Monday, 31 July 2017

Owen Barfield in reverse

Owen Barfield typically explained himself by starting with evidence (for example the evidence for evolution of language, or for understanding human evolution as beginning with consciousness) and leading up to his conclusions.

However, I suspect it may be easier to understand Barfield if we begin with his conclusions, and then describe how these conclusions can be used to interpret the evidence.

This may be easier to understand; and it is also more correct - because evidence is always capable of multiple interpretations and therefore many people will get 'stuck' in the evidential stage of Barfield's arguments and never arrive at the point of understanding where the arguments were leading, or why.

For example, Barfield vastly documented the evidence for the evolution of meanings of words, and interpreted this as evidence of changing human consciousness. However, the fact is that there are other, especially cultural, ways of explaining the pattern of changes in meanings of words without invoking an evolution of human consciousness. (Indeed, Barfield's ideas are quite often misinterpreted as being  a type of 'pot-modern' cultural relativism.) The same applies to all other sources of evidence.

As so often, it is a matter of metaphysical assumptions. Normal mainstream modern people have (largely unconscious and unacknowledged) assumptions such as that bodies evolved before minds, and that minds evolved before consciousness; and that human consciousness is the same in all cultures and at all points in history. All evidence is interpreted in light of these assumptions - and therefore evidence cannot challenge these assumptions.

Therefore it may be helpful to start with the destination; to start with Barfield's assumptions. For example that There is a God, Christianity is true, God has a plan for the evolution of human consciousness, that this plan aims at making Men into Gods, and that the whole of creation is organised around this.

But the divine destiny entails Men becoming more and more free, as their selves become more distinct from the rest of creation - so that, individually or collectively, Men can and do refuse to go-along-with God's hopes and plans for our evolution.

Once this is understood, it may be easier to grasp what Barfield is saying.

Owen Barfield and Rudolf Steiner - the nature of the relationship

Owen Barfield regarded Rudolf Steiner as his master, as indeed one of the great thinkers of human history (of a stature comparable to Aristotle); and devoted much of his life to working for the Steiner's cause.

Nonetheless, in terms of Steiner's own writings for the public, Barfield's direct advocacy of Steiner was selective:

1. Christian Framework

Barfield shared Steiner's Christian Framework - although he wrote about it less often than did Steiner. Barfield regarded the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ as the central and dividing event in cosmic history.

(Barfield, also shared Steiner's unorthodox - but Gospel-based - explanation of the dual God-Man nature of Jesus Christ as having been some kind of combination of two persons.)

2. Steiner's Philosophy.

My impression is that Barfield especially valued Steiner's philosophical works: that is his three early books - the first one sometimes translated as the Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception (1886) was one that Barfield sometimes described as Steiner's least read but most important book; the other two are Steiner's PhD thesis Truth and Knowledge (1892) and the Philosophy of Freedom/ Spiritual Activity (1896).

Steiner's ideas are usually described as setting-out an Epistemology (that is, a theory of knowing and valid knowledge) but I personally regard them as being more fundamental than that, and instead describing a metaphysics (that is setting-out the fundamental nature of reality).

For example; Steiner regarded the activity of Thinking as a the primary reality, and attempted to argue and prove this 'epistemologically' by evidence and reason and without discussion first assumptions. However, I would suggest that this is actually a metaphysical assumption, not an obvious conclusion - especially since this view about the primacy of Thinking seems to have been unique to Steiner at the time it was made.

(I should point-out that I personally accept this assumption of the primacy of thinking - which I regard as a major and essential breakthrough in human self-understanding; but I accept it on intuitive grounds, and not because of the 'evidence' for it.) 

3. What Barfield does not mention (much)

Beyond Steiner's basic philosophy; Barfield accepted and advocated Steiner's vision of world history as an evolution of consciousness - through different stages, starting with an un-free, disembodied state of total consciousness with no discrete 'self'; and incrementally moving through incarnation towards modern Man's state of alienated freedom, without consciousness of anything outside The Self.

Barfield's future destination of Final Participation corresponds to Steiner's Spiritual Soul - as being a state which combines freedom and consciousness for the first time. However, Steiner mapped-out a timetable for the evolution of consciousness, projected hundreds, even thousands, of years into the future; and Barfield did not seem to endorse this in his writings.

