The Fiend is making available a pdf version of Barfield’s essay
The Coming Trauma of Materialism with the permission of The Literary Estate of Owen Barfield. It was first published in The Denver Quarterly in 1976, and collected the following year in his astonishing book of essays The Rediscovery of Meaning.
Born in London in 1898, poet, philosopher, author and critic, Owen Barfield studied at Highgate School, and then at Oxford’s Wadham College.
He first began publishing with the novel The Silver Trumpet (an influence on the early writing of both J.R.R Tolkien and C.S Lewis) in 1925. Two books; History in English Words (1926) and Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning (1928) followed, focussing on subjects that would become a life-long obsession; language usage in the arts and the evolution of consciousness, as well as the anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner (whom Barfield later went on to translate). Throughout this period he established himself as a key member of the well-known literary group; The Inklings, centred on the Oxford pub The Eagle and Child, and then in other locations around that town.
There followed a long period where Barfield worked for his father’s law firm Barfield and Barfield, beginning in 1929, and through WWII. After the war his literary creativity seems to swell once more, with many works, including Unancestral Voice, History, Guilt, and Habit, Romanticism Comes of Age, What Coleridge Thought, The Rediscovery of Meaning, Speaker’s Meaning, Worlds Apart and Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry as well as many novels and poetry. Many of his works of criticism allowed him lecturing opportunities, particularly in the U.S, where his work is perhaps more well known than in the U.K. The last surviving Inkling, he died in 1997.
His many books have, in the last few years, been reprinted by Barfield Press, headed by his grandson Owen Barfield Jr. All things Barfieldian (including a full bibliography) can be found at the website for his literary estate.
Some video introductions can be found on the internet, also. The later documentary Man and Meaning is an excellent overview, while the Cambridge poet Malcolm Guite‘s youtube presentation on Barfield (part of a series on The Inklings) is also well worth watching.
Thanks go to Owen Barfield Jr. for granting permission on this piece.