08 July 2007
Charles Williams & Synaesthesia
Synaesthesia: A Key to Charles Williams & The Meaning of Life
This is the abstract for a paper I hope to write someday. Do you have any ideas of a conference or periodical that might be interested in a paper like this? I'm limited to the NorthEastern US for the moment, or else I'd submit to that CW conference in England!
ABSTRACT: Synaesthesia, according to the OED, is “the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense of part of the body.” Derived from the Greek for blended feeling, it is used as an analogy: a figure of speech in which the data of one sense is interpreted in terms of another. This is how Charles Williams wrote, and perhaps how his often befuddled readers can better comprehend the meanings and patterns in his apparent obscurity. In his fiction, Williams always connected natural/phenomenal events with supernatural/ archnatural/ noumenal realities in a direct, startling, and physical way. Thus, the Platonic Archetypes manifest themselves as visible animals; the power of the Tarots creates tangible dirt; intellectual corruption has a hideous odor like decay.
This is mode of operation is not foreign to the Christian church. The sacraments are synaesthetic: physical water, bread, and wine correspond to intangible events and realities. Christ Himself made the ultimate synaesthetic statement: “He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). How can coming assuage hunger and believing quench thirst? Only synaesthetically.
The incarnation itself was a synaesthetic figure of speech—“The Word became flesh.” Perhaps all material existence is analogous to the higher plain of reality in which we will have our sins literally washed away, ingest Christ, and co-inhabit one another. Williams called this co-inherence. His labyrinthine prose is an attempt to hold the interrelations of every perception with every sense: sacramentally, synthetically, synaesthetically.
Now here's just a funny poem of mine that's related to today's topic, for your reading enjoyment
The grass begins to green, but still the trees
stand dull and hueless. One bright blue jay flings
extraordinary sky-and-white, like sea-
foam curling wave tips, past my car and sings
a silent tune of color contrasts, sharp
as sunlight, smooth as oceans, sudden as
this fleck of sparrow-flutter on the tar
consuming crumbs: a brown and brave ménage.
“Move, birdies! Move!” I cry; the quick flock moves
in time, and Spring’s still free to seed the earth
with sparrow blossoms and bold blue jay blooms,
with fields of waving teal and seas of dirt:
brown on brown and blue on brown have wings;
I can hear them fly and I can see them sing.