X marks the treasure. A Colin Wilson appreciation – part one.

He changed my life. No irony, he really did. And I’d like to show my gratitude.
When I read that Colin Wilson told Iris Murdoch that he wanted to live until he was 300, I seriously imagined that he would. Every year, a CW book or two (or more) would appear without fail, usually in the same minimalist paperback cover from Grafton. There was also his vast back catalogue to find. Far too much for my teenage purse to obtain, yet I found it all, eventually. There was also an impossible yet complete necessity to read everything he discussed – yes, all of it, because everything he described sounded completely fucking amazing. I’m still working in that one. Now it feels very strange to know that the only writings I’ll be reading by him will be posthumous. The obvious fact that a serious illness left him unable to write for the past year has still not prepared me for this feeling. Neither has the appearance of several “lost” essays and articles, some decades old, instead of any brand new CW product.
Not only is it hard to comprehend to that Colin isn’t with us any more, it’s disappointing to me that I’ll never know his opinion on say, a contemporary criminal case, no longer wonder at some obscure theory or author he’s distributing.
I simply cannot possibly underestimate the influence he has had on me. Without him, I’d never have felt confident tackling padlocked literary citadels such as Ulysses, Time Regained and The Man without Qualities; yet he made it seem not only easy, but actually exciting. Can we say the same for That Dreadful Terry Eagleton? I’d never be attempting Husserl. Never. Ever. How could I? To make Phenomenology and the Crisis of the European Sciences seem as necessary, as vital as, oh, Anarchy in the UK blew my youthful mind. And the list of discoveries via CW goes on and on, from the ivory tower to the gutter. That for me was one of his best aspects originally, enabling complete access to recondite knowledge. In pre-information superhighway days this was unbelievably liberating for a council estate Proletariat such as myself. Class, of course, was one reason why Wilson wasn’t appreciated by academia; who needs a Bourgeois middleman when you can have easy access to the source, from one plain speaking autodidact to another? Another extraordinary aspect was his tone. It was as direct and enthralling as the Rock n’ Roll I loved, and as intrinsically meaningful as the ‘high culture’ which I was told I couldn’t understand. With a pellucid prose style ringing out as loud as Faust’s Easter bells – it was never “prairie flat”- narrating life affirming patter like a phenomenological cab driver, well, this obliterated my adolescent angst and confusion. And not a moment too soon. Without his honest guidance I’d be much less happy and intellectually frustrated. And I’m very satisfied that I made the difficult journey to Gorran Haven to tell him this. Not once, but twice. I wish there had been more.
So far, so good. Just the above reasons would be enough for me to celebrate CW. But twenty five years later, I’m still finding amazing angles in his work that escaped me the first few times around. Whenever I read about a terrible crime in the news, for instance, I’m never depressed or angry; I can analyse with a cool head, as learned from CW. His writings have strong utility value, and will continue to do so for a long, long time.
Philip K. Dick, by his own admission, a “fictionalising philosopher” rather than a mere SF hack, was ignored for most of his life. Scratching out a meagre existence, like Lovecraft before him, by writing pulp for pennies. Yet PKD’s ‘pre-cog’ oeuvre so accurately describes the world we live in now, you could call it a documentary. Several decades too early, but still uncannily accurate. His time has come, however belatedly. Colin once said with regard to the perception of his own work that “the times are out of joint”- quoting The Bard and unconsciously paraphrasing PKD himself. I certainly think so, but perhaps not as out of sync as that. I have noticed a few recent plagiaristic pointers to CW’s originality; for one, Graham Harman’s juxtaposition of Lovecraft and Husserl has been described as “surprising”, for instance, but only if you’ve not read The Mind Parasites or The New Existentialism. There are others, like the cognitive scientist Steven Pinker’s book on the history of violence, the same argument backed up with endless graphs demonstrating The Science, but years after Order of Assassins and A Criminal History of Mankind. Much more importantly, Colin’s phenomenological technique, which he ironically labelled “Faculty X” is the next step. It’s a new aesthetic. I can see it everywhere. You want it, we all want it. Why settle for less? (Descriptions and analysis will be forthcoming, right here, in 2014).
So let’s delete the critics’ android cut ‘n paste –

Outsider – Hampstead Heath – “Scrambled Egghead” = Cornwall/potboilers @ crime/occult

which attempted to obscure the usefulness of his actual ideas (that half century project seems to have failed, judging by warm responses to his passing). It’s now time to celebrate and use his remarkably original work.
Thank you, Colin.

PS. It’s no accident that I discovered CW via the music press; I’d like to say thanks to former Sounds scribe Sandy Robertson (who later wrote a book about Crowley with a CW introduction – copies still available!) for namedropping the man in articles and doing a three page spread on CW for Sounds circa 1983. Colin’s style doubtless appealed to everybody from The Silver Beatles to Bowie, from Peter Hammill to Throbbing Gristle, The Fall and Julian Cope and to R’n R fans like myself because of its accessibility, it’s directness, and it’s optimistically endless possibilities.


6 thoughts on “X marks the treasure. A Colin Wilson appreciation – part one.

  1. sandy robertson

    Thanks for the plug, Phli! As I hurtle (crawl?) toward my 61st birthday I’m honoured to be mentioned in the same breath as CW. I simply can’t believe he’s gone although we knew it was probably inevitable after his stroke. Now they’re remaking Lifeforce/Space Vampires as a tv series, the long cut of the original film is on blu ray…and maybe the sequel to SV will be finally issued in English. As you know, it is only out in Russian. Odd that other lands take CW seriously while the UK sniggers about ‘cut and paste man’ just because (like Machen) he had to write a lot of work in order to survive financially – but even in cheap and cheerful paperbacks that recycle his more serious works on crime and the paranormal, Colin never shortchanges the reader or treats him/her like an idiot. The Colin Wilson revival starts here.


  2. Thanks, I enjoyed that. I admit I haven’t read much of his criminology writing, but like you I have been impressed with his work, his enthusiasm in grappling with ideas, the vigour and enjoyment he conveys. I also think he deals with really important ideas, he turned me onto other writers and gave me interesting perspectives on those I knew. I discovered John Cowper Powys through his book the Craft of the Novel which was an absolutely captivating book reflecting the change in human consciousness brought about by the novel. His work on the Occult, ancient history and UFOs was again muscular and to the point and also probably helped to cement him as beyond the pale of the literati. I’m hoping the world will catch up with him.

    Any idea if “Metamorphosis of the Vampire” is likely to see publication, When Colin died I re-read Dreaming to Some Purpose and what he said about this novel made it sound utterly fascinating.


    1. Thanks for your comment – I always enjoy seeing someone discovering a writer such as Powys through Colin’s work; I discovered so many through The Craft of the Novel alone.
      Regarding Metamorphosis of the Vampire, there’s a few publishing concerns who have expressed interest in presenting it in English. It most definitely deserves to be in print. We may be lucky this year so watch this space…


  3. ‘He changed my life.’ This is what distinguishes CW fans from others I think. I have an article in Litro Mag online which is a tribute but I don’t shy away from mentioning CW’s weaknesses.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s