Wednesday 23 August 2017

In his writing style, CS Lewis was essentially a sprinter/ short-middle-distance dasher (but Tolkien was built for marathons)

It is well known that CS Lewis wrote quickly, and revised very little.

But there are limits to what can coherently be achieved (with full and characteristic style) using this kind of writing method.

Lewis produced scores of first rate essays - done in a few hours each; and their coherence relies upon their being completed in a single burst of inspiration. But this does not scale-up indefinitely. Lewis was able to write up to the length of a short novel in this way - but when the piece didn't come out 'right first time' then he was never able to make the book cohere.

With the Narnia stories - those that were done in a draft have an effortless cohesion, while those that gave him some trouble - Prince Caspian and The Magician's Nephew - lack that spontaneity and fluidity.

That Hideous Strength is an excellent work, perhaps Lewis's best? - but it is a sum of rather distinct parts: it does not cohere well, it feels somewhat 'cobbled-together'; because it was considerably too long for Lewis's Mad Dash method.

The Screwtape Letters are similar; the book is a wonder, and I love it - but it is a loose collection of essays, not a unified whole.

It is noteworthy that the one book that Lewis really loathed writing (although it is very good!) was his contribution (on sixteenth century, non-dramatic works) to The Oxford History of English Literature. Like nearly-all academic texts, this is more like a mosaic than a thesis - and runs at about 700 dense pages. This was such a chore that he typically referred to his working on it as Oh Hell! (from its initials OHEL).

As a clincher, Lewis's most well-integrated long fiction is Till We Have Faces (making a paperback of about 350 pages), and this was written over an extended period. But TWHF is essentially a collaboration between Lewis and his wife - Joy Davidman, who apparently did a great deal of detailed editing work on the manuscript. Consequently, the book has a non-Lewis style, and reads as if by a different writer (which it was).

So, it seems that Lewis's strength was also his limitation. Because he wrote quickly and with concentration - he was very prolific (and indeed his letters, of which he wrote many per day, are of an extremely high, publishable, standard) - but when he could not finish a book satisfactorily in a single burst of rapid writing extending over not-many-weeks maximum; he was never able to achieve the spontaneity of style and effortless integration characteristic of his shorter works.

Lewis wrote and published far, far more good stuff than JRR Tolkien; but he never could have written a book of the length, complexity and excellence even of The Hobbit - never mind the Lord of the Rings...

Tolkien could 'hold' a work in his mind for months, years, decades... but the timescale Lewis was comfortable with was more on the level of hours, days or weeks - and then he wanted to move-on to some other project.

Saturday 12 August 2017

Reimagining CS Lewis's That Hideous Strength

I am currently halfway through listening to the excellent audiobook version of CS Lewis's That Hideous Strength ('THS'), read by Stephen Pacey (who played Del Tarrant in the excellent 1970s BBC Sci-Fi series Blake's 7).

From a perspective and through a lens derived from CS Lewis's best friend Owen Barfield; I can imagine a revised version of THS, in line with my understanding of our situation some seventy years on from the publication of THS in 1945...

One major difference would be that Lewis has his heroes (the St Anne's fellowship) essentially passive in their obedience to orders coming from the 'angelic' helpers. Nowadays, we would not receive these orders. We would have-to work things out for ourselves, as best we could. Or, more exactly, we would need to develop the spiritual perspective and abilities which would enable this working-out. We would need to develop what Barfield termed Final Participation.

Final Participation is something which can only come from the choice and will or each of us, as individuals. It cannot be conferred upon us - indeed the essence of it is that we are free and agent. Final Participation is precisely a personal, experiential effort-full thing. We need to look-within to seek god-in-us, to find our divine self - and to become aware of this.

Here and now - we aren't going to be able to wait or hope for leadership; probably we will be literally on-our-own: alone... at least in many practical respects. This because our current situation is not a recapitulation of monasticism or the like; the destruction, subversion and inversion of groups is at the heart of the evil of our modern condition.

A modern THS would perhaps be about the good characters, the heroes of St Anne's, individually and dispersed. About moral choices made alone and in the context of an overwhelmingly large and powerful Establishment of Evil that is not recent (like The NICE in THS), but has been in place and in control for at least two generations.

The angels ('eldils') would not be perceptible in the necessary state of consciousness of Final Participation; they would not visit, we could not see them - and neither would we hear them speak in words; not even words formed in our minds. Instead, angels would communicate directly by joining their thinking with ours.

However, we - in our thinking - would always be free and agent - in control. Hence we could block contact with the angels, if we chose. And we could not (merely) open our minds to them. Rather, we would actively be thinking is such a way that we could share in their thoughts, and they in ours.

