This is the debut of what will be a long series of Wilson quotes illustrated by some retro cover art from my comprehensive library. First editions will be mined, beautifully trashy paperbacks, old newsprint and xeroxes will be reanimated. My intention is to unearth forgotten licks amongst the usual Wilson riffs – so there’ll be no Marcel ceasing to feel mediocre, accidental or mortal, no bubbles bursting over Steppenwolf and no Sheepwash. They are in heavy rotation. But do you remember this golden oldie? Slap bang in the middle of lots of terrible psychopaths, we get a deconstruction of Frydor Dostoevsky’s treatment of “the pale criminal”. Wilson sees a non PC analogy with Julian and Sandy…
“An atmosphere of triviality and hysteria pervades even his greatest work, something essentially petty, like two homosexuals having an argument. It can be seen in the prose style; characters never walk around to see someone: they run around. They trot, they rush, they exclaim. They are fond of shouting ‘What nonsense’ and ‘Would you believe it?’ Gogol’s Government Inspector has two fat little squires called Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky, and one gets the feeling that they are just around the corner in all Dostoyevsky’s novels. Only in his greatest scenes does Dostoyevsky succeed in purging his prose of this incongruous touch of Enid Blyton which sprang out of a lack of self- assurance. And this in turn sprang out self-division, acceptance of his own weakness. So the great criminals in Dostoyevsky, the ‘ruthless men’, are exercises in compensatory imagination – as Sade’s criminals are. Dostoyevsky likes to portray them as ruthless men, but basically they are weak.
“Once this has been recognised, we become aware that Dostoyevsky also understood the ‘magical’ psychology of ‘the violent man’. At first sight, Raymond Morris, Arthur Hosein, Ian Brady, seem to have little in common with Svidrigailov and Stavrogin, that is because Dostoyevsky has tried to suppress the element of weakness and laziness in his villains. When this is taken into account, Stavrogin suddenly looks more like Morris or Brady.”
From Order of Assassins, p. 171 – 172 of the first UK paperback ed. Panther books 1975, with the generic CW “logo” and cover pic by Denis Rolfe. Featuring caps lock blurb on the garish back cover – “PARTICULAR INDIVIDUALS OF HIGH CREATIVE POTENTIAL ARE THWARTED IN THEIR NATURAL DRIVES AND AMBITIONS AND ARE FORCED TO TREAD THE DEADLY PATH OF THE HOMICIDE”. Verdict? The Evening Standard said – “I can think of no other writer who relates a case history so lucidly…Colin Wilson puts the Manson murders in coldly sharp perspective.” Printed on the cheapest paper, glancing at the back pages reveals something of a golden age of pulp modernism: other CW texts are available amongst Lovecraft, Philip K Dick, Asimov and Clark Ashton Smith masterpieces – and all at about 30p each. To put this book into cultural perspective, it originally came out the same year as ex-Fug Ed Sanders’ The Family (and shared a publisher – Hart-Davis; Sanders’ book was also reissued by Panther). Neil Young would release his On the Beach album with a track about Manson (whom he’d met previously – Wilson speaks about the record biz connection in this book) in 1974. The use of Manson’s image in rock n’ roll shock tactics by pioneering Industrial groups such as Throbbing Gristle – Wilson fans, to a degree – and it’s eventual absorption into the mainstream with Marilyn Manson and his goth simulacrums was quite a way off. This was still genuinely shocking reading.
Something I’ve noticed in the decades I’ve been reading Wilson is how his vital insights can become buried amongst storms of information. For my teenage mind – fundamentally Locke’s tabula rasa – coming to his books with no preparation, the first point of my focus was the sheer mass of stuff he was presenting. Confronted by endless tales of Outsiders and misfits amongst respected figures in history, the first thing I wanted was to learn more about most of them. This naive reading perhaps explains why flakey reviewers tagged him as a cut ‘n paste machine. Secondly, his attitude enthralled me – and it continues to do so – a proverbial blast of Will to Power in the bleak 1980’s. But I’ve noticed, thirdly, on re (and occasionally re-re) reading his texts, gems such as the one above glinting through the familiar case histories and anecdotes. Wilson can’t be blamed for repeating himself, but before we criticise him for playing the same tunes, take a closer look at his best work. Gurdjieff suggested readers go through his Beelzebub three times. I’ve managed two so far. But I’ve noticed very interesting things peeking out of Wilson’s oeuvre on my third readings.
* The number refers to the place of the book (A34) and it’s particular version (c.) in Colin Stanley’s monumental Wilson bibliography. The definitive, final edition (or editions – it could be two volumes) will be with us this year.