I recently served on a jury. It was a powerful, intense, positive, transformational experience. Interestingly, since I’ve just read Diana Glyer’s Bandersnatch and am thinking about my upcoming keynote speech about Charles Williams and collaboration, the trial was about artistic collaboration and what happens when it breaks down. I won’t give any specifics, so as to protect the privacy of the parties, but here’s a generalized summary.
Several years ago, two creative guys got together and shared a great idea. It was snappy, original, imaginative, catchy, and cool. And it worked, for a while. But then personality conflicts arose. They had arguments over who owned the idea. Finally, one sued the other.
It was a complicated case. Each claimed he had invented the particular creative idea that was contested. But, under oath and under pressure from the lawyer’s questions, each finally admitted that he had invented exactly HALF of the idea. But both had been using the idea since then, so who owned it? Must one of them stop using it, even though that would break his heart?
Along the way, a few things struck me, hard.
I. The idea originally belonged to both of them 100%. Not to one guy 50% and the other guy 50%, but to both men 100%. The idea would not have emerged except in collaboration. They both got the idea while on the phone together. Neither man would have had it without the other. The thing couldn’t live if it were cut in two. Either they had to learn to work together, or one of them had to give up all of it and hand it over to the other. Art made in community has to stay in community in order to thrive.
II. The trial itself was a work of dramatic art created by all the parties present. It followed a definite narrative trajectory, with a clear arc of increasing tension. What started as a boring, technical discussion over the rights to use a specific idea escalated into serious accusations—of inappropriate sexual language, of threatened violence. The temperature in the courtroom rose. Voices were raised, tempers flared, fists were pounded. And each person played his or her given role: the lawyers, in particular, were Dickensian caricatures of themselves: one extremely tall and bone-skinny, with a skeletal face and a cruel, hard, bullying manner; the other short, quiet, grandfatherly, with a round, beaming red face and long white curls, soft-spoken, forgetful, disorganized. The drama fell into discernible scenes and acts, divided by breaks and behind-the-scenes drama in the jury room.
III. Art and Law, when they meet and clash, do not mix. The lawyer for the plaintiff knew how to break a man, and he did: he broke down his witness in the box with relentless, repetitive questioning, all about how many pieces the artistic idea could be broken down into and who created which little piece and who owned it. That’s not how art works. I left that scene of the drama in tears, saying over and over in my mind: “That’s not how art works. You can’t break it into those bits. They all have to work together, to live.” But when collaborative partners become enemies, that’s what happens.
IV. Powerful collaboration among perfect strangers is possible, and community can be created in the most unlikely places between extremely dissimilar people. At the start of the jury selection process, there were 70 strangers in a room. Over the next day and a half, we were whittled down until a jury was selected. By the end of the trial, that little group of humans felt like close friends—and most of us didn’t even know each other’s names. We worked together remarkably well, using our differences as an advantage.
This intense experience (staying in a hotel far from home for several days, living in this strange bubble so different from my ordinary life) taught me a lot about justice, society, law, and personalities. It was a really positive, enriching time. I admired the judge greatly, and I am confident that the right decision was made, from a legal point of view. But I was saddened to see that the creative people couldn’t work it out without the intervention of law.
Was Charles Williams a Bandersnatch?
Throughout, of course, I thought about the Inklings and their creative collaborations. I’m working on my keynote speech for the Colloquium at Taylor this coming June (where the great Diana Glyer herself is giving another keynote). My talk will be called “Charles Williams and Friendship sub specie Arthuriana.” I’ll be talking about the ways in which his love of the Grail and Logres intersected with his friendships. I’ll be asking: When did Williams work with other people on his retellings of the King Arthur materials? What did that collaboration look like? How did it work? How did working together affect what he wrote, how or where or when it was presented or published? How did working together influence the reception of his writings? What influence did his particular take on the Arthurian legends have on his friends, his family life, and his workplace? So the talk will be all about various kinds of collaboration.
