Religion and the Rebel Returns

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.

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The Outsider Strikes Back!

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.

Dear Fortean Times,
Many thanks for David Barrett’s review of my latest book, Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson, which appears in FT 353 for May 2017. I appreciate that you devote ample space to the book, but I would like to clarify some remarks that, I believe, may give readers a wrong impression about it.
The reviewer remarks that “aside from the early pages,” most of the book is about Wilson’s work, and hence is not really a biography, but more of a ‘philosophy textbook’. Would that such textbooks had such philosophy. He does acknowledge that because Wilson wrote about ideas, this makes the book more about their development than his. Perhaps, although I do believe I follow Wilson’s life fairly closely, linking the ideas he is grappling with to their expression in his life. I don’t believe it is true that aside from charting his early years as a struggling wannabe before The Outsider threw him into a celebrity spotlight he never really wanted, there is nothing about his life. There is plenty about it. But Wilson himself would say that what is really important about a writer is what he says. As the majority of material written about Wilson ignores practically everything he wrote aside from The Outsider, I believe, as he did, that the books that followed, and which made up what he called ‘the Outsider cycle’, warrant serious consideration,and I was determined to give them that. As I say in the Introduction, my aim was to present an ‘introductory overview’ of Wilson’s life and work and to ‘make clear some of the basic ideas and aims of Wilson’s philosophy’ so that it may ‘prompt readers unfamiliar with his work to seek out his books and read them for themselves.’
My reason for doing this is, as the reviewer remarks, because Wilson wrote an enormous amount about a wide range of different but related subjects. Yet all of his subjects are linked by a common theme, what Wilson calls ‘the paradoxical nature of freedom’. My aim was to show to readers how this common and, to my mind, absolutely important insight, informs all his work. The reviewer’s cursory assessment of this as ‘common sense’ and his brief remarks about it suggests that in his case I failed.
The reviewer also suggests that I did not sufficiently question Wilson’s assessment of himself as a ‘genius’. Yet he seems to have missed several places in which I do just that, or at least question a 24 year-old’s too frequent acknowledgement of it. So, on p. 54, I write: ‘It was that word “genius” that began to irritate the mostly modest reading public” and I suggest that the fact that “he himself breathed it somewhat injudiciously did not help.” I also suggest that “Wilson’s own inexperience and lack of guile also ensured that he would put his foot in it” (p. 56) in interviews.There are other examples of my questioning as well. But then, reviewers like Cyril Connolly, Philip Toynbee, Edith Sitwell and others were themselves announcing Wilson’s ‘genius’ to their readers from the moment The Outsider appeared. Who are we – or Wilson – to disagree? And do I consider him a ‘genius’? Well, Wilson himself points out the difference between having genius and being one, and I have no doubt that he had it, and on more occasions than only The Outsider. I let the reader know up front that I am a ‘fan’ and that Wilson was a ‘mentor’ to me – and to many others who found in his work important and essential ideas about human existence and consciousness. But then the ‘totally brainless’ English approach is very often to castigate anyone who believes in anything and to celebrate either mediocrity or the kind of cynical know-it-all pessimism that is forever fearful of any wool being pulled over its eyes. By the way, two other English thinkers I met and wrote about, Owen Barfield and Kathleen Raine, said exactly the same thing about the English, so perhaps this insight is not limited to Wilson.
The reviewer also points out that there is only one paragraph about Wilson’s politics, mentioning his support for Thatcher. Yet he fails to mention that Wilson also wrote an open letter calling for her resignation. He also says that Wilson had views ‘much further to the right’. That Wilson was labeled a ‘fascist’ by people like John Osborne, Kenneth Tynan and other fashionably left writers, solely because he was interested in existential concerns, not social ones,  is simply name-calling. Wilson was not in the least interested in politics – in fact, he started his public career as an anarchist at Speaker’s Corner –  although, as I do point out, some of his Angry Young friends, like the novelist Bill Hopkins, were. Wilson did edit a book called Marx Refuted, which included contributions by Karl Popper, Leszek Kolakowski, and Arthur Koestler, among others. Calling them ‘far-right’ is rather like called Tony Blair ‘far-left’. I also say, on p. 359, that Wilson ‘could show surprising political naivete’, apropos of a lunch he once had with Oswald Mosley. On the same page I have Wilson saying that he ‘always labelled myself a socialist’ but he later came to reject socialism while writing a book about Shaw. But he has ‘been against the Tories all my life’. With all this, I somehow can’t find the views that the reviewer says were ‘much further to the right.’
I can’t agree that most readers would see ‘arrogance or blindness or both’ about Wilson’s confidence in his work. My experience and that of the readers of my book has been quite the opposite: in this we see the kind of self-belief that anyone attempting to do something out of the normal run of things must have in order to survive the kind of disparagement and sheer disdain that most often comes from being – dare I say it? – an ‘Outsider’. And what are we to think of a reviewer for the Fortean Times who thinks that all of what Wilson had to say about synchronicity – a phenomenon whose reality I am as convinced of as I am of anything else – came from one experience? That is simply not the case, and the reviewer misrepresents the incident in question egregiously.
The other supposed flaws in the book are, sadly, duly acknowledged. I would have liked to have had more room to discuss Wilson’s fictions, although I do go into detail about his first novel Ritual in the Dark and do comment on The Mind Parasites, The Philosopher’s Stone, and, at greater length, The Black Room. This lack must be chalked up to sheer space and time; the book is over 200,000 words (twice the word count allotted) and I was already far behind schedule by the time I delivered it. (Readers interested in an excellent study of Wilson’s fictions should find Novels to Some Purpose: The Fiction of Colin Wilson by Nicolas Tredell.) And the index was the publisher’s work. I did want to include a bibliography, but space and time again precluded that.
I should point out though, that the reviewer’s dismay about not being able to look up ‘key Wilsonian concepts like “Factor X” is perhaps more home-grown than he may think. Wilson does not write about ‘Factor X’ but ‘Faculty X‘. Such an obvious mistake from a reviewer whose tone throughout suggests a prejudice against Wilson’s work, and whose review fails to do justice in any way to any of Wilson’s ideas- a fate Wilson had to endure endless times over during his life- suggests that he may have profited from grasping the key phenomenological insight – which Wilson spelled out in many ways in many books – about how our expectations can obscure what is right in front of us.

