Charles Williams, in himself or perhaps only in his writings, embodies the futile human attempt to talk about the untalkable, to say the ineffable, to embody the bodiless.
I am fascinated by something that I consistently see: that is, people, including myself, trying to make the transcendent immanent, yet failing, even admitting that success is impossible and constant failure inevitable, yet continuing to try.
I am reading what is arguably Williams’ best narrative work, Descent into Hell, with some friends, and I am again confronted by his akward style of writing. One person well summarized it: “He loves to do simple, play-by-play narrative, and then to blindside you between the eyes, stopping suddenly at one moment to allow a mushroom cloud of the spiritual, the metaphysical, the transcendent to bloom up and out of that moment, and then to return calmly again to the simple events of the narrative.”
It is not the attempt to articulate the ineffable that interests me, nor is it the failure to do so. It is the persistence that takes the form of madness, eventually, in attempt to do so.
One senses, reading Williams’ seven novels, that not even Williams himself is satisfied with his attempts to capture in writing some of the mystical “umph” that is endemic to certain seemingly simple human events, events like making a decision to help somebody, or saying the word “damn,” or closing your eyes, and yet, despite his recurrent disatisfaction, his attempts recur and recur and keep recurring.
“In his preface to All Hallows’ Eve, T. S. Eliot remarked that what Williams had to say was beyond his grasp, and perhaps beyond the grasp of any known genre of literature.”
He is on record, so I have heard, I don’t know where, as loving his poetry better than all the novels and articles and scholarly works else that he produced… Taliessin Through Logres and Region of the Summer Stars are his favorite children. They are also his most demanding, most obscure, most apparently transcendent.
He tried and tried, and death comes so quickly, and we now have what mind and circumstance afforded him and what he made of it, and no more. It makes me wonder if anyone will ever succeed and if anyone (who has tried once) will ever stop trying.