Its just been over a year since Colin Wilson left us, his exhaustive chronicling of altered states of mind and human evolutionary potential played an important part in my late teens and It would be disrespectful for me not to express my thoughts on his passing . I was going to post an article up earlier on in the year but it got delayed due to other projects.I hope this will suffice and also maybe unveil some facts about Colin that some readers may not be aware of. – Andy Black Forest
“Imagination should be used, not to escape reality but to create it.”
― Colin Wilson
“When I was in my teens, I invented a term to describe them. I call it ‘holiday consciousness’ . . . because I often experienced this sense of optimism and wide-awakeness when setting out on a journey or a holiday. It was always the feeling that the world is self-evidently complex and beautiful, and that life is so obviously good that man’s boredom and defeat is an absurdity . . . And then I used to ask: Why do men forget this so easily? And the answer seemed obvious: because the human will is so flabby and weak. Instead of being self-controlled, self-driven creatures, most men are little more than leaves on a stream, they drift along hoping for the best. I once wrote that men are like grandfather clocks driven by watchsprings.“
Colin Wilson passed away on the 5th December 2013 .Born in Leicester, the son of a shoe factory worker , he came into this world on 26th June 1931. He was a well known and prolific writer whose influence on popular culture was profound and lasting. Originally wanting to be a scientist, Wilson found himself drawn to the world of literature, and post school found himself drifting between jobs as he began to compose his thoughts in essays,plays and stories . After a brief stint in the RAF among other aborted ventures he finally produced the acclaimed study of pariahs and complex figures – The Outsider in 1956 at the age of 24 which made him famous overnight. Developing the themes in The Outsider, Wilson’s next work, Religion and the Rebel (1957) was not met so favourably as his ideas drifted more and more out of the conventional realms of intellectual discourse. This was to be the start of the path he would take over the course of his career, moving into the uncharted waters of the esoteric to gain insight and knowledge, and as a result ironically or fittingly as time passed he himself becoming one of outsiders that he once wrote of. But what was it that Wilson was seeking in his tireless exploration of the human condition? To quote Wilson himself:
“Ask the Outsider what he ultimately wants,and he will admit he doesn’t know.Why? Because he wants it instinctively,and it is not always possible to tell what your instincts are driving towards.”
“I have tried to show how religion, the backbone of civilisation, hardens into a Church that is unacceptable to Outsiders, and the Outsiders – the men who strive to become visionaries – become the Rebels. In our case, the scientific progress that has brought us closer than ever before to conquering the problems of civilisation, has also robbed us of spiritual drive; and the Outsider is doubly a rebel: a rebel against the Established Church , a rebel against the unestablished church of materialism. Yet for all this, he is the real spiritual heir of the prophets, of Jesus and St. Peter, of St. Augustine and Peter Waldo. The purest religion of any age lies in the hands of its spiritual rebels. The twentieth century is no exception.”
― Colin Wilson, Religion and the Rebel
Whatever it was Wilson was pursuing ,his ideas developed over the passage of time .His first Novel came in 1960 Ritual in the Dark,a gripping psychological study of murder. He also around this time met three young writers who became close friends -Bill Hopkins, Stuart Holroyd and Laura Del Rivo.He settled in Cornwall in 1957 with his Wife Joy where he remained til his passing. Here he amassed a large personal reference library * and continued to churn out his novels and studies of human behaviour.
