Colin Wilson: Philosopher of Optimism (second edition)
Michael Butterworth Books UK £11.99 (December 2017)
When I reviewed the first edition of Colin Wilson: Philosopher of Optimism in 2006, then published to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the publication of Wilson’s seminal The Outsider, I described it as ‘an ideal primer to the ideas of Colin Wilson’.
This remains true but the second edition (Michael Butterworth Books, UK £11.99, December 2017), published exactly four years after Wilson’s death in December 2013, is more than that, as is evidenced by Spurgeon’s touching preface, which is surely an exceptional tribute to Wilson’s philosophy.
While putting together the first edition of his book, Spurgeon’s wife Nathalie – they had been married 24 years and their two children were in the early years of their teens – fell ill with breast cancer and died shortly after the book was published.
In his new preface, Spurgeon reveals how Wilson’s philosophy helped him cope with his sad loss. Spurgeon found it an intriguing coincidence that he had produced a book about Wilson's philosophy of optimism when it helped him through an emotional maelstrom, and finally enabled him to come to terms with Nathalie's passing.
Spurgeon says he saw the writing of the book as ‘a message to myself, a communication as unconscious perhaps equally “supernatural” as the nightmare had been’. It told him that whatever happened, he must remain optimistic and not succumb negatively.
He treated his book as a ‘self-help’ text, ‘a desperately needed medicine that would help me to cope’. Today he says he still gains inner strength from reading his interview with Wilson which comprises the nucleus of the book.
It follows, then, that Spurgeon hopes his book will have the same salutary effect on its readers and also encourage them to discover Wilson’s other works, as well as those of writers Wilson discusses.
Colin Wilson: Philosopher of Optimism provides an engaging and straightforward account of Wilson’s lifelong battle against the pessimistic world-view, indicating concisely how one can make a difference to one’s life by changing the way one sees the world.
The book includes Spurgeon’s preface to the first edition and its introduction, the full and lengthy two-part interview with Wilson at his home in Cornwall in 2005, plus three essays by Wilson (and selected by him) published in 2006. These are ‘The Psychology of Optimism’ from Adbusters, the introduction to Paul Hougham's Gaia Atlas of Mind, Body and Spirit, and 'Phenomenology as a Mystical Discipline' from Philosophy Now.
One of the reasons Spurgeon enjoys Wilson’s writing so much is ‘his common sense approach to the world while at the same time he is someone whose mind is open to anything. Reading Wilson makes me feel optimistic about life in general, and constantly reminds me of why it is good to live’. Most Wilson readers would echo this view.
Rereading Wilson’s introduction to the Gaia Atlas of Mind, Body and Spirit, I was reminded that, in this, Wilson reiterates his conviction (after Husserl) that perception is active, not passive, and writes that if we could grasp that perception as an ‘unconsciously creative act’ we could take a vital step up the evolutionary ladder.
Now I have long regarded a means of self-evolution to be implicit in Wilson’s lifelong quest for a higher consciousness, or ‘superconsciousness’. By 2006, the year also of publication of the Gaia Atlas of Mind, Body and Spirit, science and aspects of consciousness studies were starting to catch up.
For example, in that year, the Israeli geneticist Eva Jablonka, known for her interest in epigenetic inheritance – the transmission of information from one generation of an organism to the next – published Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioural and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life, co-authored with retired university lecturer Marion Lamb.
Their book discussed how an individual's personal experience can influence the characteristics of his or her offspring, suggesting that we are capable of creating short-term effects in our long-term evolution.
Since then, the Apeiron Centre for Human Potential, which has its headquarters in Paris, has been referring to the ‘epigenetics of consciousness’, implying that we might be able to direct our own evolution.
In fact, Wilson hints at this, for example, in the epilogue to his 2006 book Manhunters (which Wilson was writing at the time of Spurgeon’s interview).
Life coach Mickra Hamilton, CEO and co-founder of the Apeiron Centre, believes that ‘as we facilitate the strategic process of optimising human potential, consciousness has the ability to emerge in expanded expression and, in that state of expansion, there are no limits’.
Isn’t this what Wilson was saying throughout his whole career?
Proceedings of the First International Colin Wilson Conference
Edited by Colin Stanley
Cambridge Scholars Publishing UK £58.99 (June 2017)
The background to the landmark Colin Wilson Conference in 2016 – marking 60 years since publication of his first book The Outsider – is that when the Wilson archive was opened at the University of Nottingham, UK, in the summer of 2011, it was agreed among those attending that a conference should be arranged there to discuss his work.
This edifying and propitious book, with an introduction by its editor Colin Stanley, comprises the transcripts of the eight papers presented on a range of Wilson-related topics at the inaugural conference on July 1, 2016, and complements the videos of all the speakers which can be viewed on YouTube.
Generally, considering the profound implications of Wilson’s ideas, the approach of the papers is non-academic, promoting accessibility for a potentially wide audience – something of which Wilson himself surely would have approved.
Briefly, the contributions were: Simon Brighton on his project to digitalise Wilson’s journal, recorded on hundreds of cassette tapes over the years. Professor Stephen R L Clark, emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Liverpool, on Wilson’s attitude to H P Lovecraft’s works. Nigel Bray on Colin Wilson and the ‘Dread of Being’, which included discussion of Wilson’s important ideas on depression, boredom, and how we can overcome them. Lindsay Siviter, a historian who has worked in various museums in the UK, including Scotland Yard’s Black Museum, and an expert on Jack the Ripper, on Wilson as a ‘Ripperologist’. Nicolas Tredell with a talk on philosophy and narrative in Wilson’s The Outsider and first novel Ritual in the Dark. David Moore, in ‘The Light Barrier: Existentialism and the Occult in Colin Wilson’s science fiction’, argued that the novels The Mind Parasites and The Philosopher’s Stone formed the link between Wilson’s new existentialism and his writings on the occult. Gary Lachman expounded on Wilson’s theory of ‘Faculty X’, the sense of the reality of other places and other times. George C Poulos, an independent researcher from Australia, spoke on Wilson’s transcendental theory of evolution in an attempt to provide a link between recent scientific research and Wilson’s ideas.
As one might expect, these papers, now, laudably, on permanent record in one hardback volume, reflect Wilson as broadly a thinker in the Romantic tradition with a firm assertion of the importance of self and the value of individual experience, an insistence on the ability to realise human potential through the expansion of consciousness, an explorer of the non-rational with an accompanying sense of the infinite and the transcendental, and a rigorous responder to the imperative of the ‘reason why’ of human existence, the question of the nature and destiny of the human race.
The conference, indeed, showed clearly how Wilson’s ideas impinge upon so many aspects of existence. It also reflected a welcome new surge of interest in his works. The fact that, since his death in December 2013, there have been a dozen new books published either about him, or presenting his works, is testimony to this, and to his assured position to the fore of the pantheon of ‘new consciousness’ pioneers.
by Geoff Ward