Saturday 7 December 2013

Colin Wilson has died (1931-2013)


Colin Wilson was an important writer in my (ahem) intellectual development. Essentially, he was an existentialist philosopher who worked across a wide range of genres.

Although since I became a Christian I have not found him so useful, up till then he was someone who I would return to. I published a few essays in a home-produced little journal called Abraxas, edited from Cornwall by a certain Paul Newman (neighbour and friend to CW) , and dedicated to Wilson and his interests.

Colin Wilson wrote a LOT of books (which is necessary if you are a professional writer, want a decent income, and when you are not a bestselling writer).

The first place I came across him was his introduction to William Arkle's Geography of Consciousness (Bill Arkle had been a neighbour of mine, 'tho I didn't know him. He lived on Backwell Hill in Somerset, near where my sister kept her pony). This I read in the summer of 1978 in a copy from Edinburgh City Library.

These are some of my favourite of Wilson's books.

The Outsider, 1956
Adrift in Soho, 1961
Bernard Shaw, 1969.
Introduction to the New Existentialism, 1966
Voyage to a Beginning (autobiography), 1969
Tree by Tolkien, 1973
The Craft of the Novel, 1975
Mysteries, 1978
Lord of the Underworld (about Jung), 1984
The Essential Colin Wilson, 1985
Spider World series of Sci Fi novels, starting 1987
The Books in my Life, 1998
Dreaming to some Purpose (autobiography), 2004



dearieme said...

I have never been able to grasp what Existentialism is. Am I alone?

My only acquaintance who claimed to be an existentialist was, I'd say, clever, forceful, and remarkably selfish.

The Crow said...

I feel far greater sadness at CW's passing than I do at NM's.
Mr. Wilson entertained and stretched my young mind, many times, back when I was an idiot.
Oh well...

danbk99 said...

Dearime, Here is my take:

I have always understood existentialism as being the question of "how to live" for a person who does not believe in God, but who comprehends the necessity of the human need for God, and the seriousness of doing without Him. Everything becomes agonizingly "philosophical" for the existentialist because there is no particular reason to do anything at any particular time. E.g. why get out of bed in the morning?

Apparently it started in Western Christian societies when the concept of God became too abstract, and urban civilization began to give certain sensitive, Hi-IQ individuals too much autonomy: the burden of finding meaning and purpose began to feel crushing. This feeling then produced literature like Kierkegaard's famous works. As time went on the literature became more explicitly atheistic, like the culture in general.

An oversimplification, but I think that basically captures the essence.

Anonymous said...

I have posted an appreciation on Orthosphere at Dr. Bertonneau's memorial comment on Wilson.

I do have a number of favorites among his books. Voyage to a Beginning, Brandy of the Damned, Mysteries, A Criminal History of Mankind, his little book on Wilhelm Reich, and the gorgeous Lovecraftian pastiche The Mind Parasites, where the hero meets and duels with the consciousness of Great Cthullu himself.

Anonymous said...

Wilson was a big thinker. This is not to say he was a flawless saint. He dared to grapple with big ideas. And he dared to write about his struggles.

Faculty X said...

Ah, this is a moment then of reflection and gratitude for Colin Wilson's writings. I found The Outsider, The Mind Parasites, and the under-rated yet intriguing Philosopher's Stone to all be fascinating books. They had genuine moments of insight and a novel perspective. Speaking of intellectuals, Colin Wilson was a thinker that did not fit in to some constrained, conventional modern academic environment, and he was more certainly a philosopher as a result.

Colin Wilson actually rejected existentialism as a label for his work, finding that philosophical branch to be arid. It was the illumination of meaning that drove his thinking.

Also the development of underused and little known branches of mental function such as focused will and psychic function to let the mind slip free from the constraints of the body and roam through time and matter as he felt it should.

I share his idealism in that respect.

Anonymous said...

"...since I became a Christian I have not found him so useful."

What do/did you think of Religion and The Rebel? I haven't read it myself yet, though I have the book lying around. The cover says: "In this new book, Colin Wilson affirms his belief that man needs a new religion - as new and startling as Christianity in its first days. Only this, he believes, can save the "outsider"."

Bruce Charlton said...

"man needs a new religion" - I used to think this. Now I think that man needs a true religion.

The book is worth reading as an example - to show that the search for a new religion goes nowhere - it degenerates into literature/ philosophy.