makes no difference. Indeed,
that standard cultural production theory does not take textual meaning
of Osokin where the author
deprives it of a potentia l actOr, as in the 」セウ・@
has designed the rhetorical structure of the text to have specific impacts
upon the reader. The novel was written primarily as an aid to the exercise of recollection or reconstruction, to help his followers move out from
the fifth-dimensional 'circle' and into the s ixth-dime nsional 'spiral'. This
is perhaps a contribution to the cultural production perspective that the
study of religions and NRMs in particular, where texts often have a life of
their own, is uniquely placed to make.
The disappearance of Osokin from the Gurdjieffian canon with the
demise of the Ouspenskyian branch, and the parallel growth of the novel's
influence in the wider occulture appear to be related. If future research
could substantiate further cases, this would add another element of the
cultural production perspective that would be unique to the study of
NRMs, where insider networks become contested and in some cases subsequently decline due to what Rawlinson calls "disputes over transm iss ion" in the 'Work' (1997: 132). It is an ironic testament to the sectarian
nature of NRMs that the effort to excise 'Ouspensky's hobby' from the
Gurdjieffian canon in an attempt to limit its influence gave it the necessary impetus to become one of the catchphrases and motifs of contemporary spirituality at large.

344

Conclusion
The cultural production perspective provides a robust and useful framework through which to quickly establish a plausible though by no means
exhaustive thread from Osokin to Groundhog Day in a cross-genre adap·
lation context where a one-to-one correlation can be difficult to establish, and which can boost wider theolising about the cultural influence
of NRMs. The common denominator for both novel and film with regard

345

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PART FOUR

THE GURDJ IEFF WORK

Brill Handbooks on
Contemporary Religion

Handbook of New Religions
and Cultural Production

Series Editors

Edited by

Carole M. Cusack, University of Sydney
james R. Lewis, University of Troms0

Carole M. Cusack and Alex Norman

Editorial Board

Olav Hammer, University of Southern Denmark
Charlotte Hardman, University of Durham
Titus Hjelm, University College London
Adam Possamai, University ofWcstcrn Sydney
Inken Prohl, University of ll cidelberg

VOLUME 4

BRILL

The titles ーオ「ャlセィ・、@

in this series are listed"' brill.n/jbltcr

J. F:([)EN · ROSTON
2012