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Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning [Anglais] [Broché]

Owen Barfield

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Amazon.com: 4.6 étoiles sur 5  5 commentaires
1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Essential Barfield 14 avril 2012
Par Kasper N - Publié sur Amazon.com
Poetic Diction is Barfield's earliest exposition of his thought, and contains in germ many of the ideas that would blossom in later works. It should appeal especially to students and lovers (not to mention writers) of literature. Barfield begins with his observations in reading poetry, which lead eventually to a wholly new understanding of meaning, consciousness, and the importance of poetry. His conclusions are far-reaching and especially important in an age that undervalues the humanities.
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A valuable work for the serious in the field. 15 juillet 2014
Par Andrew E. M. Baumann - Publié sur Amazon.com
First, there is something slightly misleading about the title of this book. Yes, the book is about poetic diction; but, it is far more about poetic language encompassingly. Which is the intent of Barfield: he takes the approach, and walks it well, that general ideas about poetic diction cannot be found by turning first to specific examples. (Though, his use of specific examples is very effective.) Rather, it is best to start broadly and work inward so that general principles can be discovered in those broader fields in which they operate. As such, the first half of this book is primarily an entry into the discourse on the origin of language, with that the nature of language, and with that the nature of poetic -- as opposed to scientific -- language. In turn, Barfield makes the observation that much of the discourse about poetic language fails in its aims because it is speaking about poetic language scientifically, rather than poetically: a point too many books on poetic language fail to take into account.

Yet, my willingness to force this book on other people -- and it is sometimes that I test my own appreciation for a book by how much I do force it into the hands of persons who would benefit from it -- is dampened somewhat by this aspect, for I do not believe Barfield himself has successfully extricated the scientific from his history of the development of language. Much of this is forgivable, considering the date of the original printing (1927). Indeed, at that time, it may be arguable that Barfield was with the vanguard of such discussions. However, I find his use of the idea of the "evolution of consciousness" problematic; and, his central definition, that of the aesthetic imagination being a "felt change of consciousness" to have been a touch forced by this scientific taint. (As well, it should be noted, if you are new to the turn of the twentieth century discourse on the development of language, the first half of _Poetic Diction)could be a difficult read.)

That said, the 'flaw' -- if you can call it that -- of _Poetic Diction_ can be for the most part excised from the discussion as a whole without much damage to Barfields ultimate aim, the discussion of poetic diction itself. While there are chapters (like "V. Language and Poetry" and "VI. The Poet") whose conclusions I mostly reject, they are really oriented more toward the evolution of language argument, and can almost be skipped wholly (better, read lightly) by the reader interested only in the primary subject of poetic diciton.

And it is undeniable that, whatever the thoughts be on the evolution of language argument, _Poetic Diction_ as a whole and the second half especially is a banquet for thought on poetic language. The very small chapter IX., "Verse and Prose," is on its own worth the price of admission, though it is very much a part of the whole. (If that chapter does not influence your thought on poetry and literature in general you should find another hobby. Bird houses are always popular.) The following chapter on "Archaism" nearly likewise. (The next, "Strangeness," chapter to me speaks again of the presence of that scientific thinking: occasionally I get the feeling, throughout the work, that Barfield veers farther toward's the idea of the aesthetic as a momentary disorientation, not unlike Tolstoy's idea of depersonalization, without realizing it. Or perhaps he does. Though, if he did, I think he would have made mention in the bibliographic Afterward.)

So, my recommendation: a definite addition to the shelf with the following qualifications:

(1) If you are new to the discussions on the origin of language, you might find _Poetic Diction_ a bit difficult. Barfield is writing, if to a small degree, to an audience that is somewhat familiar with that disourse.

(2) In fact, I would not recommend this book at all as an introductory text to the subject. This is an advanced text. (Perhaps better said "mid-level.") Or, if you do read it at an introductory level, expect that re-reading it five or eight years from now you will be astonished by how much you missed or misunderstood.

(3) Knowledge of Coleridge's ideas on the primary and secondary imagination would be helpful, but is not at all necessary. (Barfields second preface goes into it with some explanation.)

(4) Recognize that while the "evolution of consciousness" ideas may be considered dated, Barfield does yet succeed in moving from the general to the more specific subject of poetic diction, and there is much to be taken from this book on that subject, even though only a minority percent of this book is specifically on the subject. But then, this is not meant to be a book offering definitives, nor is it a book of examples: it is meant to be a book offering ideas to ponder. In no small sense, while I may disagree with some of his descriptions of the road he took, I have no issue with the choice of road taken. It offers a greatly thought provoking journey.

(5) In the 1972 Afterward, which is an annotative bibliography of no small value, Barfield speaks of how similar his book is to Cassirer's book, _Language and Myth_, on its discussion of the origins of language and the nature of poetic and scientific language. Barfield had not read Cassirer at all at the time he wrote _Poetic Diction_. (Indeed, _Language and Myth_ was not translated into English until a number of years later.) The two books are, indeed, very similar. Though, Cassirer succeeds where to me Barfield fails, in excising that last bit of scientificality from the discourse. I highly recommend Cassirer's book, and it would make a great companion to this book. Though, note, Cassirer's book is far more philosophical in nature and thus a more challenging read. However, very worth the effort.

