A: The Outsider Cycle – seven volumes, 1956 – 1966.
The Outsider (1956), Religion and the Rebel (1957), The Age of Defeat (1959), The Strength to Dream: Literature and the Imagination (1962), Origins of the Sexual Impulse (1963), Beyond the Outsider: The Philosophy of the Future (1965), are the primary texts where Wilson developed his “phenomenological existentialism” a.k.a. the New Existentialism. The first six volumes were summarised in the seventh volume, Introduction to the New Existentialism (1966). This was reprinted in 1979 as The New Existentialism –
B: Fiction 1960 – 1967.
Ritual in the Dark (1960), Adrift in Soho (1961), The Man without a Shadow (The Sex Diary of Gerard Sorme, 1963), The World of Violence (1963), Necessary Doubt (1964), The Glass Cage (1966), The Mind Parasites (1967). All still extraordinary, and perhaps the best place to start (Five Leaves Press have reissued Adrift in Soho). Each novel more or less developed out of it’s non-fiction twin – for instance, The Mind Parasites, that semi-satirical swipe at Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, was invoked from an insight on p. 161 of The New Existentialism. A neo-Kantian philosophical ‘movement” known as Speculative Realism have recently welded Husserl and HPL, without mentioning Wilson’s innovations at all. (Amusingly, not only did his tongue in cheek introduction to The Necronomicon (1978) upset professional occultists, his Husserlian parodies of Lovecraft’s ‘curdled romanticism’ went over the heads of phenomenological lightweights such as S.T. Joshi and the Sartre simulacrum, Michel Houellebecq). Whereas Necessary Doubt and The Glass Cage – the latter written a few decades before Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon – are whodunnit’s involving the theories of Heidegger and Blake, The Man without a Shadow was ahead of it’s time by reviving the novel written as diary. Ritual in the Dark, mentioned on The Fall’s Hex Enduction Hour L.P. (where it lyrically rhymes with Norman Mailer’s Deer Park) is one of Wilson’s best novels.
C: Magic, Murder and Mysticism
The common critical line is that Wilson stopped being ‘serious’ when he dropped all the heavy European literature and philosophy references and compiled two large trilogies, one on true crime, the other on occultism. Needless to say, it’s a tiresome oversimplification. Despite the ‘sensationalist’ subjects these are still crammed with all the (un)usual reference points and philosophical enquiries from The Outsider onward. So, with the Encyclopaedia of Murder (co-authored with Pat Pitman, 1961), A Casebook of Murder (1969) and Order of Assassins (1972), we have his original “crime trilogy”. The Occult (1971), Mysteries (1978) and Beyond the Occult (1988) are inevitably the “occult trilogy”. Both trilogies have lots of satellite texts – from rarities such as The Unexplained (Lost Pleiade Press, 1975) to many cheap ‘n cheerful paperback cannibalisations of the trilogies’ narratives. Wilson regards Beyond the Occult as his best book, and I would suggest A Criminal History of Mankind (1984) as the best of his crime books – it is more disturbing (but still full of epiphanies) than any of the ‘irrational’ weirdness in the occult tomes. Poetry and Mysticism (1970) is a bridge between the Outsider books and The Occult.
D: Philosophy and Dirty Books
The ’60′s were a very prolific time for Wilson, partly out of necessity. Although he later said that it felt like he was working in a vacuum, this period is one of the most interesting and diverse sections of his entire bibliography, and includes some of his scarcest books. Sex and the Intelligent Teenager (Arrow,1966), for instance, was a kind of pulp Origins of the Sexual Impulse but written for acne-scarred beatniks. It has been reissued by Paupers’ Press, as have sections of the essay collection Eagle and Earwig (John Baker, 1965) in the Paupers’ compilation Existential Criticism: Selected Book Reviews (2009). Curios such as L’Amour (Crown, 1972), juxtaposed a page of soft porn vaseline lens snaps with a page of Wilson text. No sign of a reissue yet…
E: Literary criticism etc.