Collaboration was important to Williams, because community was important to him. You already know about his doctrines of Co-Inherence, Substitution, and Exchange. He believed that people live in, through, and for one another. So it was natural, then, even for someone with his loner’s temperament, to involve others in his work. And these literary exchanges were usually fruitful. I’ll have to explore, of course, the times that it went sour: when he used his Arthurian mythos as a cover story for emotional abuse. But more often, I think, his Arthurian myth was among the healthier parts of his psychology. I’ll see as I go along. And I’ll also be looking at whether any theory of friendship or theology of collaboration emerges from his work. I’m looking forward to it!
And YOU can collaborate with me by leaving questions, comments, thoughts, suggestions on this blog and elsewhere on social media, and I’ll take them into consideration as I write my speech. But don’t let’s argue, split up, and sue one another, OK?
I suppose you are saying that Williams split his projections of himself into the Arthurian poems. The Taliessin sequence was partially fired by his ritualistic use of the young women–particularly the anonymous one who came to Oxford when he was having problems writing poems. But he also played the loving husband (“played” and in some sense “was”) in his letters to his wife and created his emphasis on Bors. These were in some sense collaborations. But you are no doubt seeing far beyond what I see.
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I don’t know if I’m saying that, yet, about CW splitting his projections of himself. We shall see. It’s a powerful idea. Yes, you’re exactly right about his ritualistic use of young women; I’m afraid that shall have to come into my talk, even though I’m not a biographer. CW had a way of bringing his life into his work so inextricably that one must talk about it in order to do any kind of deep analysis.
Will you be at Taylor?
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Yes, though I’m doing a fairly typical New Critical reading of one of Lewis’s poems, nothing about friendship or about collaboration. Well, it’s an example of Lewis doing an ekphrasis, so I’m sure Diana would consider it a type of collaboration. (And more power to her!) I’m hoping I’ve got this paper together better than the one I did at the C.S. Lewis and Inklings Society conference–this has been a rough year for me so far as time has been concerned.
Great; I look forward to seeing you and hearing your paper.
The “anonymous one who came to Oxford when he was having problems writing poems” has now been identified in Grevel’s biography (q.v.: I suppose with her approval before she passed away).
*sigh* And I read the biography in late December. Ah well, I spotted one error and one other thing I think was an error, but nothing wrong (in all that length!) that was important. I obviously didn’t retain the identification of the woman as being given, but I would have to read the book a couple of more times to come close to retaining much of it.
I’m sure Grevel would love either a list of errata and/or a conversation on any debatable points!
I sent him earlier the one I was certain of, and he politely replied.
This is a fine and unusual essay. I will forward it to my daughter and her husband, who are partners in a law firm. I congratulate you on making the most of what I’ve always regarded as an onerous civic duty and (helped by the luck of the draw) making creative application of the experience. I wish you had told us how the case turned out.
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Thank you! It was a clear example of the Staff Work of the Omnipotence. I was the only person in the room besides the Plaintiff and Defendant who knew the phrase “Geek Culture,” which was an important term in the trial.
We decided in favor of the Plaintiff, so the Defendant shall have to stop using the concept.
When I was in Oxford for Grevel’s biography launch, I took the opportunity to spend about as much time as I could poring over Williams’s Arthurian Commonplace Book (the original) in the Bodleian, with a print-out of my draft edition next to it, correcting and emending the latter, and getting better – more minutely – acquainted with the manuscript than I ever did before.
One of the things that struck me most forcibly was the ‘collaborative’ element, with – I take it – Fred Page. It looks sometimes as if Williams stopped at a certain point, and passed it over to Page to read, who jotted a comment or question or suggestion, and passed it back, to which Williams responded, before or as resuming and writing further! (This is all the more interesting to think about, coming on the heels of all the new detail Grevel provides about how Williams, Page, and the Meynells interacted and collaborated in getting C.W.’s first book, The Silver Stair, into print. In how far might The Chapel of the Thorn, and the projected Holy Grail epic being worked out in the Commonplace Book, have come into this ‘collaborative context’ in one way or another? Or Williams have hoped they might?)
