Essays, Book Chapters, and Monographs
on Owen Barfield and His Work
Barspecs: Owen Barfield's Vision
"There may be times when what is most needed is, not so much a new discovery or a new idea as a different ‘slant’: I mean a comparatively slight adjustment in our way of looking at the things and ideas on which attention is already fixed" (Appearances 11).
This is Owen Barfield’s modest, very modest, view of what he has offered us, his readers. What his writings do actually accomplish, for those willing to "hear" what he has to say, to "see" the potentiality to which he is pointing, in other words, to open their hearts and minds, is a very different angle of vision, effecting a radical shift of consciousness. We are enabled to glimpse a view into the process of life itself. Unlike the spectacles used nowadays to give us a look into "virtual reality," our "Barspecs" jolt us into a way of perceiving and thinking so that we may sense our actual participation in reality.
When we put on our Barspecs, this is what happens: we look into the depths of the evolution of consciousness, We learn through Barfield’s lucid and witty writings and extraordinary examples of changes in meaning--of words, perceptions, ideas--the vast differences in consciousness that have occurred over several millennia. But, as I see it, even that has not been his primary purpose--to reveal shifts in consciousness--although revealing the evolution of consciousness has been the persistent them of all of his writings. Nor has his overriding goal been to show the dynamics undergirding those changes--the workings of the polarity of opposites, whether poetic/prosaic, thought/perception, subject/object, man/nature however crucial the principle of polarity is to his thought.
Barfield’s studies of language and meaning are sparkling revelations of changes of consciousness in and of themselves, whether one reads History in English Words, Poetic Diction, or Speaker’s Meaning, especially. But even his spectacular excursions into the study of words, the archaeology of language and its evolving meaning, have not been his goal per se.
The doctrine of imagination, including the polar opposites imagination/fancy, as we find it expounded in Romanticism Comes of Age, Saving the Appearances, What Coleridge Thought, for example, play a profound role in Barfield’s thought. But it also serves a deeper purpose and is not an end in itself. The matter of the will, of the use of volition in relation to imagination, is another essential building block in the structure of Barfield’s thought. Without it he could not achieve his end. But neither is the way he envisions the importance of the will an end in itself.
One can read any of his books with delight and be enlightened. Each one stands on its own, in its own right. In one of Barfield’s earliest books, Romanticism Comes of Age (1944; second ed. 1967), he makes clear his unique and profoundly religious stance and at the same time his true purpose. In fact, it is this volume that reveals to us, and confirms what Barfield has said--that he is "always the same." His end is implicit in his beginning. This work consists of essays ranging over a variety of subjects, but as the title suggests, it carries the import of the maturity of romanticism. Barfield finds this maturation in the writings of Rudolf Steiner, whose thought has informed his own and to whom he suggests the reader should turn for further elaboration of what consciousness might be. Finally--"the still deeper impulse . . . will steer its way into the light of full consciousness (Romanticism Comes of Age 22). It is his belief that for this to be reached, the "findings of [Steiner’s] spiritual science" are essential.
In his slight and seemingly insignificant book, This Ever Diverse Pair (1950), we find the all important concept of polarity, or rather polarity itself, working in the person of Barfield himself, if I may be forgiven for applying a concept to a person. But then, according to Barfield, the tension of polar opposites works within us as surely as it does in the world about us. In the unusual dialogue between Burden/Burgeon, observe and reverse sides of Barfield himself, we hear the one a bit drudging and restrained, while the other tends to be expansive, the one burden with the material mechanics of living, the other wishing to Burgeon forth. We find in the characters of Burden/Burgeon the tension between those polar contraries, distinguishable but not divisible; we find it reconciled finally in Burgeon’s awareness that both the prosaic and poetic aspects of his life are necessary. According to Barfield, they "exist by virtue of each other as well as at each other’s expense" (Speaker’s 38). We notice that the underlying principles for the evolution of consciousness is already intact. For "it is on the dynamic interpenetration of polar opposites that the evolution of consciousness depends. . . . The Poetic tends to expand infinitely to create new meanings, while the Prosaic strives to apprehend and to identify distinctions in that infinity" (Evolution XI). It "is the Burdens of this world who keep the traditions alive, it is the Burgeons who create them" (Diverse 115). This is fundamental Barfield.
