[lit-ideas] Owen Barfield -- Meaning

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 19 Jun 2011 16:24:52 EDT

My last post today. I referred to this author below in my "Geary's  
Excerpted from wiki:
Owen Barfield (9 November 1898 – 14 December 1997) was a British  
philosopher, author, poet, and critic.

Barfield was born in London. 
He was educated at Highgate School and Wadham College, Oxford.
In 1920 received a 1st class degree in English language and literature. 
After finishing his B. Litt., which became the book "Poetic Diction: a  
study in meaning (1928)", he worked as a solicitor. 
Because of his career as a solicitor, Barfield contributed to philosophy as 
 a non-academic, publishing numerous essays, books, and articles. 
Barfield's primary focus was on what he called the "evolution of  
consciousness," which is an idea which occurs frequently in his writings. 
He is most famous today as a friend of C. S. Lewis and as the author of  
Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry.

Barfield met Lewis in 1919. 
In 1923 he married the stage designer Maud Douie. 
They adopted three children: Alexander, Lucy, and Geoffrey. 
Lewis wrote his 1949 book "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" for Lucy  
Barfield and he dedicated "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" to her brother  
Geoffrey in 1952. 
Barfield died in Forest Row in Sussex.

Barfield has been known as "the first and last Inkling". 
He was one of the initial members of the Inklings literary discussion group 
 based in Oxford -- more specifically, at the "Bird and Baby" pub across 
Grice's  college, St. John's. 
Barfield had a strong influence on C. S. Lewis, and, through his book  
(originally Oxon thesis), "Poetic Diction: a study in meaning"  (1928), an 
appreciable effect on J. R. R. Tolkien.
Lewis was a good friend of Barfield since 1919, and termed Barfield 
--- "the best and wisest of my unofficial teachers". 
That Barfield did not consider philosophy merely intellectually is  
illustrated by a well-known interchange that took place between Lewis and  
Lewis one day made the mistake of referring to philosophy as "a subject." 
"It wasn't a subject to Plato," said Barfield, "It was a way."
Lewis refers to Barfield as the "Second Friend" in Surprised by  Joy:

"But the Second Friend is the man who disagrees with you about everything.  
He is not so much the alter ego as the antiself. Of course he shares your  
interests; otherwise he would not become your friend at all. But he has  
approached them all at a different angle. He has read all the right books but  
has got the wrong thing out of every one. It is as if he spoke your language 
but  mispronounced it. How can he be so nearly right and yet, invariably, 
just not  right?"

Barfield became an anthroposophist after attending a lecture by Rudolf  
Steiner in 1924.
He studied the work and philosophy of Rudolf Steiner throughout his life  
and translated some of his works, and had some early essays published in  
anthroposophical publications. 
A study of Steiner's basic texts provides information on some of the ideas  
that influenced Barfield's work, but Barfield's work ought not be 
considered  derivative of Steiner's. 
Barfield expert G. B. Tennyson suggests the relation.
"Barfield is to Steiner as Steiner was to Goethe."

Barfield might be characterised as both a Christian writer, and a  learned 
anti-reductionist writer. 
By 2007 all of his books are in print again and include Unancestral Voice;  
History, Guilt, and Habit; 
Romanticism Comes of Age; 
The Rediscovery of Meaning
Speaker's Meaning
and Worlds Apart. 
History in English Words seeks to retell the history of Western  
civilization by exploring the change in meanings of various words. 
Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry is on the 1999 100 Best  
Spiritual Books of the Century list by Philip Zaleski.

Barfield was also an influence on T. S. Eliot who called Barfield's  book 
Worlds Apart 
---- "a journey into seas of thought very far from ordinary routes of  
intellectual shipping." 
It is a fictional dialogue between a physicist, a biologist, a  
psychiatrist, a lawyer-philologist, a linguistic analyst, a theologian, a  
Waldorf School teacher, and a young man employed at a rocket research  station. 
During a period of three days, the characters discuss first  principles.

In her book Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien's World,  
Verlyn Flieger analyzes the influence of Barfield's "Poetic Diction: a study in 
meaning" (1928) on the writing of J.R.R. Tolkien.