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Ha! You and I are collaborating in much the same way digitally, David! This is exactly what I just spent several hours on today; rereading the Commonplace Book (from your transcript) and wondering whether all those notes in another hand were from Fred Page. I compared them to Page’s comments on “The Chapel of the Thorn” and decided they were. I’ve just emailed you a little bit ago to ask you that very thing! And I reread Grevel’s chapter on “The Silver Stair,” Florence, Fred Page, and the Meynells. So we are very much on the same page today!
Fun! Maybe I could beg a scan of a photocopy of a Fred Page Chapel annotation or two, if you happen to have any – I have not yet managed to find anything certainly written by him from the same period (or even actually seen later things I’ve found listed in libraries online)! I puzzle and puzzle over the ‘entries (possibly) in another hand or hands’ – are any of them by C.W., after all? are they (all?) by the same other person? I am a timid paleographer, alas!
What is very clear, from the spacing, is that sometimes C.W. stops – and someone (I take it, Page) writes something – and thereafter C.W. goes on. Was he working on it in the office and passing it over? Or stopping at home till he could take it to work the next day, for a response, before continuing? Or was Fred Page looking over his shoulder while he worked on it at the office sometimes and saying something on the order of ‘hey, wait a moment, what about…?’, and so getting it handed to him? Whatever(-all) was going on, it gives a wonderfully, lively, friendly impression, which I rather despair of trying to capture in transcription! Something for the intro? extra footnotes? or both?…
Ah. Well. I don’t have any images of Fred Page’s handwriting from “Chapel,” as I transcribed the whole thing into typescript while at the Wade. I’ll be there again in May, d.v., but I don’t think I’ll have time to look at Chapel again. I’ve only got two days, and I’d like to read as much of CW’s correspondence as possible, plus “Bethnal Green.” Probably too much for two days already!
But this leads to a big fear: how did I know that was Fred Page’s hand in “Chapel” to begin with? Where did I get that idea? It doesn’t appear that you mention it in your “Jarbuch” article. I think I must have gotten that from Hadfield, then (but I’m at school and my books are at home). If she is right, then we do have a certain sample of Page’s hand. If not, yikes!
There’s one Page MS. at Boston College, but it’s from decades later (if his handwriting ‘evolved’ in anything like the way C.W.’s did, I don’t know if it would help…).
And there’s one really interesting-sounding one that Grevel quotes which I could not manage to chase down when I was at the Bodleian in October last, but maybe I can run it down by further correspondence with them (or maybe I should try first to see if Grevel has a photo. photcopy, or scan of it)!
Grevel might have something. I’ll keep that Boston MS in the back of my mind in case I ever get to that part of the world soon… Thanks!
At attempt at a chronological sketch (with whatever mixtures of mutual encouragement, camaraderie, etc. – including darker things, and lots of overlaps in time, and by no means complete):
parents, Walls, Florence;
Fred Page – and the Meynells, and assorted OUP folk;
What of this ‘Pageant of Gwent’ at Abergavenny in 1913: what breadth and complexity of collaboration?;
Nicholson (till 1936) and Lee (till 1941);
Waite and other F.R.C. members;
OUP and the first two Masques, and Phyllis Jones, various later OUP folk (including, Olive Speake);
Students, including Raymond Hunt, ‘young women’;
Olive Willis, Anne Bradby, other Downe House students;
Bishop Bell, other Canterbury Festival folk;
all the OUP Kierkegaard connections;
Lewis – and other Inklings;
Phyllis Potter and other theatre folk;
Theodora Bosanquet (and what other press/journalism connections, also earlier?);
Spaldings (and more theatre folk), Oxford students – including John Heath-Stubbs, Bruce Montgomery, Ian Davie, Larkin and Amis, and more ‘young women’ (also – younger – ‘faculty’, like Helen Gardner);
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Thank you for doing my work for me!!!
Cheers! But more by way of comparing notes, I suspect…