We have only to pick up Poetic Diction (1952) to discover that the author is himself keenly aware that his vision is different from that of others: In the first place, "the ‘general principles’ (11) [about which he writes] . . . take the form rather of pictures and metaphors than of propositions," in itself a divergence from the ordinary. "Moreover, owing to their discrepancy from many opinions which are very commonly regarded . . . as definitely established, much more time has been spent in developing and defending them than would ordinarily have been necessary . . ." (11). This also seems to account for the intensity of argument we find in most of his writing. For in this volume Barfield asserts that not only is poetry a means of knowing--poetry as epistemology--but that epistemology is also ontology--that knowing in its most developed form also means "bringing into being." This is the principle that underlines all of Barfield’s thought. Poetic Diction, he writes, "attempts to show how reflection on the poetic in language can lead to the perception that it flows from two different sources, one of these being the nature of language itself . . . and the other the individualized imagination of a poet; and how this in turn leads to an understanding of the evolution of human consciousness" (29). We find in this one statement and by extension this one book, with its particular emphasis on the interpenetration of polar opposites language/poet Prosaic/Poetic, the concepts of polarity and the importance of imagination as well as their role in the history of the whole mind, including the unconscious. Poetry for Barfield affirms the underlying unity of mind and world--pointing in this volume toward the ultimate meaning of all of his literary and philosophical efforts. Poetic Diction is also fundamental Barfield!
History of the whole mind is again the subject of History in English Words (1953), in that Barfield here distinguishes between what we know as the history of ideas and the history and evolution of human consciousness. Barfield refers to this book in Speaker’s Meaning (25) as "my own slight attempt at a semantic approach to Western history." He continues, regarding this unique work: "Although many other far more learned studies have been made of various words and their histories. I do not myself know of any other attempt so far to apply the method systematically . . . to the study of history in general." We note again his use of language as a method of studying the movement of history and furthermore, he writes, "to use it in fact as a means (my italics) rather than an end in itself." He uses it as a means, we gather in the context of the corpus of his work, to a greater end--to explore the evolution of consciousness, of which changes in meanings of words are evidence. Through the historical and analytical study of words Barfield here traces the process of the internalization of the "cosmos in which the spirit and spontaneity of life had moved of Nature and into man . . . until . . . Romanticism sounded its call to imagination to give back their teeming life to Nature" (History in English Words 217). This "re-animation of Nature was possible because the imagination was felt as creative in the full religious (my italics) sense of the word" (218). His mission in this book, as well as the others, is to let us know where we have been so that we can find out where we must go. Those two questions belong together.
To clarify Barfield’s idea of polarity, to put it as simply as possible and as briefly: I understand polarity to mean the tensive interdependence and interpenetration of opposite forces, which, however, have one source. "One wind, two directions" is an image that fits. It is the coalescing of those opposites, without a loss of their respective identities, on which the evolution of consciousness depends, according to Barfield. This concept is applicable whether in the context of the relation of macrocosm to microcosm, of poetry to prose, self to other, subject to object. When asked (Evolution 18) about the relation of polarity to the philosophy of objective idealism, Barfield replied, in part, that:
"Objective idealism" contends that reality, individual being, however you think of it, consists in the polarity between the subjectivity of the individual mind and the objective world which it perceives. They are not two things, but they are one and the same thing and what you call the objective world is merely one pole of what is a unitary process and what we call subjective experience is the other pole, but they are not really divided from each other. I don't think I can put it shortly any more clearly than that. (Evolution 18)
Without clarity regarding polarity, we cannot understand Barfield at all.
He went on to say, "I tried to put it in Saving the Appearances, treating it there especially from an historical point of view. I would say that the attempt to express it philosophically was more fully worked out in Worlds Apart, which could be characterized possibly as almost a presentation in dialogue form of objective idealism" (18). Worlds Apart is cast in the form of a lively dialogue among eight participants led by our friend, the solicitor Burgeon, who questions the assumptions of the major orthodoxies of our time--in theology, science, philosophy, and psychiatry. Here, Barfield/Burgeon and friends are engaging us, the readers, in a discussion in a unique way about even more unusual views of human consciousness. Burgeon is trying with all his verbal might to eliminate traces of unresolved positivism, to make clear the tensive polarity of the "objective" world and our "subjective" consciousness. However, all of this is intended to point the way to the true goal, to redemption.
