Saving the Appearances Essay - Critical Context

Owen Barfield

Critical Context

As Barfield is keen to acknowledge, the most fundamental intellectual theme in Saving the Appearances has its roots in the literary and philosophical traditions of nineteenth century Romanticism. The idea that the human mind does not merely observe the outside world but, in perceiving, partly creates it as well echoes Coleridge and the thrust of the German Idealistic school that Coleridge had appropriated. In Poetic Diction, Barfield noted that his own theory of knowledge had been born of his experience with English Romantic poets, an encounter that led eventually to his What Coleridge Thought (1971). Earlier, his discovery of the work of the turn-of-the-century mystic and philosopher Steiner allowed him to test his own inferentially developed ideas on the role of the imagination in the historical evolution of consciousness against those of a thinker who claimed direct knowledge of sustained experience with a world that transcended the ordinarily perceived one. Steiner had elaborated his reflections on that experience into voluminous teachings on spiritual science or anthroposophy, which Barfield has described elsewhere as “nothing less than Romanticism grown up.”

Saving the Appearances seeks to examine within a historical context the notion of an evolving human consciousness, to show, as one commentator has put it, “that there is an interior aspect to evolution,” an appreciation of which is vital to...

(The entire section is 498 words.)