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Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning (Wesleyan Paperback) [Paperback]

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Item Specifications...

Pages   238
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 0.75" Width: 5.25" Height: 8"
Weight:   0.65 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jan 31, 1984
Publisher   Wesleyan
ISBN  081956026X  
EAN  9780819560261  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
Poetic Diction, first published in 1928, begins by asking why we call a given grouping of words "poetry" and why these arouse "aesthetic imagination" and produce pleasure in a receptive reader. Returning always to this personal experience of poetry, Owen Barfield at the same time seeks objective standards of criticism and a theory of poetic diction in broader philosophical considerations on the relation of world and thought. His profound musings explore concerns fundamental to the understanding and appreciation of poetry, including the nature of metaphor, poetic effect, the difference between verse and prose, and the essence of meaning.
CONTRIBUTOR: Howard Nemerov.

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More About Owen Barfield

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! OWEN BARFIELD, whom C. S. Lewis called the "wisest and best of my unofficial teachers," is a philosopher and author of many books, including Saving the Appearances, Unancestral Voice, The Rediscovery of Meaning and Other Essays, Owen Barnfield on C. S. Lewis, and History, Guilt, and Habit. Born in 1898, he lives in East Sussex, England.

Owen Barfield was born in 1898 and died in 1997.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Wonderful, and not at all outdated!  Jul 4, 2006
One of the reviewers here called Barfield 'a product of his time' and suggested that now he's useful only for practical use, not for contemporary scientists and theorists. I have to disagree, and that's why I'm writing this review.
1) Barfield's views on co-evolution of language and consciousness may not be widely accepted today, but surely they're not 'outdated'. His is simply an alternative theory of language history, and 'alternative' doesn't mean 'wrong'. It isn't 'naive' either: he only notes some rules at work in different languages (such as the tendency to greater abstraction), and applies them to poetry. Nowhere does he regard the metahistory of language as linear, and nowhere does he speak of 'primitive' times, or of evolution towards greater complexity in language, etc.
2) Barfield's theory of metaphor is very stimulating and not at all discredited today. Maybe the former reviewer read too much Donald Davidson who regards Barfield's theory invalid, but for example Paul Ricoeur often cites Barfield approvingly. So it's all a matter of scientific paradigm one works in.
I could go on forever, but it'd be better if you didn't trust anyone and simply read some Barfield. Don't read him with 'a priori' knowledge of his being outdated - simply read and evaluate his every argument for yourself to see if it's valid. Theories come and go, but thoughtful books remain.
Perennial and Profound  Jan 13, 2003
By his own admission, Owen Barfield's writings can't be organized into "early" and "late" periods. He claimed that from the very first publications to the last, he was explicitly or implicitly working out his understanding of the evolution of human consciousness. His second published book, _Poetic Diction_, concerns the study of language as the record of the changing human experience of the world.

In _Poetic Diction_, Barfield argued that:
1. One defining effect of poetry is to "arouse aesthetic imagination"
2. A significant result of the interaction with the language of the poem is that the reader's awareness of the world is permanently expanded
3. The expansion of the reader's awareness correlates to the poet's own awareness of the world as articulated in the poem

Barfield supposed, further, that what may be prosaic to the author may still have a "poetic" effect on the reader, i.e., expanding the reader's awareness of the world. One consequence of these facts, Barfield argued, is that by reading, the reader perceives the world as the author perceives - or perceived - it. And if the text being read is a classical Latin text, or a Sanskrit text, for example, then the reader may experience very startling glimpses of the world as a result.

What he went on to argue was that, if we grant that this effect of poetic diction on our awareness of the world is a real effect, then we cannot escape the conclusion that the world as the authors of the Latin and Sanskrit texts was a very different world than our own. Further, he argued that one could trace those differences in the changes that languages have undergone since human languages have been recorded. Finally, by studying these changes, said Barfield, one sees that human consciousness in its first expressions in language was almost wholly perceptual and figurative.

Barfield then argued that the "poetic effect" of such ancient texts was that they make available to the reader an experience of the world that correlates to their concrete and figurative language, and that world is one that couldn't have been produced analytically and self-consciously - for instance, by superstition or some early attempts at scientific theorizing. Just as our language today expresses in myriad ways what we take to be real, so the ancient languages too.

Thus Barfield's conclusions about *poetry* are nothing at all like what contemporary academic literary theory concludes, because Barfield's conclusions are equivalent to a theory of knowledge - while contemporary literary theory denies implicitly that a theory of knowledge is even possible.

As literary theory, then, _Poetic Diction_ is only marginally relevant, if even that, because literary theorists no longer concern themselves with knowledge. As a theory of knowledge, and as a study of the significance of language and the evolution of human consciousness, _Poetic Diction_ remains a seminal work, the challenges of which have yet to be realized in but a few works even today.

A thoughtful book, but a product of its time...  Sep 14, 2001
_Poetic Diction_, written in 1927, is generally considered *the* masterwork of Owen Barfield, the philosopher and literary critic who was good friends with Tolkien, Lewis, and the whole Inklings crowd. As the title suggests, the book's goal is to discuss *poetic diction*, that is to say, the manner in which the arrangement of words manages to produce aesthetic effects. As such, this work is probably best classified as a work of literary theory.