Voyage to a Beginning was originally published in 1969, a more thorough autobiography was published in 2005 (Dreaming to Some Purpose). His play Strindberg (orig. Calder & Boyars, 1970) was reissued by Paupers’ Press, as was a collection of previously unavailable dramatic works, The Death of God and Other Plays. Important books such as New Pathways in Psychology (1972, now available digitally from Amazon) and The Craft of the Novel welcomed him back to Gollancz. The latter book took some critical flak at the time (1975) for suggesting that Lord of the Rings would become more popular as the decades wore on. Wilson 1 – TLS critics 0. Small press stuff from this era such as ‘Tree’ by Tolkien and essays on Wilhelm Reich, Hermann Hesse, Jorge Luis Borges and the late Ken Russell are now rarities. A Book of Booze (again, Gollancz, 1974) was apparently written so the author could claim his wine as a business expense (!)
F: More Fiction, 70′s/80′s
The use of Bertholt Brecht’s A-Effekt can still be seen in the likes of porno-parody The God of the Labyrinth (Hart-Davis, 1970), but The Killer (orig. NEL, 1970; uncut version, Savoy, 2002), was more brutally real and documentary like. Nicholas Roeg wanted to direct this at the time, using a hand held camera “but couldn’t raise the cash” according to CW. I suppose we’ll have to make do with The Silence of the Lambs, also about a cross dressing serial killer being interrogated in a secure ward. The Black Room and the Inspector Saltleet mysteries were more accessible, as was The Personality Surgeon (NEL, 1985) – a Shavian tale of digital makeovers of the body/mind complex. Wilson has said that he would like to be remembered for his Spider World fantasy books above all. The Magician from Siberia, a novelisation of his earlier Rasputin and the Fall of the Romanovs is very rare in it’s original (Robert Hale, 1988) printing, but has been reissued by Maurice Bassett for cheap digital download via Amazon stores.
Julian Jaynes’ theories of “the breakdown of the bicameral mind” was a big influence on books from Mysteries onwards. It was investigated in the likes of short and snappy monographs such as Frankenstein’s Castle (Ashgrove, 1980), Access to Inner Worlds (Rider, 1983) and in A Criminal History of Mankind. Wilson dubbed the left/right brain dichotomy The Laurel and Hardy Theory of Consciousness. These and Starseekers, a large and lavishly illustrated book on the history of astronomy, point the way to his interest in lost civilisations in the next decade. Aquarian books published a series of biographical studies on Jung, Crowley, Steiner, Gurdjieff and Ouspensky at this time and these have been reissued by Aeon Books, the latter two available as a two for one digital download by Maurice Bassett from Amazon. The Misfits (Grafton, 1988) returned to the themes of Origin of the Sexual Impulse once again, and had interesting reviews from Anthony Burgess and in Private Eye (perhaps written by Francis Wheen, later to also write books about the central character in The Misfits).
H: Around the Outsider
The Essential Colin Wilson (Grafton, 1985) is an excellent compendium of his classic writings with some fresh material. Alongside Howard F. Dossor’s Colin Wilson: The Man and his Mind (Element, 1990), perhaps these are the only two books which manage to cram an overview of his writings and ideas in-between two covers, although Wilson’s own 2005 autobiography does a similar job. His memoir of the AYM period (Robson Books, 2007) is recommended as a straight from the horses mouth document of the time. Savoy offshoot Michael Butterworth Books published this, CW interviewed by Brad Spurgeon. Below the Iceberg is a collection of essays on various philosophers; Sartre, Camus, Foucault, Barthes and Derrida, some reprinted from Anti-Sartre and other intended for what would become The Devil’s Party. Small press items such as his letters to Henry Miller (Roger Jackson, 1996) and a file of Colin’s emendations to his own copy of The New Existentialism were only really available from Paul Newman’s magazine Abraxas and are now scarce. Abraxas also published pamphlets of rare Wilsonia, and Colin Stanley’s Paupers’ Press continues to republish out of print tiles and the Colin Wilson Studies series. Recent publications have included The Sound Barrier, a sequel to Sydney Campion’s Wilson biography. Both quote liberally from CW’s notebooks and are invaluable to Wilson scholars. Around the Outsider – O Books, 2011, also available digitally – is a collection of essays celebrating Colin’s 80th birthday. There are a few recently written books which deserve publication; one on Shakespeare, and another which is an untitled sequel to The Space Vampires.