The Outsider Goes On

Here’s a brief report on some current Colin Wilson related activities:

I recently sent the text to my talk “Colin Wilson and the Angry Young Outsiders,” given at the British Museum last October as part of the Folk Horror Revival Event, to be included in a book of the proceedings of the day. I hope the editor will be able to include some of the photographs I used in my lecture, especially the one from the Life magazine photo-shoot re-enacting Wilson’s days sleeping on Hampstead Heath.

Speaking of proceedings, Cambridge Scholars has announced that it will be publishing the Proceedings of the First International Colin Wilson Conference  on June 1 2017. The conference was held last year to commemorate the 60th anniversary of The Outsider’s publication. Colin Stanley, Wilson’s bibliographer and the editor in chief of Paupers’ Press – which specializes in Wilson studies – has edited an eclectic collection of Wilsonian essays on a wide range of topics and produced a handsome volume. My own contribution was a talk on Faculty X. It’s pricey. But pester your local university library into getting a copy.

On May 11 2017 I’ll be giving a talk on “Colin Wilson: The Outsider and Beyond” as part of the Brighton Festival. I’ll be focusing on the books that came after The Outsider, such as Religion and the Rebel and the others making up Wilson’s ‘Outsider Cycle’. This was his attempt to work out a new, positive existentialism, that could find a way out of the cul-de-sac old existentialists, like Heidegger, Sartre and Camus had found themselves in.

And finally, I am just now working on an Introduction to a new Paupers’ Press re-issue of Wilson’s rare collection of essays, Eagle and Earwig. Here Wilson applies his ‘existential criticism’ to writers like Ayn Rand, Robert Musil, David Lindsay – author of the marvelous A Voyage to Arcturus – and the sadly forgotten L. H. Myers, whose The Near and the Far is one of the best ‘novel of ideas’ written in the twentieth century. I’ve suggested to Colin Stanley that he should bring Eagle and Earwig out in a Paupers’ Press edition many times, and I am glad to see that he has taken my advice.

12 thoughts on “The Outsider Goes On

  1. Hi Gary,

    I have just finished your book on Rudolf Steiner as well as The Quest for Hermes Trismegistus, and as I’ve come to expect I enjoyed them both a great deal, and I appreciate the accessibility of your voice. I am now beginning Caretakers of the Cosmos, and I’m glad to see that there you take up a theme from Quest that I had not seen fully articulated anywhere else, and that’s the idea that the Gnostic paradigm leads to the feeling that life is like a prison from which we are always trying to escape. Since learning about Gebser and the mental-rational structure I have not been able to shake the connection between the rise of this Gnostic paradigm (the Buddha, Plato’s Phaedo, the Resurrection and the Rapture) and the rise of the mental-rational structure, and I’m wondering if you see a connection there. In other words, is the anxiety of the Gnostic actually a product of the abstraction of the rational mode, and has it reached a fever pitch as we’ve reached the outer limits of what that mode can do for us?

    On the topic of limits, in the Secret History of Consciousness I believe you made a connection between Godel’s incompleteness theorem and the breakdown of rationality when dealing with the quantum realm (or perhaps I made that connection, I’m not sure). Would you put Kant’s limitations of the rose-colored glasses of space and time into this same category? Recently I have been looking at Whitehead’s philosophy, based on several mentions by both you and W.I. Thompson. He seems to address this rather forcefully, saying that this is a fallacy of abstraction. Has anyone connected Whitehead with Gebser’s ideas about the separation and alienation that comes from the mental-rational structure? Steiner, it seems, rejects that there are any such limitations, yet to not accept them would seem to lead to the hubris of left-brain dominance.

    And one last question, which is hopefully more straightforward. I’ve noticed quite a similarity between Hermeticism and Hinduism, but I haven’t seen any mention of any possible link. Is there any indication of connection, of the ideas flowing from Egypt to India or vice versa?


    1. Hi Ben. Very good to hear from you and I’m glad you’ve liked the books. These are interesting questions which I can only give brief answers to – insofar as I can answer them! Let say that although I don’t know of a direct link between Hinduism and Hermeticism, Alexandria, where Hermeticism started, was such a cultural and religious melting pot that I would not be surprised if some Hindu ideas arrived there. Alexander got as far as India – you may have seen those Greek style Buddha statues somewhere? – and in the process of spreading Greek thought across his empire, much came back in a reciprocal process. And if we accept that Hinduism and the other great religions have the same fundamental source – the perennial philosophy or “primal revelation” – then it shouldn’t be surprising if there are similarities between two expressions of it.

      Whitehead gets a few brief mentions in Gebser’s Ever-Present Origin, mostly as someone who grasped the insight that time would be the central concern of the new integral consciousness structure. As you say, Whitehead rejected Kant’s split between the world we perceive and the ‘thing-in-itself’. Hegel had too. Both of them rejected the ‘epistemological problem’ as a kind of philosophical red herring. I don’t know off hand of anyone linking Gebser and Whitehead and if I had the time I would take this on myself. (Another thing I’d like to get to is an essay on the similarities between Heidegger and Gurdjieff; both are concerned with what Heidegger called “forgetfulness of being.” I wanted to study Whitehead ages ago, when I was trying to find a place in academia. I could have studied him at Claremont in California, but it would have meant doing a degree in theology, which I didn’t really want to do. But I did meet someone whose writings on Whitehead I got much out of, David Ray Griffin. Funnily enough, today he is know as one of leading 9/11 conspiracy theorists! His earlier books, where he develops what he calls a “constructive postmodernism” are inspired by Whitehead’s philosophy. I haven’t read the 9/11 ones but I did get a lot of his early stuff.

