Monday, January 18, 2010

Eager Spring


Kasper said...

I have not thought all of this through very deeply but the subject has occupied my mind a great deal, so I wonder what others make of it:

Courtly Love and the Evolution of Consciousness

One thing that is remarkable about the recently published fiction of Barfield, i.e. The Rose on the Ash-Heap, Eager Spring and Night Operation, is that all three add a warmth of feeling to his ideas that is sometimes lacking (justifiably so) in his more purely philosophical books. This is perhaps mostly due to the importance attached to the experience of love in their imaginative portrayal of various aspects of the evolution of consciousness. Thus Sultan’s inner journey is wholly driven by his yearning for the mysterious dancer, the evil Godfrey in Virginia’s Conte is overcome by the love between Paolo and Maria, and it is only because of Jak’s awakening feelings of love that the three main figures in Night Operation escape from the sewers to Aboveground.

All three books, moreover, refer specifically to the medieval tradition of courtly love which was the focus of C.S. Lewis’s influential study The Allegory of Love (dedicated to Owen Barfield). This is most obviously so in Eager Spring, where the Trovatore (i.e. Troubadour) embodies the ideal of the courtly lover, as he tells of his experiences in Italy, France and Germany, the three regions were this tradition initially flowered, sings to the three sisters, and finally falls in love with Maria. I think Paolo’s character may also reveal why the courtly love tradition was so important for Barfield. For it is through his service to Love that Paolo comes to ponder the true relation between Spirit and flesh, and overcomes the strict divide between them. Even more importantly, it leads him finally to directly perceive the spiritual reality ‘behind’ the material, and it is his heightened powers of perception that help to avert the industrial disaster threatening the country.

The example of Paolo shows the courtly love tradition as a significant step in the history of consciousness; through his experience in this tradition he develops the kind of spiritual perception which Rudolf Steiner taught; he moves towards a form of final participation in which the material is again experienced as a representation of the spiritual. In a wider sense this shows, I think, that Barfield saw courtly love as a precursor to both Romanticism and Anthroposophy, a first step towards a new spiritual relation to the world. Through the idealization of the Lady, the spiritual is again experienced in the flesh and the mind-matter dualism dissolves.

Barfield once described love as the awareness of a spiritual bond underlying physical separateness. As such, it plays an essential part in the evolution of consciousness. While in the courtly love tradition the lover focuses on one person, his Lady, the Romantics expand it to include the whole of humanity as well as the natural world. This gradual widening of love is an idea that Barfield wonderfully expressed in his introduction to Orpheus (as well as in the play itself), where he describes his attempt to portray the development from personalized to impersonal love, from Eros to Agape “neither as a Platonic transfer of attention from carnal copy to ghostly original, nor simply as darkness giving way to light, but rather as moonlight brightening imperceptibly into sunshine”. Is it going too far to suggest that the tradition of courtly love may be compared to the moonlight, which gradually brightens into the more conscious love of the Romantics and finally blossoms into the fully conscious experience of the spiritual in Steiner’s anthroposophy?

Ken McClure said...

If this is what Kasper contributes when he hasn't thought deeply about a subject, I am prepared to sit at his feet whenever has has

It is not going to far. Beautifully done.

Perhaps this is consonant:

"The pleasure of the senses was for Keats not merely desirable -- it was the very ground of life. It was, moreover, the ground of thought. More than any other poet -- more, really, than Shelley -- Keats is Platonic, but his Plantonism is not doctrinal or systematic; it was by natural impulse of his temperament that his mind moved up the ladder of love which Plato expounds in The Symposium, beginning with the love of things, and moving toward the love of ideas, with existences and moving toward essences, with appetites and moving toward immortal longings. But the movement is of a special kind, perhaps of the kind that the orthodox interpretation of Plato cannot approve. For it is not, so to speak, a biographical movement -- Keats does not, as he develops, 'advance' from a preoccupation with sense to a preoccupation with intellect. Rather it is his characteristic mode of thought all through his life to begin with sense and to move thence to what he calls 'abstraction,' but never to leave sense behind. Sense cannot be left behind, for of itself it generates the idea and remains continuous with it. And the moral and speculative intensity with which Keats's poems and letters are charged has its unique grace and illumination because it goes along with, and grows out of, and conditions, but does not deny, the full autonomy of sense." (From "The Poet as Hero: Keats in His Letters" by Lionel Trilling.)

So Keats does not propose a development along the ladder of love where appetite, although it may be said to lead to reason, does so only by being renounced and overcome or transcended. He proposes a continuing vital relationship between appetite and reason, whereby appetite nurtures reason. We might even say that it involves a reciprocal relationship whereby reason is made more pleasurable and the appetites enhanced by being so integrated with higher mental life.

Kasper said...

Thanks for the kind comment, and that's a very interesting quotation on Keats. I think it ties in very well with some of the themes from Eager Spring I tried to highlight. It is no coincidence, perhaps, that Barfield reserved some of his highest praise for the Keats of his letters. The idea that reason and appetite (and I guess we might subsitute 'spirit and matter', 'concept and percept', 'imagination and reality'), are neither warring opposites nor gulfed by an unbridgeable gap is central in much of Barfield's work and seems highly relevant to me, in an age in which on the one hand science has more and more severed itself from sense-perceptions, drifting off into abstractions, and on the other the whole trend of contemporary thought is to deny an immaterial reality altogether, thus rendering meaningless the material.

On a side-note, in his Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man, Schiller, another Romantic, express something very similar when he writes of the need for man to harmonize the form-drive (reason) with the sense-drive (appetite), and the possibilities offered in this respect by the realm of art, where the two can exist in a reciprocal relationship (as you say) through the 'play' of the artist and audience.