The Lost Knowledge of the Imagination

Floris Books has posted the cover art for my new book, The Lost Knowledge of the Imagination, which is due out in October of this year. Amazon has it listed as coming out in January 2017, but this is inaccurate. I’ll be posting excerpts from the book closer to publication, but for now let me say that it is a kind of distillation of some of the main themes of The Secret Teachers of the Western World and also of Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin WilsonThe central idea is that of imagination as a cognitive faculty; that is, not as something concerned with ‘make believe’ but with a deeper perception, grasp, and understanding of reality. Oddly enough, as I was writing the book the whole question of ‘reality’ became a hot news item, with our descent into a ‘post-truth’ world make of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’. And soon after finishing it I was commissioned to do a new book about precisely that, about how ‘reality’ seems to have become peculiarly flexible and pliable these days, and subject to the influence of – the imagination. Some kind of sychronicity seems to be at work – or am I letting my imagination get the better of me? You can find out some time next year when Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump sees the light of day.

Occult Politics in Spain

I’ve recently heard from Javier Sierra, author of the bestselling The Secret Supper, that the Spanish edition of Politics and the Occult will be released in May. Javier is responsible for having the book come out with Planeta, and for arranging for me to take part in the International Symposium for Occulture that will take place in Madrid and Leon in October. I’ve been reading Javier’s latest work, The Master of the Prado, about the hidden influence of occult ideas on much of western art, and am finding it fascinating. Oddly enough, I’ve also recently heard that the Spanish edition of The Caretakers of the Cosmos has also just come out, with IAO Arte Editorial.  With Ediciones Atalanta publishing Spanish editions of my Rudolf Steiner and A Secret History of Consciousness, it looks like I am fairly well represented in the Spanish speaking world.

Get Beyond the Robot and in the Zone

Here’s link to an interview I did recently with Tom Evans for his podcast The Zone Show. We talk about my latest book, Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson, but also about quite a few other things. The sound quality is a bit choppy in places, but overall it was a good interview. Enjoy.

I have to say that I’ve been touched by the many comments here and on Facebook from people who have read Beyond the Robot. It is inspiring and encouraging to hear from people who loved Colin Wilson’s work or who came across him for the first time through my book, and have gone on to read his own books. That was the idea. I think that in our time of ‘post truth’, ‘alternative facts’ and other high but dangerous weirdness, Colin’s ideas about how we can become more consciousness are needed more than ever.

Getting Beyond the Robot at Watkins Bookshop: Colin Wilson, Outsiders, Peak Experiences and More

Here is a link to a video of a talk I gave at Watkins Bookshop here in London on Friday November 11. Watkins is the oldest and most well-known of London’s esoteric and occult bookshops, having catered to a clientele that included W. B. Yeats, Aleister Crowley, and Mick Jagger – Sir Mick, I mean. It’s a landmark spot, on Cecil Court, an atmospheric alley off Charring Cross Road in the West End, lined with rare book stores and memorabilia shops. I talk about my latest book, Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson, to an appreciative crowd. Watkins has a publishing wing and in recent years has released new editions of some of Wilson’s work, specifically The Occult  and Beyond the Occultthey also published one of Wilson’s last works, Superconsciousness.