The dialogue continues in Unancestral Voice (1965), but with quite an interesting addition: the Meggid, the interior voice that is anterior to all voices (42), in which creative Logos and sacred coalesce. It is in this form that Barfield insinuates himself against the prejudice of unresolved positivism., that is against the idolatry of materialism. The Meggid teaches Barfield/Burgeon the core of the theory of evolution. "The real process is indeed repeated and recapitulated at all levels and over all manner of period of time. Wherever you look you will find that sequence: the descent of immaterial forces into the material, which they create by so descending, followed by their setting free and re-ascent . . . [over] a period as long as the whole history of the earth" (46). It is through these forming and "informing forces" that evolution takes place. But unless we arrive at that awareness and become alerted to the presence of the forces of evil that oppose the good spiritual guides of evolution, we will descend into chaos and "worse than chaos," into "an organized subhumanity" (57).1 How sharp a call for the full light of consciousness. How prophetic!
Changes in human consciousness are as ever the subject of the four lectures that constitute Speaker’s Meaning (1967). Barfield argues against the standard evolutionist view that the world began with non-consciousness--that human consciousness was a clean slate--which then appeared at some point, filled and expanded as time went on. This little volume’s purpose is to show the reverse is true--again, we must adjust our Barspecs--that in fact there has been a "contraction of meaning as a process that has evidently been characteristic of language from its earliest known stage." Meaning has been internalized.
His method is as usual semantic. He draws our attention to the way changes in meaning occur by observing the impact of "speaker’s meaning" on "lexical meaning." These "meanings" are involved in a constant process of change whether contracting or expanding made possible by the discrepancy between the two (27). Concentrating on the moment of change of meaning awakens us to fundamental assumptions (44), and a progress . . . comes about only when we question . . . our fundamental assumptions." This "is a crucial point . . . the most fundamental assumptions of any age are those that are implicit in the meanings of its common words" (44). Revealing those assumptions reveals the consciousness of the age. 2 Extraordinary method, this, of getting to the interior reaches of the mind and the process of thought!
Referring to the collection of essays in Romanticism Comes of Age (24), Barfield writes that in "a collection of this nature without one essay actually on [Samuel Taylor Coleridge] would be too much like Hamlet without the Prince." So it is here, in regard to What Coleridge Thought (1971), in a discussion of Barfield’s writings. This book is perhaps the centerpiece of Barfield’s work. It carries not only his exposition of Coleridge’s "dynamic philosophy" and is a brilliant telling of the "what" of Coleridge’s thought, but it is a way of Barfield’s exploring his most profound concerns: the concept of polarity, the active imagination that realizes that concept, the historical nature of human consciousness and the "objective" world. He found in Coleridge a congenial spirit and the intellectual clarification in a philosophical structure of the concept of polarity, which he already "knew." He acknowledges his debt to Steiner, however, who did not philosophize about it, but thought as a matter of course in terms of polarity, for his actual imaginative experience of polarity. As noted earlier, Barfield emphasizes that it is in Steiner’s "spiritual science" that he finds the maturity lacking in the Romantic impulse and its that with which we have to come to terms for the redemption of our world.
In The Rediscovery of Meaning (1977), Barfield’s range of scholarship and grasp of diverse disciplines--philosophy, theology, language, science, history, religion--are quite apparent. Although, as he admits, his theme is always the same, he builds on it from many different angles. There is ever "unity in the diversity" of what he thinks and writes. As he says, there is "an effective unity of content underlying the apparent fragmentation" [my emphasis] (3), which we can find throughout his writings. The thread that is visible all along, "that is always being reaffirmed is the importance of penetrating to the antecedent unity underlying apparent or actual fragmentation" (3). That is the understanding--religious for Barfield--that we find the One in the many.
A wonderful record and fond commentary on Barfield’s long friendship with C. S. Lewis is found in Owen Barfield on C. S. Lewis (1989). More than that, it is a discussion of what they had in common and particularly wherein their "opposition" lay. It seems as though they diverged mainly on the idea of the evolution of consciousness! While Lewis thought revelation happened once and for all, Barfield, as we know, believed in the ongoing process of the evolution of consciousness--therefore of revelation. It is through the lens of the recording of their friendship and the contraries that lay within it that we learn not only about C. S. Lewis, but we actually learn more about Barfield. himself. By contrast, by "opposition," our knowledge of Barfield is moved into clearer focus and our Barspecs polished.
