Stephen Greenleaf goes Beyond the Robot

In recent months I’ve noticed Stephen Greenleaf’s reviews and tweets about my work and have come to appreciate his considered, insightful appraisals and criticisms. So I was chuffed, as they say in the UK, to see that he had written a long, intelligent, and honest review of Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson. It’s the kind of review that Colin Wilson himself should have got for some of his books. Notwithstanding Stephen’s reservations about the occult and the afterlife – not to mention Wilson’s own cautious acceptance of them – I feel that if he is not busying himself with more important matters, Wilson may be chuffed – or however one gets on ‘the other side’ – to read what Stephen thinks of the book and its subject himself.

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6 Responses to “Stephen Greenleaf goes Beyond the Robot”

  1. Gary – I had forgotten that you had this book on Colin Wilson coming out. I was ecstatic when I saw it on Amazon and immediately got the Kindle version.

    I have to comment even though I’m only 38% through the book – haha. Beyond brilliant. Your book is a symphony of ideas from a great composer. You have really successfully expanded on Colin’s ideas and put them in context, while sharing his genuine passion for those ideas that really matter.

    As you know I fell in love with Colin Wilson from your own writing, and Beyond the Robot does more than justice to Wilson’s legacy and will keep it vital. I appreciate Wilson and your writing even more, as I’m do my own exploring and synthesis in the evolution of human consciousness. Wilson was on to something and I hope to come up with my own take on all this. A book and perhaps a movie and musical – well a book anyway.

    I’m sorry I missed the Colin Wilson conference this summer. Is there anything on line available on the proceedings? I had started to write a piece on Colin’s ideas, but I have expanded beyond my initial explorations.

    It is a supreme pleasure to find two such original thinkers and synthesizers as you and Colin. I am inspired. I’ll be rereading The Outsider and will be going over my Wilson library to fill in the gaps. I have already received Colin’s book on Jung – hint hint.

    I have no doubt that Colin Wilson and Carl Jung will go down as two of the greatest and most important thinkers of the century. Neither are recognized to that degree as yet, but in time they will be. You have done Colin and yourself proud. Thank you for your efforts. I’ll be writing more when I’ve finished the book and would love to discuss this all further. We’re only talking about the future of the human race. I’ll stop now – I’m sounding like a crank.

    • John, very good to see you here again and many thanks for the warm words about Beyond the Robot. When you finish the remaining 62% maybe you can put a few words up on amazon? The CW conference was a success. I think there are some bits of it available; I think I saw something on Facebook. You might try Colin Wilson R.I.P. or Colin Wilson World, two sites dedicated to his work. I don’t know if you saw the Washington Post review? Here’s a link to it. I’ve posted links to other reviews in earlier posts. I’m glad my writing – and even more CW’s – has inspired you to write something yourself. I look forward to seeing it.Hope you enjoy the rest of the book. By the way, I’ll be on the BBC’s Radio 3 on 11 October, discussing the book on a program called Free Thinking. I’m not sure if you can get it in the states, but I’ll post a link in the coming days. All the best and welcome back.

      • Thanks Gary – I’ll be posting on Amazon for sure. I can’t say when because yours is a book to savor and I’m writing notes constantly as I read. I’m also in the bad habit of reading a number of books simultaneously. All of them are to do with my concept of the bigger meaning of life – damn this day job and the need to eat. We are certainly kindred spirits with Colin – only satisfied with the biggest view possible and how all the little bits fit in with that.

        The more I read of your book, the greater clarity it brings to Colin’s thinking and it’s certainly clarifying mine as well. Colin would have been and is very pleased with your book and thinking – there is no doubt.

        Excellent review at the Washington Post. It is a shame that Colin is not more widely known and appreciated. I hope your book helps in that. But I think the greater problem is that most people do not take that big view of life, the universe and everything. Some do, but there seems to be no coherent view that brings it into focus. That is the goal of my explorations and ultimately writing. I’ll update you with progress and would love to interact more if that makes sense to you.

        To the keyboards Robin!

  2. Hi Gary

    Just finished ‘Beyond the Robot’, which was an excellent read for someone like myself who has been a long-time reader of Wilson and more recently a dedicated reader of your own work.

    Some post-reading musings on CWs ‘optimistic’ view of humanity and the scientific establishment: the negative existentialist philosophy that Wilson was reacting against in the post-war era of ‘The Outsider’ appears to have largely metamorphosed into the scientism of the 21st century (as economic, social and technological shifts of the late 20th century have led to psyche – philosophy and the other humanities that have traditionally been the central pillars of Western thought – being usurped from this position by techne – the physical sciences, economics, computing etc.). This modern scientific orthodoxy is that the universe is wholly materialistic, and that mystical/spiritual experiences are cultural and psychological delusions designed to compensate for the random meaninglessness of existence.

