OST is closed for business but its spirit survives on my blog.
While the “Invisibility Cloak” and “St. James’s” episodes revived Sir Toby’s, they also revealed rather starkly the obstacles to carrying on a project through truly interactive collaboration among multiple authors. I had introduced a topic for discussion among the fictional theologians; Peter had his Trappist alter-ego express disinterest in the topic while pursuing a completely different line of flight. At the time I found this development both irritating and disheartening: Peter seemed incapable of following through with the experimental revivification of Sir Toby’s which we had discussed via email correspondence. The collaboration, it seemed, was finished.
Peter would subsequently author two more Sir Toby’s adventures: as I recall, both focused primarily on cloak-and-dagger intrigue interspersed with brief travelogues. I contributed perhaps once to each thread, but it was clear that Peter was following his own lead in unfolding these tales. I, on the other hand, introduced no new episodes of my own. In effect, Peter took ownership of Sir Toby’s, both through the exercise of his own vision and through the my own retreat into monastic silence.
On OST, as on many other blogs, someone writes a post in order both to establish his or her position on an issue and to stimulate discussion of that issue. Through give-and-take among author and discussants the thread may eventually deepen the ideas expressed in the post while extending them in unanticipated directions. It’s this kind of emergent collaborative creativity that I value most highly in blogs. It’s also what I’d hoped Sir Toby’s could become: a sort of collaborative, emergent, theologically-oriented, semi-fictional alternative reality. Instead, Sir Toby’s had become a context in which individual writers could spin out their own stories through a series of installments, not unlike the serial fiction that Dickens and Dostoevsky used to write.
Having already written two novels (still unpublished, alas), as well as maintaining an active blog of my own, I couldn’t really generate much creative energy to write short stories on the installment plan as Peter was doing. Frankly, for me it seemed like a step backward from something more innovative and more provocative that for a time had flickered into existence only to be extinguished. And so I relegated Sir Toby’s to the status of failed and finished experiment.
I was surprised when Peter posted his book announcement. I’d had no inkling that he’d been working on compiling the existing Sir Toby’s episodes into a book. Had I known I probably would have objected. Why am I not named as co-author? After all, it was my idea in the first place. This is barefaced plagiarism! And he has the nerve to call himself a Christian! And so on. A few days later I cooled off and took a deep breath. I realized that Peter would never recoup his self-publishing investment through book sales. This had been an act of love on Peter’s part (and probably a bit of an ego boost as well). Sir Toby’s really did serve as the unifying theme for some entertaining writing on both Peter’s and my part — Sam Carr too on the Invisibility Cloak episode. I wonder if it could happen again? Could Peter and I make another go of it, regarding these early episodes as forerunners of a collaborative writing project of greater scope than previously envisioned? Alternatively, could we revive Sir Toby’s as an ongoing fictionalized commentary about the ideas and individuals who populate the nonfictional OST, with Sam and possibly others contributing to the conversation?
After I began writing this imaginary Preface, Peter started a new Sir Toby’s episode here on OST. Called “Sir Toby Redivivus?”, it’s in the earliest stages, so I’m not sure where it’s headed. My expectation, though, is that Peter will have the Trappist and his associates continue pursuing “the Project,” which consists mostly of the Trappist critiquing Andrew’s distinctive theology while being enmeshed in melodramatic intrigues of one sort or another. I wish him well on this venture, though I doubt I’ll have much to contribute. Maybe if he keeps at it he can find the right balance of fiction and theology which, in my view, has not yet been fully realized in the Sir Toby’s world.
Will I, acting in parallel, revive my own vision of Sir Toby’s? I think it unlikely that a truly collaborative writing format can be sustained. The theological ideas that spark my desire to write seem either to bore Peter or to inflame his zeal to preach to me — or perhaps against me. This antagonism could serve as the basis for impassioned and creative disputes between my Sage and his Trappist. I fear, though, that the whimsical fog of unreality that permeates Sir Toby’s would evaporate in the heat of the battle. What’s needed is some balance between theological aloofness and literary commitment. But that’s my picture of Sir Toby’s; it doesn’t necessarily coincide with Peter’s.
Now that I near the end of this imaginary Preface I find that I’ve written a lot of text. One might infer that I’ve been enjoying myself, that maybe some spark has been rekindled in me. Maybe it’s true. For some time now I’ve been trying to reconceptualize a book I’ve already written but which I believe doesn’t really accomplish what I’d intended. I wrote it as straightforward nonfiction, rather scholarly in tone but with what I regard as some rather startling ideas and some snap in the writing style. Still, I think I can do better: make it less cautious and more extreme in the ideas it puts forward, yet more speculative, even more whimsical, in attitude. I wonder: what if I framed it as an extended convocation of the fictional cabalists gathered at Sir Toby’s? I probably wouldn’t write it in installments here at OST. And while I’d miss the Trappist’s adversarial commentary, I have come to know his views quite well. I’ve previously put words in the mouths of the Westerner and the Antipodean and the Eastern Monk: why couldn’t I do the same with the Trappist? After all, I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about what makes him tick, seeing things from his perspective. Creating fictional versions of real people: it’s what fiction writers do…