Collaborative Genius: Reviewing Diana Glyer’s “Bandersnatch”
I’m a bit of an introvert. The opportunity to spend endless hours researching and writing on a lightly used floor of the research library while I was in grad school was something I cherished. In fact, I still love writing in a quiet, barren, dimly lit space – although having a two-year-old in the house severely hampers those possibilities. So it’s only natural that I became a lawyer, right? Among the most sociable of professions.
So Diana Glyer’s well-supported position that we would all be better off by regularly and systematically sharing and collaborating with others who share our interests sounds … stressful. But as for the book itself, I found Bandersnatch to be insightful and inspiring, but above all else, a delightful read.
Bandersnatch tells the story of the collaborative efforts of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein, and the other Inklings over the course of two decades, and the effect collaboration had on the writers’ works. The anecdotes Glyer tells about the writers are a charming revelation into their idiosyncrasies and personalities. But as much as Bandersnatch is a book about writers, it is no less a book for writers. But more than that, it is for livers of life. The principles Glyer espouses that facilitate better writing among equals, also facilitates friendships and partnerships. And it is some of those topics, that I want to discuss here.
“The point and benefit of heated, poignant intellectual discourse is not necessarily to convince the other party that your view is correct, but rather to listen and to learn.”
Wow! Could we be further from that truth in our current state of society? Whether in traditional media or social media, there is no discourse, no discussion for the sake of exploring differences and commonalities. For the sake of gaining knowledge and perspective. Just go check Twitter of Facebook – the next thought-provoking post you find (which is difficult enough) is not likely to be followed up with considered discussion, but rather devolve into name-calling and banter. The cable news outlets are full of sniping, pettiness, and people reflecting their own thoughts back to each other. There is no dissidence. This is not discourse. We could all stand to do more listening, rather than just waiting impatiently for the other person to stop talking so that we can interject our opinion.
The Inklings found that what made them better, and the foundations upon which they built their friendships, was not their similarities but their differences. The dissenting opinion. Intellectual, artistic, and spiritual growth come from considering opposing viewpoints. If you look around your life and find that the only people in it are those you share your beliefs and ideals, perhaps you should consider expanding the scope of your personal relationships.
“Having an openness and being responsive to honest criticism from those who have your best interests at heart will allow your art and your work to be the best it can be.”
If merely listening to the opinions of others in a discussion is difficult, how much more so is being receptive to criticism. Notice that Glyer doesn’t propose that all criticism is worthy of your attention, but specifically the criticism coming “from those who have your best interests at heart”. These people aren’t likely to offer their suggests to cause you pain, but to cause discomfort for the purpose of instigating change. Change that will improve your writing, your parenting, your art, or whatever the specific area of life is being discussed. Consider the source. Set aside the sting of pride. And respond accordingly.
Being a Resonator
Resonators are a writer’s support crew. There are various roles that a resonator can fill:
“[T]hey show interest, give feedback, express praise, offer encouragement, contribute practical help, and promote the work to others. The presence of resonators is one of the most important factors that marks the difference between successful writers and unsuccessful ones.”
One of the reasons that resonators are important is that “the writing life can be an emotional roller-coaster ride. The excitement of creating is followed by desperate self-doubt. Courage and inspiration compete with discouragement and despair.” As with other topics in Glyer’s book, I believe this can apply to life more broadly, well beyond the scope of writers and creatives.
Allow me to make a derivative statement here: The presence of resonators in the life of a person, regardless of age or stage, is one of the most important factors that will distinguish between a life lived successfully or not. Resonaters have the important task of helping others reach their potential.
Active Collaboration v. Passive Collaboration
Glyer sets out to dispel the myth of the solitary genius. We are all collaborators. We may spend time together working on new ideas, developing projects, and facilitating growth. This is the active collaboration that the Inklings exhibited – sharing content, encouraging and criticizing in equal measures, prompting and promoting. And Bandersnatch provides evidence that this form of collaboration influenced, and even altered, the writing paths and choices of the group’s members.
But there is another form of collaboration Dryer discusses, that I think of as passive collaboration. An idea expressed by John Donne verbalizes this idea very effectively in Meditation XVII: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”. Even my incorporation of John Donne’s work, penned nearly 400 years ago, is an example of passive collaboration. Your interaction with those who came before you has shaped your development, changed your path, affected your decision-making.
Your predecessors are unable to interact with you. They can’t provide the encouragement of resonators. There is no discourse or criticism to be exchanged with them. But they have laid the foundation upon which your own work is built.
There are so many more ideas and tales that Diana Glyer writes about in Bandersnatch, and I’m inclined to just litter this post with inspiring phrases and paragraphs that she incorporates throughout the work, but instead, I’ll just recommend that you go read it. In fact, I can’t recommend it more highly. Go purchase a copy of Bandersnatch (on Amazon). Whether you want to read delightful tales about C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the other Inklings, or you aspire to collaborate with others to improve your own work, I expect you will not be disappointed.
Rating (out of 4 gavels):
Other book reviews: Dean Karnazes’s Road to Sparta and Portia Porter’s Can You Stiff Your Divorce Lawyer?