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Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry
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Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry

4.25  ·  Rating Details ·  208 Ratings  ·  43 Reviews
Saving the Appearances is about the world as we see it and the world as it is; it is about God, human nature, and consciousness. The best known of numerous books by the British sage whom C.S. Lewis called the wisest and best of my unofficial teachers, it draws on sources from mythology, philosophy, history, literature, theology, and science to chronicle the evolution of hu ...more
Paperback, 191 pages
Published August 1st 1988 by Wesleyan (first published 1957)
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This book came highly recommended from a good friend of mine and did not disappoint. Barfield is one of the lesser known inklings, perhaps because he wrote dense books like this one rather than fantasy stories like Lewis and Tolkien! Getting to know Barfield through this work makes me even more want to travel back in time to England and drink a pint with the inklings. If only I had a TARDIS...

But I digress. This book is not long but it is dense. Barfield's argument is that in the ancient world,
James Prothero
Very dense and philosophical, but the implications of this book are huge, and spell the end of materialism, naturalism and the beginning of what Barfield calls "final participation" in which humanity sees holistically again and dispels the "idols" of thinking we have mastered nature and the spiritual world with our science. And gone also is the Existential present. A masterpiece, though hard work to read.
Nov 18, 2009 Sabrina rated it it was amazing
An incredibly difficult book, but ultimately worth it. I think it's successfully managed to open entirely new ways for me to consider not only the world around me, but thinking itself.
Steve Greenleaf
In the early 1920s, Owen Barfield published two books, History in English Words (1926) and Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning (1928), which provided significant insights into the way humans think. Enthusiasts of his work include T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, and later Saul Bellow, Howard Nemerov, James Hillman, and Harold Bloom, to name some of the more prominent. These early publications could have foretold a successful academic career, but Barfield was called instead to participate in the family of ...more
May 13, 2008 Dawn rated it really liked it
To be quite honest...this book is an incredibly difficult read (or at least it was for me). I thought I was pretty intellectual until I read this. Barfield was a member of the Inkilings Literary group that included C.S Lewis and Tolkien and his thoughts are extremely profound once you figure out what the heck he's saying. Read this in a Psychology of Religion class and it really left a mark and kept me thinking for a long....long...time:)
Jan 01, 2017 Celina added it

Scattered thoughts:

Author's claim: is not concerned with metaphysics.

Actuality: is concerned centrally with metaphysics (alongside a bunch of other things).

Author's claim: Kant was a catalyst for modern idolatry.

Actuality: author is sort of Kantian?

He neglects to argue for the nature of perception and cognition he assumes. But his whole argument partly hangs on this very controversial assumption. He *argues* for an evolution of *consciousness*, but he *assumes* that percep
Jim Leckband
Apr 12, 2016 Jim Leckband rated it it was amazing
One of the most original books I've ever read. Maybe the thoughts in this book have a long pedigree, but in my experience I have not seen much approaching them. Perhaps it is the fundamentalism of theology that taints talking about the origins of religions as taboo, or that this kind of thinking is buried deep in anthropology's history when anthropology has other concerns now. Perhaps if I had ever finished The Golden Bough or The Raw and the Cooked then I might have had a similar experience.

Finished my 4th complete rereading of the book. It stands up to this sort of attention. It makes me more interested in Rudolf Stiener and Goethe because they provide the context of his remarks that are introduced but not developed enough to be anymore than intriguing.

This is my first complete reading of this book. I read a section of it in the Barfield reader and then did alongish but unsatisfying read of most of the book earlier in the year.

I have no problem believing that he leavened the intel
A lot of people complain that this book is difficult. If breaking idols (habits) of thought were easy, everyone would do it. Of course it is difficult. It is difficult because it's worth reading.