How could help come? In defeating a vast and powerful evil Establishment, clearly help is essential. THS had the Original Participation magic of Merlin, and direct and miraculous aid from the eldils/ angels. What might we have, now?

Well, it would be imperceptible to direct observation. It would be behind the scenes - by synchronicity. Natural phenomena (rain, wind, sun, tides, earth movements...) would - 'coincidentlally' - favour Good and be hostile to evil.

Enemies would be repenting (as the situation clarifies) and changing sides, ceasing to do their evil duties, turning to sabotage the evil plans.

There would be events of exceeding improbability - actually miracles, but always explicable in terms of chance. Perfect-Storms of 'luck' - both good and ill 'luck' - good fortune for the Good and adverse chance for the evil. Cumulatively piling-on, and on.

(These being proximal consequences of distal and subtle angelic interventions; behind-the-scenes changes of arrangements; altering small upstream occurrences to generate large downstream effects...)

How about our own personal strength, motivation, will - and love? How could these be sustained when we are on-our-own? I assume there will be positive-feedback reinforcements of such things. As the situation develops, evil becomes clearer, becomes un-masked. Because evil is a trial of our strength and a mode of spiritual development; it may be like exercising in a gym - immediate effort being rewarded, some time after, by greater strength.

The key and core is motivation; the guiding principle is honesty; and the goal is love (towards which we are pointed by the discernment of the heart; which knows truth, beauty and virtue - and their opposites).

We must be self-sufficient in terms of motivations; but this is only possible through the gift of repentance from Christ. Trial and error will get us where we need to be; but only when error is acknowledged and repented.

The war is between those who acknowledge and experience the spiritual world, the immaterial world, the world of God; and those who don't. Between those who know we are all children of God and destined to become free; and those who believe themselves and everyone else to be evolved automata subject to rigid determinism alleviated only by randomness. Between those who take ultimate responsibility and look to god-within; and those who hope for external intervention for rescue.

The happy ending of a new THS would be very happy indeed! A world of free, agent, people affiliated in loving families and with close friends; a world therefore open-ended, of creativity. Not a utopia; but an active, developing, expanding, deeply-rewarding world of perpetual interest, challenges, increasing awareness and understanding - making, doing and thinking.

Saturday 5 August 2017

CS Lewis in Newcastle and Durham - The Riddell Lectures (Abolition of Man) 23-26 Febrary 1943

Edited from Chronologically Lewis by Joel Heck
My editorial remarks are in [square brackets] - excisions marked by (...)

February 22 1943, Monday.

Jack and Warren take the 8:40 a.m. train, going to Didcot and then to Paddington, where they take the District Underground to King’s Cross. At King’s Cross they check into a hotel. Warren has a whiskey and soda. They arrange for tea and a morning wake-up call, and then they go to bed. The Socratic Club meets in the evening without Jack on the topic “Science and Faith” with speaker Frank Sherwood-Taylor.

February 23, Tuesday.

Presumably, the Inklings meet at the Eagle and Child at 11:30 a.m. in the morning, but without Jack and Warren. Warren and Jack awaken to tea and biscuits, then they go down for a breakfast of sausage and scrambled eggs in the hotel restaurant. They catch the Great Northern Railway train, with Warren settling down to read Joseph Conrad’s Rover and with Jack reading Mandeville. They leave the King’s Cross station at 10:00 a.m. They eat their lunch of hard-boiled eggs and sandwiches on the train, traveling through Huntingdon and crossing the Ouse River. They pass Selby. Warren and Jack travel through York and Darlington towards Durham. At 4:00 p.m. they cross the Tyne River [actually, usually called the River Tyne] and come into Newcastle. They check into their hotel, the Royal Station Hotel, a couple hundred yards from the train station, and then Jack sets off to meet his university hosts for tea. Warren has tea in the hotel lounge. Warren then unpacks and takes a stroll. He sees Newcastle Cathedral and museum, then the Castle, during this stroll. He stops at the Douglas for a beer.

Jack’s first Riddell Memorial lecture, “The Abolition of Man: or Reflections on Education” takes place at 5:30 p.m. in the King’s Hall, King’s College  [, the college being a large constituent division of the University of Durham - which was situated in Newcastle upon Tyne, about 20 miles north of Durham City where the Durham Division was located]. (...) An audience of around 500 is anticipated at each [lecture]. A speaker relay is organized to the Electrical Engineering Theatre and the Physics Lecture Theatre. There was quite a number of requests for tickets from individuals and local organizations (like the Newcastle Education Society). The host/chair is not recorded but it would likely have been the Rector [i.e. the senior academic administrator] of King’s College, Lord Eustace Percy [at this time, Eustace Percy was the Vice-Chancellor of the whole University of Durham, both Newcastle and Durham divisions].

