Friday, December 13, 2013

Colin Wilson 1931-2013

One of the most fascinating authors and philosophers of our time, Colin Wilson, passed away on December 5, 2013. He has been a constant intellectual companion since I discovered his books in the 1970s. My first memory related to Colin Wilson is reading The Strength to Dream during on train journey in 1977, travelling to The Swedish School of Library and Information Science in Borås. His book had a remarkable effect on my state of mind. I felt a kind of bubbling-over of sheer delight or a form of peak experience á la Maslow. Here was a young author with a brilliant mind, presenting an optimistic philosophy and a challenging theory of the evolution of consciousness.

When Colin Wilson´s first book, The Outsider, appeared in 1956 he was hailed as a literary genius by the critics. It was a study of the outsider in art and literature and became an instant best-seller. In subsequent books Wilson developed what he called the new existentialism. The doom and gloom of classic existentialism of Sartre, Camus was to Wilson a blind alley that didn´t recognize the potentialities of human consciousness. "Most Western thinkers seem to agree that the world is in an appaling state, and that the correct attitude is pessimism tempered by cautious hope. For my own part, I believe that man has arrived at the most interesting point in his evolution, and that the future has never looked more promising." (The Essential Colin Wilson, 1987, p. 325).

For an intellectual and inquisitive outsider like Colin Wilson, obsessed with the quest for meaning, it was only a matter of time before he would enter deep water and try to grapple issues like mysticism, occultism and paranormal phenomena. When his monumental tome The Occult (795 pages) appeared in 1971 he had definitely left mainstream philosophy and embarked on a journey the literary critics disliked. The "rise and fall of Colin Wilson" was the theme of an article in The Guardian August 12, 2006. The author, Harry Ritchie, wrote that "his ideas being just far too daft to be taken seriously".

Colin Wilson was an enormously prolific author with well over 100 books of fiction and non-fiction. His bibliography is impressive. Although the quality is somewhat uneven. The basic theme in his writings in that we have a "faculty x", that there is an evolution of consciousness and that reality is much more "magical" than what most people think. I wrote the preface to the Swedish edition of his book on the philosophy of Gurdjieff, The War Against Sleep, (Kampen mot sömnen, 1984) and also a letter to Colin Wilson in 1984 asking him the obvious corollary to his theory. If there is an evolution of consciousness, someone must have climbed the ladder? The esoteric idea of a secret society of adepts, The Hidden Directorate" would then be just a question of natural evolution. I also sent him the English edition of a book by Swedish esoteric philosopher Henry T. Laurency for perusal. I received a kind reply on January 20, 1984, reproduced below.

Although Colin Wilson was open minded to the possibility of "super-human intelligences" I was a bit surprised that he didn´t refer to him own statement regarding the existence of the Thesophical adepts in The Occult: "Olcott and various other theosophists actually saw Koot Hoomi and other masters under circumstances that rule out HPB´s interference. And on several occasions, the masters left behind souvenirs of the visit - a silk handkerchief for example." (p. 440)

Colin Wilson also wrote a couple of books on the UFO phenomenon. The most extensive with the title Alien Dawn. An Investigation into the Contact Experience (1998). An attempt to summarize the vast complexity of the subject. Like Jacques Vallee he was convinced that UFOs were somehow linked to the evolution of humankind.

The books by Colin Wilson are always intellectual adventures. Whether he writes about psychology, philosophy, literature, sex, crime or the paranormal there is generally new insights and challenging theories. He could probable have written a fascinating book about washing dishes from an existential viewpoint. In an interview in Fortean Times, October 2004, author Gary Lachman presented the writings of Colin Wilson as "the most challenging and stimulating of the last half century." I agree.