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OWEN BARFIELD AND TECHNOLOGICAL SOCIETY

Stephen L. Talbott

(This paper was read at the Owen Barfield Centenary celebration, held December 4-5, 1999 at Columbia and Drew Universities.)


If you're familiar with the range and conceptual difficulty of Owen Barfield's thought, and if you go on to read some of his lectures, you can hardly help sensing the frustration he must have felt in adapting himself to the limitations of a single hour.

On my part, lacking Barfield's gifts and finding myself not with an hour, but only 15 or 20 minutes, I take simple despair to be the wisest counsel. In other words, I propose to give up. And so I will only tell you a little bit about the lecture I might have given -- the one you're not going to hear.

To begin with, I would have claimed that Barfield's notion of polarity is the pivot on which all understanding of the technological society must swing. For example, globalization and localization are polar contraries: they are in a sense opposites, and yet these opposites form an interpenetrating unity; each pole exists not only at the expense of the other, but also by grace of the other.

On the one hand, it's obvious enough that you can't achieve meaningful globalization if the field over which you globalize has been denatured, devalued, deprived of its concrete, local significances. You en