Warren later takes Jack to the Douglas for a beer before dinner. After dinner, Jack and Warren find the only comfortable sitting room in the hotel - a writing room downstairs - where Warren reads Somerset Maugham’s Strictly Confidential, and then they go to bed early. Jack writes to T. S. Eliot about criticizing poetry as poetry, A Preface to Paradise Lost, Charles Williams getting them to meet, and agreeing about Virgil .

February 24 Wednesday.

After breakfast at the hotel, Warren and Jack catch the 9:20 train for Durham from Newcastle [actually, this 'Durham' here means Durham City - as distinguished from County Durham]. Warren and Jack arrive at Durham at 9:51 a.m. They leave the train, walk, and cross a high stone bridge [perhaps Prebends Bridge] over the Wear River [generally called the 'River Wear'] past the castle [also University College, Durham], cathedral, university and Bishop's Palace [actually, the Bishop's palace was in Bishop Auckland, not Durham City]. They walk the entire length of the walled city [actually, Durham isn't a walled city - it was defensively-enclosed in a loop of the river; but there are bailey walls around the motte of the Castle], spending some time on the banks, the wooded public footpaths on either side of the river. They climb the hill and pass through an arch into the Cathedral Close [actually called The College of the Cathedral - this contains the Dean's residence, which may have been mistaken for the Bishop's Palace], with a mixture of don’s houses and undergraduate hostels. The university is all around the cathedral. They enter the cathedral and spend some time there. They go down into the steep narrow-streeted little town to get lunch, which they do at a pleasant pub, The Castle, in its upstairs bar overlooking the river. They wish they had stayed in Durham instead of Newcastle. They discover the university bookshop, mostly with books of theology, but with a fair selection of general reading. Here Warren purchases a new Olaf Stapleton book, and he gets Jack to look into the Century Bible, which Warren is thinking of collecting. They return to the pub for a pint of beer. Then they visit the cathedral a second time, seeing the tomb in which the Venerable Bede is buried (died 735 A.D.), a fine rose window, and beautiful cloisters. They walk along the other side of the river and come to the train station until the 3:08 train arrives, which they take to Newcastle.

They arrive in Newcastle at 3:31 p.m. , and Jack goes off to his second lecture at 5:30 in King’s Hall . Warren reads, walks, has a pint of beer at the Douglas, and visits the train st ation. Jack’s lecture takes place after a 4:00 p.m. tea. Warren later meets Jack and his dinner guest W. L. Renwick, a professor of English at Newcastle.

February 25 Thursday.

After breakfast, they walk down to the bus terminus in Newcastle to ask about buses to Heddon [i.e. Heddon on the Wall, presumably hoping to see some of the remains of Hadrian's Wall], but it doesn’t work so they give up on the idea. They look at the castle again, then try to find Rogers, a bookseller and correspondent of Jack’s. This involves seeing a good deal of Newcastle, and they meet Helen Munro in the street, who lives in Newcastle. They chat with her. They see the gate of the University, a bas relief called The Call, 1914, Eldon Place [actually this is likely the war memorial 'The Response'; not the 'Call', in Eldon Place], then stop at the Douglas for a beer and return to their hotel for lunch. Warren reads in the afternoon, Jack goes to give his lecture, Warren has tea, buys some cigarettes, and takes a long walk in the tower ['tower' may be a misprint for 'town']. Warren visits the station bookstall, where he purchases a novel by E.V.L. to read in the train tomorrow. After his third and final 5:30 lecture, Jack dines with the Rector, Lord E. Percy, tonight, so Warren dines alone. Warren also visits the bar at the Douglas. As soon as Warren gets to bed, Jack comes in, full of a plan to catch an early train to Oxford. They arrange for an early call to start the day tomorrow.

February 26 Friday.

Warren’s tea arrives at 6 a.m. and then again later at the usual time. Warren packs, dresses, and walks to the train station to see about book ing an earlier train that might get them to Oxford. He and Jack agree to take a noon train that should get them to Oxford at 9:40 p.m. They take a walk to find a pastry shop to supplement the sandwiches provided by the hotel. They then walk to the Newcastle Station to await their train. They go to the refreshment room at the train station for sandwiches and beer. The train leaves on time. At York they change trains for the first time and have sandwiches and tea in the refreshment room. They board an L.M.S. train. Warren finishes his book on the train, probably Somerset Maugham’s Strictly Confidential. They arrive at New Street in Birmingham and have to walk to Snow Hill because there are no taxis or buses. They get in line at the booking office, get their tickets, and find the 7:55 train to be on time. They arrive in Oxford at precisely 9:40 p.m. Although they wired for a taxi, there was none waiting for them. They walk with their suitcases from the station by way of George Street and the Broad. They come to Jack’s rooms at Magdalen College, where a supper has been laid out for them, including a bottle of beer. Warren spends the night in bed room number 11. F.

