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Faculty X

“In short, our chief limitation lies in our assumption that our narrow, tightly-harnessed consciousness is normal and natural, whereas it is in fact highly abnormal and highly unnatural.” (Beyond the Occult p.29)

Although The Occult was published in 1971 to a receptive response, many hostile critics have seen Wilson’s ‘paranormal phase‘ – he wrote quite a lot about this subject in the Seventies and Eighties – as an eccentric exercise in gullibility. Even worse, they say, he blotted his copybook by writing such stuff instead of books on philosophy and literature. Apart from the fact that The Outsider has a section on Gurdjieff, and Religion and the Rebel investigates Boehme and Swedenborg, and that both the biography of Rasputin, and Poetry and Mysticism were written previously, this misses the point completely. Faced with books about spoon bender Uri Geller, even the postmodern attitude that is supposed to have transcended boundaries of ‘high and low culture’ stops short and reveals telling limitations. But as Wilson explains in Access to Inner Worlds, “the right brain is no cultural snob” and there should be no limits to the investigations of human consciousness. “There is no reason why we should not take our clues wherever we can find them – in Lethbridge, Jung, Janet, Gurdjieff, alchemy, astrology, even ritual magic.” (Mysteries p.204)
The Occult concludes: “I do not regard myself as an ‘occultist’ because I am more interested in the mechanisms of everyday consciousness. In the past, man’s chief characteristic has been his ‘defeat-proneness’; even the giants of the nineteenth century were inclined to believe that insanity is a valid refuge from ‘the triviality of everydayness’. But the answer lies in understanding the mechanisms. Once they are understood, they can altered to admit more reality.”
Jean Baudrillard made a big showbiz name for himself by following Bishop Berkeley and denying that reality even exists: Wilson is having none of it. On page 47 he writes that “anybody who has read modern philosophy will understand what I mean: it has become narrow, rigid, logical; and it attempts to make up for lack of broader intuitions with a microscopic attention to detail.” This is probably more relevant now than then. In a chapter cut from his study of charlatan messiahs, Wilson comments on Roland Barthes’ S/Z, a “dazzling display of critical pyrotechnics”, which is a vast sentence by sentence deconstruction of a Balzac short story. He maintains that it is an example of philosophical myopia, itself a symptom of the dead author’s “romantic fatalism”. Postmodernist “incredulity towards metanarratives” is a method of fleeing from broader intuitions and hiding in a pose of whimsical empiricist obscurantism. “And just as Foucault’s anomalous eroticism leads him to create a mask of abstraction, so Barthes’ depressive romanticism leads him to seek some kind of foothold in dissection and analysis.” (Below the Iceberg p.103). It was in The Occult that Wilson defined philosophy as “the pursuit of reality through intuition aided by intellect” and through this insight developed one of the most important, and as yet unnoticed, aesthetic revelations of recent times. W.B. Yeats described it with these lines from The Shadowy Waters:

What the world’s million lips are thirsting for 
Must be substantial somewhere.

The Occult was unusual – even during the massive interest in such subjects at the time – in that it was one of the few popular books that looked at pre-rational perception from a firm philosophical ground. Using the phenomenological method to attack such perceptual riddles as precognition, reincarnation, out of the body experiences and so on, Wilson illuminates the ‘dark side of the moon’. He takes the existence of such states as a given due to the sheer mass of evidence, and as a contrast to the ‘triviality of everydayness.’ However, he sees these as mere glimpses of much more powerful form of consciousness, “the key to all poetic and mystical experience” which he names Faculty X.
Faculty X is the name for a state of affirmation / inspiration which Wilson finds well documented in literature, in poetry, also by scientists and philosophers, and in the weird knowledge and bizarre anecdotes which litter his ‘occult trilogy’ – The Occult, Mysteries, and Beyond the Occult, as well as many supplementary texts. “Faculty X is a sense of reality, the reality of other times and places…time is an illusion, so is my sense of being uniquely here, now, ‘I am not here; neither am I elsewhere’ says Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita.” (The Occult, p. 59). This pun describes the idea perfectly; it is as if you are in two places simultaneously. This has been well documented in literature, by Proust in Swann’s Way, by Hesse in Steppenwolf, by Dr.Johnson in Rasselas, by Huysmans in A Rebours, and in Strindberg’s Inferno. Marshall McLuhan described this new space [with reference to Rabelais and Pascal, (and unwittingly, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra and Crowley's April fool Liber AL) as :