More recent discussions of Barfield's work are published in Stephen  
Talbott's The Future Does Not Compute: Transcending the Machines in Our Midst,  
Neil Evernden's The Social Creation of Nature, Daniel Smitherman's Philosophy  
and the Evolution of Consciousness, Morris Berman's The Reenchantment of 
the  World, and Gary Lachman's A Secret History of Consciousness. 
During 1996 Lachman conducted perhaps the last interview with Barfield,  
versions of which appeared in Gnosis magazine and the magazine Lapis.

In a foreword to "Poetic Diction: a study in meaning" (1928), Howard  
Nemerov, US Poet Laureate, stated: 
"Among the poets and teachers of my acquaintance who know "Poetic diction:  
a study in meaning" (1928), it has been valued not only as a secret book,  
but nearly as a sacred one."

Saul Bellow, the Nobel-Prize winning novelist, wrote: 
"We are well supplied with interesting writers, but Owen Barfield is not  
content to be merely interesting. His ambition is to set us free. Free from  
what? From the prison we have made for ourselves by our ways of knowing, our 
 limited and false habits of thought, our ‘common sense'."

James Hillman noted culture critic and psychologist called Barfield 
---- "one of the most neglected important thinkers of the 20th Century." 

"Owen Barfield: Man and Meaning" (1994), co-produced and written by G.  B. 
Tennyson and David Lavery, directed and edited by Ben Levin, is a 
documentary  portrait of Barfield.

Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry

Saving the Appearances explores some three thousand years of  history—
particularly the history of human consciousness. Barfield argues that  the 
evolution of nature is inseparable from the evolution of consciousness. What  
call matter interacts with mind and wouldn't exist without it. In the  
Barfield's lexicon, there is an "unrepresented" underlying base of reality that 
is extra mental. This is comparable to Kant's notion of the "noumenal  world".

Similar conclusions have been made by others, and the book has  influenced, 
for example, the physicist Stephen Edelglass (who wrote "The  Marriage of 
Sense and Thought"), and the Christian existentialist philosopher  Gabriel 
Marcel, who wanted the book to be translated into French.

Barfield points out that the "real" world of physics and particles is  
completely different from the world we see and live in of things with  

In our critical thinking as physicists or philosophers, we imagine  
ourselves set over against an objective world consisting of particles, in which 
do not participate at all. In contrast, the phenomenal, or familiar, world 
is  said to be riddled with our subjectivity. In our daily, uncritical 
thinking, on  the other hand, we take for granted the solid, objective reality 
the familiar  world, assume an objective, lawful manifestation of its 
qualities such as color,  sound, and solidity, and even write natural 
treatises about the  history of its phenomena—all while ignoring the human 
consciousness that (by our  own, critical account) determines these phenomena 
from the inside in a  continually changing way.

The particle world of physics is independent of human thought, and only  
indirectly accessible to humans. The world we see and perceive directly is  
dependent on and alterable by human thought (this is not to say there aren't 
or  are limits.) Both are 'real' or 'unreal' depending on the meaning of 
real; this  change over time in human thought is exactly Barfield's point.

"Poetic Diction: a study in meaning" (1928, originally Oxon  dissertation).

Barfield's dissertation, "Poetic Diction: a study in meaning" (1928)  opens 
with examples of "felt changes" arising in reading poetry, and discusses  
how these relate to general principles of poetic composition. 
But Barfield's greater agenda is "a study of meaning" -- like Grice's,  
Using poetic examples, Barfield attempts to demonstrate how the  
imagination works with words and metaphors to create what Barfield calls  
Barfield shows how the imagination of the poet creates new meaning,  and 
how this same process has been active, throughout human experience, to  create 
and continuously expand language. 
For Barfield this is not just literary criticism: it is evidence for the  
evolution of human consciousness.
This, for many readers, is his real accomplishment.
Barfield's is a unique presentation of "not merely a theory of poetic  
diction, but a theory of poetry, and not merely a theory of poetry, but a 
 of knowledge". 
Barfield's theory of meaning was developed directly from a close study  of 
the evolution of words and meaning, starting with the relation between the  
primitive mind's myth making capacity, and the formation of words. 
Barfield uses numerous examples to demonstrate that words originally had a  
unified "concrete and undivided" meaning, which we now distinguish as 
several  distinct concepts. 
For example, the single Greek word "pneuma" (which can be variously  
translated as "breath", "spirit", or "wind") reflects, Barfield argues, the  
primordial unity of these concepts of air, spirit, wind, and breath, all  
included in one "holophrase". 
This Barfield considers not the application of analogy to natural  
phenomena, but the discernment of its pre-existence. 
This is the perspective Barfield believes is original in the evolution of  
consciousness, which was "fighting for its life", as he phrases it, in the  
philosophy of Plato, and which, in a regenerate and more sophisticated form, 
 benefiting from the development of rational thought, needs to be recovered 
if  consciousness is to continue to evolve.