There are several other books of Barfield’s prose and poetic writings. The Silver Trumpet (1925; sec. ed. 1968) a children’s fairy tale, that, if you are familiar with his writings, echoes imaginatively Barfield’s views about separation and attachment, losing and finding again--in this case the loss and recapture of the treasured silver trumpet.
Orpheus (1983) is a "drama of sacrificial death and rebirth" (129). Again we find the theme dramatically and imaginatively enacted of the evolution of consciousness and, as Barfield wrote, the enigma of the relation between man and woman. "Can Eros become Agape? (10).
The third is the recent and most welcome publication A Barfield Sampler (1989). It is a "representative selection of Barfield’s verse, spanning forty five years of creativity" (12), and prose fiction ranging over fifty years. These long ignored pieces (including the sonnets which Maud Barfield once said to me should be unearthed) deserve the recognition they receive in this admirable publication. At the same time they give Barfield’s readers the opportunity to experience Barfield’s views on the evolution of consciousness in their poetic mode. More than that, the man, his humor, his love of words and his love all shine through.
When seen together, his writings reveal a sense of purpose in the total Barfield ouevre, which although he barely makes it explicit anywhere, is implied everywhere one looks. One could take any one of his books and extrapolate from it his wide philosophy--the whole is in the parts.
What vision do our Barspecs reveal? In this article the major points of entry into his way of seeing will be first History, Guilt, and Habit and then Saving the Appearances. Having well in mind the limitations and pitfalls involved in an attempt to condense and yet elicit the thoughts of so lucid and sophisticated a writer, I hope that his latent purpose and the grand plan his writings encompass become manifest as we read on. To discern his vision and his purpose , by its very nature, is not easy. As Barfield tells us in History, Guilt, and Habit (19), we are so thoroughly embedded in fossilized language and in habits of thought and perceptions that cloud our vision, that we must exercise an act of will to see through the Barspecs he has given us. We are in a "collective state of mind" (70) that he characterizes as "idolatry." Over millennia, we have objectified the world around us: perception has been cut off, screened by thoughts hardened by habit. The world which originally was perceived as images, we now perceive as empty objects--idols. Originally human consciousness participated in the world of objects--perceptions and thoughts interpenetrated each other. Perceived and perceiver were one.
We are indeed ourselves divided, detached and imprisoned by virtue of this separation from our source. Moreover, this encapsulation leaves the self empty, cut off from inner and outer reality--a false self--imprisoned (50-54).
What has happened? How did we fall into this state of idolatry, of separation and self enclosure? In the course of time, as our inner world and the outer world of nature have become detached, we look back and assume that a prehistoric consciousness was like ours, but "primitive." The development of our common sense of the world and ourselves "has consisted in its becoming blind to one half of reality, while retaining the other. It has come to accept and value the outer for its own sake only and not as the manifestation or garb of another and immaterial component. Reality is assumed to consist of things not of images" (48). This is what Barfield calls the sin of idolatry--the single "vision" of Blake.
How can we emerge from this predicament? The way out is to "smash the idols" (Appearances , to chip away at the wall of our self-enclosure. To release us us from our predicament, the sin of idolatry. Barfield turns to the study of language. But the difficulty is he writes:
. . . the langage of today is itself the product, the manifestation, of the very thing we are trying to undermine. (History, Guilt, and Habit 20-21)
However, Barfield assures us that it is not impossible. First of all, we must start with our perceptions and "try to become aware of some of the habi of thought that is structurally inseparable from the world" (30). We must in other words notice the wall of division between subject and object that has been built into our thinking over many years. We must become aware that the contemporary meanings of words cannot be projected back into earlier periods of history. For what we have is a different sort of consciousness, not only different thought but different perceptions. The two, Barfield maes clear, are inextricably intertwined or interpenetrated. Our current detachment--our single vision--was not always so. Observer and observed were at one time in a close creative relationship. This relationship can be seen more clearly in language than elsewhere and he has in many places given evidence of that fact. We find it in Poetic Diction and History in English Words in particular. Studying the meanings of words "alwas points us back to a cultural period when there was a much closer interpenetration between thinking and perceiving than is the case with us today" (History, Guilt 39). Barfield describes this mode of consciousness as "original participation," a consciousness in which words had a material as well as immaterial significance. Outer and material was always an expression of inward and immaterial. To undermine our unconscious assumption on which our conscious world view is based, to help us to escape our "collective mental habit," what Barfield has done in all of his writings has been to use the "spade" of language.
