The world against me rages, its fury I disdain;
Though bitter war it wages, its work is all in vain.
My heart from care is free, no trouble troubles me.
Misfortune now is play, and night is bright as day.

--Awake, My Heart, with Gladness (Auf, Auf, Mein Herz, mit Freuden), Paul Gerhardt

Thursday, September 30, 2010

For the form of this world is passing away...

From a very fine Christian blog: 

“C.S. Lewis, in his marvelous little book, The Great Divorce, uses the imagery of “solidity” versus “ghostliness” to make a distinction between those who have entered paradise, and those who have not. He clearly did not mean to set forth a metaphysical model or to suggest “how things are.” But the imagery is very apt and suggestive when we take a look at what it means for something or someone to exist.

The nature of our secularized worldview is to take all that we see as a presentation of reality and truth. The daily world as we experience it is considered to be the very definition of reality. This is the natural world. Any other perception or presentation of reality is thus supernatural or something other than natural. For those who accept this definition, the onus is on those who suggest that reality is in anyway different than the daily perception of the modern secularized world. To be a “sceptic” is thus not to question everything, but to question everything other than what is perceived as normal and natural.

The Scriptures suggest a different perspective: “for the form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:31). The world in which we live is not “solid” in the sense of permanence – it is constantly changing and “passing away.”

Read the rest here:

Father Stephen, Mere Existence and the Age to Come, Glory to God in All Things

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Barfield, Owen ; Poetic diction: a study in meaning, preface to the first edition [1927]

Barfield, Owen ; Poetic diction: a study in meaning (1973, 1952 [2nd ed.], 1927)

Preface, 1st ed.

Barfield notes that the form of the book is in one sense autobiographical, and that it progresses from his own aesthetic and psychological experiences to general principles, which are applied to the various problems of literature (esp. “poetic diction” in its narrower sense).  The “general principles”, however, take on the form of pictures and metaphors instead of propositions, for reasons that will become clear in the book. (11)

The author recalls his early perception that “poetry reacts on the meanings of the words it employs” which was “followed by a dim, yet apodeictically [me: evident beyond contradiction] certain, conviction that there are 'two sorts of poetry'; and a series of unsuccessful events to rationalize these and other aesthetic experiences in terms of the various theories of language, literature and life, with which the author happened to come in touch, resulted in the present volume.” (12)  

He also thanks a man named Rudolf Steiner, for inspiring his thinking, while being careful not to “father upon him many of the views on poetry which I have expressed”.  Barfield says his work would be valuable to anyone “engaged on either the theory or practice of any art.” (12, 13).  He also mentions with approval Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West (“a profound and alarmingly learned study of the historical – as opposed to the literary – relation between prosaic and poetic”—italics his).

Finally, countering those who say his theory of poetry “takes no account of feeling”, he says the kind of “inspired thinking which I have attempted to depict, assumes the utmost intensity of feeling as a necessary pre-requisite.  There could be no other way of reaching it.  It can only begin when feeling has become too powerful to remain only personal, so that the individual is compelled by his human nature, either to THINK in reality, or to find, more of less instinctively, some suitable device for dimming his consciousness.” (13)

My summary: -

My critique/comments:  This is all very interesting.  I look forward to hearing more about his journey of discovery.  I do need to find out more about exactly what poets mean when they talk about theories though.  : ) Finally, regarding his comments about feeling, I must say they resonate with me, and I look forward to seeing what kinds of insights are inspired by, this conviction, and how those insights serve to reinforce the conviction.  I do believe that life, at bottom, is fundamentally personal – and this cannot but inspire strong feeling…

Monday, September 27, 2010

Barfield, Owen ; Poetic diction: a study in meaning, foreward b (by Howard Nemerov)

Barfield, Owen ; Poetic diction: a study in meaning (1973, 1952 [2nd ed.], 1927) 
Forward (con't)

In Shakespeare’s time, poetic diction really belonged to the study of rhetoric, and most of what was emphasized were common sense techniques (practice, imitation, reading) for creating persuasive speakers.

