Barfield admired the
scientist, playwright, novelist, and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1789-1832),
the titanic figure of German Romanticism, who not only wrote one of the
greatest works of world literature (Faust) but made substantial
contributions to color theory and to botany, almost as much as his countryman
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Goethe's age, Barfield
recognized, had great need of him:
a student of the evolution of consciousness,
it is particularly interesting that a man with the precise make-up of Goethe
should have appeared in that precise moment in the history of the West.
By the middle of the eighteenth century, when he was born, original
participation had virtually faded out, and Goethe himself was a thoroughly
modern man. Yet he showed from his earliest childhood and retained all
through his life an almost atavistically strong remainder of it. It breathes
through his poetry as the peculiar Goethian attitude to Nature, who is
felt as a living being, almost as a personality, certainly as a "thou"
rather than an "it" or an "I." It is almost as if the Gods had purposely
retained this sense in Goethe as a sort of seed-corn out of which the beginnings
of final participation could peep,
for the first time, on the world of science. Perhaps it was an instinctive
understanding of this which made him so determined to keep clear of Beta-Thinking.
Barfield is especially
indebted to Goethe for his understanding of systematic
A systematic approach towards final
participation may . . . be expected to be an attempt to use
systematically. This was the foundation of Goethe's scientific work. In
his book on the
Metamorphosis of Plants and the associated writings
descriptive of his method, as well as in the rest of his scientific work,
there is the germ of a systematic investigation of phenomena by way of
participation. For his Urpflanze
and Urphanomen are nothing more
or less than potential phenomena perceived and studied as such. They are
processes grasped directly and not, as hitherto since the scientific revolution,
hypotheses inferred from actual phenomena. (SA 137-38)
Though well aware of
the "common objection that Goethe's method ought not to be called 'scientific,'
because it was not purely empirical," Barfield recognizes the charge to
be the result of the very mindset Goethe sought to overturn:
we have seen that the major part of
any perceived phenomenon consists of our own "figuration."
Therefore, as imagination reaches the point of enhancing figuration itself,
hitherto unperceived parts of the whole field of the phenomenon necessarily
become perceptible. Moreover, this conscious participation enhances perception
not only of present phenomena but also of the memory-images derived from
them. All this Goethe could not prevail on his contemporaries to admit.
was too all powerful and there were then no premonitory signs, as there
are today, of its collapse. (SA 138)
|See in particular
"Goethe and the Twentieth Century" (RCA 164-183), Saving the
Appearances, Chaps. XX.
have managed things cleverly, my boy: I have never thought about thinking."