To eliminate our subconscious foundation of materialism, the "residue of unresolved positivism," he writes that,
[T]he first step of all is to realize that the mental habit is a prison. One way, probably the most effective way, in which that realization can be brought about is by recalling your own history, that is the history of mankind, as thinking and perceiving beings; by contemplating in fact the history of consciousness. And one way, again, of doing that . . . is by contemplating the history of words and their meanings. But one way or another, what matters is our coming to realize that the way we habitually think and perceive is not the only possible way, not even a way that has been going on very long. It is the way we have come to think, the way we have come to perceive. (74)
To break the habit we must "form a new habit at variance with the old one" (75). We must think with deliberation, choose to think our own thoughts by an act of will, for it is unconscious will that traps us in habitual thoughts. By these means we may rid ourselves of the residue of "unresolved positivism"; we may experience self discovery. The imagination required to break down the prison walls requires an act of will. "Imagination is really thinking with a bit of will in it" (80). It is "the creative Logos working in man" (Unancestral).
Released from that prison what would we know? Shaken from our unconscious foundations we may begin to envision the long process of the evolution of consciousness and with that the unfolding of Barfield's ultimate purpose. Looking backward, Barfield guides us in Saving the Appearances through that evolution on a voyage of discovery of self and world. As already noted, in the beginning man participated in the world directly through perceptions, life was intensely lived, pre-logical and pre-thought. The essence of it was the link between perceiver and perceived. Now, we not only think differently at a distance from phenomena, but the phenomena themselves, because "consciousness is correlative to phenomenon," (Appearances 65) are not the same. Again, we cannot look back and assume the same world. Although we still do participate in the phenomenal world, we are not conscious of doing it. We can, at this point, only remind ourselves of it intellectually, as we are doing now. Barfield's view is that "what [primitive man] saw was not primarily determined by beliefs. On the other hand . . . what we see is so determined" (58). It is these beliefs that constitute the habit of thought that walls off self from world. His angle of vision is the opposite of what we usually hear: that primitive thought was metaphorical and mythical. The "contrast between primitive and modern consciousness is connected with beliefs, but in exactly the opposite way to what is generally supposed" (58). Our Barspecs turn our heads around—or rather they radically readjust our vision. Our "participation" ceases to be conscious precisely because we cease to attend to it. "But . . . participation does not cease to be a fact because it ceases to be conscious. It merely ceases to be . . . 'original' participation" (81).
When did this occur? Barfield points to the disappearance of participation in the 18th and 19th centuries (61). At that time the phenomena of nature were seen as objects, they were unparticipated—disconnected from human consciousness. The world as it appears to us was understood as wholly independent of man. The only connection between self and world was by way of the senses. The phenomena had become idols. "Literalness reigned supreme" (62).
But "no good," according to Barfield "can come of any attempt to hark back to . . . original participation . . ." (85). He turns instead to the "lost world'' of medieval thought. In fact, he states emphatically: "it is a lost world—although the whole purpose of this book [Saving the Appearances] is to show that its spiritual wealth can be, and indeed, if incalculable disaster is to be avoided, must be regained" (85). In this "lost world," to learn about the nature of words was at the same time to learn about the true nature of things (80) for "the phenomenon itself only achieves full reality (actus) in the moment of being 'named' by man; that is, when that in nature which it represents is united with that in man which the name represents" (85). A participating consciousness is one in which there is an act of union with that which lies behind the representations: it is involved in the act of bringing the potential into being. The polarity actual/potential (88) underlies the whole course of the evolution of consciousness. Herein lies the essence of the significance of medieval thought for Barfield and that which must be regained for our modern world, regained as an actual experience, not as a theory. Today that requires "special exertion" (89), the creative act of imagination, for we are "divided selves in a divided world," as R. D. Laing has put it, man and nature divorced.