A PERFECT SPHERE WHOSE CENTRE IS EVERYWHERE YET WHOSE CIRCUMFERENCE IS NOWHERE

Mcluhan called this “acoustic space.” He notes that “poets have long used the word as incantation, evoking the visual image by magical acoustic stress. Preliterate man was conscious of this power of the auditory to make present the absent thing.” T.S. Eliot dubbed it the 'auditory imagination', and described it thus - "the feeling for syllable and rhythm, penetrating far below the conscious levels of thought and feeling, invigorating every word; sinking to the most primitive and forgotten, returning to an origin and bringing something back . . . fusing the most ancient and civilized mentalities."
This is a kind of reversed perspective, reversion of the senses being the aesthetic of Proust, Huysmans and Rimbaud. If the synthesis was lost on bewildered rationalists, unholier than thou occultists now have something of a tendency to see The Occult and it’s sister works as mere cut n’ paste journalism. This is not so. [1]

Finding most philosophers repelled by the idea of intentionality (c.f. the seven volumes of his Outsider Cycle, appendices such as Anti-Sartre, Below the Iceberg, etc.) he finds it in non-academic disciplines, such as mysticism. In The Occult, he makes an important comparison between intentionality and Aleister Crowley’s true will or genius, what Blake calls the ‘poetic genius’ and Husserl the transcendental ego. Wilson would later quote ‘The Beast’ as saying: “Every man and woman is a star. You, being a man, are therefore a star. The soul of a star is what we call genius. You are a genius. This fact is obscured either by moral complexities which enmesh it, or lack of adequate machinery to express it…” (The Nature of the Beast, p.166). In spite of his well documented and undeniable personality faults and social retardation, in spite of the fact that he was a ”charlatan messiah”, Crowley went straight to the heart of the matter, perhaps even more so than Husserl himself, and Wilson was the first to notice it. “’Do what thou wilt’ is more than a restatement of Rabelais’s motto; it represents a major philosophical affirmation.” (ibid. p. 165).
In Magick in Theory and Practice, Crowley notes that “every intentional act is a Magical Act.” By this he means any activity that causes change to occur via the will: his ‘Magick’ is actually metaphorical but most have taken it literally, with predictable results. Wilson writes that the ”notion of a ‘direct’ solution has persisted throughout the history of magic and mysticism, and it explains the emphasis that has been placed on memory and imagination.”Proust’s ‘temps perdu’ was such a method: “…as we read him, we have a feeling that he was on the right track, and that a complicated magical ritual would not have brought him closer to his goal, any more than it brought Mathers or Crowley or Dion Fortune to theirs.” (Mysteries, pp.261/2.) Instead of a decaying set of rehearsals and cyphers which have to be maintained by custodians, Wilson sees the occult as a part of a creative process, making connections between intentionality and imagination, imagination coming from the word image, mage or magician, and playing a large part in the visualization exercises of the Golden Dawn. Wilson sees the imagination at the heart of all ‘magick’ rather than the usual cliche of a pseudo-religious pose, and the modern magical revival supports such an assertion. The godfather of modern ‘Chaos Magick’, Austin Osman Spare, had a technique of “deliberate forgetfulness” that was very similar to this: “Wordsworth told De Quincey that his moments of poetic delight came when he had been concentrating on something other than poetry, and suddenly allowing his mind to relax. This happened when he had been kneeling over with his ear to the ground, to listen for the rumbling of the mail cart from Keswick. As he straightened up and relaxed, he saw a star overhead that suddenly struck him as extremely beautiful.” (Poetry & Mysticism, p 58, City Lights ed. 1969.)

The irrationality of a thing is no argument against it’s existence, rather a condition of it- Nietzsche