    Wilson’s shift of focus from philosophy to the paranormal (from The Occult onwards) perhaps reflects these trends. In the Outsider Cycle he used philosophy to attack philosophy: specifically, the epistemological and ontological authority which existentialist philosophy then possessed in Western culture. His shift to paranormal subjects, from ‘The Occult’ onwards, marks the implicit recognition that ‘the age of defeat’ was changing its garb from existential philosophy to hard scientism – the paranormal and occult being the area of human experience that poses the strongest challenge to the view of a ‘meaningless universe’ upon which the epistemological and ontological authority of modern science rests. In this respect CW is one of the lineage of thinkers, trained in the establishment and academy, who have also used paranormal topics as a means against meaninglessness; for example Jung, Rupert Sheldrake, and, more recently, the American religious scholar Jeffrey Kripal (plenty of New Age authors have the same approach, but are usually marginalised by academics and mainstream readers because they are expressing their ideas in New Age language and scenarios that come across as off-putting or ridiculous).

    As a sidenote, on a cultural level, I am intrigued by the fact that this ‘orthodoxy of meaninglessness’ has largely been created and perpetuated by a particular group of people within Western society: white males who have been trained and acculturated in elite academic establishments such as Oxbridge and the Ivy League (e.g. Dawkins, Krauss, Weinberg). In this context, the atheism and nihilism that constitutes the ‘official’ view of reality can perhaps be seen as forms of ‘intellectual machismo’ through which these academic alpha males exert their authority over Western consciousness. A meaningless universe is the hard, tough, brutal truth that we must accept if we are to be ‘real men’/humans, rejecting the wimpy, soft metaphysical comforts offered by mysticism, spirituality, vitalism and the like. The dominance of the ‘left brain’ manifesting in the shape of the intellectual ‘right man’, perhaps?

    • Hello Dean and many thanks for this concise overview of how in our time scientism has taken over from existentialism as the main source of contemporary pessimism. I think you’re right, but I would add that philosophical and literary developments such as deconstructionism and postmodernism have done their share as well. I don’t know if you’re familiar with my book The Caretakers of the Cosmos, but in it I make a similar argument as you do here, about the ‘tough guy’ character of scientific nihilism. I’ve posted an excerpt from it that deals with this on The Daily Grail webiste that you might find interesting. Here’s the link: Give Life a Chance. All the best, Gary

      • Hey Gary

        thanks for the reply. I have ‘Caretakers of the Cosmos’ (got pretty much your whole bibliography actually), so good prompt to go and give it a re-read on this topic.

        On a lighter and rather different Colin Wilson-related tangent, a couple of interesting examples of CW’s influence popping up in rock music that I thought you might be interested in as a muso (if you weren’t already aware of them).

        I’m a long-time fan of the British post-punk band The Fall (formed 1977 and still going strong), whose legendarily cantankerous singer Mark E Smith has expressed admiration for CW in interviews and in song. The lyrics for ‘Fortress/Deer Park’ from their classic 1982 album ‘Hex Enduction Hour’ include the refrain “Have you been to the English deer park?/It’s a large type artist ranch/This is where C Wilson wrote Ritual In The Dark”: I also remember reading an interview with Smith in which he stated that he was a fan of Wilson’s fiction because he liked the way CW was conveying philosophical ideas through genre fiction, an approach equivalent to what he was trying to do in The Fall (perhaps Smith’s famously cryptic and idiosyncratic lyrics can be explained as allegories for the new existentialism…). Wilson and Smith both bear interesting cultural comparisons as working-class British autodidacts who have pursued their creative and intellectual inclinations through a prodigious output in their respective mediums (literature and music), and a bloody-minded self-belief in the face of critical responses and changing cultural trends.

        George Henderson, singer/guitarist of cult New Zealand band The Puddle, is also a CW acolyte. A few years ago he was interviewed on NZ’s national (public service) radio station (we’ve only got one, being a little country!) and waxed lyrical about his appreciation for CW’s work and ideas. My band supported the Puddle shortly thereafter, and when I mentioned this to him as a talking point he went into substantial conversation about ‘The Misfits’, one of his favourite CW books. He even put a prominent portrait of CW in the artwork for The Puddle’s 2009 album ‘The Shakespeare Monkey’!

        Presume CW would appreciate the fact that his influence was permeating through all sorts of pop culture nooks, despite the fact that their music would no doubt induce a vastation experience in a classical music lover such as himself.

        best for the book! (saw a copy of ‘Secret Teachers of the Western World’ in the local library here in Hamilton NZ, so hopefully ‘Beyond the Robot’ will follow it onto the stacks).

        regards
        Dean

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