* -When Lyn Barber of the Guardian interviewed him at his residence in 2004 she commented “He has never thrown a book away – he reckons he has about 30,000. They are all carefully arranged by subject, then author, and the paperbacks are sent away to be library-bound in plastic. Some sections are stored in sheds in the garden – a crime shed, a UFO shed, a biography shed – and the complete works of Colin Wilson shed. He wants to have another shed in the orchard but Joy is putting her foot down. When he dies, he says, he hopes the bungalow and sheds will be kept as a museum ‘because people will probably turn up wanting to see it, like Dylan Thomas’s cottage’.” – The Guardian Sunday 30 May 2004
Wilson developed his own theories in the course of his writing which he called ‘The new existentialism’, based on his observations that in certain states our minds are susceptible to extra sensory information and capable of feats of an extraordinary nature .Wilson’s work sought how to tap this potential, the state of mind he whimsically called ‘Faculty x’. Wilson’s work was in some ways essentially an extension of psychologist Abraham Maslow’s theories on Peak experiences who Wilson studied and Met in the early 60’s. Whereas Maslow seen peak experiences as uncontrollable and despite beneficial, ultimately involuntary , Wilson argued these experiences could be catalysed at will by the individual , and that this was arguably the foundation of the occult and other systems that claimed to alter consciousness.In this sense,the closest Wilson has to a progenitor, despite from being from a more prestigious background, is Carl Jung ,who sought to challenge the soulless automata in his friend and mentor Sigmund Freud’s work and accept the more radical theories surrounding consciousness, taking into account Phenomena such as ESP. Wilson’s core life work was the promulgation of his ideas on ‘Faculty X’ and how this can play a part in the direction of human evolution. This undertaking made him a very prolific Author of over 170 books – he wrote fiction and non-fiction on topics such as psychology, science, art,sex,crime and ultimately the occult to which he is the most known for. Wilson also wrote poetry and literary criticism . His interest in the more arcane areas meant that he was never from the offset one to be associated with the orthodox academic world,although he was an influence on Russian clinical psychologist Eugene Putoshkin
Not that this shunning ever seemed to bother Wilson (and for that matter his fans) – he carried on ploughing his furrow into the 70’s and 80’s tackling a variety of subjects and enjoying longevity and popularity amongst his readers,the Spider World series of novels becoming his kind of magnum opus fiction wise,while his non-fiction was sometimes whimsical and speculative, sometimes it was erudite and sharp – Wilson’s work was still creating interest and a cult following decades after he came onto the literary scene.
“As a young man I was scornful about the supernatural but as I have got older, the sharp line that divided the credible from the incredible has tended to blur; I am aware that the whole world is slightly incredible”
― Colin Wilson
In his later career he unashamedly pursued classical romantic arcane ideas that some felt maybe a tad on the airy fairy new age side. Although not going into the daftness of authors like Erich Von Daniken, his ideas on Atlantis (just a tad more than a dirty word in academia) undoubtedly played a strong part in shaping his later works. Of course Wilson tied in his own theories ,viewing the past through the lens of his phenomenological existentialism and using it to re-evaluate the achievements and mindset of ancient civilisations.
Some were disappointed that Wilson didn’t explore certain themes in his studies and research , but there is so much to be praised in Wilson’s speculations on consciousness that you can forgive him of certain omissions. There’s a magic and enchantment in Wilson’s work, fiction wise his novels sometimes fizzle out before the climax, but the prose and narrative we get beforehand is sometimes alone the reward for reading. All of Wilson’s novels it could be argued are little more than vehicles for his theories on consciousness and the new existentialism mentioned earlier, and illustrative of the latent powers of our minds that are sometimes activated in certain conditions.
Now this is where it gets interesting though, because whether you agree with Wilson’s core theories that are expounded in his fiction and non-fiction is to a degree not important, as there is so much breathtaking research and collation of unusual and provocative ideas that it is enough alone to enrich the curious mind and break out of the mundane that Wilson was so scathing of.
Overseas and An Unlikely ally
In compiling this article I did come across some of Wilson’s work translated into Arabic, which made me curious – a friend of Wilson’s John Morgan wrote on his passing:
“Something that is not very well-known about Colin, however, is that his books are extremely popular in the Middle East, and many of them have been translated into Arabic and Farsi (although he once mentioned to me that he profited little from this popularity, as most of the books were pirated editions). In 1973, he was invited to Beirut, where he was met at the airport by the mayor of the city on a red carpet. On the same trip he was invited by some Palestinian guerrillas to visit one of their camps. The experience made him very sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, and he wrote an essay in favour of them at the time. He also related to me that on this same trip, he went to Damascus, where he was met by the then War Minister, General Tlas, who regaled him with a story from when he and his comrades had been imprisoned by the previous regime. They had read Colin’s novel Ritual in the Dark by tearing the pages out of a copy and passing them from one to the other as they read. As a token of thanks, he presented Colin and Joy with Arab robes and a bronze plaque. Colin was also invited to Iran at the behest of the government in the 1970s, but he said the plan fell through after the Shah was overthrown.
The most interesting connection, however, is between Colin and Colonel Gaddafi. Gaddafi made frequent complimentary references both to Colin and to The Outsider throughout his reign. (I remember seeing a transcript of a speech he had given in the 1990s in which he chided the Clinton White House for inviting Salman Rushdie there, but not Colin Wilson.) Colin told me that he had been asked by the Libyan embassy to make a visit to the country at the government’s behest, but that he had declined out of fear that such a visit would have made it seem as though he were endorsing Gaddafi’s politics.”
