A VOICE at the borders of silence: A Life in Search of the Self Through the Gurdjieff Work, Zen Buddhism and Art

William Segal, Author, Marielle Bancou-Segal, With, Mark Magill, Editor with Marielle Bancou-Segal. Edited by Mark Magill. Preface by Peter Brook, fore Overlook $29.95 (283p) ISBN 978-1-58567-442-8

In recent years, there has been a stream of books that use a blend of ancient Buddhist truths and common sense to show busy Americans how they can open an "inner door," as the Dalai Lama expresses it. How intrigued the Dalai Lama would be to read this posthumous autobiography of William Segal. Surpassing any effort at practical or everyday spirituality in recent memory, this beautiful work shows what it means to live, as Segal called it, a "double life." Segal was, judging by this record, a gifted athlete, a tough and independent businessman, an accomplished artist—a true rugged individualist. Yet his whole, rich, varied career reportedly was suffused with an inner stillness, an openness and meaning, that came from a deep, lifelong spiritual practice.

Pulled together by Segal's wife, Bancou-Segal, with the help of editor Magill, this memoir is a kind of gorgeous scrapbook that includes paintings, photographs, articles, diary entries and correspondence with artists, thinkers, businessmen and great spiritual teachers. "Bill was a man of many layers and if the outer layer was the man of today, the innermost core was an opening to eternity," writes one good friend, theater director Peter Brook, in a preface. Born in Macon, Ga., in 1904 to poor Romanian Jewish immigrant parents, Segal was an archetypal American success story. A football hero at New York University, he became the innovative publisher of 11 magazines, including the ground-breaking Gentry . He was also, among other things, a painter, writer and editor, an important promoter of trade with Japan and a connoisseur of art, wine, fashion and life. Above all, however, Segal was a seeker of truth—first as a student of P.D. Ouspensky and G.I. Gurdjieff and, later, D.T. Suzuki. By the end of his life at 96, he appears to have become a living embodiment of the Zen image of "the old man in the marketplace," conveying by his presence alone a sense of the wonder hidden within ordinary things.

By all accounts soft-spoken and gracefully deliberate, Segal was, as the Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman writes in his foreword, a "quiet harbinger of enlightenment in the West." Bancou-Segal describes Segal as an "avant-garde American of the Twentieth Century," and this book does seem especially timely and important now. It reveals what we can really make of our lives in a society that cherishes the individual. Segal offers brilliant proof that our proverbial drive and ingenuity can be used for something greater than material gain, that our freedom can take us all the way to liberation. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 10/27/2003
Release date: 11/01/2003
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