Saving The Appearances

Joshua Allen posted a great review of Owen Barfield’s Saving The Appearances. He closes with a quote from Barfield which I found interesting:

Here is a choice quote that summarizes several arguments from various parts of the book; arguing that memory (aka semantic web) is a post-totemic idea that depends on lossy symbols. “As soon as unconscious or subconscious organic processes have been sufficiently polarized to give rise to phenomena on one side and consciousness on the other, memory is made possible. As consciousness develops into self-consciousness, the remembered phenomena become detatched or liberated from their originals and so, as images, are in some measure at man’s disposal. The more thoroughly participation has been eliminated, the more they are at the disposal of his imagination to employ as it chooses.

I posted this comment:

I’m curious about his use of “participation” in that last quote. Do you think he means “the more time has gone by” or perhaps “the less ‘attached’ we are to our images” or maybe “the more we observe – during the event – and the less we participate, the better our imagery?”
Seems like all of my interpretations are weak. My reading of Bachelard supports the idea that modern culture is imagination-deprived, so I’m sympathetic to Barfield’s resonance with increasing imaginative capacity.
(When casual readers tackle Bachelard they often start with The Poetics of Space, but The Poetics of Reverie is the one that deals with imagination and consciousness.)
Saving the Appearances was recommended to me ten years ago, but I never got around to reading it. Your review provides good encouragement.

Update: Joshua responds (copied here for my backup brain):

He goes into quite a bit of depth regarding the word “participation”. He refers to the usage of the word by Durkheim, Levy-Brune, and Aquinas and uses in that same sense. He even points out that Aquinas used the word on every page but one in his treatise “on consciousness” :-) The basic idea is that the observer puts a filter on what is being observed — when we think about phenomena of the natural world, we are thinking about something that has already been altered, or “participated” by our lense. Korzybski made the point that the map is not the territory, and Perls stressed that the “map” itself can be rather individualized. But regardless of whether our maps are shared or not, they all involve some participation. This is all pretty well accepted since Gestalt.

In this passage, he’s talking about the fact that purely logical systems operate only on themselves, and are basically divorced from the external world. We can manufacture memories of things that we never perceived with our senses, and we can discuss ad nauseum things that never *could* be perceived with our senses. The next step (he goes on to argue), is that we can imagine things that wouldn’t be perceived in the external world, and then manipulate the external world to create what we imagined. Then people increasingly dwell in these completely fabricated animatronic worlds (themselves populated with representations meant to be taken as realities) like Disney Land, Whole Foods, etc.

This is very interesting: “and then manipulate the external world to create what we imagined.” It fits well with setting intent, creating your own reality, expecting your desired outcomes, and other sometimes-useful, often-timeless, and frequently new-agey ideas regarding the relation of the internal and external worlds.
I should really get around to reading the book.