Nor did Barfield say much about the vast body of highly detailed and specific Spiritual Science (in agriculture, education, medicine, politics etc. etc.) which Steiner gave in the lectures of his last couple of decades. My impression is that Barfield was broadly in agreement with Steiner on these matters (eg in education Barfield supported Waldorf schools, and in politics the 'threefold' analysis ad recommendations); but Barfield could not confirm all of the many specifics of Steiner's output from his personal knowledge, and so said little about is.

The reason for this differential emphasis is probably that Barfield distinguished between those aspects of Steiner which he had personally validated and those aspects which he had not. Indeed, since Steiner was astonishingly productive of ideas and assertions (having given some hundreds of transcribed lectures per annum in his later years); so it would probably not be possible (even in principle, and even in so long as life as Barfield enjoyed) to check and validate everything that Steiner said.

On top of this; Steiner said at times (although he rather contradicted by his practice) that his intuitive and meditational methods of deriving Spiritual Science data were prone to error, and that therefore not everything he stated was expected to be correct; but that all should be testable by all properly-motivated people who were able to practice the Anthroposophical method, and who made the effort.

(Not many seem to have done this - Valentin Tomberg was an example of someone who, after Steiner's death, extended and re-worked Steiner's statements in a Platonic direction; and he was made to resign from the Anthroposophical Society as a result!)

In sum, I think that Barfield wholly endorsed Steiner's philosophy and his method ie. his Anthroposophy; however, while not explicitly rejecting it, he was somewhat partial in his endorsement of the many details of Steiner's findings ie. his Spiritual Science.

I would indeed put it more strongly: Steiner's basic analysis and the method of Anthroposophy is of vital importance to everybody; but the many thousands of stated findings of specific assertions of Spiritual Science are not essential, and indeed are mostly wrong.

In a nutshell: Barfield contains the necessary essence of Steiner. Most people will therefore want to approach Steiner via Barfield; turning to Steiner himself mainly for another perspective, and a different mode of explanation.

Note: I personally believe that the above is the best way for most people to approach the work of Rudolf Steiner; certainly it is what I do. Most of the vast body of purported fact that Steiner generated I ignore - furthermore I do not believe that human destiny unrolls according to a calendar projected millenia into the future. 

For this reason, for most people, it is probably best to approach Steiner via Barfield; since Barfield includes the best of Steiner and leaves-out the parts that are generally regarded (or at least I regard!) as unacceptable. 

Nonetheless, it is well worth reading the three early books of Steiner's at least - because these are potentially life-changing works of genius; and reading Steiner more widely but more selectively for the many insights scattered elsewhere. For example, my favourite thing of his is the 1918 lecture The work of the angel/ in Man's Astral Body. With Steiner - starting from the 1886 book on Goethe, by and large - the earlier the work, the better it is, and the later the more compromised.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Owen Barfield's Final Participation defined simply and clearly

The state of consciousness of young children and tribal hunter gatherers is termed Original Participation, in Owen Barfield's nomenclature.

Original Participation entails perceiving the outside-world as intrinsically alive and conscious - including things that modern adults regard as 'dead' such as trees, rivers, hills, caves - and toys, books, buildings, cars... The world is seen and felt to be full of beings.

Actually, the child participates in creating this world - in recognising and evaluating the aliveness and consciousness; but the child is unaware of the fact and sees reality as out-side himself; himself as passively a component of that external reality.

The child understands himself simply to see, hear, touch smell and taste reality - he assumes that reality is out-there and that his senses merely give an objective picture of objective reality.

The child is immersed-in an animated world, hardly aware of himself; hence unfree. 

(In those cultures which followed hunter-gatherers, the older child or adolescent comes to recognise that his senses are not necessarily reliable, and that different people perceive the world differently. He knows himself as separate from that outside world; and because separate he knows himself as free: free but cut-off, alienated, no longer participating... For Barfield this situation of alienated freedom is seen as a developmental phase in the gradual, incremental evolutionary-unfolding of Man's consciousness towards Final Participation - in which he is both free and also participating.)  

To attain Final Participation is simply to return to exactly this child's basic understanding of the world as really full of alive and conscious beings - but this time in full awareness that we ourselves, by our thinking, are participating in the knowing of reality.

