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Colin Wilson
19-09-2020, 09:18 PM
Post: #1
Colin Wilson
“Good writers have two things in common; they prefer to be understood rather than admired; and they do not write for knowing and over-acute readers.” [Nietzsche, Human, all too Human, 1886].

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Judged by Nietzsche’s criteria, Colin Wilson is a good writer. In his native Britain the mainstream critical reaction after his initial success there was that his primary motivation was to be “admired” and nothing more. An objective reading of his work will demonstrate this to be quite untrue, but as Wilson’s oeuvre is vast and sometimes difficult to locate, this type of objectivity cannot be realised without some long term effort and a little cultural de-conditioning.
Any reader of Wilson who is unburdened with either academic specialism or an obsession with yesterday’s papers is able to engage directly with his ideas. As Wilson’s work is concerned with the problems of prejudice within consciousness, the tradition of missing the point critically is a revealing one. From The Outsider onwards, far too much of the English speaking media has concentrated on his brief fame – and subsequent lack of it – at the expense of engaging with his highly intriguing mix of philosophy, fiction and criticism. In the long term, this will be regrettable; future readers will find it curious that hardly any commentators bothered to grapple with his ideas. Ultimately this a is reflection of our “age of defeat” with which Wilson was so concerned.
Ironically, one reason for Wilson’s neglect is his sheer stylistic accessibility: there is no ‘code’ to translate, and there is a presumption that such easy access must lack depth. However, anyone familiar with Wilson’s philosophical influences – Husserl and Whitehead – will realise the deep ‘phenomenological’ thread running though virtually all of his writing. His body of work remains a sharp analysis of unquestioned prejudices in philosophy and literature. Such as the assumption – you could even call it a tradition – that pessimismic states are more ‘intellectual’ than optimistic insights because they are reported with greater frequency and discussed with a serious analysis. These states were of course analysed in The Outsider and it’s sequels but Wilson really took this examination of life devaluation to it’s ‘logical’ extreme in his controversial criminological work. Wilson’s method was an attempt to reverse this obsessive trend towards negation and meticulously dissect and document moments of affirmation in all areas of experience, in literature, philosophy, poetry and personal anecdote without prejudice or snobbery. As Alfred North Whitehead said: “Familiar things happen and mankind does not bother about them. It takes a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious.”
Perhaps the somewhat dismissive critical tone Wilson usually (but not always, it must be remembered) encountered had less to do with his working class roots and his autodidactic learning curve, his ‘everyman’ writing style, or even his brief flirtation with celebrity. None of these things are as surprising as they were in 1956. The repetive format of ad hominem attacks that plagued Wilson’s career in his homeland were essentially motivated by his inability to “know his place” – for continuing to write after bad reviews of his second book, for working out radical philosophical strategies outside of academia, and worse than that, presenting these in such a lucid fashion that anyone could understand them. Because of the latter factor, Wilson was in fact, a very popular writer (he was allegedly one of the most borrowed authors in the British public library system.) Mainstream critics were uninterested in his interpretations of Husserl and his philosophical method; the word ‘phenomenology’ rarely appears in such interviews and opinion pieces. A British newspaper even once ran an interview with Wilson which attempted to avoid talking about his phenomenological existentialism “at all costs”. In The Treason of the Intellectuals section of Beyond the Outsider he notes how thinkers who propose solutions to problems are usually condemned as shallow. “Such men are never popular with their ‘intellectual peers’, since their very existence is an implied reproach.” Wilson himself falls into this category.

ler, 1962Twayne 1975Borgo Press, 1979
Despite the snubs from the press and the academy, Wilson has a dedicated and unusual fan base. Groucho Marx was an admirer: “Gollancz sent me a copy of his autobiography…he told me that Groucho had ordered him to send copies to three people in England only: Winston Churchill, Somerset Maugham and Colin Wilson. Naturally I was flattered.” Philip Pullman, the author of the important His Dark Materials trilogy, told the BBC that “Wilson has written very interestingly on David Lindsay and I am grateful to him for making me aware not only of Lindsay, but several other people it would have taken me a lot longer to find otherwise”. Mark E. Smith credits him as an influence on his seminal underground band: “if you know what Wilson does… he’ll write a science fiction book but it’s not really about science fiction… which I think is amazing. Or he’ll write a detective novel [Necessary Doubt, 1964] and tell you who the murderer is on the second page, you know, and then just go off to describe his own theories all the way through the book (chuckling) …it’s very similar to what The Fall do.” And indeed it is. He is said to be a cult hero in the Middle East, read in English and Arabic translation (bizarrely, Colonel Gaddafi was such a avid reader of Wilson’s debut that he wanted to meet the author.) According to the Times Literary Supplement, he was “among the most discussed English authors in Moscow” [his ‘lost’ vampire novel has only been published in Russian], and he has admitted he makes most of his money from Japan where they print literally everything he writes.

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