Tuesday 23 December 2014

William Arkle - Colin Wilson - William Arkle. The wheel comes full circle

Just over a year ago, Colin Wilson died -


This led me to think back on how I had discovered him, which led me to look again at the work of William Arkle since it was the Foreword to Arkle's book which led me to Wilson's The Outsider, and then on to dozens of other books (including The Craft of the Novel, which provided the structure of my MA-by-research thesis in English literature).

Since last year, I have read again many of Wilson's books, including the excellent Spider World scifi series for bedtime read-aloud purposes, and also filled-in some gaps, by reading for the first time books of Wilson's that were new to me.

And I also re-engaged with Arkle for the first time since I became a Christian; to discover he provided some things that were very helpful to my Christian life - in particular, Arkle has swiftly become my number one 'go-to' author to get-me-out-of moods of spiritual depression, to get me re-orientated with basic things.


But whereas in the past I regarded Arkle (when I thought of him, which was seldom) primarily as a Wilsonian - as 'contained-within' Wilson's ideas, and an amplification of certain aspects of them - I would now regard Arkle as having provided what was potentially (and should have been in actuality) the foundation and completion of Wilson's ideas.

Because Colin Wilson - despite many and enlightening insights - never achieved a cohesive metaphysical system or synthesis; never provided something upon-which you could base your life - which would provide meaning, motivation, purpose; a basis for the transcendental goods of truth, beauty and virtue;  a basis for human relationship and each person's relationship with reality.


From the beginning to the end of his writing career, Wilson was at root a 'a seeker' and a commentator on the work of others. It seems he was prevented from achieving a synthesis by a rejection of religion as 'the answer' (explained in his second book Religion and the Rebel of 1957).

Indeed, Colin Wilson was trying to create something that did the work of a religion, yet was not itself a religion - something which did not require 'faith'. He failed, as all others who attempted this have failed, simply because this is impossible, paradoxical.

What Wilson needed was to embed his own work within a larger religious framework; and this was exactly what Arkle did - Arkle's work was presented as a way of understanding Christianity.

If Wilson had better understood his friend William Arkle, understood Arkle less selectively and more fully; and had taken Arkle more seriously in his own right (and not merely as someone who exemplified and amplified Wilson's own concerns) - then this might have provided Colin Wilson with the crucial piece missing from the vast jigsaw of his philosophical reflections.


So now the wheel has come full circle for me: I began with Arkle as my prime (albeit brief and shallow) interest; took a 35 year arc of diversion through the vast productivity of Wilson as being regarded as more basic than Arkle - as 'containing' Arkle; and now find I have returned to regard Arkle as more fundamental than Wilson: with Wilson resting-upon the metaphysics of Arkle (which itself rests-upon Christian scripture).



drizzz said...

I've read Colin Wilson's books haphazardly over the years and it seems in the ones I've read he always brings up the quote "absurd good news" and attributes it to G. K. Chesterton. My impression is that he is referring to "a peak experience" or some similar state of oneness and joy. He refers to it often enough that I think this experience was the ultimate goal of his philosophy. However, not knowing the exact context of the quote, I always felt he totally missed Chesterton's point as I would imagine by good news Chesterton means the gospel.

Faculty X said...

What would you say to the notion that Colin Wilson failed due to 1) his techniques for unleashing the human potential he felt existed weren't quite right? For example in The Philosopher's Stone an electrical current stimulates great leaps in consciousness. Today we have various forms of electro magnetic brain stimulators. Could this get better?


2) he envisioned human potential as simply being greater than it is. This is a common view in New Age and human potential movements, that there is great untapped potential. Yet it seems that is just not so.

Adam G. said...

Some concepts you aren't really able to understand until you've developed and lived a deep understanding of other concepts. It's human to want the whole picture all at once, but it's also impossible.

Bruce Charlton said...

@FX - I don't read CW because everything he said was correct - but because his motivations were good, and there were nearly always interesting and useful insights.

But *the* reason he (ultimately) failed in his quest, was not from any specific positive belief, but from the negative aspect of (implicitly) excluding Christianity as an answer.

While CW exhibited great patience with all kinds of oddballs and eccentrics, searching for the good in them - he was far too easily put off Christianity.