Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Colin Wilson and the English

I have been reading Gary Lachman's new critical biography of Colin Wilson, and it reminded me of how spitefully the English Establishment treated Wilson for more than half a century - a mixture of mockery and disgust.

Indeed, Wilson is a good example of someone who pursued the spiritual path of The Fool, which I discussed recently. He had a total indifference to whether or not his interests and arguments would seem absurd, consequently he made many discoveries among authors, and found interesting things to say on many topics.

But the nasty way Wilson was handled by the mass media over such a long time, and especially by the highbrow media, is significant. It is clear that Wilson's line of work was something that the elites wanted to shut down, or neutralise by putting it into a ghetto where Serious People treated it as a joke.

Given the strategy of evil pursued by the establishment media, this is a clear but indirect indication that Wilson was saying something important that the English in particular needed to know.

What could this be? In one word it was optimism, fuelled by an expanded sense of the reality and possibility of human life.

When Wilson's first book (The Outsider) came out, I think it was misunderstood to be in the despair-inducing tradition of Continental existentialism; which the Establishment was keen to promote. But when it became clear, with Religion and the Rebel, that Wilson was seeking a new spiritual and religious energy and optimism - then the attempt was made to demoralise him by a mixture of shunning and mocking.

To his great credit, Wilson was neither silenced nor embittered, and continued to pour out books until old age; developing his ideas and being very supportive of many others.

The main problem with Wilson's work is that he wrote too much, too fast and without optimal attention to detail; and more importantly he spent more time writing than thinking. This was a consequence of his spending too much money on books, recorded music and wine - all if which were expensive hobbies in England.

Since Wilson always immediately spent everything he was earning, and more, he was always having to write; and since he was mostly excluded from the major publishers, he had to write far too much - and spend too much of each day writing, and not enough time and effort thinking hard - in order to sustain this rather self-indulgent lifestyle.

Nonetheless, ultimately I think Wilson probably did achieve his destiny in terms of writing what he needed to write, and telling England some of the most important things we need to hear.

I tried, intermittently but seriously over about 25 years, to live along the lines advocated by Wilson, and I therefore know that it is valuable but alone is not enough. Since I became a Christian I have realised what was missing from Wilson's spirituality, and how no amount of research or thinking could have provided it.

Like so many, Wilson was put off Christianity altogether by the churches and their exclusivism, whereas he should have ideally become some kind of an unaffiliated Christian, like William Blake.

If The Establishment shunned Wilson, the fact is that he had many friends among the eccentric spiritual patriots of England, and was indeed a kind of rallying point for such people. Although Wilson himself expressed justifiable anger and frustration at England (for example in his preliminary autobiography from the late 1960s) - and like Owen Barfield found his main audience in the USA and elsewhere - Wilson was an intensely English figure, whose work return frequently to the long tradition of offbeat individualists, each ploughing his own furrow - this especially applies to his 'occult'-themed writings.

In conclusion, Colin Wilson can be seen as illustrating the difference between the real England of Albion, and the inverted England of the modern elites, officials and media. Colin Wilson was a hero of Albion and an enemy of The Establishment.


Karl said...

It's worth remembering that Wilson thought very seriously about becoming a Catholic in his youth and praised the Medieval church highly in 'Religion and the Rebel', his sequel to 'The Outsider'. Also, he did eventually come to believe in an afterlife, although whether this was genuine belief or simply because he knew that the inevitable consequence of Atheism is Despair is unknown to me.

bellis said...

@Karl- Wilson came to believe in an afterlife via his research into occult and paranormal phenomena. He discusses how he moved from skepticism to belief it in his book 'Afterlife' (fittingly enough!).

@Bruce- Your theory RE: the literary establishment's savage reversal of opinion between Wilson's first two books makes perfect sense- I had never really been able to understand this before. It's certainly feasible that someone would mistake him as an English Camus after the first book, but nobody could repeat the mistake after reading the second.

I had also never understood why he needed to churn out so many books, but again the penny has dropped! His 'Book of Booze' describes his own drinking habits, which though very thoughtful and critically of careless drunkeness, would probably qualify as high-functioning alcoholism to most readers nowadays. Ironically, much of his drinking seems to have been connected to his need to wind down after long days of churning out as much writing as possible at the typewriter...

Finally, what you seem to be suggesting is that Wilson's lack of Christianity is directly related to his lack of time spent thinking deeply rather than write- is this what you mean, or have I connected the dots too explicitly there?

Bruce Charlton said...

@bellis - Thanks.

It may be difficult for some Americans to realise how relatively expensive were books, LPs and especially wine in the 1960s and 70s in England - at least double, often more, the cost per unit that they were in the USA - it would be easy to spend a *lot* of money on these items. My point is that these were rich men's hobbies.

But however cheap, Wilson always spent more than what he earned - he was not poor, he was profligate and self-indulgent - but he seems to have rationalised and excused (even been proud of and boasted about) rather than repented this flaw.

I only mention the fact because nobody else seems to have noticed it - i.e. CW wrotoe too much because he spent too much, not because he earned too little - but it had serious consequences. I'm sure Wilson would have noticed this in anybody else, as an explanation for them failing to fulfil their fullest potential!

"you seem to be suggesting is that Wilson's lack of Christianity is directly related to his lack of time spent thinking deeply rather than write"

- Yes: it is a bit of a guess, based on my experience. Wilson doesn't seem ever to have tackled the extra layer of metaphysics which lies beyond the level of his philosophy - about the basic structuring of reality and its purpose, meaning etc. Much of his work is implicitly utilitarian - about how people can be most happy, joyful, how they can feel fulfilled. But the question of why, ultimately, people ought to want to be happy, or fulfilled isn't tackled.

Wilson would have regarded the idea of spending life in a drugged dream state, or indeed to kill themselves, as a waste - and it is, but we need to ask a 'waste' from what perspective? (considering we all die and civilizations become extinct and everything forgotten). And if death or delirium is what people want, then Wilson doesn't have any solid grounds for disagreement.

As someone who tried to live by (more or less) Wilson's philosophy, I can report this is a very real defect and problem.It is not just that most of our time is spent at low levels of consciousness, but that even high levels of consciousness seem to be merely *self* satisfying - and this is not enough. We must know our place in reality, our destiny in life and beyond, and the ultimate nature of our relationships with others.

Wilson ought to have been some kind of mystical but explicit Christian; and from that perspective would potentially have gone on to make a more complete and more valuable philosophy.

I don't suppose he would have been a church member (no church worth joining would have had him as a member), nor a church goer - but that need not matter (William Blake apparently attended church only three times in his life).