In Mysteries, Wilson notes how the ‘art of memory’ dated from ancient times and survived into the age of Shakespeare. Today we suffer from what Heidegger calls ‘forgetfulness of existence’, a kind of amnesia towards our purpose and powers. In the trilogy, Wilson pioneers a strain of existential Thelema which welds the phenomenological method to the concept of imagination/visualization and places the occult in a creative tradition. He sees it as an important part of the great Romantic revolution which produced Byron, Shelley and Blake, and follows Blake in claiming the imagination as a method for changing reality. Through the trilogy and via Husserl’s intentionality he develops the concept of clenching or grasping the mind as if it were a hand picking up an object, a kind of mental tactility. But it was there from the start: “Behind man lies the abyss, nothingness; the Outsider knows this; it is his business to sink claws of iron into life, to build, to Will, in spite of of the abyss.” (The Outsider p.181). This primal perception is the foundation of all poetic and mystical experience.
Wilson points to the puzzling monuments of antiquity in his recent work and attempts to understand the psychology of the people who made such civilizations. Influenced by the work of Julian Jaynes, he sees them as lacking in individual ego but possessing a powerful group mind, like a flock of birds or a school of fish. There is a rather disturbing description of this ‘atavistic consciousness’ in Atlantis and the Kingdom of the Neanderthals. When studying the Jivaro (sic.) in 1956, the anthropologist Michael Harner drank a potion called ayahuasca and began to see visions; geometric patterns transforming into bird headed humans as seen in Egyptian tomb paintings. After a while he was “shown the Earth as it was aeons ago, with a barren sea and land. Then he saw hundreds of black specks in the sky, flying towards him. They were shiny black creatures with pterodactyl wings and whalelike bodies. As they flopped exhausted onto the earth” they telepathically communicated that “they were fleeing from something in space.” (p. xiv). These “ancient ones” claimed that they had created life, and could hide amongst it’s many forms, like DNA spirals. Terrified, Harner managed to request an antidote, and the vision disappeared. It is not difficult to see similarities between his experience and the nightmare creatures of H.P. Lovecraft, who also seemed to be prone to what Austin Osman Spare called atavistic resurgence…
This ‘group mind’ of Jung’s ‘collective unconscious’ still exists – Wilson quotes a description of a crowd playing a computer game together as an example – but it has been ‘written over’ by the rational left brain which, whilst it gives us individuality also traps us in perceptual prison of time, repeatability, and the illusion of a meaningless existence. In The Puppet and the Dwarf, Slavoj Žižek offers this insightful take on the finale of From Atlantis to the Sphinx and the bicameral problem:

“Here, however, Wilson’s book takes an unexpected turn: how will this synthesis occur? Wilson is intelligent enough to reject both predominant views: the directly premodern one, according to which the history of the ‘rationalist West’ was a mere aberration, and we should simply return to the old wisdom; as well as the pseudo-Hegelian notion of a “synthesis” that would somehow maintain the balance between the two spiritual principles, enabling us to keep the best of both worlds – that is, to regain the lost Unity while maintaining the achievements based on it’s loss (technical progress, individualist dynamics, etc.). Against both these versions, Wilson emphasizes that the next stage, overcoming the limitations of the Western rationalist/individualist stance, must somehow emerge from within this Western stance. Wilson locates it’s source in the force of imagination: the Western principle of self-consciousness and individuation also brought about a breathtaking rise in our imaginative capacity, and if we develop this capacity to it’s uttermost, it will lead to a new level of collective consciousness, of shared imagination. So the surprising conclusion is that the longed-for next step in human evolution, the next step beyond the alienation from nature and the Universe as a whole, “has already happened. It has been happening for the past 3, 500 years. Now all we have to do is recognise it” (the last sentence of the book).” [2]

Žižek concurs with Wilson by suggesting that “all we have to do to accomplish the move from In-itself to For-itself, that is, to change our perspective, and recognise how the longed-for reversal is already operative in what has been going on for a long time.” (ibid.) It has already happened. Now we just have to real-ise it.

