Monday, 11 December 2017

Why I am somewhat neglecting this blog...

Because I am doing a lot of posting at the Owen Barfield Blog - in preparation for writing a book based upon it.

But I will continue posting here, and soon, about the non-Barfield Inklings.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Charles Williams the (conversational and moral) chameleon

Charles Williams was clearly many things to many people, and the recent biography by Grevel Lindop has made clearer and more explicit the nasty and exploitative side of his charecter.

Yet the same man was regarded as an extraordinary, inspiring, sustaining spiritual leader and teacher, an almost saintly figure for his spiritual knowledge and wisdom, by CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, TS Eliot, Dorothy L Sayers and others of similar depth and substance - who knew Williams well over a long period.

How can we make sense of this?

I think there are two assumptions necessary. The first is that Charles Williams was essentially a conversationalist; that he was at his best and gave his best in person and in conversation.

The second is that - precisely because he lived so deeply in human interaction -  Williams had chameleon attributes, taking on the 'colour' of his social context to an extreme degree.

The chameleon aspect came-about because his conversations were mutual not monologues: they were profoundly interactive (at an intuitive level); therefore necessarily very different when Williams was in conversation between different persons.

When Williams was in (deep) conversation with good Men such as Lewis and Tolkien, this brought-out the best in him. In the presence of good Men, therefore, Williams became himself an exemplar of goodness - this capacity in him was brought to the front. Lewis and Tolkien spoke with Williams many times, at length, deeply and over a span of six (intense, war) years - they knew him very well, and they knew that he was of great goodness.

But when Williams interacted with less-good people; and/ or people who sought him out for what they could get from him; and people whom Williams sought out for sexual or magical-power reasons - then the fact that Williams lived so deeply and interactively in his conversations brought-out his bad qualities with similar power that Lewis and Tolkien, Eliot and Sayers, brought-out the good.

This is not to exonerate Williams from his (seemingly unrepented) exploitativeness, but to explain its possibility as a consequence of both his strength, and his limitation.

And it is to clarify that the Inkings and others were not mistaken when they judged Williams to be a great Christian thinker and teacher: Williams was this - but he was not only this.