This book is a careful examination of the unfolding of human consciousness. And the movement from original participation, to our modern estrangement, and a movement forward -- by means of imagination -- to a new mode of creative participation with the world. The gods may be dead, but idols are alive and
Jul 16, 2012 Joshua rated it really liked it
This is probably the first really 'hard' read I've had in a while. Mr. Barfield has a way of saying things in such an abstract way that there were times when I had to step back and say to myself, 'I know what those words mean, but I have no idea what he just said.'
My main problem with the book is that I could not determine if his concept of 'collective representations' was literal or philosophical. Now, of course, there is an argument throughout the book that the literal and the symbolic do not
Dave Maddock
Nov 07, 2015 Dave Maddock rated it really liked it
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If you answer with a resounding "No!" then Barfield is your man. In fact, his first chapter is a restatement of this very cliche: he asserts that a rainbow only "exists" if it is being perceived by a conscious being.

He goes on to develop his idea of the evolution of consciousness, which goes something like this:

-- "reality" (whatever that is...) must be perceived in some way by a consciousness (when it is not, h
Ben McFarland
Oct 08, 2013 Ben McFarland rated it it was amazing
The Owen Barfield Reading Tour continues. Saving the Appearances was a bit more uncomfortable for me to read than Poetic Diction, which had been written by Barfield about a quarter century before. It's a smidgen less pithy than Poetic Diction and lost me in abstract terms a few times -- something that never happened in Poetic Diction -- but if I want to be honest, the reason Saving the Appearances made me uncomfortable is that in it, Barfield goes after science. Well, "goes after" is a little to ...more
Dan Yingst
Fascinating and much in line with my own thinking on many questions. Unsure if his prescriptions match my own, I'll need to read again.
Jan 20, 2010 Steve rated it liked it
Shelves: books-of-2010
In Saving the Appearances Owen Barfield, friend of C S Lewis and JRR Tolkein and member of the Inklings, had this to say about the changes in our perception of reality from the medieval paradigm to the modern. He is talking about how we partition and categorise poetic or symbolic interpretation from the "literal". This is important in order to understand the poetic view of the world, one that does not place the premium on scientific knowledge at the expense of the poetic, the symbolic and the ar ...more
Wayne Craske
Apr 28, 2016 Wayne Craske rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book, listed as one of the best 100 spiritual books of the twentieth century, was written by a (unfortunately) little known-at least in England, even among the bibliophiles I know- inkling.
A friend of both Tolkien and CS Lewis, Barfield was a large influence upon both of them, especially his book 'poetic diction'.
To put my thoughts about 'saving the appearances' succinctly, I would have to say that it is fascinating, enlightening and always interesting.
To add a bit more depth, this book ex
Jeremy Purves
Jun 10, 2012 Jeremy Purves rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, own
This is one of the most challenging and provocative books I've read for a long time. The funny thing is that I'm not educated enough to understand half of it AND Barfield is breaking things down in order to explain them as clearly and as simply as possible.

The book is, as far as I can tell after a first read, a compelling take down of modern day versions of nominalism (which are what lie behind both Postmodernism and Deconstructionism). But it also has implications for our faith in science as we
Jul 22, 2011 Adam rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy
This book is like really, really rich chocolate cake - it will require a long time to digest - and a couple more future readings. This is one of those instances - and it might just be my lack of comprehension and a density to all things philosophical - but there were many paragraphs I had to read over and over and only then did I have even the faintest idea of what Barfield might have been getting at.

My briefest explanation - and this does not do it justice - would be that it is firstly a treat
Roger Buck
Jul 15, 2014 Roger Buck rated it really liked it
Great book - drawing on the epistemological work of Rudolf Steiner who Barfield gives all due credit and highest praise to. It is a book that can help bring Steiner more into the mainstream of Western thought. Meanwhile, Valentin Tomberg took Steiner's epistemology in a somewhat different direction in Meditations on the Tarot. Whereas the Anthroposophist Barfield became an Anglican, Tomberg became a Catholic . . . I have been reliably informed that Barfield borrowed Meditations on the Tarot befo ...more
Michael Fitzpatrick
Jul 22, 2011 Michael Fitzpatrick rated it it was amazing
Quite brilliant. This book should not be approached cold, however. The books which precede it, Barfield's "History in English Words" and "Poetic Diction," are essential reading before this one to really understand the concepts and what he's up to. A familiarity with philosophy, western literature, western history, and linguistics wouldn't hurt either. "Saving the Appearances" is the culmintation of a man's life work, in which he gives a picture of reality and shows where he find the value of lif ...more
Sep 03, 2014 Clint rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
The titular claim is that science/philosophy is about "saving the appearance" of a rational universe. That we think the world ought to make sense, so we try to make sense out of it. As we do, we construct "idols" -- abstract models with which to explain a more complex reality. Initially those abstractions are recognized as abstractions, but eventually they become mistaken for the reality itself and so deceive us.

