Tuesday 20 March 2018

What prevented Romanticism from attaining maturity? What made it become puerile?

 Owen Barfield in his seventies

Writing in a Festschrift to Owen Barfield (Evolution of Consciousness: studies in polarity, 1972 - edited by Shirley Sugarman); RJ Reilly wrote a superb chapter modestly entitled A Note on Barfield, Romanticism and Time.

What Reilly said has direct relevance to the 'project' of this blog.

He links to a comment by Barfield from Saving the Appearances to the effect that the romantic impulse never attained to maturity during the nineteenth century; and the only alternative to maturity is puerility (i.e. immaturity, childishness, foolishness).

What was missing from mainstream Romanticism was Christianity and Time.

Christianity, because rejection of the limitations of the churches went over into anti-Christianity (or 'anything-but Christianity', in the case of the 'spiritual but not religious' perennialist philosophers and seekers).

And Time was rejected because of the tendency of the tendency of Romanticism to regard enlightenment as all times in the 'ephiphanic' moment, that enlightened moment as out-of-Time and as all-Times - an indifference to chronology, or sequence - the denial of any destiny to history.

It was an achievement of Barfield to pick up the thread of Romanticism and point ahead to its maturity - including the inclusion of both Christianity and Time; and this highlighted those thinkers whose Romanticism did indeed include C&T - the likes of William Blake, ST Coleridge and Barfield's Master Rudolf Steiner.*

This forms a neat summary of the Romanticism, and indeed the strategy, I would endorse - a Romanticism in a Christian framework, and (also consistent with Christianity) one which understands human life and culture in terms of a destiny (an intended plan or sequence) unfolding through Time.

*To which I would add William Arkle.


Edwin said...

Romanticism in its broadest sense is the appreciation of life as a quest for an ideal, whether it be beauty or courage or knowledge, etc. I grew up in a romantic atmosphere, in the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church, where the romantic quest was seen as spiritual. The great heroes for me were the saints and the members of religious orders who gave themselves entirely to the quest for spiritual perfection. All of those orders were breaking down, of course, and they are now either non-existent of moribund or, worse, completely corrupted. But the romantic spirit, the desire to be the hero of one's own story, will always endure. It seems as though the quest now has to be made without the aid of society or institutional structures, and there are few who will even attempt it or even imagine it possible. Those who set out on a spiritual quest today often end up in some form of Eastern spirituality in which time is seen as illusory and the individual a product of ignorance. It is a spirituality that nullifies the quest by nullifying the quester. I have admired Barfield and read his corpus, along with much of his master's. Steiner describes an elaborate evolution of human consciousness and the perils and promises of the future, little of which can be verified. Most of what he says has to be taken on trust in him, or so it seems to me. But his attractiveness, when I read him, rested largely on the fact that he restored meaning to history. It was not Christian meaning, in the usual way Christianity is understood, but it had great romantic appeal. I will re-read Saving the Appearances. I'm sure there is much I missed the first-time around. It is challenging book, as I recall. But the quest must go on.

William Wildblood said...

"A spirituality that nullifies the quest by nullifying the quester. " A perfect summing up, Edwin. Or as you could say, cures the disease by killing the patient. Time is an essential part of the spiritual path but its importance is often ignored simply because the state above time is perceived to be the highest truth. So it is but the idea is not to reject time or matter or the body or the self but to incorporate them into that highest truth to make of it something greater than pure passive being.