Howard F. Dossor – an appreciation

Howard F. Dossor, who died last month, was the author of the pioneering book Colin Wilson: the Man and his Mind, published in 1990. I bought it that year after having only read a handful of Wilson titles previously. I was unaware of both the author and this study, but plonked down ten quid on the Waterstones counter as soon as I saw it. Before reading this book my overall knowledge of Wilson was limited to what I’d seen on the blurbs of a few of his paperbacks. Mr. Dossor’s book changed all that, giving me for the first time a bird’s eye view of Wilson’s overall intentions. This was utterly invaluable; without it, I’d have struggled to see the full picture of Wilson’s ‘existential jigsaw puzzle’. To give one negative example, I was then still unaware of the critical stand off between Colin and the literary mainstream, presuming rather naively that he was as respected by them as he was by me. Not so! Chapter 9 of The Man and his Mind deals with the critical response which took me by surprise at first. Why don’t they like these books which I find so exciting and informative? Am I wrong in feeling so strongly about Wilson’s ideas when the broadsheets dismiss him with comic offhandedness, I wondered. In the long term – of course not! But with Dossor’s map the journey could begin properly. It’s certainly amusing to look at the Wilson bibliography in Howard’s book in 2022. Back in 1990 I was determined to find all those other titles – all eighty-odd of them, up to Existentially Speaking (1989). My copy of the Paupers Press Wilson bibliography lists another hundred titles, and it only covers up to 2015… 

Dossor modestly described his book as a “stop-gap” but it was so much more than that. The gathering together of much obscure information between two covers made it an indispensable guide for many years. I’m as glad that I thanked him for it (via email; his response was as courteous as I’d expected) as much as I’m grateful to have made a few ‘pilgrimages’ to Wilson’s house in Cornwall. “It seems most likely that critics analysing [Wilson’s] work in the middle of the twenty-first century, will be puzzled that his contemporaries paid such inadequate attention to him” writes Dossor at the end of his book. “But it is not merely for their sake that he should be examined”. And it isn’t. In our twenty-first century environment of divisive technological distraction and blandly orthodox ‘life failure’, of spiritual laziness and boring dogmatism, Wilson’s vigorous phenomenological existentialism remains a gift for individuals strong enough to swim against the current, to live out this lived philosophy. It certainly worked wonders for me. 

And it still does. 

So thanks again, Howard. 

Farewell also to Laura del-Rivo, Wilson’s beatnik muse, and to Thomas F. Bertonneau – a delightfully open mind from a world of closed academia. RIP both. 

With thanks to George C. Poulos for the email notification yesterday. 

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