The text on this page is from David Lavery, "An Owen Barfield Readers Guide." Seven 15 (1998): 97-112.

History, Guilt, and Habit

History, Guilt, and Habit. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan U P, 1979. 

You can dig into the earth with a spade in order to get beneath the surface. The spade is itself a product of the earth, but that does not bother you. But if, by some mysterious dispensation, the spade were part of the very path of earth you were splitting up, you would be rather nonplused, because you would destroy the instrument by using it. And that is the sort of difficulty you are up against when it is not the earth you are digging into, but consciousness; and when it is not a spade you are digging with, but language. . . . However quickly you turn around, you can never see the back of your own head. (History, Guilt, and Habit 21)

Like Speaker’s Meaning, History Guilt, and Habit was originally a series of lectures (given this time in Canada at the University of Victoria and the University of British Columbia). As G. B. Tennyson notes in his foreword to the book, History, Guilt, and Habit is an excellent first exposure to his difficult arguments for the novice reader of Barfield. The book retains much of the concern for an audience’s comprehension of a lively lecture. The three essays, "History of Ideas: Evolution of Consciousness," "Modern Idolatry: The Sin of Literalness," and "The Force of Habit," present, in one sense, a recapitulation of the chief ideas of Saving the Appearances in a somewhat more readily digested form, but here the emphasis is on history and historicism and on distinguishing Barfield’s own pursuit of an understanding of the evolution of consciousness from the work of the historian.


Table of Contents

1 History of Ideas: Evolution of Consciousness 3-35
2 Modern Idolatry: The Sin of Literalness 36-64
3 The Force of Habit 65-93