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Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry. [Paperback]

By Owen Barfield, Susan Musser (Editor), Laura Watson (Illustrator), Scott Tilley (Illustrator), Seung Beom Kim (Illustrator), Sylvere Lotringer (Editor) & E. L. Vouyoukas
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Item Number 93642  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   191
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.46" Width: 5.53" Height: 0.53"
Weight:   0.55 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Aug 1, 1988
Publisher   Wesleyan
ISBN  081956205X  
EAN  9780819562050  

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Item Description...
Saving the Appearances is about the world as we see it and the world as it is; it is about God, human nature, and consciousness. The best known of numerous books by the British sage whom C.S. Lewis called the "wisest and best of my unofficial teachers," it draws on sources from mythology, philosophy, history, literature, theology, and science to chronicle the evolution of human thought from Moses and Aristotle to Galileo and Keats. Barfield urges his readers to do away with the assumption that the relationship between people and their environment is static. He dares us to end our exploitation of the natural world and to acknowledge, even revel in, our participation in the diurnal creative process.

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More About Owen Barfield, Susan Musser, Laura Watson, Scott Tilley, Seung Beom Kim, Sylvere Lotringer & E. L. Vouyoukas

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?
In brief  May 24, 2006
One of the most unduly under-appreciated books of the second half of the 20th century.
A Brave Plunge into Deep Waters  Jun 22, 2003
I finish this book thinking that it might have changed my life; if it has, I might not know it, since I don't understand lots of it, but I find my mind going back to play with the concepts, like an emerging tooth, probing just where my ignorance hurts, trying to tug the sure worthwhile thing out of the sting.

Barfield writes a history of consciousness from undifferentiation to differentiation. At first, humanity perceived themselves at one with all things (he names it, eventually, pantheism). Then, humans began to separate items out of that indiscriminate morass and think about them. Next, humans began to compile these various meditations into patterns. This necessarily separates the humans themselves from the things they analyze. We feel alienated from the world, individual. This is about where we are presently on the history of consciousness.

Barfield proposes, as best I understand it (and I write this review for myself as well, to nail these things to my memory), that only by the imaginative capacity, the creation of meaning (from within the human by the Spirit of God), can we achieve full participation in and unity with what we perceive around us, a mature participation of true knowledge, not the blind instinctive participation of the older time. We are evolving toward this final, spiritual participation--the sanctified imagination. At the same time, we fight off the tendency to create dead perceptions of reality and call them idols.

Those who object to this prescription as an element foreign to Barfield's more religiously innocuous historical commentary would do well to consider why Barfield believes humans originally participated with the world--we and nature are both perceptions of the Divine, and therefore related.

The terms are rather hazy in the book; this isn't my discipline, and I was still trying to decipher some bedrock vocabulary by page 127 (which is a very good page and clarified some things for me, although I spent a disproportionate amount of time on it). It's a mercilessly difficult read. Barfield does crack a joke in the second chapter; see if you can find it. Otherwise, matters are a bit murky, chiefly because of his terminology, which for definition relies on an equally opaque context.

Questions which remain for me: what exactly are idols? I'll have to read the book again sometime to find out. I understand (better) how the human race has evolved in consciousness as we relate to the world around us---how does this theory apply to our social relationships with other humans (and God)?

At any rate, this metanarrative carves a tremendous amount of sense from ancient, medieval, church, Romantic, scientific, and modern worldviews, and in some ways anticipates the postmodern, although I do not think Barfield would have predicted it or considered it an evolutionary advance. Consciousness is perhaps the fundamental issue of human existence. This book, despite its difficulty, explains consciousness better than anything else I've seen (which, I admit, may not say much for my outside reading).

Can God Be Found in Time & Flesh & Blood?  Nov 19, 2002
I first read this book in college, having already read the author's "Poetic Diction" (and having had an experience reading it like the author's experience of awakening from a spell on first reading Romantic poetry). "Saving the Appearances" was stranger and even more thrilling, but I think I wasn't really able or willing to take it in at that time. Later, after reading Norman O. Brown's astonishing "Love's Body," and finding references to it, I went back to "Saving the Appearances" with more peace of heart and sat with it for longer periods.

