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?