My latest at The Brussels Journal is “Owen Barfield’s Critical Semantics.” The essay devotes itself to Barfield’s History in English Words (1926), a diagnosis based on etymological studies of the afflicted modern mentality. It is accessible here:
Barfield was friendly with T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and others familiar to “Orthosphereans.” As a follower of Rudolph Steiner’s “Anthroposophy,” he was something of a Gnostic, but that does not invalidate his observations.
I offer a sample paragraph:
Barfield’s argument has by this point in the sequence of his chapters revealed its critical radicalism. From the reconstructed prehistoric beginnings of the Indo-European languages to the High Middle Ages, Barfield sees, in his case-language, English, a net increase of meaning beneficial to the speakers of the tongue; but with the Reformation, which brings the Medieval Period to its end, he sees the phase of meaning-change in the lamentable direction of contraction and diminution for which he employs his term internalization. The same internalization represents a flight from rich participation in reality, with a possibility of transcendence either religious or aesthetic, to cloistered abstraction in the grim Cartesian fortress of disembodied rationality. The resemblance to insanity is hard to miss. No doubt but Barfield intends it. Consciousness, by believing to have discovered its own origin in a random and meaningless process, necessarily renders itself otiose, for how could it be other than random and meaningless? What could it mean to think where consciousness has demoted itself in the world-picture to a neuro-chemical epiphenomenon? But schizophrenically, as it were, the thinking that has abolished itself by a clever theory uselessly goes on jabbering and claims its jabbering to be thinking.