Footnotes
[1] Wilson has much interest in Kenneth Grant (1924 – 2011), a cult figure who was originally seen as following in Crowley’s footsteps but was a significantly subtler writer (and poet). He described him as “one of the strangest and most interesting characters” when reviewing his Hecate’s Fountain (1992). Grant often describes such ideas using the letter X to refer to a crossing between rational and cosmic consciousness, or of a desert that is infinitely near and far – like Wilson’s L.H. Myers riff – and of perceiving “‘other’ times and ‘other’ spaces…” (Kenneth Grant, Outside the Circles of Time, Muller, 1980, p116). In Beyond the Mauve Zone (p. 29) he suggests use of “a faculty for which there is in the West no precise designation” a substratum of total Subjectivity which he likens to Lovecraft’s primal ‘Old Ones’ (c.f. Wilson’s The Mind Parasites – a copy of which which I sent to Mr Grant in 2010; he kindly sent me a gift back).
Grant’s work, including fiction and poetry is an incredibly underrated new aesthetic. He makes the homogeny of post-modern wash-outs look very lame indeed: “In the present, objects appear to be real things. But objects also appear to be real to the dreamer, when he is dreaming. Therefore, strictly speaking, waking and dreaming are indistinguishable from their own standpoint. This is so because our presence illumines every moment of time. Furthermore, our presence requires time and space for it’s appearance, for to be present we must be extended in both these categories. But as there is no past or future – for we are conscious only of a seeming present – there is no present either. There is only now, and an awareness of ourselves which we experience as presence. But who or what is present? The answer to this question cannot refer to any ‘thing’, or object, for ‘I’ am, always, and can only be non-objective, i.e. I am total subjectivity.” (Kenneth Grant, Beyond the Mauve Zone, p. 3, Starfire, 1999). So, rather than ‘presence over absence’, Grant opines an absolute absence of absence: “…the ultimate horror of Absolute Absence. This ‘other universe’ that we cannot know – for we are it, in a sense too intimate to fathom…” (Nightside of Eden p. 142, Muller, 1977). And again; “For it is that void which is the Negative on which all Positivity is based… the absence of the absence both of subject and object, and therefore inexpressible.” (Hecate’s Fountain, p. 216, Skoob, 1992) Inexpressible yes – C.W. would concur – but not “impossible”. Grant even opines a state of post-linguistic consciousness. “At present, man is a separate, isolated unit; he requires speech, etc. to communicate with others like himself. When Solar Consciousness” (i.e. the union of subject and object, or the left and right brain, or the “near and the far” of Wilson’s Faculty X) “is fully established, Silence will take the place of speech. Not the absence of noise as we know as silence, but a positive vibrant menstuum of direct intuitive understanding.” (The Magical Revival, p. 20). This is the possibility of a truly new perception so well sketched out by the likes of Nietzsche, Wilson, Philip K. Dick, Lovecraft, Mcluhan, Grant (and his Master) etc, and so poorly served by androids like La Mettrie and his descendants – Sartre, Derrida, Foucault, Barthes, Baudrillard et al.
Grant’s writings – especially those extraordinary and near impossible to find Typhonian Trilogies – are a much more “lethal” (as C.W. described volume five) aesthetic potion than Baudrillard’s attempts to understand the nature of the double; “Superstitions connected with twins, doubles, and simulacra date from remote antiquity… (the) etymological meaning of the word “devil” will enable us to recover it’s primal significance. The devil, diable, or dual one, was the double, or twin (cf. doppleganger) of the earliest phases of mythology.” (The Magical Revival, p. 53, Muller, 1972) Through these books, Grant developed a phenomenology of double consciousness identical to Wilson’s. That they are attacking the problem from different angles is cause for celebration.

[2] Slavoj Žižek, The Puppet and the Dwarf, The MIT Press, 2003, p. 85. It’s an amusing indicator of Wilson’s reputation that Zizek appears surprised to find such knowledge in “one in the endless series of New Age airport pocketbook variations”. But Wilson’s work is bursting with such surprises.
Further reading:

The ‘Occult Trilogy’:
The Occult. (Hodder & Stoughton, 1971, Mayflower, 1973, Watkins Publishing, 2003)
Mysteries. (Hodder & Stoughton, 1978, Granada, 1979, Watkins Publishing, 2006)
Beyond The Occult. (Bantam, 1988, Corgi, 1989, Watkins Publishing, 2008)

Also:

Rasputin & the Fall of the Romanovs. (Arthur Barker, 1964, Panther, 1966, 1977)
Poetry and Mysticism. (City Lights, 1969; expanded: Hutchinson, 1970, City Lights, 1986)
Strange Powers. (Latimer New Directions, 1970, Abacus, 1975)
The War Against Sleep. (Aquarian, 1980, Aeon Books, 2005, Kindle Book from Amazon)
Poltergeist! (NEL, 1981)
Witches. (Dragon’s world/Paper Tiger, 1981)
The Quest for Wilhelm Reich. (Granada, 1981, Granada, 1982)
The Psychic Detectives. (Pan, 1984)
Rudolf Steiner: The Man and his Vision. (Aquarian, 1985, Aeon Books, 2005)
Afterlife. (Harrap, 1985, Grafton, 1987; expanded ed. Caxton Editions, 2000)
The Nature of the Beast. (Aquarian, 1987, Aeon Books, 2005)
The Encyclopedia of Unsolved Mysteries. (Harrap, 1987)
Unsolved Mysteries: Past & Present. (Headline, 1993)
The Strange Life of P.D. Ouspensky. (Aquarian, 1993, Aeon books, 2005, Kindle Book)
From Atlantis to the Sphinx. (Virgin Books, 1996, revised ed. 2007)
The Atlantis Blueprint. [With Rand Flem-Ath] (Little, Brown & Co. 2000)

Discussion

3 thoughts on “Faculty X

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