Monday, 18 April 2016

Romanticism comes of age... Owen Barfield's insight

Romanticism Comes of Age was the title of a collection of essays published by Owen Barfield in 1944, and also of the biography of Barfield by Simon Blaxland-De Lange in 2006.

This matter of Romanticism is one of Barfield's major statements with relevance to our times - he is saying that Rudolf Steiner's core insights are the completion of what began with the Romantic movement, and they are a necessary next step for human spiritual evolution (ie. the divine destiny for Man).

I will summarize my understanding of this matter, including adding my own framework.

1. In ancient times, especially during the hunter gatherer era, Man lived undivided from, immersed in, his perceptual environment - and mostly lacked self-awareness or a sense of separate consciousness. This was termed Original Participation by Barfield.

2. From the 1700s there was a new era of alienation for Western Man - in which consciousness becomes isolated from perception; heralded by the work of Descartes and Newton, and implemented by the Industrial Revolution. Barfield subdivided this according to the stages of its gradual increase - but sometimes termed it the era of Observing Consciousness - because Man seemed to himself to be cut-off-from and observing 'the world' - and eventually even his own thoughts.

3. At the same time, the means for healing this dichotomy by moving forward to a new era of consciousness - what Barfield terms Final Participation. This impulse, mostly unconscious, began to emerge in the Romantic movement  - associated with such English poets and thinkers as Blake, Wordsworth and (especially) Coleridge - this rapidly spread to Germany via the likes of Herder and Goethe - and then to the USA with Emerson and the circle of New England Transcendentalists.

4. The unconscious impulse towards Final Participation strengthened the longer it was resisted or, often, perverted into a regression to the previous phase of Original Participation - with notable Romantic Revivals in the late 1800s-early 1900s, then again from the 1950s culminating in the middle-late 1960s.

5. The current phase is one of un-integrated oscillations (within individuals, and within culture) between the deal bureaucratic official world of alienated Observing Consciousness and regressive, instinctive, attempts at Original Participation (often by inculcating altered states of semi-awake consciousness with dreamy trances, intoxications, sexuality as a focus for life, and other types of regression).

6. This has led to the characteristic pathologies of our time; including in Christianity which is mostly divided between Observing and Original Participations.

7. What is needed, ever more desperately, is to move forwards into Final Participation - but this must (according to both Steiner and Barfield) be within the context of a truly Christ-centred Christianity (no matter how 'heretical' or unorthodox - Christianity must be Christ centred as its primary reality).

So this is the challenge, the necessary dual destiny, both for non-Christians and Christians - to adopt Christianity as the primary framework and within that to move towards Final Participation.  


John Fitzgerald said...

There's a quote from Martin Heidegger that I like: 'Waiting for God or the gods to return is not our task. Our task is to go forth and prepare a place for them. Only then they will return."

We need, in my view, to divest ourselves of modern and post-modern ways of experiencing, thinking about, and being in the world. A significant 'stripping', followed by a return to the beginning (a 'ressourcement') needs to take place. It is difficult to see how Final Participation can take place otherwise.

Modernity, as is becoming increasingly clear, is an arid, anti-spiritual wilderness. Its political children - Communism, Fascism and Liberalism - bear barren witness to that. Our role is to occupy a different strategic space - reinhabiting and reanimating the Sacred, turning Cartesian categories of thought on their heads, and making room for the Divine to make its home with us once more.

'Tomorrow night,' as John Buchan wrote in The Dancing Floor, 'nothing will go out of this place, unless it be Gods.'

Bruce Charlton said...

@John - Good to have your endorsement - that makes two of us at least!

The difficulty is that it is something of a step into the unknown - or, at least, only exceptional individuals have so far gone ahead; and they have not really been followed. For example, the main legacies of Steiner and Barfield are non-Christian.

And the strong-real-Christian denominations that are surviving (and to some extent thriving) are occupied with firefighting and resistance to the point that they are apparently worried that any (even necessary and positive) changes they might make in the direction of Final Participation would be interpreted as weakness/ liberalization (and they probably would indeed be so interpreted).

Nonetheless, if it is *necessary* (and I believe it is) we just have to go ahead with it as best we can.

Anrew said...

How does one get there, then? Is it something like a process of enlightenment or initiation on an individual basis, or is there hope for some sort of mass and sudden change?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Anrew (Andrew?) - Do you read this blog regularly? A lot of what I write about is 'how' - for example you could search 'meditation'.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Seeker - I don't understand the question, so that probably means no.