In Original Participation the child perceives (sees, hears, feels) the world to be really alive and conscious; in Final Participation we think and we know that the world really is alive and conscious; and that we have participated in making it so.

This Participation is indeed Final because it is the truth; it is the divine way of being.    

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Chronologically Lewis by Joel Heck: a major new Jack and Warnie Lewis resource

Prof Joel Heck of Concordia University, Texas - our benefactor
I was extremely excited to discover what I regard as the single most imprtant new CS Lewis resource since the Collected Letters edition by Walter Hooper: a detailed, birth to death chronology of both Jack and Warnie Lewis by Joel Heck.

It is available free, in an 1146 page PDF file that can be accessed from Professor Heck's web pages:

I have already made several discoveries among the riches, for example an account of Jack and Warnie's visit to my almae matres Newcastle and Durham to give the Abolition of Man lectures in 1943; and I look forward enormously to the next weeks of exploring this thoroughly.

A big thank you is due to Joel Heck for doing this work, and for making it freely available.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Trotter's feet, the moon and Tolkien's shamanistic creativity

Two rather shocking aspects of the composition Lord of the Rings, but which may throw light onto Tolkien's creative processes, include the business of the hobbit Trotter (from whom the man Strider was evolved) having wooden feet, and the matter of the moon.

First the feet:

The thing about Trotter's feet, and why he wore clogs or else had wooden feet, is an absurd, tiny matter which nonetheless threatened to subvert the seriousness and credibility of the narrative.

Why was Tolkien so obsessed with retaining the fact that Trotter made a trotting noise when he walked? Who cares?

Also, there is the recurring error of Tolkien describing people observing the New Moon rising in the evening (when in reality this happens at dawn, after the sun has risen - and therefore against a daylight sky, rendering the young-crescent new moon invisible):

What is more relevant than this error, is the obsessive way in which Tolkien 'niggled' at the story of the Lord of the Rings to ensure (almost) total consistency in the moon phases; failure to which was eventually (mainly) responsible for holding-up progress if the book for more than a year.

Why was Tolkien so obsessed with getting the obscure and almost undetectable matter of phases of the moon right, when he apparently was very hazy about major and obvious aspects of lunar astronomy - and did not correct them?

Rather than sputtering and pointing with incredulity; my interest is that here was a fact of Tolkien's creative process: a very important fact. Some things were very important to him - and he tried very hard to retain them; but others were regarded as changeable, flexible. There were things he revised-around; and there were other things he revised.

My understanding is related to how these ideas came to Tolkien - what I have termed his 'shamanistic' creativity; in other words, the idea that the primary story elements came to Tolkien in a dream-like state; and these he would always strive to retain.

The clearest example is described by Tom Shippey in The Road to Middle Earth:

Where Tolkien preserves the Black Rider sniffing, which seems relatively unimportant; despite the identity of the Back Rider changing from Gandalf to a Nazgul - which seems a far larger matter.

This is linked by Shippey to Tolkien's philological method of writing; which is why Tolkien always claimed (truly) that the language came first in composing his tales.

This neatly accounts for the Trotter affair, once Tolkien had the name and an idea of its derivation - he was pretty much compelled to try and ensure that Trotter had some reason from making a trotting sound - hence the idea of wooden contact-points with the road.

(And despite the obvious objection that it is ridiculous that a ranger, that is a tracker, would tolerate such noisy footwear/ feet - Trotter would surely have had wooden feet or clogs muffled with leather, as used to be done with horses shoes!)

As for the moon phases versus the rising new moon... my guess is that once Tolkien had found an objective inconsistency he simply could not leave it alone, and when unfixed continued to be tormented by it.

While the impossible observation of a rising new moon against a night sky was simply not recognised as a error, nor was it checked after being written; because the picture of such a moon 'came to him' in his 'shamanic', dreamlike (or actual dreaming) state - the vision of a rising crescent moon against a black sky (which is indeed beautiful and evocative) was therefore primary data (much like the sniffing rider in black).

And for Tolkien the primary data of his story should be preserved if at all possible; because this was exactly what made the story real rather than merely something made-up, manufactured, 'invented'.