Nemerov goes on to write: "In the 17th and 18th centuries it would appear that prose and poetry which had formerly been rather close together in their choice of language, were decisively differentiated from one another , and there gradually grew up a kind of language special to poetry and not admissible in prose except on the most exalted occasions." (5).

Hence, the concept of “poetic diction” is born. 

Me: This seems very interesting.  Still, to say “decisively differentiated” is to acknowledge that there had always been a bit of a differentiation here, right?  In other words, the chasm, likely due in part to the success of the experimental sciences - and their emphasis on the “objective” – simply got wider.  A distinction became a complete separation in the minds of many… 

Back to the book: Originally, Nemeov avers, as this occurred people did not seem to realize this was happening, and regarding questions of the past, attention was focused on things people could clearly see: like the historical works that Homer, who taught “that language of the Gods to men” (Pope), composed.  What this part about the Gods and their language might have really meant did not require explanation… (5, 6)

But now, in the 19th and 20th centuries we observe that when we try to say what something is (see Darwin and Freud) we “go back and talk about how it got to be the way it looks now” (6).  With Genesis losing influence, new scientific mythologies had to fill the void.

The Romantic movement rebelled not only against poetic diction in the technical sense (vs conventional language) but against “the belief about the world and the place of mankind in the world that produced the [intolerable] technical conventions”.  (The rebel makes his own creation myth if he pursues things to the end).   

Blake decried “systematic abstraction, priesthood, scientism, the loss of the good of the imagination”.  Wordsworth talked about how poetry had been corrupted by intellectualizing imitation of the “supposed practice of the earliest poets [of all nations]”, who he says “generally wrote from passion excited by real events; they wrote naturally, and as men: feeling powerfully as they did, their language was daring, and figurative.” (7) 

“For the great Romantics, then, poetic diction becomes a subject of the first importance, because out of their efforts to reform this highly specialized diction and reach back instead to ‘nature’ arose the deeper question of the extent of the imagination’s role as creator of the visible and sensible world.  For Blake that extent was total: Imagination is the Savior.  For Wordsworth the relation was a more tentative and balancing one, in which the world and thought were mutually adjusted to one another…” (8)

This idea of the primacy of imagination was a “point of considerable anxiety” as well, given the “[evidently triumphant] view of a universe of independently and fatally moving things” (“scientific materialism”) (8)

Nemerov goes on to say that it appears that recurring outbreaks of “modernism”, regarding themselves as anti-romantic, actually are variations on “superficial aspects of the Romantic Movement”, “while something submerged and unfinished about that movement remains largely untouched” (8).  Nevertheless, poetry and criticism today seems “enthralled by the false realism of the reason [and] spellbound to the merely picturesque”…it is prevented “from dreaming deeply or other than the common dream” (9).

My summary: -

My critique/comments:  This is all very interesting, and I don’t find much to criticize or question yet.  I have no reason to think that he analysis is not sound.  Still, although I am “willing to open this question of imagination again to a candid exploration” (9) I am uneasy and a bit skeptical about this journey.  When it comes to the way of the scientist, is our biggest problem that people uncritically reify, thinking that, for instance, "extended things" have intrinsic characteristics like "length, breadth, and depth" in the same way that, for example, elephants have intrinsic characteristics like tusks, trunks, and hair (or is talking about elephants in this way even permissible, as any such observations and descriptions cannot be conceived as arising from general human curiosity and a non-insidious desire to label?)?  Or is it an even bigger problem that people would think that there are no "joints" to reality whatsoever – and that it can be "carved up" in any way we like?  In other words: that there are no limits to our interpretations of reality or to what our imaginations can construct and build?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Barfield, Owen ; Poetic diction: a study in meaning, foreward a (by Howard Nemerov)

Barfield, Owen ; Poetic diction: a study in meaning (1973, 1952 [2nd ed.], 1927)


“Among the few poets and teachers of my acquaintance who know POETIC DICTION it has been valued not only as a secret book, but nearly as a sacred one; with a certain sense that its teaching was quite properly esoteric…”