Friday 4 August 2017

Owen Barfield on advanced spiritual warfare

Towards the end of his magnum opus Saving the Appearances (1957), Owen Barfield makes a vital, but chilling, point about the future of human imagination and how it was (and is, much more than in 1957) being poisoned and inverted by artists, writers, musicians and other creative contributors to the mass media (including especially the avant garde, high-brow, elite, academically-validated and critically-approved media).

[Edited from pages 145-6]

Imagination is not, as some poets thought, simply synonymous with good. It may be either good or evil. But so long as art remained primarily mimetic [i.e. 'realistic'], the evil which imagination could do was limited by nature.  

[But now that the artist has become self-conscious of his ability to create non-natural phenomena; he can create aberrations].

In so far as these aberrations are genuine, they are genuine because the artist has personally experienced the world he represents. In insofar as they are appreciated, they are appreciated by those who are themselves willing to make a move towards seeing the world that way - and ultimately, therefore, seeing that kind of world.

Barfield is saying that imaginings of evil will tend, more and more as they become more popular, to become realised in the actual world as we experience it.

In short, popular and powerful evil imaginings become social reality.

As modern Man comes to recognise that his imagination is an inextricable and necessary part of his perception of reality, and as he becomes more free to use his imagination; so there is a new possibility of corruption by imagination.

Barfield gives the example of the kind of surreal-hideous fantasy pioneered by Salvador Dali - but nowadays (and increasingly over the past fifty years) this kind of thing is the average content of majority, mainstream' officially-endorsed 'art' of all kinds. We live in a world in which 'subversive' is a term of artistic approbation.

In terms of the destined and desirable consciousness state of Final Participation (in which we become aware of the ways in which our minds, our thinking, participates in the making of the world as we experience it); it is therefore vital to become aware of the effects of our personal choices in the creation of perceived-reality - that is, the effects of our choices on the nature of the world, as we know it.

Since we cannot, in the end, resist Final Participation (it is our destiny), we have a stark choice as to whether it will be deployed for Good or evil.

Barfield hopes that our choices will be 'exercised with the profoundest sense of responsibility, and with the deepest thankfulness and piety towards the world as it was originally [unconsciously] given to us in original participation'.

In short, Final Participation will be positive and valuable only in a Christian context; even more shortly - it is our task and responsibility to return to the essential values and realities of childhood and early tribalism, but this time in a willed and conscious fashion.

This, I believe, relates to the hundreds of years of lack of success and retreat by traditionalism in the face of Leftism/ Liberalism/ Progressivism. Yes, we do need to return to the traditional values which were once natural spontaneous, unselfconscious; but no, this cannot be done by a restoration of the unconscious traditional situation; by instinct, by simply perceiving and accepting the traditional values in the world around us. That possibility is past (and was, anyway, pagan in its purest form).

Instead, we need to move forwards to an aware, thinking version of traditional values - which are not identical with, but which will retain the heart and soul and motivations of tradition; which, however, will not be identical-with traditional values, as if the traditions were a recipe for good living.

My understanding is that we cannot, and should not try to, recreate the past (not least because the fullest and most natural spontaneous past consciousness was pagan; hence only partially and distortedly true); but must move forwards into an unknown future that will, however, be in its essence deeply akin to the conditions and natural practices of early childhood or early tribal living; the difference being an inner, imaginative, free and agent, consciously-knowing and directly-experienced Christianity.

You may wish to order direct from your favourite secondhand booksellers from now onwards

I got this letter today from Richard Johnson - an excellent bookseller with expert knowledge who provides a personal service; who specialises in Inklings-related material, and whose prices are very fair. He is providing information on a new and punitive charge imposed by Amazon marketplace:

Dear book lovers,

Earlier this week Amazon decided to charge an extra 58p commission for every book sold by market-place sellers on their site. (Their CEO is now worth $90,000,000,000, so perhaps he needs the extra money!) 58p might not sound a lot, but for many small sellers it might make the difference between staying afloat or not. For example: Imagine I buy a book for £1, that I think I can sell at £5; a not uncommon scenario. I put it on Amazon at £4.99, and someone buys it; with the postage they pay £7.79. Amazon take their commission on the price of the book, and also commission on the postage; so up until last week I would have received £6.37. But they now take an extra 58p, so I now receive £5.79. I also have to pay a £30 monthly charge to Amazon for selling on their site; which might work out at another 40p per book. If the book is thicker than a large letter I then have to pay £2.90 second-class postage, plus c15p packaging. Ignoring running costs of storage, heating, etc, once I take off the £1 original cost, I might make £1.34 profit instead of £1.92, for a fairly significant amount of work; which is a 30% loss of income on that sale.