For a full bibliography including all essays, see Hipolito,  "Bibliography 
of the published Writings of Owen Barfield".
The Silver Trumpet novel. (1925)
History in English Words (1926) 
Poetic Diction: A Study In Meaning (1928) 

Romanticism Comes of Age (1944)
Greek Thought in English Words (1950) 
essay in: G. Rostrevor Hamilton, ed. (1950), Essays and Studies 1950, 3,  
London: John Murray, pp. 69–81  
This Ever Diverse Pair (1950) 
Saving the Appearances: a Study in Idolatry (1957) Evolution – Der Weg des  
Bewusstseins: Zur Geschichte des Europaischen Denkens. (1957) in German, 
Markus  Wulfing (trans.) Salvare le apparenze: Uno studio sull’idolatrie 
(2010) in  Italian, Giovanni Maddalena, Stephania Scardicchio (editors) Worlds 
Apart: A  Dialogue of the 1960s (1963) 
Unancestral Voice (1965) 
Speaker's Meaning (1967) 
What Coleridge Thought (1971) 

The Rediscovery of Meaning 
and Other Essays (1977) 

History, Guilt, and Habit (1979) 

Review of Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown  of  
Bicameral Mind (1979) essay in: Teachers College Record, 80, 1979-02,  pp. 

Language, Evolution of Consciousness, and 
the Recovery of Human Meaning (1981)
essay reprinted in "Toward the Recovery of Wholeness: Knowledge, Education, 
 and Human Values", ISBN 978-0807727584, p 55-61. 

The Evolution Complex (1982) essay in Towards 2.2, 6, Spring 1982, pp.  14–

Introducing Rudolf Steiner (1983)essay in Towards 2.4, 42, Fall-Winter  

Orpheus verse drama. (1983) ISBN 978-0940262010 

Listening to Steiner (1984) review in Parabola 9.4, 1985, pp. 94–100   

Reflections on C.S. Lewis, S.T. Coleridge and R. Steiner: An Interview with 
 Barfield (1985) in: Towards 2.6, Spring-Summer 1985, pp. 6–13  

Owen Barfield on C. S. Lewis (1989) G. B. Tennyson (ed.) 
The Child and the Giant (1988) short story in: Child and Man: Education as  
an Art, 22, July 1988, pp. 5–7  
Das Kind und der Riese — Eine orphische  Erzählung (1990) in German, 
Susanne Lin (trans.) 

A Barfield Reader: 
Selections from the Writings of Owen Barfield (1990) G. B. Tennyson (ed.) 
A Barfield Sampler: Poetry and Fiction by Owen Barfield (1993) 
edited by Jeanne Clayton Hunter and Thomas Kranidas 
References: Lavery, "How Barfield Thought", p. 5 -- The Independent,  
"Obituary: Owen Barfield" -- Hooper, "C.S. Lewis Companion and Guide", p. 622 
Flieger, "Splintered Light". -- C.S. Lewis, "Surprised by Joy", p. 225. -- 
C.S.  Lewis, "Surprised by Joy", pp. 199-200. -- Blaxland-De Lange, p.27. -- 
Grant,  pp. 113-125 
Tennyson, "Owen Barfield: Man and Meaning". -- Philip Zaleski,  '100 Best 
Spiritual Books of the Century, Harper-Collins,  
http://www.gradresources.org/worldview_articles/book.shtml  -- Flieger --  
Lachman, "One Man's Century", 
p. 8. -- Lachman, "Owen Barfield" -- "Poetic  Diction", p. 1. -- Bellow, 
"History, Guilt and Habit: Editorial review". --  Lavery, "Interview with 
James Hillman". -- "Encyclopedia Barfieldiana: The  Unrepresented" (entry). -- 
Remark of Barfield. In Sugerman, Evolution of  Consciousness", p. 20. 
Barfield, "Worlds Apart" as quoted here 

