Colin Wilson saved my life. He never knew this, but that’s not the point.
As a young, inexperienced writer, I was thrilled to receive a letter from him, way back in 1986. Pre-Internet, this was simply a type-written missive, signed by Colin Wilson. I cannot fully express to younger people exactly how much that meant to me, to have this legend of a writer/philosopher/genius respond to my interview request banged out on my Royal typewriter. From the looks of it, this author of numerous works too vast to list here, used a similar technology. How could this be? Surely, Colin Wilson ought to employ something better than that, right? I still have that letter. A type-written missive signed with his loopy signature. I’m sure I pressed it against my face and smelled it for any trace of wine, garlic, or bodily fluids–I know I did. For me, this was the equivalent of getting mail from Plato. No kidding.
Am I overstating? Probably, but it’s difficult to convey what this meant to a then-overweight 28-year-old writer looking to make sense of an increasingly chaotic world. Wilson, you see, had answered all my most anguished questions: Why live? Why struggle? Is there a “God”? If so, what’s that supposed to mean? If not, what are we lowly humans supposed to do about it? Wilson’s first book, THE OUTSIDER, had much to say about these matters. In fact, I could not–did not–know that critics had chewed him a new asshole on this very topic. How dare this young man make such claims! Who the hell does he think he is?
These same critics tossed Wilson into the “angry young men” pot of the time. Several went so far as to call him a fascist, something I have yet to comprehend, for here was a guy in his twenties taking on sacred cows as if he’d hung out with Socrates on a bender. How dare Wilson question the very basis of philosophy! How dare he stick his sleepless mind into cherished maxims of rock-solid wisdom!
Above all, this is the value of Colin Wilson. He is known, unfairly, for his many works on so-called paranormal phenomena. Let’s be frank. Wilson–like John Keel–had certain ideas about such matters. These never failed to ignite the anger of those who see anomalous events as sourced in extraterrestrial beings, or the easily faked manifestations of spirit “mediums.” Wilson took a very personal–often spit-upon–exploration into these subjects. Rare among such investigators, he visited sites rich in local lore of hauntings, poltergeist activity, and the odd UFO-sighting. Never once did he declare, “You’re all crazy, leave me alone.” No, often at personal expense he could ill afford, Wilson sought–and respected–those who cried out for an answer, no matter if any answer was even to be found.
Wilson was, in his ground-breaking POLTERGEIST: A STUDY IN DESTRUCTIVE HAUNTING, the first to meet with people who had run out of options to deal with whatever the hell was afflicting their homes with anomalous noise, violent intrusions, and seemingly “evil” apparitions. He was the first to suggest, if not confirm, the possibility that human consciousness might have a major hand in manifesting–or projecting–aggressive physical effects. While I cannot find documentation to verify this, he may have been among the first to record so-called “poltergeist voices.”
Disturbing, grating, often obscene, these voices (Wilson found after having them scientifically analysed), displayed a lack of “ramp function,” meaning they shared nothing in common with human vocalizations. These recordings, exceptionally rare, have been lost. Wilson , however doubting, considered these evidence for a non-human intelligence capable of both deception and illumination. Like John Keel, his ultimate findings pointed toward an unknown–potentially ineffable–source of deceptive intelligence alien to humankind.
Whether we choose to accept this doesn’t really matter. Colin Wilson was among the first explorers to apply practical reason to matters perhaps beyond reason. A mind as fluid and searching as any from ancient tradition.
As a writer, he fearlessly searched.
As a man, he wondered.