If the customer had ordered the book directly from me, I would probably charge them £7.50 including postage, so it would be cheaper for them, but using the costs above I would make £3.45 instead of £1.34; which might just keep me afloat!

The moral is: unless you want to add even more to Jeff Bezos' fortune, whenever possible please order books directly from small sellers (not just me, but all small sellers); I know it's a bit more hassle, but if you don't, in the end there won't be any of us left.

Thanks for reading this! Richard --

Richard Johnson
Kingsbury House
Main Road
LN13 0LD

mobile: 07754 384833

Thursday 3 August 2017

Reincarnation and our ultimate divine destiny: two significant points where I disagree with Owen Barfield

Despite that I have been persuaded by almost all of Owen Barfield's philosophical and historical analysis; there are two important points where I believe he is mistaken. There are his view of reincarnation and his description of the ultimate destiny of each Man.

Barfield's view of reincarnation is that it is vital to the evolution - that is the developmental unfolding - of human consciousness. He sees the history of life in each person as a matter of living-through different eras of consciousness, with (to simplify) each human spirit reincarnated in each era - so that each of us can learn from the very different experiences of consciousness prevailing in the evolution of earth and society.  This process is building toward a ultimate state of divinity that will place each willing person onto a par with God.

Where this is all going is described in Barfield's 1944 collection of essays Romanticism Comes of Age in terms of a U-shaped curve. The human spirit began as spirit in a unity of blissful close communion with God - not incarnated and without a sense of self but conscious - indeed almost universally conscious, immersed-in-consciousness but not differentiated from it. Through the history of reincarnations the plan is for each spirit incrementally to go down the left side of the U; at each descent becoming more separate - until at the nadir of the U our self becomes utterly separate-from and autonomous-of God - with a distinct sense of 'self', but without consciousness of anything else.

At the extreme bottom of the U we are just detached selves, and regard other selves, indeed the whole of reality, as uncertain. We become alienated - even from our own thinking; which we come to feel is separate from our-selves.  In sum we are utterly free in thought - but confined within the bounds of our subjective selves, and unaware of any other reality.

Then Barfield describes a re-ascent up-the-other-side of the U; recapitulating the previously negotiated states of consciousness - but this time retaining our distinctive sense of self, hence our freedom. The ultimate, and fully divine, destiny of each Man is therefore intended to be a non-incarnated spirit life, again in blissful close communion with God, but this time having acquired our selves and our freedom. Thus we become as God: fully free, fully conscious.

My difference is that I regard reincarnation as possible but very unusual (for example the New Tetstament discusses the possibility of whether John the Baptist is some kind of reincarnation of an earlier Hebrew prophet; whether it is true it is certainly regarded as possible.) - but reincarnation is not a necessary nor an an intrinsic part of the process of divinisation.

And I regard ultimate human destiny as like God the Father, but not as an unincarnated spirit state, instead as an eternal resurrected life, with a body (like God the Father); and not in any kind of literal unity or communion - but instead in a harmony with God that is like an indestructible and total state of human love; but love of the same kind - yet elevated to the highest level - that we know from marriage, family and the very strongest friendships.

In other words, I accept the three stage Mormon description of human life as first pre-mortal spirit children of God; then life on earth as mortal incarnates; then death and resurrection to eternal embodied life - just as both Jesus Christ and God the Father are embodied. In essence, incarnation is seen as a higher state than spirit existence.

This is probably why reincarnation is so rare - and perhaps is not exactly re-incarnation in Barfield's sense when it happens - because embodiment is seen as a higher form of life, so there is a reluctance to reverse it once attained (and perhaps it cannot be wholly reversed - spirit life after death seems to be a very partial, and unhappy existence - probably without memory, self or freedom; which was why Christ's gift of resurrection was such Good News and so necessary).

I account for the differences between myself and Barfield, while nonetheless asserting that I am correct, by the assumption that Barfield (and his master Steiner) misinterpreted memories and visions of our pre-mortal spirit life as being life between-incarnations; and that they accepted the common mainstream Christian assumption that God the Father is a spirit and lacks a body.

My assumption is therefore that Barfield (and Steiner) had correct but partial intuitions, which they misinterpreted.