We live now within the constrained scientific understanding of the separate "laws of nature." After the Middle Ages, the consciousness of the world as actualized potential, the awareness of that polarity, gradually began to disappear. By the time of the Scientific Revolution, a participating consciousness had been replaced by theories of mechanical cause and effect. A whole different world view came into being, our contemporary world view, whose twisted skeins Barfield has attempted to unravel and to undermine.
The destruction of the participating consciousness was furthered, although in an entirely different manner, by the "religious impulse of the Jewish nation" (Appearances 107). That destruction of idolatry struck at original participation and its "sense that their [sic] stands behind the phenomena. and on the other side of them from man, a represented, which is of the same nature as man" (111). Quite the contrary, the Jewish people set I am at a distance from them as wholly Other. However, it was not the same mind set as that of the scientific revolution. It was rather an "in gathering withdrawal from participation. . . . Indeed . . . it might be described as a concentration or centripetal deepening of participation . . . (114). For He had now only one name—I AM—and that was participated by every being. . . . But it was incommunicable, because . . . no being who speaks through his throat can call a wholly other and outer Being 'I'."
The idols needed to be smashed: "the whole tenor of the Old Testament suggests that the imaginal consciousness characteristic of original participation was being destroyed, precisely in order that it might be reborn. The rejection of idolatry . . . meant not the destruction but the liberation of the images" (172). It meant the freedom for man's imagination to express those images or, to use Coleridge's language of polarity, that made possible "detachment so as to reproduce attachment."
Barfield continues to steer further on his unique course to point the way—not back—but out—the way of reversal, in this case. The way out of our "subjective emptiness," the "null point between original and final participation" (179) involves a "violent change in the whole direction of human consciousness. . . . Henceforth the life of the image is to be drawn from within. The life of the image is to be none other than the life of the imagination" (178). To stir the imagination requires an act of will. Although the Romantic movement suggested that, it didn't ripen into what Barfield looks for: a deepening of participation in which we not only recognize that man is in a directionally creator relation (130) to the phenomenal world, but that it is the systematic use of imagination that is required. If the phenomenal world is correlative to our consciousness and that is continually evolving, how it evolves matters very much. Original participation with its inherent coherence and meaning has been lost. Since participation must henceforth come frosm within and has as its source the consciousness of man, it is necessary to be careful that we exercise imagination in such a way as to save any sense of meaning in our world. For that to occur final participation must be "consciously experienced"; it "must itself be raised from potentiality to act" (137). Although conscious participation has barely appeared on the horizon, Barfield points to that event as having already occurred: at the "turning point of time" when "a man was born who identified himself with, and carefully distinguished himself from, the Creator of the world. . . . In one man the inwardness of the Divine Name had been fully realized; the final participation, whereby man's Creator speaks from within man himself, had been accomplished" (170). Piety for Barfield (159) clearly does not "depend on original participation." It means, rather, that man would strive, in recognition of the Divinity within him to create as the Divine creates. Man stands in an I/Thou relation to the Creator and his creation and in order for there to be that relation there must be identity as well as distance. The Divine source—the creator of all, also creates through man. Revelation, then, continues through man as medium. With the ''loss of original participation," the phenomenal world is dependent on man's volition and creative imagination. God creates nature and history through man.
Imagine the responsibility and the moral task with which Barfield endows mankind! Barfield puts us on the difficult path of self knowledge, "with all the unacceptable humiliations which that involves" (163). But as Barfield said, the Greeks taught that "all knowledge is self-knowledge—a proposition which may be said to conceal the root of all human wisdom" (Romanticism 39). Furthermore, that knowledge itself must be elicited from within (where, in fact it must already potentially be), if after all we are to be the willing vehicles of the creative Word—the Logos.
But that is exactly what Barfield has been up to—a thoroughly moral and religious (religio=to re-attach) task—a transformation of our consciousness for redemptive purpose. His goal has been to change our vision, if "civilization is not to come crashing about our ears" (44). He would change our "fallen" experience of ourselves and nature—emptiness within and without—a nature "devoid of spirit," to the sort of consciousness which would experience an outer world as "manifestation of our being" and an inner world as being "filled with the spirit" (212). His purpose lies in his vision that "the whole of humanity should eventually acquire such a consciousness" for it "is the entelechy of the earth-evolution as a whole" (44). The structure of his thought is in fact a theological one. He speaks of original participation. Read it as original "innocence." He speaks of idolatry as our predicament. Read it as the "Fall" into separateness of man and nature and its corollary Egotism. He speaks of the need for awareness of our idolatry and the smashing idols. Read it as the path of salvation. He awakens us to our role in creation via the creative imagination—or ''final participation," that is, the actual experience of participation. Read it as repentance, "turning," the salvation of man and nature, in order to enter the "mystery of the kingdom" (Appearances 182). A grand plan, indeed!
