I’ve spent a lot of time rummaging around in library stacks searching for things that are outside the mainstream, so my favorite authors tend to be very ancient and very dead. However, one of my top nonfiction author is still alive at 74. He’s Colin Wilson.
Colin Wilson is one of the most lionized authors in the world in fields as varied as sci-fi, psychology, criminology, ancient civilizations, literature and history.
He was born on 26 June 1931, in Leicester, England. His early interest in science was put on the back-burner when he moved to London and published his first book The Outsider in 1956. This established him as a fashionable existentialist and an even more trendy “Angry Young Man”.
According to Clifford Bendau, Colin “considered himself a genius, a born writer, and an outsider… [He] found little value in formal education and left school at the age of sixteen. During the next few years he drifted and travelled around England and Continental Europe. The period 1950-1956 was marked by economic deprivation, marital difficulties, and general discomfort.”
Writing later about this “nihilistic” period he says: “My first expression of my sense of revolt at the universal self-delusion was an essay on ‘Superiority’, written when I was twelve. I still have this essay. It argues that all men are completely enmeshed in self-delusion, and that the universal motive that underlies all human conduct is the need of the individual to feel himself ’superior’, to deny the obvious fact that he is a mere insect among billions of other insects.”
He has, however, moved on from there and below are slightly more typical aphorisms from the pen of the mature Wilson:
* All values are ultimately mystical.
* Everyday consciousness is a liar.
* Freedom is a quality of consciousness.
* Human beings experience a range of mental states which is as narrow as the middle three keys of a piano.
* What we accept as everyday consciousness is thoroughly sub-normal.
His early influences changed and he soon fell under the spell of George Bernard Shaw’s “vitalism” which portrayed consciousness as an invader of the material universe. With GBS he believed that if he could live to be 300 he could solve the whole mystery of existence. Now 74, Colin’s book Beyond the Occult expresses his summation of the “problem” of human consciousness. In what he believes is his best book, he probably comes as close as any mainstream observer to solving the deepest mystery of the human condition.
After his early flurry as a literary “lion”, he moved to Gorran Haven in Cornwall where he settled to his life’s work of exploring and expanding human consciousness. By-products of this interest resulted in his becoming a world authority on criminology and an avid researcher into the more arcane aspects of history, including the Atlantis legend. Readers of the Daily Mail in England will be familiar with many eclectic pieces from his pen.
He has recently published the second volume of his autobiography, Dreaming to Some Purpose, which is well worth a read if you like writers’ memoirs.
A final enigmatic quote, from Howard F. Dossor’s book, Colin Wilson: The Man and His Mind: “It is as if, from the time he moved to Cornwall, his life disappeared into his work. In one sense this is true, but there remains a personality beneath the writing that is intensely private, and the time may have arrived for a second volume of his autobiography to be written.”
Cornwall has that effect on people. It seems to swallow even the biggest characters whole. As we have seen though, Colin’s second slice of autobiography is well underway. He may be a long way off his 300th birthday, but he’s certainly closer to his goal than a pro rata timeline would suggest.