The Shire is not a utopia - but Rivendell is

I often get the idea, from the descriptions of the place, that modern readers often regard The Shire as Tolkien's perfect earthly society - his utopia; but that clearly is not the case: his utopia is Rivendell. 

Of course, the Shire and its hobbits has many good characteristics; but there is no doubt that Tolkien regarded the society as too limited.

As he said in his Letters; only exceptional hobbits are major characters in Lord of the Rings (even Sam, the most typical, is very unusual in his fascination with elves, and desire to read and learn 'culture'); by contrast, the average hobbits are depicted as narrowly materialist peasants (whose idea of bliss is eating, drinking and smoking); their main virtues are generosity and family loyalty but their main vice (a very serious one) is apparently spiteful envy.

This is made clear in the very first scene of Lord of the Rings:

And confirmed throughout.

Tolkien would have appreciated many aspects of Shire life - the countryside, a farming-based economy, the food and the pipeweed, the genealogy and maps... but Tolkien was a scholar and a writer: in The Shire he would have been as isolated and frustrated as those literary hobbits Bilbo and Frodo; who are always yearning for elves and dreaming of The Mountains.

For the likes of Tolkien, Bilbo and Frodo; Rivendell is the ideal place and society. He says so explicity, in very similar words; both in The Hobbit from Bilbo's point of view "Bilbo would gladly have stopped there for ever and ever", "[Elrond's] house was perfect...", then again in Lord of the Rings from Frodo's by re-quoting Bilbo's 'perfect house' paragraph.

Rivendell was beautiful, as safe as anywhere; full of noble and wise persons, ancient books, language, songs and stories...

Of course it was Tolkien's utopia!

Wednesday 2 August 2017

How to be a visionary of Final Participation

Most recorded visionary experiences are expansions of perception – seeing or hearing things that other people cannot. For example William Blake saw angels and conversed with his deceased brother. Often these visions occur in altered states of consciousness – trances, lucid dreams, delirium or intoxication.

These are aspects of what Rudolf Steiner termed Atavistic Clairvoyance implying a throw-back or regression to an early type of consciousness more typical of childhood and tribal societies; and Owen Barfield classified as Original Participation. And in the scheme of evolution of human consciousness the aim is not to go back, but forward to a new state of consciousness that Steiner called the Spiritual Soul and Barfield termed Final Participation.

A visionary of Final Participation would not experience ‘visions’ in the sense of hallucination-like, quasi-sensory, perceptual experiences; but would instead experience imaginative thinking, or direct knowing. To put it simply: the visionary of Original Participation would experience things appearing in one or more of his senses; while the visionary of Final Participation would experience things appearing in his stream of thoughts.

It might be asked why this counts as an evolutionary development in consciousness? The answer would be that the imagination is a direct and unmediated form of knowing truth and reality; whereas perceptual experiences are prone to sensory distortions and require to be interpreted. Furthermore, the visionary experiences of Original Participation often occur in states of altered consciousness when attention, concentration, purposive thinking and memory may all be distorted or impaired; whereas in Final Participation the state of consciousness can be alert, clear and focused.

Finally, thinking is intrinsically capable of complete integration of any and all phenomena. Anything which can be thought about is included in the stream of thoughts, and can be subject to any or all of the analyses and manipulations of thinking.

This is straightforward enough; but of course very few people are aware of, or would endorse, the idea of thinking as a primary way of knowing truth and reality. And one reason for this is that typically thinking is much less powerful and compelling than perception. For example, people say things like ‘seeing is believing’ or ‘I’ll believe that when I see it’ – indicating that perceptual experience seems to overwhelm and impose itself in a way that thinking apparently does not. For instance, most people would be more likely to believe in the reality of ghosts or angels if they saw one than if they thought one (even though they are aware of the distortions and hallucinations to which perception is prone – and they would not necessarily believe in them even if they did see one).

Alternatively, people may only believe things for which they have what they regard as ‘evidence’ – and they will believe such things even when they think or perceive differently, and even when they cannot think it or have never had any confirmatory sensory experience; even when experience and common sense refute it.

In practice, ‘evidence’ is so vaguely defined as to be impossible to define or pin down – for some evidence comes from some trusted or authoritative source; but often enough people don’t know from where they got the ‘evidence’, and it could have been from sources which they do not trust or in fact disbelieve (such as the mass media, novels or fictional movies) but despite not knowing the provenance of their beliefs they nonetheless find themselves compelled to believe. Indeed, it is typical that a great deal of modern mainstream beliefs are false or have zero evidence, but are almost universally and indeed fanatically enforced on a global scale - for example the officially imposed assertions that people can change sex by means of drugs and surgery, or that political policies can control the earth’s climate.

