The ZONE genre worldwide books movies
the science fiction
fantasy horror &
mystery website
 
 
home  articles  profiles  interviews  essays  books  movies  competitions  guidelines  issues  links  archives  contributors  email

Colin Wilson: Philosopher Of Optimism
Brad Spurgeon
Michael Butterworth paperback £9.99

review by Andrew Darlington

Colin Wilson can be an infuriating writer. Largely because he provokes questions, and people don't like the awkward inconvenience of having to re-examine their most basic assumptions. He stands marginalised outside most every academic discipline, free-ranging through every imaginable variety of literature and dubious sub-lit genres - which, to some, makes his authority in any one of these subjects suspect. From UFOs to the mainstream SF that resulted in the vampiric Lifeforce movie, from serious enquiry into occult phenomena, to the nature of slasher crime, from the motivation of serial killers, to the persistent myths of Atlantis and para-Egyptology. He almost purposefully exposes himself to accusations of fringe-weirdness, while retaining a nimbus of nagging doubt that just possibly, he's onto something...

A working-class self-taught writer he stumbled into overnight fame - as part of the 1950s' angry-young-men explosion, with The Outsider, a highly-readable crash-course in significant modern writers which made his readers familiar with their names and ideas without the tedious necessity of actually having to read them all. But then probably reading them anyway - which is how many first encountered Herman Hesse, Albert Camus, Mervyn Peake, Proust, Kafka... or Nietzsche. It's still in print, renewing its appeal with every new generation, which might have something to do with its enticing subtext equation for bedsit hermits that runs "great thinkers are social misfits, I'm a social misfit, therefore I must be a great thinker." When Wilson's subsequent books fail to achieve the same level of recognition, he simply accelerates his production to a book-a-year schedule, which ensured his name remained visible. A working writer with an overdraft, who periodically returns to his philosophical base-themes, the questions of 'being and nothingness', his own absurdly premature autobiography charts the course of his philosophical evolution through 'peak-moments' such as his 'St Neots margin' revelation. Into the dubiously right-wing implications of his elitist, dominant minority, intellectual early-adopters theme. "What I wanted to do was to try to create a philosophy upon a completely new foundation," he asserts with breathtaking insouciance.

Perhaps, as L. Ron Hubbard discovered with Scientology, the most efficacious way to create a movement and recruit disciples is to pretend you've founded a religion? Basing your argument on reason is inherently bound to limit your prospective audience. Yet he does throw up questions which have you re-examining your own beliefs, or lack of belief. Even as he comes out with mind-boggling statements like "I could see that there was a basic fallacy in Sartre and Camus and Heidegger," and goes on to correct their misapprehensions. This, from the man who wrote 'The Spider World' trilogy (Spider World - "that's probably my masterpiece" he claims)! The modern ennui he specifically targets is existentialism's thesis that life has no quantifiable meaning or purpose. Its conclusion that life is random and essentially pointless. People find this depressing. But surely - meaninglessness is only troubling if you've been brought up to expect meaning? 'Meaning' in the old devalued religious sense of the word. Freedom can be frightening. Amorality can be unsettling. And there's the curious enigma that at a time of the greatest material wealth and security in history the incidence of depression and pharmaceutical dependency has never been higher. Even if it's only the old glass half-full/ half-empty perspective...

But this is exactly in line with what Wilson was writing about decades ago, 'the hierarchy of need' - as lower needs are satisfied, higher needs become more pronounced. The need for meaning and purpose in an age when both political and religious utopias are seen as flawed. The necessity of building a humanistic rationale based on reason. This book is largely composed of an extended series of interviews with Colin Wilson at his home on the Cornish coast, to coincide with his 75th birthday (in June 2006), conducted by American journalist Brad Spurgeon. Spurgeon opens by describing how he first discovered Wilson's work, through writing a novel with a supernatural theme - "a subject I knew nothing about," and was directed towards Wilson's authoritative The Occult by way of research. He'd known of the writer by reputation but "I had never read any of his books, though I had always been meaning to." Hardly a promising opening. Then Brad waffles and apologises for not having read the fiction. Fortunately Wilson himself talks as fluently as he writes, and needs little prompting to expound every detail of his instant cure to the malaise of meaning. But has this infuriating writer succeeded in his mission? "Oh, I think I've succeeded totally," he concedes. "What I'm saying hasn't been understood yet. But there's plenty of time. I'll be dead for a long time..."
Colin Wilson - Philosopher of Optimism

Please support this
website - buy stuff
using these links:
Amazon.co.uk
Amazon.com
Send it
W.H. Smith

home  articles  profiles  interviews  essays  books  movies  competitions  guidelines  issues  links  archives  contributors  email
copyright © 2001 - 2006 Pigasus Press