Contains some interesting stories about the development and decline of "superstitio
Darren Duke
May 15, 2013 Darren Duke rated it liked it
Shelves: culture
A very dense book with a particular vocabulary developed by the author. Barfield's goal is to show that perceptions of our world are not static. That may sound obvious or it may sound irrelevant but as Barfield unwraps the topic by drawing from a variety of sources and fields, he presents the reader with some fascinating thoughts about man's perception and appreciation for his situation in the universe. This book will take some effort to enjoy and even more to benefit.
Oct 28, 2015 Whitney rated it liked it
Phew. This book was DENSE. I didn't glean much from it to be honest, and I'm a pretty intelligent person. Luckily I have all of these reviews here to help me, and a professor that's a Barfield expert to explain to me what the hell I just read. With that said, I know somewhere in this book is a lot of really important stuff. Hopefully someday will understand it.
Nov 12, 2012 Tara rated it really liked it
I had to sort of hold onto the thoughts in the first few chapters and let them ruminate for a few days before I really felt comfortable moving forward. But I am very glad I did, Mr. Barfield had an astonishing breadth of knowledge and a lovely ability to translate that into a cohesive but open worldview. Original participation! Final participation!
Dan Toft
Jun 27, 2008 Dan Toft rated it it was amazing
What an amazing philosophical book. I honestly believe that this is a must-read for an artist, anyone interested in science, religion, and basically every member of western society. It gives such a fresh and cogent account of where we come from as a society, where we are, and where we could (but also should) go.
Feb 24, 2008 Ted rated it it was amazing
Nonfiction, heavy reading, but worth it. The author is really well read and versed in history & language. This book opened my mind to the way earlier ages understood the world & forever after made me think about history & "discovery" a lot differently.
Michael Mayor
Aug 31, 2013 Michael Mayor rated it it was amazing
Great reflection on group think and its tendency toward idolatry, which is another word for collective delusion. A real must for anyone who wants to struggle with what constitutes reality when thinking on the numinous or the sacred.
Feb 09, 2015 Peter rated it really liked it
"The sower soweth the Word."

Barfield's words fell on relatively stony ground as this book challenges all of our habits of thought and makes it difficult to understand it in the way we normally understand books.

"He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
Brent Ranalli
Jul 31, 2012 Brent Ranalli rated it it was amazing
Brilliant, essential. The book does have one flaw, though: in closing, Barfield tries to shoehorn his thesis into the mold of some sort of Christian orthodoxy. Unnecessary, and it rings false.
Steven Rodriguez
Aug 26, 2014 Steven Rodriguez rated it it was ok
You can read my review on my blog:

Lee Staman
Aug 13, 2014 Lee Staman rated it really liked it
It's certainly a bit dense and though he repeatedly claims not to venture into metaphysics, he does, and I'm glad to have had a background in philosophy.
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Arthur Owen Barfield was a British philosopher, author, poet, and critic.

Barfield was born in London. He was educated at Highgate School and Wadham College, Oxford and in 1920 received a first class degree in English language and literature. After finishing his B. Litt., which became his third book Poetic Diction, he was a dedicated poet and author for over ten years. After 1934 his profession was
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“Before the scientific revolution, [man] did not feel himself isolated by his skin from the world outside to quite the same extent that we do. He was integrated, or mortised into it, each different part of him being united to a different part of it by some invisible thread. In his relation to his environment, the man of the middle ages was rather less like an island, rather more like an embryo.” 1 likes
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