Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Owen Barfield’s thought in general is difficult to place within the usual categorical limits of history, philosophy, psychology, or aesthetic theory. At its center is Barfield’s concept of the role of imagination in the evolution of human consciousness, and the consequences of that evolution on human understanding of physical nature, philosophically conceived reality, time, and history. Implicit in this notion is his understanding of how consciousness itself works, how it formulates representations (ideas or images) of the outside world, how its participation in the outside world generates and completes that world’s felt reality, while realizing its own, and how awareness of the changing meaning of words reveals not merely semantic growth or decay but also the evolving mind of the past and of the world it possessed and partially created.

These linked ideas—developed from primarily literary or linguistic models in his earlier works, such as Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning (1928) and History in English Words (1926)—are focused primarily in Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry on two issues: the failure of post-Renaissance Western scientific thought to establish a consistent epistemology and the consequences of that failure for Western man’s understanding of the relation “between human consciousness on the one hand and, on the other, the familiar world of which that consciousness is aware.” Saving the...

(The entire section is 521 words.)