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Re: [mythsoc] Owen Barfield

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  • dale nelson
    Thank you! I relish Bonestell s art (notably his paintings of a crescent Saturn seen from Titan), but I think Barfield could find plenty of support in the
    Message 1 of 38 , May 25, 2011
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      Thank you! 

      I relish Bonestell's art (notably his paintings of a crescent Saturn seen from Titan), but I think Barfield could find plenty of support in the statements of noted physicists. 

      His "chronological snobbery" insight can become central to the thought of anyone who has begun to digest it.  One becomes more alert to and/or less ready to dismiss differences between the literature of our time and that of earlier periods. 

      Example: Barfield's passing remark on Anthony Trollope's Doctor Thorne prompted me to notice the abundance of references to blood and to blushing in that novel -- and to consider how relatively frequent references to blushing are in (at least some) earlier literature as compared to our time.  Thanks to Barfield, I am less ready to assume that these references are simply literary convention.  If I think of it, later today I will send a short file of quotations on this topic. 

      Example: Barfield helped me pay attention to, and get me to think about, Roger Scruton's remark about the enhanced importance of rhythm as opposed to melody in contemporary music.  I found myself hypothesizing: isn't it true that kids used to be admonished about whistling? -- but you never hear people whistling any more.  (I write these words about music with some trepidation, knowing that some listfolk are far more knowledgeable about music than I.  I beg your pardons if I am mistaken in simply thinking that "melody" means there's an emphasis on a tune that you could whistle.  "Wachet, auf" is a tune; so is Old Blind Dogs' "Pills of White Mercury."  I think that one reason "Celtic" music is so popular is that some people are eager for tunes and there they find them in abundance.  Some pop music is tuneful  -- take the Beatles' "Martha My Dear" -- but it's usually more rhythmic -- take an old favorite like the Easybeats' "Friday on My Mind" or Bob Dylan's more recent "Cold Irons Bound.) 

      The Barfieldian move would be -- if these observations are correct, what do they suggest about our typical mental states as opposed to earlier ones?  A rough approximation might go like this: the earlier emphasis on melody relates to a different relationship with "nature" and other people (I will forbear to attempt to summarize the argument of Saving the Appearances here!) than ours.   A key element of the older awareness was its unmediatedness.  People were more aware of the night sky, the starry hosts, for example, of the sounds and smells of growing things, etc.  Conversely, in many parts of the world we have withdrawn from the sky, there are few visible living things around us other than other people, and a great deal of our contact with them is mediated (e.g. writing emails, talking on phones, etc.).  I think a spontaneous upwelling of feeling in unmediated circumstances expresses itself in melody (not necessarily cheerful), while enclosure in a mediated way of life apparently lends itself more to rhythm.  Barfield sometimes takes an idea up to a point and leaves it there, and that's what I will do for now.


      From: John Rateliff <sacnoth@...>
      To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
      Sent: Wed, May 25, 2011 12:00:25 AM
      Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Owen Barfield


      On May 24, 2011, at 9:16 PM, dale nelson wrote:
      No, please keep the Barfield discussion ON-list!

      Okay; then here's another piece of the puzzle.

      Barfield believed that poets create meaning through the way they used words. Thus some of the fragmentation of language cd be undone by modern poets.* This I think ties in with his belief in what's since come to be called 'intelligent design': he felt that evolution had been guided by external (spirtual) forces** but that these forces had gradually withdrawn so that we cd (must) carry on on our own. This is paralleled by his belief that humankind had shifted from a shared consciousness to isolated individual consciousnesses; he thought we were 'self-conscious' today in a way that had not been true in the past. As he saw it, it was up to us to re-integrate them, now that we had 'come of age'. Thus in the end we wd deliberately and self-consciously do what we had once done, or had done for us, unconsciously.

      But one of the most valuable things I learned from Barfield was his concept of 'chronological snobbery': the assumption that people who lived a long time ago were, for that reason, not as smart or capable as ourselves. We don't so much realize we think this way, but it underlies a lot of what we say about the past and think about our ancestors.*** Thus some can't conceive that humans built the Great Pyramid, or laid out Stonehenge, or set up the moai on Easter Island -- they're rather believe it was space aliens that admit people who lived a long time ago were really and truly people just like us. Lewis particularly praises this idea as setting him straight and preventing him from committing a lot of errors, and I rather wonder if this isn't the idea of Barfield that Tolkien was talking about in that 1928 conversation Lewis reports back to Barfield.

      Also, I'm not sure if it's relevant to the Bilbo passage or not, but Barfield believed in a participatory reality. For example, he objected to Chesley Bonestell style pictures of what it looked like on other planets because he felt that, if a human mind was not there to see it, that image simply wasn't there. Or, to put it another way, if a tree falls in the forest, it doesn't really make a sound: just pressure waves. The crash a falling tree makes is partly a construction of our brains processing what the ears bring them: if the brain's not present, the synthesis doesn't take place.  

      I might add that this is one of the many points where I'm in disagreement with him; I read Barfield because he makes me think, not because I always agree with him.

      Finally, I'd just add that the draft of the Bilbo passage is somewhat different, and even brings in a mention of the language of Pithecanthropus by way of contrast.

      Does any of this help?

      --John R.

      *had they not gone off in what he wd have considered the wrong direction (Modernism) and explored and exploited and furthered that fragmentation. I think that, like Lewis, Barfield believed that Eliot had done real harm to the language.

      **the main character in his wonderful book UNANCESTRAL VOICE meets one.

      ***just to take one simple example: our taking books written for adults, like ROBINSON CRUSOE, and moving them to the children's sections of our libraries.
    • John Rateliff
      Very sorry to hear it. I never met Edward Carlos Plunkett, though I did meet his father (the famous Lord Dunsany s son). Thanks for posting the news, Dale. We
      Message 38 of 38 , May 26, 2011
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        Very sorry to hear it. I never met Edward Carlos Plunkett, though I did meet his father (the famous Lord Dunsany's son). Thanks for posting the news, Dale.
           We can be grateful to this Lord Dunsany for one thing: he allowed the publication of a number of his grandfather's works that had lain neglected in a bank vault for decades -- a novel, a play, a volume of short stories, and various odds & ends. None of them had the stuff of greatness that makes me rank Dunsany as the best fantasy short story writer ever, but it's good to have even the lesser works of a great writer.
           --John R.

        current reading: THE BOOK OF WONDER [1912]

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