Nothing could have seemed weirder or more exotic at that time than the suggestion that Catholic Christianity--Anglican, Roman, Eastern Orthodox or otherwise--had something profound and urgent to teach our generation, something quite different from what Buddhism had to teach, something about a dimension of reality about which Buddhism had not chosen to speak. It seemed to me then, as it still does now, many years later, one of the handful of truly important books published in the last century on the topic of "Christology," the heart of Christian existence.

Did he owe these insights to Rudolf Steiner? To the circle of Charles Williams, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien? To his own spiritual experiences? I never followed up on these questions, though the book still seems to me a great treasure.

It taught me a perspective which I think we've scarcely yet begun to understand, although Norman O. Brown (and UC Santa Cruz) & others before him and after him have tried to bring it before our spaced out attention and to map its landscapes--a perspective through time, through history, a history of "geist" or "consciousness."

Is that mysterious time two millennia past merely a late entry in the unfolding of the axial age? Or was it the earliest sign of another age, a first light too long hid beneath a "sacred" bushel that we still have not entirely lifted and set aside? Did Jesus set in motion the gradual arrival of something like a second axial age? an age of incarnational mysticism? a trinitarian age?

I feel grateful to Owen Barfield for this small book that helped to light a path for me through dark times to some recovery of a hope in love & love's body. And to some recovery of trust in the world-shattering, world-disclosing emancipatory power of words.

Excellent introduction to Religious World-Views  Feb 9, 2002
I first ran across this book in a seminary course back in the mid -70's. I realized then that it gave me an intellectual handle on the basic religious thought process. It became foundational for me in my understanding of how we religious folk see our world and function in it. I think it is a terrific book for introducing people to one of the most basic principles of "religious thinking," if not to one of the most basic principles of cultural and social thought. It does have its drawbacks. I mean the author was English and has a fairly definite "Western" world-view, but once you get past that his basic approach is very useful as an introduction to what makes religious people "tick!" I highly recommend it!
fascinating account of the history of world views  Aug 22, 2000
I felt that Barfield made some very good, interesting, arguments especially concerning the "views of the world" as they existed prior to our own in history, the structure of language, the meaning of religion, philosophy and the ideas of participation which he expounded throughout the book.

I also had some difficulty in following some of the concepts, Barfield appeared to write in an old style no doubt due to his classical education, the book being written in the earlier half of the 20th century. I felt some elucidation of his concepts such as "the unrepresented", "alpha-thinking" etc could have been deeper and more fully described. His ideas of collective representaion is sound athough it is certainly his deep thinking about the way people thought about the world or what the world meant to them which are the highlights of the book. He very correctly criticises the "normal" approach taken when talking about ancient or older literature/writing. It is pointed out that the "obvious" world view now popular is not necessarily that practised in earlier times, even the way a text must be interpreted/seen is a context dependent activity, where, by context we mean the world view present at the time; such as how a person of the middle ages saw the physical aspects of the world eg a stone faling, a bird flying etc. For these arguments alone the book should be commended. The idea relating to participation is also relevant especially the divisions of original and final participation and the "scientific age" in between. Barfield does not merely accept the popularly held belief the ancients had it all wrong but rather looks at why the ancients thought the way they did, they were human beings like us and ceratinly not unintelligent as the writings of Aristotle, Plato, St Augustine, Giordano Bruno etc etc demonstrate.

There is much that is commendable in Saving the Appearances", far more than is not, but given the comments above one does feel that Barfield leads up to a way of thought he considers correct or more correct than any other through his own subjective beliefs which appear to colour the development of his ideas mainly near the end of the book. In other words although everyone has such a way of looking at the world to some degree, Barfield appears to bring it to the fore as a seeming be all and end all and a view not extendable or changable into something better. In this way one progresses through the book from an enlightened stance in the criticism and then the development of his own ideas to an almost Catholic worldview which superficially appears the culmination of the earlier development but is in fact an addendum to the truly original ideas mentioned earlier.

Very good investigation into the history of world views.


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