So are we to conclude from this that Wilson was somewhat bizarrely an influence on Middle Eastern Politics?
A Personal View
I used to visit a lot of old bookstores pre-internet( Trying to track down Wilson’s more obscure works pre-digital age could as other fans can tell you could be a bit of a nightmare) looking for one that carried Wilson’s novels, there was always a sense of delight and when I’d see well read, spine worn copies of his work inhabiting a shelf or sometimes having their own section. I always unconsciously thought it was always a symbol of a good book store if they carried certain Wilson tomes.
I think what’s admirable to me in Wilson’s powerhouse writing style is the quintessential Englishness of it all despite the subject matter bordering what would be classed as beyond the pale for the majority of conservative England.Wilson frequently appeared on TV and Radio as the acceptable face of the unexplained, mysterious and irrational .The British demeanour of Colin Wilson though is not one of stiff upper lips and bowler hats and Mr Kipling cakes served as refreshments on bowling greens , but the one that HG Wells, Mary Somerville ,William Morris ,Delia Derbyshire ,Francis Crick and James Watson inhabited – pursuing through their curiosity unusual lines of enquiry to their forgone conclusions and the willingness to explore uncharted territories in order to gain important knowledge. Such individuals compromise what I’d like to call the true England.
Wilson’s legacy is one that hints at worlds that are freely available for us to explore providing we have the determination and discipline. And as we explore the frontiers of science and set our sights on the colonisation of space,our consciousness itself is the one area still yet to be fully explored. Although his methods and musings were sometimes maybe questionable, his spirit and enthusiasm was faultless.
Wilson also expressed that his Spider World series of novels should be embraced and re-appraised by the next generation as worthy as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings , and maybe as a tribute to him we should perhaps endeavour to make that a reality.
Wilson in Popular Culture
From dance culture to movies and beyond, Wilson’s influence and mark is undeniable.His influence reaches out in many areas of popular culture and what may come as a surprise to some is that Mark E. Smith of the fall is an avid reader of Wilson’s work.
Wilson also himself interestingly dabbled in music,he collaborated with the seminal cult British avant garde group In the Nursery on the 1994 ‘Anatomy of a poet’ where as the title suggests Wilson added his prose to the proceedings.
The inspirer of many movies such as the underrated delirium of Tobe Hooper’s ‘Lifeforce’ (1986) based itself on Wilson’s ‘The space Vampires’ (Wilson unsurprisingly loathed the adaptation with a passion), also the 1990 b-movie ‘The Rift’ cites being based on Colin Wilson’s ‘The Mind Parasites’ in its opening credits.
You might also be surprised that Wilson was one of the writers on the bizarro Max Headroom 80’s cyberpunk movie ‘Blipverts and Rakers’….
Wilson’s spirit is something we need more than ever in an age of banality, we need the sense of adventure and enthusiasm Wilson had for the unknown to pierce the veil of the banality that usurps us now in politics and the mainstream media. For those wishing to push beyond the day to day mundane world, Wilson’s work is an excellent introduction to certain ideas and concepts within the fields of alternative psychology and non-linear thinking.
Now go on, get your children Spider World for Christmas…
For more info on Wilson: http://www.colinwilsonworld.co.uk/Pages/default.aspx
Ritual in the Dark (1960)
Adrift in Soho (1961)
The World of Violence (1963)
The Mind Parasites (1967)
Spider World: The Tower (1987)
Spider World: The Delta (1987)
The Magician from Siberia (1988)
Spider World: The Magician (1992)
The Tomb of the Old Ones ( 2002)
Spider World: Shadowlands (2002)
The Outsider (1956)
Rasputin and the Fall of the Romanovs (1964)
Introduction to the New Existentialism (1966)
The Occult: A History (1971)
Order of Assassins: The Psychology of Murder (1972)
Wilhelm Reich (1974)
The War Against Sleep: The Philosophy of Gurdjieff (1980)
Lord of the Underworld: Jung and the Twentieth Century (1984)
Aleister Crowley: The Nature of the Beast (1987)
Beyond the Occult (1988)
The Strange Life of P.D. Ouspensky (1993)
Super Consciousness (2009)
Colin Wilson talk at City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco, 1987.
Tags: Colin WIlson, consciousness, in the nursery, influence, mark e smith, Philosophy, popular culture, tribute