Either way, it is clear that thinking is, in practice, low-rated as a human activity. People regard thinking as less important than action, or doing; less important than perceiving (feeling, seeing or hearing, especially); and less important than whatever is culturally-defined and propagandised. Consequently, people do not think very often, very diligently, very sustainedly about things; and they do not take much notice of the consequences of their own thinking.

It is perhaps regarded as little more than a waste of time, a joke or an excuse for idleness when someone claims to have been thinking. This applies even or especially, in academia; where to be caught thinking ‘in office hours’ would be even more shameful than to be caught reading a book! Thinking does not count as ‘work’.

It could therefore justly be said that – in the mainstream modern world - thinking is a low status activity.

Yet, for those who are – like me – convinced by the philosophical arguments of Owen Barfield (and of his acknowledged master Rudolf Steiner); thinking is the most important human activity and a necessity for the future evolutionary-development of our consciousness. Thinking ought to be our number one priority in life (number one, that is, within the prior, essential frame and context of Christianity).

What seems to be needed is that thinking, including imaginative thinking, become at least as powerful - indeed as overwhelming, as potentially motivating and life-changing - as actions, perceptions, and official/ media propaganda. We need both to know, and to feel, that thinking is real and true knowing.

Barfield therefore referred to the need for ‘strengthening’ thinking, and regarded Steiner as the most successful and advanced exponent of the necessary type of strengthened thinking. But how to do this? Steiner left behind various suggestions, instructions and exercises in how to strengthen thinking. For example to focus attention on some-thing, such as a plant, and try to experience its life as a dynamic historical and unfolding reality. However, my impression is that these exercises seem either not to work very well, perhaps only partially and very slowly; at any rate, extremely few people have apparently got anywhere near Steiner in terms of their ability to think in that visionary fashion which is destined for Final Participation.

So, something stronger and faster than Steiner’s exercises seem to be required. The weakness of Steiner’s exercises is, I think, a consequence of people lacking genuine, internal motivation to do them; which is itself a consequence of the subject matter being arbitrary. While Steiner himself, or Goethe before him, would be passionately interested in a plant, and in understanding a plant – this does not apply to most people. Genuinely motivated interest of the kind that will generate and sustain someone’s best efforts is something that cannot be manufactured to order; it is not arbitrary but is idiosyncratic. Indeed, such motivated interest may be unique and specific to each person; furthermore, many people do not even know what it is that most interests and motivates them in this way – since they have neither reflected nor developed their spontaneous, intrinsic nature (for example; they are instead dominated by the pressures of the social environment, expediency, the wish for immediate distractions and proximate pleasures, status, wealth; and things like envy, revenge, spite etc.).

Yet nothing else is likely to suffice in developing the intensity of thinking than that each person be pursuing his or her own deepest, most naturally arising fascination or perplexity.

So – we need to think in such a way as to strengthen and intensify the act of thinking – to increase its power to change us. But for this to happen we also need to take a step back – indeed the ultimate step back into the most fundamental of all considerations: metaphysics – our most basic assumptions concerning the ultimate nature of reality.

For thinking to be strengthened, our metaphysical framework needs to be one in which thinking (of the right kind) is real and true, and universally valid. If our metaphysical assumptions tell us that thinking is primary then our experience of thinking will be one of greater importance, seriousness and attention. It is the fact that the normal mainstream metaphysics of the modern West regards thinking as secondary, indeed trivial, that we find thinking so feebly impactful, so weakly effective in motivating us, as compared with other phenomena such as perceptions, actions and social conventions.

That thinking is indeed primary to human experience is the core argument of Rudolf Steiner’s early work culminating in the Philosophy of Freedom (1894); and Barfield’s Saving the Appearances (1957) – I refer readers to these books for a careful and compelling justification. However, in the end, metaphysics must be endorsed by our direct intuitions – which requires first that we acknowledge we indeed have primary metaphysical assumptions, then to make these explicit to ourselves. Only then can we evaluate whether or not we really endorse and believe our own assumptions – and if not, we may (indeed should) seek to replace them.

For thinking to take its proper place at the heart of Life; it must be of the greatest possible power, intensity and strength. Thinking should be experience – it should be experienced as much, in fact more-than ‘things that happen to us’. We need to know why and how that thinking which we make happen from our freedom and agency, from our real self (our soul) is not arbitrary nor wish-fulfilment, but on the contrary it is intrinsically and necessarily real, true and universal.

