David Moore has posted an exhilarating and deeply probing essay about Lost Knowledge of the Imagination on his Ritual in the Dark web site. I met David last year at the Colin Wilson Conference held at Nottingham University, where he gave a brilliant talk on the links between Wilson’s ‘new existentialism’ and his investigations into the occult, as evidenced in Wilson’s novels The Mind Parasites and The Philosopher’s Stone, and I am happy to see that he will be speaking again at next year’s conference. I also understand that Colin Stanley’s Paupers Press will be publishing a collection of his essays sometime in the near future. I hope that future is very near, as I look forward to reading more of, well, Moore’s work – due credit to the god of unintentional puns given. It is encouraging and heartening to see new minds taking up the Wilsonian banner, and if it is simply not done for a writer to applaud an essay about his own work, then I accept the calumny such action entails. Diffidence be damned: it is a fine piece of writing.
Recently I received a copy of Philip Pullman’s new novel The Book of Dust. I have to say I am deep into it and enjoying it immensely. Philip had said some warm words about Beyond the Robot, and my name must have gotten on the list of copies to be sent out. I didn’t expect this and it was a pleasant surprise, as I don’t often get a chance to read fiction. My book, Lost Knowledge of the Imagination, had just come out in the UK, and I sent him a copy in return. Not long after this I saw his comment on my tweet about the book. That was another very nice surprise. “I am reading it now” he wrote “and it is very important.” Well I can say the same about The Book of Dust. I am reading it now, and it is very important – and a very good read too.
Another book I am happy to see is the new Aristeia Press edition of Colin Wilson’s Religion and the Rebel. This was Wilson’s follow-up to The Outsider, and, as I say in my Introduction, it almost ended Wilson’s career. The critical response to Wilson’s second effort was as unlike that to his first as could be imagined. From hailed as a boy genius, Wilson was vilified as a fraud, and sent to literary Coventry. This had little to do with the book itself, which is a serious and passionate exploration of a possible religious answer to the Outsider’s existential dilemma. Wilson examines the lives of Pascal, Boehme, Swedenborg, and Kierkegaard, looks at the Outsider against the historical vision of Toynbee and Spengler, and contrasts the philosophy of Whitehead and Wittgenstein in light of his aim: to extend the range of human consciousness. Reading this fine new edition of a central work in Wilson’s Outsider Cycle may be one means of doing just that.
Aristeia Press’s new edition of Colin Wilson’s second book, Religion and the Rebel, to which I was honored to contribute an Introduction, will be coming out next month. This is good news for Wilson readers, young or old. I’ve often considered Religion and the Rebel Wilson’s ‘lost book’. Because of the critical about-face that followed The Outsider’s – Wilson’s first book – success, Religion and the Rebel was almost universally panned, its reception setting the stage for practically all the subsequent notice Wilson would receive from mainstream literary pundits. Yet the rejection of Wilson’s second born had more to do with his erroneous association with the Angry Young Men and the media hoopla about them, than with the book’s own merits. Of these there are many, and in Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson, I devote several pages to spelling them out. In essence Wilson asks if the Outsider can find a solution to his dilemma in religion. At one point Wilson himself considered entering a monastery, but in the end decided against it. Religion and the Rebel gives us an idea why.
Yet although Wilson was never as angry as he was expected to be, in Religion and the Rebel, he does let off some steam about modern civilization, which he saw as riddled with “cheapness and futility,” and on the face of which his evolutionary protagonist, the Outsider, appears as a kind of existential pimple, “lonely in the crowd of the second-rate.” This alienation could lead to “a maniac carrying a knife in a black bag, taking pride in appearing harmless and normal to other people,” or to “a saint or visionary, caring for nothing but one moment in which he seemed to understand the world, and see into the heart of nature and of God.” It could also lead, as it does in this book, to insightful examinations of figures like the Bohemian mystic Jacob Boehme, the mathematician and religious thinker Blaise Pascal, the ‘biologist of history’, Oswald Spengler, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, who holds the distinction of being so weary of his thought-riddled nature, that he tried to put an end to philosophy, twice. But read for yourself.
Steven Greenleaf has written a very insightful review of my first book, a collection of essays on Wilsonian themes that Colin Stanley at Paupers’ Press took a chance on publishing back in 1994, unambiguously entitled Two Essays on Colin Wilson. It is somewhat humbling to recognize that one’s juvenilia was written in one’s late thirties – but then I’ve always thought of myself as a late bloomer, at least in terms of writing. Some encouragement, perhaps, to others who have put off getting their thoughts down on paper – or a computer screen – until their later years. Some of the material on William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Henry Miller later found a home in Turn Off Your Mind and originally started life as an essay for a film class when I was working an a soon-to-be-aborted Ph.D in English Literature at USC. My professor thought my criticism of Burroughs etc was “vitiated by moral snipping” – remarkable what we remember. I doubt if the professor, Leo Braudy, author of The Frenzy of Renown, remembers it though.
Here is a letter I wrote in response to a review of Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson published in Fortean Times No. 353, for May 2017. While I am open to criticism, I believe the reviewer did little more than repeat much of the calumny Wilson received in his lifetime. I am very happy that David Sutton, editor of Fortean Times, was open to my letter and published it in Fortean Times No. 355, for July 2017.
Well, not Wilson actually, but his spirit most definitely. Here’s a reminder to anyone in the Brighton area who is free this Thursday May 11 that I’ll be giving a talk on Colin Wilson The Outsider and Beyond as part of the Brighton Festival. If you fancy an existential evening I think of no better place to be.
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.