In essence, Barfield's analysis revolves around two main points. First, and most interestingly, he points out that aesthetic appreciation is a phenomenon of conciousness. His argument here is very subtle-- he's not merely asserting the rather obvious point (at least, it's been obvious since Kant's _Critique of Aesthetic Judgement_) that judgements of aesthetic beauty are subjective and individualistic. He argues that poetry acts aesthetically precisely at that moment, and only at that moment, when it causes a reader's mind to become aware that its perception of the world has momentarily changed because of the poem. This moment is very brief, ephemeral, and fleeting-- and, being a phenomenon of individual consciousness, is quite intangible. Once cannot simply point to a line of poetry and say "This is beautiful or poetic" because of some intrinsic quality of the words-- the moment of beauty/poetry occurs instead in the minds of those who encounter it. Consequently, an analysis of poetic diction must be enrooted in an understanding of the connection between linguistics and psychology.

The second major point of Barfield's analysis is that the primary means by which the poetic arrangement of words operates (i.e. the means by which it causes the conscious mind to see the world differently and to be aware that it is seeing the world differently) is metaphor, which, as he characterizes it, is the fundamental cause of meaning-- and particularly of new meaning. The greater part of the book is devoted to the dicussion of metaphor and its connection to meaning, and the connection of both to the impact of words on human consciousness.

Reading this work today, nearly 75 years after it was written, I have to say that I must strongly disagree with the reviewer below who characterizes Barfield as being far ahead of his time. This work is very much a product of its time, and that is evident in many different ways. All of the major authorities on language, poetry, etc., whom Barfield is arguing against (especially Max Mueller) have long been wholly discredited, have been completely forgotten, or have merely become passe. The same is true with those other authorities whom Barfield cites favorably to support his argument-- they too have long ago fallen by the wayside of scholarship. Moreover, so many of the basic approaches that Barfield takes to this subject are unmistakeably characteristic of an earlier generation of scholarship-- his attempt to outline a metahistory of language from so-called 'primitive' times to the present for example, is something no contemporary scholar would be so naive as to do. Even Barfield's emphasis on aesthetics as a phenomenon of consciousness is very much in the spirit of other turn-of-the-twentieth century thought (cf. Freud, Croce, Weber, DuBois, Bergson, etc.), and his discussion of the subjet has more in common with those folks than with, say, the schools of reader-response criticism that developed later on.There is also a, well, I'm not sure exactly what to call it other than a certain *genteel* quality to Barfield's prose, approach, and assumptions that, once again, smacks of an earlier era of scholarship.

In fact, I should also add that in someways, it seems even a bit backward-looking for the time in which it was written. For someone who was writing in the heydey of modernism, it's kind of noteworthy that Barfield makes no attempt to account for the radical *stylistic* and *narrative* innovations that were taking place in the literature of Pound, Eliot, Joyce, Woolf, etc., which would, I think have forced Barfield to reassess, or at least reargue his position vis-a-vis metaphor being the primary vehicle of by which poetry efffects consciousness. Instead, he leaves them out and uses, as his primary focal point, the literature and philosophy of the Romantics: Blake, Shelley, Wordsworth, and Coleridge.

The book's being dated, I hasten to add, does not necessarily mean that it's is *bad* or that it's not insightful. Freud was very much a product of his time, but his work remains brilliant and his thought can still provide profound and fresh insights even today. So to with many other thinkers from the past, and so to it is with Barfield. While I can't honestly say that I think contemporary literary critics (let alone researches into psycholinguistics) will gain much from a study of Barfield, I agree wholly with the reviewer below who stated that this is an especially great book for writers and for those who desire to use words and arrange words in such a way as to make an impact on other people's consciousness.

A profound contemplation on poetry, language, & meaning  Dec 13, 1998
This is the first of many books by the recently deceased Mr. Barfield. It is jam-packed with wise observations relating to the intersection of poetry, language, and meaning. His arguments revolve around the metaphysical nature of metaphor, with lots of examples and subtle distinctions. In the end, the reader leaves with a vision of how a more conscious understanding and use of poetry - or better said, imaginative language - is at the heart of a true understanding of what makes us human. Let's hope lots of people order this book and that some of Barfield's other books get back into print (e.g., What Coleridge Thought, Romanticism Comes of Age).
Forgotten Classic..70 years ahead of its Time!  Feb 16, 1997
This book...along with a very few others (like Marshall McLuhan's UNDERSTANDING MEDIA)...deserves its reputation as an underground classic treasured by all those who take a serious interest in Language Studies. Barfield's insights into the deep structure of metaphors as the real engine of a given language's history are only now being studied in laboratories dedicated to mapping language functions in the human brain. It has been kept in print for 50 years (well beyond the lifespan of similar books on philosophy and linguistics of its time) for one has been passed on from teachers to students as a ritual gift that has the power to shatter a mind and transform its understanding of its own workings. It will still be read when the next millenium ends

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