Thus prepared and equipped we can each commence work on the Life Task of intensification and strengthening of our own thinking! What does this entail? If you are already engaged in some spontaneously-arising creative endeavour then this may be straightforward – if you are a real scientist, artist or writer; then what you think about is already-decided – and the main difference is to take seriously, attend to, the actual process of thinking.

For me, a good example is what I have termed The Golden Thread. When I think back through my life, and what is important, there are relatively few things among the mass of dullness and duties – and these things seem to link-up to make a golden thread connecting childhood past with the present. It was taking this seriously, as a reality and truth rather than regarding it as some arbitrary fantasy; which helped me to become a Christian and of the mystical type. It also caused me to revise my subjective autobiography, to reshape my understanding of how my life had developed – including wrong turns, blind alleys, and descents into the pit.

Whatever it is that is your deepest motivation then forms the basis of strengthening your thinking. You will need to recognise (at a fundamental level) that you are dealing with something true, real - and in principle universally so, its truths and realities accessible to anyone competent; not merely a private delusion or day dream.

You may then learn from your experiences of thinking how best to intensify it. For instance you may learn that certain times of day are better for thinking; you may identify supportive attitudes, places or positions; helpful activities (such as reading, writing, doodling, walking, music…).

You will need to develop a habit of seriousness about thinking – so that you talk about thinking respectfully, lay stress on its primacy, refrain from casual denigration and invidious comparisons. It may be helpful to take notes, and to rehearse memories of thinking. A strategic devotion to thinking is the requisite.

You will find that creativity is nothing more or other than a consequence of primary thinking; it is a natural consequence of thinking from your unique and real self. While your true thoughts are in a universal realm, nobody thinks them quite like you do; and you will make discoveries in this realm (probably small discoveries, but personally valuable nonetheless).

You will quite spontaneously think about things beyond your past experience, beyond your senses, outside of this world and your times. This is the ‘visionary’ aspect; because the future visionary is a thinker, nor a see-er.

And with endeavour, and rapidly; your thinking will incrementally become strengthened; increased in power, motivating; rooting-you in the world and enhancing your awareness of everything true; curing the typical modern malaise of feeling cut-off, alienated because everything real and valid will come together and be related and integrated in your thoughts.

Tuesday 1 August 2017

Coleridge's Polarity, as explicated by Barfield, re-explained as family love

In his masterful book What Coleridge Thought (1971), Owen Barfield identified Polarity - or Polar Logic - as ST Coleridge's core philosophical concept; and the key to understanding his completion of Romanticism.

I read this book twice, with deep attention, and was convinced by it; however, when I came to try and use the concept of polarity in my everyday life, with the aim of transforming my life for the better - I couldn't. Polarity was just too abstract.

This is probably unsurprising - after all a system of logic is not really the kind of thing which is fundamental; it is more of a tool than a basis for existence. The cognitive domain 'logic' is, indeed of interest to only a tiny minority of very specialised people who have had systematic training.

Furthermore, my experience has been that Christianity ought not to be based upon abstractions, but upon the core analogy of Loving Family Relationships - this is both the reality and the master metaphor (or symbolism) of the Christian religion.

Therefore I need to re-express, re-explain, Polarity in anthropomorphic terms - to make it a matter of human and divine relationships.

Polarity is a way of conceptualising necessary and inseparable opposites: the core physical example (cited by Coleridge) is of a force that coheres and a force that disperses; centripetal (centre-seeking) and centrifugal (centre-fleeing) - the varied combinations of such polar forces then accounts of the dynamic nature of the world, and life.

I then saw that Love - which is the heart of Christianity - is of precisely this nature; because love is a cohesion, a holding together, as with marriage and family relationships; and love is an open-ended creative force, as with children being born, developing, and forging new relationships.

Love is dynamic: it cannot be just cohesion or it will die, it cannot be just expansion or it will die - it must be the polarity of both, which is infinite in its capacity for self-renewal and strength.

Love comes from the dyadic relationship of man and woman, husband and wife, in cohesive relation for eternity and also open-endedly reproducing, having children who have children. The relationships cohere forever, but in a state of continual change and interaction forever.

Love depends on distinction: one person from another, man from woman, parent from child, each sibling from another, each friend unique; and Love also depends on the constancy of the fact of relationship. Many loving relationships changing by an organic, unfolding development. But each relationship sustained in its core nature - husband and wife, father and son, mother and son, brother and brother and so forth.

There are all, in Coleridge's or Barfield's abstract sense, polarities: the insight is true and it is deep. Yet when expressed in terms of relationships it is simple common sense and everyday observation... all we need to do is recognise the ideal for which our earthly family relationships are striving; and then we can know the actuality which will (if we choose it) be the reality in Heaven.