By way of epilogue, there remains the question why there has been a reluctant acceptance of his writings and the reasons for a lack of wider recognition. Smashing of idols is not a popular enterprise! Barfield recognizes this when he writes about the literal man that an "attempt is being made. . . to undermine his idols . . . which in the end must lead him to self knowledge . . . which . . . is the very thing which he is avoiding" (163). Undermining our assumptions, delightfully persuasive as the rhetoric is, is not likely to be greeted with enthusiasm or ready belief. Prophets doing just that have never had an easy task!
What else stops Barfield's thought from being widely embraced? Perhaps it is that to which it inevitably leads us: the very notion underlying the evolution of consciousness is ultimately the "loss of self," as Steiner has written, and Goethe knew, and Barfield knows. Although in final participation, in the use of creative imagination, there would be a heightening of self consciousness, there threatens also a sense of the loss of self. Speaking of the Eastern maxim tat tvam asi—I am that—Barfield writes: "In the Greek expression 'Know thyself' we really find the same principle embodied . . . If 'I' in my true self . . . am that (the apparently objective) in fact then it is only by knowing that and by knowing it imaginatively that I can 'know myself' (Romanticism 30-31). In a word, imagination involves a certain disappearance of the sense of 'I' and 'Not I.' It stands before the object and feels 'I am that"' (30). The transformation that that presupposes has been long "unconsciously feared," Barfield tells us, through the unancestral voice of the Meggid in the book Unancestral Voice. We do not want to penetrate the great illusion of positivism, to understand "the relation between yourself on the one hand and, on the other, your body as at once a part of nature and her epitome" (153). For if "a man breaks through the mirror to look behind it, he encounters . . . the forces of destruction. But not them alone. For the centre of destruction is also the centre of rebirth" (162). There dwells the inner word, the creative Logos, to be spoken by and through man. Hence the unancestral voice.
We shall, Barfield quotes Steiner as saying, have to overcome our Egotism and for that "the thing of greatest importance when we begin to approach the spiritual world is, that we learn to regard ourselves absolutely with the same indifference with which we regard the outer world" (Romanticism 215). Barfield then asks: "What are we to make of such a hard saying? . . . Would it not be better to turn back before it is too late?" In fact, he tells us, we have a choice: "Either [the Consciousness Soul] may lose itself in the arid subtleties of. . . intellectualism, which no longer has any life . . . or, by uniting itself with the Spirit of the Earth, with the Word, it may blossom into the Imaginative Soul, and live" (80). Does Barfield turn back? Of course, he does not! And let us not fool ourselves. We cannot stop here, either, if we are to accept the threshold to which Barfield has already led us, and which has been implicit--if not explicit--in his work from the very beginning. We must recall that beginning in Romanticism Comes of Age, which precedes his other writings and recall also that he has said "there is no early or late Barfield." It has always been the same thing (Unancestral Voice).
By way of his unique angle of vision, he has led us to that consciousness—to the possibility of final participation—as the next stage in the evolution of consciousness. We have already, if we are still with him, "suffered that change of direction of the whole current of man's being—that metanoia, or turning about of the mind, for which the heart's name is repentance" (Appearances 180). That has been his intention.
I can almost hear Burgeon speaking (Diverse 115): "I began to wonder drowsily if we Burgeons need always remain sleeping partners. Why should not we wake up . . . and take a hand once more in she practice both of law and of life? . . . I seemed to myself to hear. . . the cries of Sleepers awake! and Up, the Burgeons!" Is not that Barfield's call to all of us?
A discussion of the 16th Century Meggid can be found in the book
by Joseph Karo to which Barfield refers.
2 Cf. Thomas Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions regarding the nature of paradigms.
3 See Unancestral Voice re: forces of evil, page 56ff.