First International Colin Wilson Conference, University of Nottingham, Friday July 1, 2016
by Colin Stanley
When the Colin Wilson Collection was opened at the University of Nottingham in the summer of 2011, it was agreed among those present that there should be a conference to discuss his work. 2016 was mooted as an appropriate date because it coincided with the sixtieth anniversary of the publication of his first (and still most famous) book The Outsider, which, incidentally, has never been out of print since publication day in 1956 and now been translated into over 30 languages.
Unfortunately, in the meantime, Colin Wilson (who was too ill to attend the opening) died on December 5, 2013. Since then I have been assisting his widow, Joy, to sort his papers and manuscripts in preparation for their transfer to the archive. Much of this has been achieved and the university now not only holds copies of all his printed work but also a significant amount of his manuscripts, letters, journals and assorted papers.
As it happens, 2016 is turning out to be an exceptional year for Colin Wilson and studies of his work. In January, Paupers’ Press published Nicolas Tredell’s Novels to Some Purpose: the fiction of Colin Wilson. In May, Cambridge Scholars published Colin Wilson’s Collected Essays on Philosophers. This was followed by Nigel Bray’s Bargaining with the Devil: the Work of Colin Wilson in a Cultural Context in June and my booklet on the Writing of Colin Wilson’s 'Adrift in Soho'. In September, my book An Evolutionary Leap: Colin Wilson on Psychology is to be released by Karnac Books and Gary Lachman’s major biographical study Beyond the Robot: the life and work of Colin Wilson, by Tarcher/Penguin; the latter coinciding with a new edition of The Outsider with an introduction by Lachman.
It was appropriate that all of the above-named presented papers at the First International Colin Wilson Conference on Friday, July 1. This was held at the King’s Meadow campus of the University of Nottingham where the Department of Manuscripts and Special Collections (and therefore Colin Wilson’s archive) is housed.
Among the special guests were Joy Wilson, her daughter Sally, sons Damon and Rowan and granddaughter Rosa, all of whom were taken by the manuscripts staff behind the scenes on a tour of the archive store before the conference got under way.
Curiously, King’s Meadow was previously the home of ITV’s Central Studios and it was there, on a cold night in March 1995, that I, and my wife Gail, met Colin Wilson himself in the lobby. He had invited us to be in the audience at a live programme of psychic phenomena, hosted by David Frost, entitled ‘Beyond Belief’. Colin was one of the experts employed to explain the mysteries which unfolded during the course of the programme. In a wonderful example of synchronicity, the programme was broadcast from the very auditorium which now holds his archive.
The first paper was presented by Simon Brighton, a writer and musician who collaborated with Colin Wilson on a CD of music and spoken word entitled A Giant which celebrated the work of T C Lethbridge. He had also contributed an essay on The Philosopher’s Stone to Around the Outsider, a symposium, published by O-Books in 2011, to celebrate Colin Wilson’s 80th birthday.
For some years, Simon has been working on a project to digitalise Colin’s journal which he had recorded on to hundreds of cassette tapes over the years. The delegates were treated to many audio extracts from these journals during the paper.
Professor Stephen R L Clark, emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Liverpool, who had written an essay on The Mind Parasites for Around the Outsider, presented the next paper on a writer about whom Colin Wilson had much to say over the years: H P Lovecraft. His enlightening paper contained many quotes from Lovecraft and also touched upon Colin Wilson’s ambivalent attitude to the author’s work.
* Colin Stanley addressing the First International Colin Wilson Conference.
After a short coffee break, Nigel Bray took the floor to deliver a lecture based on a section of his newly published book (mentioned above). His paper, intriguingly entitled ‘Colin Wilson and ‘Dread of Being’’, included an analysis of the author’s important ideas on depression, boredom, and how we can overcome them.
The final paper in the morning session was delivered by Lindsay Siviter, who, as a trained historian, has worked in various museums around the UK including Scotland Yard’s famous Black Museum. As an expert on Jack the Ripper she took the delegates on an entertaining chronological guide to Colin Wilson the ‘Ripperologist’ (a term he, apparently, coined).
Before lunch a specially prepared trailer for the forthcoming film of Colin Wilson’s novel Adrift in Soho, directed by Pablo Behrens for Burning Films, was shown.
During the lunch break delegates were invited to view a display of interesting items from the archive which included early versions of Colin Wilson’s first novel Ritual in the Dark, the actual handwritten manuscript of The Outsider, various signed first editions and other treasures.
The afternoon session was kicked off by Nicolas Tredell whose contribution to Around the Outsider was an essay on Ritual in the Dark. His fascination with this under-rated novel was reflected in his paper ‘A Ritual for Outsiders: philosophy and narrative in The Outsider and Ritual in the Dark’.
David Moore who runs the blog ‘Ritual in the Dark: essays and reflections on the work of Colin Wilson’, presented the next paper which he entitled ‘The Light Barrier: Existentialism and the occult in Colin Wilson’s science fiction’. In this paper he argued, very convincingly, that The Mind Parasites and The Philosopher’s Stone formed the link between Colin Wilson’s new existentialism and his writings on the occult.
Gary Lachman gave the penultimate paper. His many books on the occult, mysticism and psychology have made him well-known throughout the English-speaking world and he contributed the essay on Poetry & Mysticism to Around the Outsider. He chose to talk about Colin Wilson’s ‘Faculty X’: the sense of the reality of other places and other times. His paper drew much discussion among those gathered.
Finally, George C Poulos, an independent researcher from Australia, whose main interest is in transcendent states of consciousness and who provided the essay on Beyond the Occult for Around the Outsider, delivered the last paper. He chose, not surprisingly, to speak on Colin Wilson’s transcendental theory of evolution in an attempt to provide a link between recent scientific research and Colin Wilson’s ideas.
The proceedings concluded, many of the delegates retired to my house near Trent Bridge to continue the debate fuelled by some good wine. It was here that the guest of honour, Joy Wilson, was presented with a framed artist’s caricature of her late husband.
The following day there was a meal for the speakers and special guests at a local restaurant.
Photographs of the event are posted on the Colin Wilson RIP Facebook page. The video recording of some of the papers will follow at a later date, as will the published proceedings.
* Details of the holdings of the Colin Wilson Collection and Archive can be found at: