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A READER'S JOURNAL, Volume 1

Romanticism Comes of Age
by
Owen Barfield
Published by Wesleyan Univ. Press in 1986
Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2002

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At last the scales have fallen from my eyes and I no longer see as through a glass darkly, but bright and fresh, the reason: I have been drawn to Rudolf Steiner's writings. I have been hitherto stumbling in a graveyard, trying to create some semblance of life from epitaphs and dates on dusty stones and herein I find a quick companion, a pub brother, who over our dark beers, tells me the secret. Not right up front, but only after a long prologue, a tale of man and nature, of unity, splitting apart, and reunion. A tale of many tales, of scientists and poets, positivists and romantics, all narrated in detail, but without an end in sight, until the last five pages of this book when Barfield tells us the essence of Steiner's contribution to knowledge his discovery of the starting place of acquiring knowledge itself: in the activity of thinking. In one fell stroke, Steiner illuminates the bridge between James' "blooming, buzzing confusion" of the sensory world and our primordial perception of the sensory world mediated by our previous experiences. That bridge is the activity, the process, of thinking. Beginning as we must, with the results of thousands of years of thinking insinuated in our specious present ("specious Given" in Barfield's terms), we can never experience the net Given (the specious Given stripped of the results of our long protocol of thinking) but we can think of its necessary existence. And, having done so, we can know that any science of thought that ignores this distinction of the specious Given and net Given does so at its own peril and creates strawmen that will not survive the heat of closer scrutiny.

The search for one's eyeglasses is made difficult because the instrument of discernment is lacking during the search. One invariably requires the assistance of someone of acute sight in the search. If one's eyeglasses are perched on one's own nose during the search, the search will be fruitless, even though the eyesight is flawless. No amount of help from clear seeing companions will be of any help either, unless the companion has the perspicacity of Rudolf Steiner, and looking directly at you, says, "Your eyeglasses, dear friend, were in place all along." We can discover that the activity of thinking is not a local phenomenon limited to our skulls, but a living process that fills the universe if we only heed Steiner's admonition to notice the object of our long search has the instrument of our search all along.



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