“…not as the possession of a few snobs but as something that would easily fail of being understood by even the most learned of those jugheads whose mouths continually pour forth but whose ears will serve only for carrying purposes.” (1)

“Two main ways of taking poetic diction as a subject of study”:

1. Technical matter belonging to the art of poetry.  More: How could it ever have appeared seemly, appropriate, natural, to a poet, in his character of angler, to call fish “the finney prey”? (today, [1973] if someone did, he’d not only feel silly but be silly).  A reflective poet may realize he has been using words as if were natural, “as if the words really belonged to things, as if the words were really the ‘souls’ of things, their essences or Logoi, and not by any means the mere conventional tags they are said to be.” (2)

Leads to...
2. Poetic diction as a psychological, metaphysical – and extremely problematic – subject.  More: The poet may go from thinking that the fact that words change from age to age and even from context to context is interesting because it is a nuisance to thinking more critically about what this means.  This may become “the question of primary perception, of imagination itself, of how thought ever emerged (if it did) out of a world of things” (3).

For a poet who thinks about these things “their want of formal [philosophical] training may be not altogether a disadvantage” (“irony of Socrates”: he could only afford the one-drachma course about the correctness of names) (3,4)

My summary: -
My critique/comments:  Not much to object to here.  How could I, not being much of a poet?  Perhaps I would note that although it “may become ‘the question of primary perception, of imagination itself, of how thought ever emerged (if it did) out of a world of things’” (3), it may not as well, depending on what one believes about God – or on what one believes men ought to believe about God, given the evidence… Also, will be thinking about the “finney prey” thing for a long while I think…

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The World an end, and faith a means

"Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing.  Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity - his is ours - and the more 'religious' (on those terms), the more securely ours.  I could show you a pretty cageful down here."--Screwtape

Lewis, C.S. ; Screwtape Letters, p. 39, Touchstone, 1996 ed.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Popper, Karl ; Conjectures and Refutations, preface i and ii

Popper, Karl ; Conjectures and Refutations – the growth of scientific knowledge (1968, c1963)


Thesis : we can learn from our mistakes ; this book puts forth a theory of knowledge and its growth.

"...conjectures are controlled by criticism; that is, by attempted refutations, which include severely critical tests.  They may survive these tests, but they can never be positively justified: they can neither be established as certainly true nor even as “probable” (in the sense of the probability calculus).” (vii)

Me: there are many “problems” we don't have in common – and problems, like aims [see below] can change…

“As we learn from our mistakes our knowledge grows, even though we may never know – that is, know for certain.”

Me: evidently we can we know for certain that a theory is wrong, or at least incomplete, though...

According to Popper, the fact that a theory can be falsified is what makes it scientific (it has not been proved, but it has not been disproved…):

“those among our theories which turn out to be highly resistant to criticism, and which appear to us at a certain moment of time to be better approximations to truth than other known theories, may be described, together with the reports of their tests, as ‘the science’ of that time.  Since none of them can be positively justified, it is essentially their critical and progressive characters – the fact that we can argue about their claim to solve our problems better than their competitors – which constitutes the rationality of science.” (vii)

Popper also applies this "rationality of science" widely: to "the problems of the philosophy and history of the physical sciences and of the social sciences to historical and political problems" (viii)

Preface to second ed.

all our knowledge grows only through the correcting of our mistakes” (ix)

Popper goes on to say that our aims (me: goals) can be changed by trial and error as well.

Me: But don't we sometimes, especially when we are young, simply learn new things as we are exposed to them, apart from any mistake correction? (not to preclude the possibility that children have not only an instinct for induction, but also a disposition to form certain judgments and ideas, i.e. that our minds anticipate this acquisition of knowledge)  If that is not growth in knowledge what is it?

My summary: -

My critique: Right away, we see some problems with the discussion of problems.  Surely, some situations we can agree are problems, more or less: diseases for example.  But other things, like figuring out the exact "structure of reality" (construed as impersonal a priori) is not going to be a problem that all share.  It also seems plain wrong to say that all of our knowledge grows *only* through mistake correction.