Monday 6 March 2023

Going beyond Barfield's focus on the romantic imagination

Plenty of people, of many types, have the kind of positive, enjoyable - even joyous or blissful - imaginative experiences that get called things like epiphanies or peak-experiences.

These might typically happen in deep conversation with friends, in beautiful places, or in response to literature or music. These could be called "romantic imaginative" experiences. 

I certainly had many such moments as an adolescent and young adult; and I also regarded them as very important in my life; in the sense that I sought and cherished them, and felt that they had significance. 

But this was not enough! - and such moments did not have a sufficiently powerful effect on my life; I did not learn from such experiences, they did not transform my life, they did not give my life personal purpose or meaning. 

I always felt as if on the cusp of a breakthrough that never came - and meanwhile my life was essentially just like everybody else's; and becoming more so with each year. 

But, I did not have any explanation as to why such things were important: what made them important, whether the importance was just for me - or maybe had general significance. 

Much of this was that my basic assumptions about life and the universe denied any overall purpose and meaning for things-in-general - so it was not really possible for my individual life to have these. 

In other words; lacking a metaphysical explanation (in terms of primary assumptions about the nature of reality) that explained the purpose and meaning in Life-in-general; I lacked an explanation for the value of joy/ epiphanies/ peak-experiences. 

But even for those who do have a metaphysical explanation for the value of Life Itself, will not get real value from specific romantic imaginative experiences, unless they have a metaphysical explanation for the value of joy/ epiphanies/ peak-experiences within that general context.

And this is what many/ most Christians lack. Their Christian understanding is such that they cannot explain to themselves what it is that romantic imagination contributes to their own life; and therefore they typically undervalue it - maybe even denying it has any ultimate significance.

It was the nature of Owen Barfield's contribution to the study of romantic imagination that he provided just such an explanation - although he claimed (wrongly) that his explanation was 'epistemological' rather than 'metaphysical'

Barfield explained this in terms that Romantic Imagination was a form of 'knowledge' or knowing. (It is easier, I find, to understand this as know-ing - something dynamic happening here and now; rather than a know-ledge - something statically achieved concerning something fixed and bounded.)

Yet, I think we need to move beyond imagination as the focus, of concern to intuition. Imagination is experienced as coming from outside us, like an inspiration of knowledge; whereas intuition is about what is within us.

While imagination has connotations of passively receiving something from without; intuition recognizes that we do and must actively participate in the creation of knowledge

By this account; the experienced romantic imagination of joy, epiphany, peak-experiences; is a step towards our active investigation of reality by means of intuitive discernment, and the active exploration of our fundamental needs for knowledge, guidance, validation. 

What I mean is that romantic imagination is something that happens-to us, and its value is thus limited; but intuition can be understood as an active engagement with divine creation, something that we decide and will from our-selves. 

Therefore, I think it is more important that we have a metaphysical understanding of intuition; than of imagination - and that is what I have tried to attain by my reflections on primary-thinking, heart-thinking, and direct-knowing

Which is, I believe, the mode by which Barfield's Final Participation may be attained in this mortal life - albeit intermittently and temporarily.