As a final note, it should be stated that the difference between the editions of _Poetic Diction_ lies primarily in the added prefaces and appendices and not in rewriting the main text. That said, the appendices and the second edition preface are very worth having, so I would buy the later editions.
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Initiate Philosophy 11 juillet 2013
Par Halifax Student Account - Publié sur Amazon.com
Owen Barfield is probably the outstanding philosopher of consciousness of the 20th Century. Poetic Dictation is really a study of the evolution of consciousness, though not in a flakey, New Age, way. The New Age is the pollution coming out of Barfield's windpipe!

Barfield is a weighty thinker and he came to similar conclusions to Julian Jaynes theory about the mind of humans living 4000 years ago. The two thinkers never met, so this is a clue the the truth that Barfield writes about.

Highly recomended
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Understanding Language 20 février 2013
Par E S HENRY - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
Owen makes the case that poetic diction is basic to all communication, not just poems. All the poetic devices are essential to ordinary English.
2 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Pantheist friction 1 juin 2012
Par Ashtar Command - Publié sur Amazon.com
So I've finally read Owen Barfield's famous "Poetic Diction". Or large chunks of it, at any rate. Barfield published his book in 1928 and dedicated it to a mysterious character named Clive Hamilton. The dedication reads: "Opposition is true friendship". Later editions of "Poetic Diction" reveal the real identity of Barfield's friend. It was, of course, C.S. Lewis.

By 1973, Barfield's book had expanded considerably. This seems to be the "canonical" edition, including two prefaces, four appendices and an afterword. Unfortunately, I don't think this is much of an improvement. The book is disjointed, meandering and downright incomprehensible. The American poet Howard Nemerov called "Poetic Diction" a secret and sacred book, and I can readily concur with the first part of the statement...

One problem with Barfield is that he doesn't use standard philosophical vocabulary. To me, he sounds like a subjective idealist. In reality he was an objective idealist. I stumbled rather badly over his magnum opus "Saving the appearances" because of this misunderstanding. Barfield was also a life-long Anthroposophist, but this is usually not mentioned in his works, except in passing. This is a problem, since many of his terms (imagination, final participation, etc) probably mean one thing to the causal reader, and something else again to devout Anthroposophists. The strange new religion or "spiritual path" of Anthroposophy was developed in Germany by Rudolf Steiner, and seems to have taken the young Barfield by storm when he first heard about it during the 1920's. Indeed, Barfield could be regarded as a "one man front group" for the Anthroposophical Society.

Barfield's main thesis is that human consciousness have evolved from a kind of animistic-pantheistic stage of near-identification with Nature, to the present rationalist-scientist thinking. This can supposedly be seen in the evolution of language. Barfield believes that all words originally had a very broad meaning, a meaning which was fragmented during the course of human history. The original meaning of words was *both* metaphorical and concrete, while today many words are pure metaphors, while others only denote material objects. The original, broad meaning of language can still be seen in myths. For that reason, Barfield consider myths particularly important.

Primordial man didn't have poetry, since he *lived* poetry. Poetry is a result of the fragmentation of the original pantheistic consciousness. The poet both evokes old meaning and creates new one. Indeed, the poet seems to be a kind of prophet who points to a future state in which humans return to Nature. However, this "final" participation isn't a state of complete pantheist immersion. Rather, it's a higher stage in which humans are consciously spiritual. The fragmentation of the original unity isn't necessarily a negative thing, provided evolution doesn't stop at the fragmented stage. The split from Nature makes it possible for humans to acquire individual self-consciousness and return to Nature by way of conscious participation. (Note the intriguing similarity to Schelling and Hegel!) The great danger, apparently, is that human development is arrested at the fragmented stage, something Barfield associates with our modern, technological civilization.

It should be noted that Barfield meant the above quite literally. The worldview of Anthroposophy includes spirit-beings and occult forces, so when Barfield waxes lyrical about how Homer's heroes walked with the gods, he presumably believes that they really did have direct contact with supernatural entities. As for "imagination", I've long suspected that Barfield is really referring to a form of clairvoyance with which humans can communicate with the spirits, and even behold "Christ in the etheric"! At one point in his book, Barfield claims that non-reductionist science have already been successful in both agriculture and medicine. This must refer to Anthroposophical bio-dynamic farming and perhaps homeopathic medicine, both of which are based on occult notions.

Another vintage Barfieldean notion is that there isn't a human-independent outside world. The world is a product of our evolving consciousness, not the other way around. If so, the poet suddenly becomes the saviour of our fragmented civilization, since his function is to change our consciousness. Is this why Nemerov considered "Poetic Diction" a sacred book? In all fairness, it should perhaps be pointed out that Barfield didn't really believe that individuals can change the very fabric of the universe, all by themselves. Rather, human consciousness is an expression of an ever-evolving cosmic consciousness. The world is a "collective representation".

I'd say Owen Barfield was seriously stoned! :D

And no, you won't learn any of this by reading "Poetic Diction". People new to Barfield's theories should not start with this work. Rather, read R.J. Reilly's "Romantic religion". Of Barfield's own books, I would recommend "Saving the appearances" and "The rediscovery of meaning". They are not an easy read. However, they are easier to digest than "Poetic Diction". For an introduction to Anthroposophy, see Geoffrey Ahern's "Sun at Midnight". Another useful book would be M.H. Abrams' "Natural Supernaturalism", which deals with the philosophy of the Romantic movement, including its more esoteric aspects. Barfield's ideas are freely based on those of the Romantics. Indeed, he regarded his beloved Anthroposophy as a kind of grown-up Romanticism.

I'm not sure how to rate "Poetic Diction", but to keep the friction around here down to a minimum, I give it three stars.
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