I’ve spent months now reading Colin Wilson’s books, although I can honestly say, I haven’t been able to read straight through any of them, but find myself invariably skipping here there and all over the place.
It has occurred to me that this is not my fault, but his. First of all he has written many many many books. From the long list of possibilities, I selected a number of titles that looked to me to be the most interesting. Some of these included subjects whose scope seemed impossibly daunting and bulky, such as “A Criminal History of Mankind” (’84).
Having had a taste of Colin Wilson’s brilliance, however, I enthusiastically imagined I would gain many new insights, ideas and a more enlightened view of whatever it is that’s wrong with humans and how this has evolved over time. However, just as Colin Wilson himself has repeatedly claimed — he’s written the same book seventy times over!
Colin Wilson certainly seems to have one lifelong obsession, albeit a provocative and endlessly elaborat-able one. Like many of us, he looks Existence in the face, and asks, “Why?”, “What?”, and “How?”
Beginning with his first published book, “The Outsiders” (1956), Colin Wilson looks to a certain type of individual in modern society who is reflected in many (then) contemporary works of literature, such as “Nausea” by Jean-Paul Sartre, or “The Stranger”, by Albert Camus — works that are classified as ‘existentialist literature’. And indeed, the individual to whom he is referring, is the ‘existential’ one; he who finds himself a stranger in a vacuous society, able to witness, but unable to bring himself falsely to belong. This presents an existential dilemna for the individual, who tends to be unusually intelligent and sensitive, and who is then forced willy-nilly to spiritually and practically ‘make do’.
So Colin Wilson’s debut into the public mind is with a treatment of “Outsiders” which captured a vast audience (presumably of ‘outsiders’) and catapulted Colin Wilson to fame and high honor– for a while anyway. But where Sartre, Camus, Dostoyevski, Shaw and everybody else highlighted in the vastly-referenced “Outsiders” kept their outsider depictions within the bounds of creative imagination, CW took it all much much further. CW seems to believe that the outsider symbolically as well as literally represents and accounts for an entire dark strata of human existence, history, evolution and meaning.
Something I must mention at this point, and which immediately struck me as singular– upon reading “The Strength to Dream: Literature and the Imagination” (’61), which was book 3 for me, was that in addition to CW’s flagrant intellectual gifts and capacious learnedness (all self-initiated, as he grew up in poverty and without education) was a willingness to explictly and unabashedly explore and treat with objective frankness some very dark subjects: sides of the human personality: individually, socially, historically and philosophically, that are usually reserved for horror movies or aberrent pornography. Hence, he doesn’t shy away from in-depth treatment of such subjects as Allistair Crowley, serial killers, sex-killers, gurus-gone-mad and you name it. And that made me aware that with all our public enjoyment of horror and war stories, and for that matter of pornography, both explicit and the soft-kind that fills every PG-13+ movie and every bestseller, we skirt away from really wanting to know the man sitting on death row who killed people for no obvious reason — we wash it over with wishful idealism, not really wanting to deeply consider and unravel his horror, his reality, his humanness.
But I like Colin Wilson very much! I like his open-mindedness. I like the fact that although he was famous for a short while and then rather infamous and looked down the nose upon and sideways at, he believed in himself and followed his own star. Sometimes it’s clear to me, that a person is a Success in the truest meaning of the word, when he is true to his own self, especially when he’s had and then lost public admiration.
In a book titled, “Rogue Messiahs: Tales of Self-Proclaimed Saviours” (2000), CW tells the histories of the individual progression of cult leaders such as Jim Jones and David Koresh, from the roots of self-delusion, to the growth of power, to the gruesome treatments and violations of devotees including the cult leader’s strange extreme sexual dominence and abuse, and finally to some final horrifying apocoloypse.