      I think I mentioned Godel in the context of Juri Moskvitin’s fascinating but obscure book Essay on the Origin of Thought, which I think I am one of the few people, aside from Colin Wilson, to have read. It is hard to find and copies are pricey. I took Godel’s idea that no system can be understood solely by its own elements, that there is always something outside the system needed to explain it – if I can put it this roughly. I applied this to materialist attempts to “explain” consciousness, and say, referring to Moskvitin, that there is always a kind of “black hole” in consciousness, which is where we come in. Our sense of “I”, who is asking the question or looking into consciousness in order to find its source, is the black hole. “We” always escape any attempt to sum consciousness up nicely. David Hume – whom Whitehead takes to task – said that when he looked inside himself for his essential “I” he found nothing but random, scattered thoughts and feelings. But one wants to say, “Yes, but you, yourself, are what you are looking for,” meaning the “I” he is searching for is the “I” doing the searching.

      Steiner disagreed with Kant that there were limits to knowledge, but this didn’t mean that he meant “left brain” knowledge, although he did believe that we can make what may appear unconscious, conscious. His supersensible perception – borrowed from Goethe – provided knowledge, but not the left brain “scientistic” kind. He would have agreed with Gebser and Whitehead.

      Lastly, yes I would say that the Gnostic idea of the world as prison is a product of the mental-rational structure. At the beginning of Secret Teachers I link McGilchrist’s ideas about a left brain takeover to the Gnostic notion of the demiurge usurping power from the true God. Although their dates might not line up, I think Gebser’s mental rational structure and McGilchrist’s uppity left brain are in effect the same thing.

      Hope this helps! I’m hunkering down to work on the new book, which is due in September. All the best, Gary

  2. Thanks so much for this detailed response. I am very much enjoying Caretakers of the Cosmos, and since you brought up Heidegger, I really think that his later philosophy and his idea about “dwelling” relate very much, and I believe he also attempted to lay out a philosophy of guardianship in a world of escalating technological efficiency.

    Between reading you, Thompson, Whitehead, Gebser and all the other worlds to explore I so often feel overwhelmed, but in a good way, like going to an exciting city and just wishing I had more time and stamina to learn what’s out there. And I know what you mean about the perennial philosophy. I’ve also been listening to Alan Watts lectures and most of the time it seems like he’s saying the same thing as Whitehead!

    Could you re-post that link? It didn’t work. And I’m seeing that The Lost Knowledge of the Imagination isn’t due out until January 2018. Is that correct?

    1. Sorry about the link. I hope this one works. If not, type “Colin Wilson Whitehead Philosophy Now” into your search engine, and you should get the Philosophy Now site, and an article on Whitehead by Wilson. And yes, Heidegger’s “enframing” and ” dwelling” are in line with being cosmic caretakers. Too bad he thought something good might have come from National Socialism, but then Jung thought so too for a bit. if you get the chance, George Steiner’s short book on Heidegger is a very good read. Cheers

  3. Looks like that website is down. Perhaps it will work another time. Yes, I have George Steiner’s book on my shelf and read part of it a few years ago, though I never finished it. I’ll take another look at it. My main guide for Heidegger was Julian Young’s very good 3 part study. It’s really a terrible blunder he made, it’s true, and I feel that his later philosophy may have been his own attempt to correct his thought. His error is further compounded by the fact that he refused to ever take responsibility for it. Thanks again, and looking forward to exploring Ouspensky further after Caretakers of the Cosmos.

    1. I don’t believe they ever met and from what he writes about Watts’ work in some books I don’t think he thought much of it. In Order of Assassins, in particular, he has a chapter on the 60s in which he contrasts the philosophy of “letting it all hang out,” of getting rid of the ego and will, with his own ideas about the need for self-discipline.

      1. Hmm…then it makes me ponder what Colin’s stance was/is regarding Taoism and Zen in general. I have read some of his comments regarding Lao Tzu which seemed positive. Watts is one of the greatest interpreters of Eastern philosophy that the West has ever seen, IMO.

      2. Check out Wilson’s book Poetry and Mysticism, which he wrote for Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Books. He talks about Zen there. It was written in the sixties. He felt that with the popularity of Eastern approaches, the western contribution to understanding consciousness was being ignored. In The Occult, though, he does speak well of Taoism and as a young man he practiced a form of meditation, so he was aware of the benefits and importance of Eastern philosophy. The Bhagavad Gita was an important book for him. But his main focus is on phenomenology; Poetry and Mysticism argues that the “Zen effect” – the sudden grasp of the “isness” of things – can be found in poetry.

      3. Fantastic reply, Gary…thanks very much! I am currently devouring your I Robot book which is brilliant and thrilling. At 66 years old and many years on “the path”, I am gaining huge insights from it. Thanks again for responding to my questions.

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