Sources: David Lavery, "How Barfield Thought:The Creative Life of Owen  
Barfield" (pdf), The Collected Works of David Lavery, 
(http://davidlavery.net/Collected_Works/Essays/How_Barfield_Thought.pdf) , 
Hooper, Walter (19 December 1997). "Obituary: Owen Barfield". The  
Independent (London). 

Walter Hooper (1998), C.S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide, HarperCollins,  
ISBN 9780060638801  
Verlyn Flieger (2002), Splintered Light: Logos and  Language in Tolkien's 
World, Kent: Kent State University Press, ISBN  0-87338-744-9  Barfield's 
influence is the main thesis of this book.  

C.S. Lewis (1998), Surprised by Joy, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN  

Simon Blaxland-De Lange (2006), Owen Barfield, Romanticism Comes of Age: a  
Biography, London: Temple Lodge  

Patrick Grant (1982), "The Quality of Thinking: Owen Barfield as Literary  
Man and Anthroposophist", Seven 3  

Gary Lachman, "One Man's Century: Visiting Owen Barfield", Gnosis 40:  8  

Gary Lachman, "Owen Barfield and the Evolution of Consciousness", Lapis  3  

Owen Barfield (1928), Poetic Diction: A Study In Meaning
Saul Bellow, History, Guilt and Habit: Editorial Review, Amazon, 

David Lavery, Interview with James Hillman, 

David Lavery, Encyclopedia Barfieldiana, 

G.B. Tennyson; David Lavery (1996), Ben Levin, ed., Owen Barfield: Man and  
Meaning documentary (VHS), Encino, California: OwenArts Productions, pp. 40 

Shirley Sugerman (2008), "A Conversation with Owen Barfield", Evolution of  
Consciousness: Studies in Polarity, San Rafael, Calif.: Barfield Press, pp. 
 3–28, ISBN 978-1597311168 . The work is a festschrift honoring Barfield at 
age  75. 

Owen Barfield (2010), Worlds Apart (A Dialogue of the 1960's), Middletown,  
Conn: Barfield Press UK, ISBN 978-0955958267  

Tuck, Donald H. (1974). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy.  
Chicago: Advent. ISBN 0-911682-20-1.  

Hipolito, Jane W. (2008), "Bibliography of the published Writings of Owen  
Barfield", in Shirley Sugerman, Evolution of Consciousness: Studies in 
Polarity,  San Rafael, Calif.: Barfield Society, pp. 227–261, ISBN 
978-1597311168,  http://barfieldsociety.org/BarfieldBibliog.pdf, retrieved 

Lionel Adey. C.S. Lewis's 'Great War' with Owen Barfield Victoria, BC:  
University of Victoria (English Literary Studies No. 14) 1978. 

Humphrey Carpenter. The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles  
Williams, and Their Friends. London: Unwin Paperbacks. 1981. 

Diana Pavlac Glyer. The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien 
 as Writers in Community. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press. 2007. 
ISBN  978-0-87338-890-0 

Roger Lancelyn Green & Walter Hooper, C. S. Lewis: A Biography. Fully  
revised & expanded edition. HarperCollins, 2002. ISBN 0-00-628164-8  

Karlson, Henry (2010). Thinking with the Inklings. ISBN 1450541305.   
[edit] External links

Owen Barfield Literary Estate - permissions, publications, academic  
research on Owen Barfield 

Journal of Inklings Studies peer-reviewed journal on Barfield and his  
literary circle, based in Oxford 

The Owen Barfield Society 

Owen Barfield website 

J. L. Speranza
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