Wilson, Colin (Vol. 14)
Wilson, Colin 1931–
Wilson is a British novelist, essayist, and playwright. Essentially a phenomenologist, he has pursued the "sources of human energy" into the dark corners of witchcraft and the occult in his many books of fiction and nonfiction. (See also CLC, Vol. 3, Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)
My contention is that The Outsider contains the key idea to understanding the twentieth century, and that it contains all the seminal ideas of Wilson's later works, though I would agree quickly that Wilson was probably unaware at that time of the direction his theories would take. The initial premise in The Outsider is that since about 1800, with the development of the Romantic Movement in art, literature, and philosophy, a group of outstanding individuals has developed who are no longer satisfied with the dead-end streets of scientific or existential thought. They insist upon breaking out of their "prisons" of the mind in search of ultimate reality, whatever that may be…. In defending his outsider concept, Wilson has surveyed the works of a staggering number of writers, artists, and philosophers. (p. 63)
Wilson has said that, for the sake of convenience, his starting point lies in William James's essay "The Energies of Man." Add to the James essay Shaw's evolutionary concepts of the philosopher-scholar, as found in the rarely performed "Don Juan in Hell" from Man and Superman, plus Husserl's concept of intentionality (as Wilson uses it to extend the borders of existential thought), and you have the bare bones of Wilson's recurrent themes. He has expounded these themes in science fiction, sex novels, and some really good detective-spy fiction. In his The Occult: A History, he relates the outsider theme to...
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In Mysteries, Colin Wilson reveals that the germ of his subjective compendium of psychology and the occult began when he was trying to write over 3,000 words a day for a compendium of crime. Wilson kept waking up in the night with a terrible sense of anxiety. Standing back from this tale, it seems to be about the consequences of trying to write too much dreck too fast, but for Wilson his 'panic effect' came from a weaker personality and required a supra-natural cure, which he calls 'the school-mistress effect'. The rest of his 667-page book is a similar mélange of willed over-reading and gullible summary. Kabbalism, hermeticism, gnosticism and alchemy are relatively unsympathetically treated, probably because they are related to major religions and so aren't entirely prey to the whims of the post-rational mind….
Modern occultism of the sort enthusiastically described by Colin Wilson is not about knowledge, however non-scientific, but about not knowing. Again and again its structure is that of horror: the small lit room reminding one of the dark limitless space beyond and beneath.
Helen McNeil, "A Severed Head," in New Statesman (© 1978 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 96, Nos. 2492 & 2493, December 22 & 29, 1978, p. 885.∗
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[In Mysteries] Colin Wilson addresses the same theme that has consistently threaded its way through all of his books, beginning with The Outsider, which brought him world attention in his early twenties—that so-called "conscious" human beings are pygmies, mere fragments of their true selves.
But, he avers, "human beings will one day recognize, beyond all possibility of doubt, that consciousness is freedom….
Part of Wilson's hopeful conclusion is directly based on his personal confrontation with a series of what he calls "panic anxiety attacks" which lasted several months and brought him to the edge of a nervous breakdown….
Wilson's account of how he finally overcame these attacks is a courageous example of how it is possible to deal with oppressive problems through introspection….
Wilson lays a large share of the blame for this state of affairs on our incessant search for security. He maintains that while freedom from risk and doubt is essential to human experience, to overemphasize it slows down the learning experience we have come upon this planet to acquire….
The unfortunate truth is that humans, in the present stage of their evolution, appear all too ready to accept lack of meaning, just as animals accept physical suffering. Wilson believes that only shock or crisis can release them from a state of suffocation and bring them to a...
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Alan Hull Walton
[Mysteries] marks a new 'high' in Wilson's prodigious output, placing him in the top rank of serious contemporary investigators of the paranormal.
The detail and wide range of the book (well documented) defies analysis in these few pages. But each and every example and subject is described, probed and weighed-up with such an eagle-eye that the volume immediately becomes 'definitive'. Moreover, the flow of writing is so natural and unaffected that nothing could be easier to read. There is, I think, only a single word which adequately sums up the qualities of this enormous opus of over 260,000 words—already a 'classic' in its own right—and that word is superlative. I might add that, after many years of study of such works, my opinion is a carefully considered one. And it is a volume one 'simply can't put down', but must go on reading, and reading … and re-reading. (p. 41)
[Wilson] writes in a style which any intelligent man or woman can grasp quite simply. Indeed his lengthy examples and explanations have all the compulsion and thrill of a masterly who-done-it?…
I have suggested … that some of the best and more perceptive scientists … are already beginning to accept 'the unusual' and paranormal, and to investigate them…. [But] the vast mass of scientists still remain unwilling to leave their comfortable cubby-holes or take off their blinkers. Which is one more reason...
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Paul T. Hornak
[Mysteries] is an encyclopedic treatment of the supernatural that begins with the assumption that seers, UFO watchers, dowsers, and people haunted by ghosts are not kidding. They honestly believe they've seen something, Wilson maintains, and on this basis he recites case after spooky case of happenings that seem to defy explanation. If he had stopped at storytelling, Mysteries could be written off as an unfortunate triumph of gullibility over good sense. But Wilson goes three reckless steps further. He tells why people have seen whatever they've seen, how someday we all will be able to see, and why the ability is a good thing…. As proof of his bizarre theory, Wilson offers the testimony of persons widely regarded as cranks. He puts inordinate trust in hunches: he praises one source for putting across a "feeling of revelation." Trying to validate the unknown by invoking the unknown, he calls upon the "unconscious," the "subconscious," "higher levels" of thought. When these devices fail, the weapon of last resort is emotion. "This vast computer we call the brain was meant to operate at a far higher level of efficiency." Wilson, in search of otherworldly meaning, argues with simple earthly shouting. (pp. 1448, 1451)
Paul T. Hornak, "Books in Brief: 'Mysteries'," in National Review (© National Review, Inc., 1979; 150 East 35th St., New York, NY 10016), Vol. XXXI, No. 45, November 9,...
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Clifford P. Bendau
Colin Wilson is not an academic. Not tied to a specific discipline, he concerns himself with the entire spectrum of the humanities. His case-book studies of the human condition are written with a sense of urgency, often ignoring the formal guidelines of academic writing. As a result, he has been criticized as self-righteous in expression, and unsound in analysis. In some respects, the critics are right. When subjected to analysis, his arguments often fall short. Isolated from the whole, individual works may appear to be hasty generalizations. But logical analysis and isolated dissection, while valid for criticism, do not justify a complete rejection of Wilson's ideas. These are not the only criteria available.
Wilson is concerned with the truth of the world "out there," not with formal logic. His writings are the response of an individual to the problems of existence. When he says that his beliefs are true, the justification is grounded in their usefulness in dealing with the practical problems of existence. Wilson is not a spectator. Unlike the scientist or mathematician, he is not interested in discovering universal theoretical truths. He is interested in the particulars of existence, here and now. He is oriented practically to the way reality could and should be….
Confidence in his own genius, coupled with an unquestioning belief in his significance as a writer, enabled Wilson to draw heavily from his own...
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