Colin Wilson – Dreaming To Some Purpose

July 26, 2012

Recently I’ve been reading a few books that I hadn’t been seeking out but came across in different ways such as looking at the new acquisitions shelf at the library, or noting what a friend was reading. At first I didn’t have much interest in this Colin Wilson autobiography that was published about ten years ago, but the friend reading it said it was good. I did used to read a lot of Colin Wilson when I was a teenager in the late ’70s; I suppose he has always been a popular read for intelligent and disaffected youth. I recall reading The Outsider (probably his best book) as well as some novels such as The World Of Violence and Ritual in the Dark.

I think the main thing I got from his books were recommendations about other books and writers to research. In fact he mentions in Dreaming To Some Purpose that one of the criticisms of The Outsider was that it was basically a compilation of other peoples’ ideas rather than an original work of his own. The key ideas he was exploring were a synthesis of phenomenology and existentialism and I think in essence are still relevant today. The autobiography is good although I wouldn’t describe it as essential. He certainly knows how to write a book that flows well, no doubt one of the attributes that allowed him to have a career as a professional writer for decades.

His life story is interesting – he grew up in a working class family in Leicester and struggled for years to become a writer. He had success quite early at the age of 25 with The Outsider (his first book) however he was soon subject to a backlash (partly his own fault) that caused him career difficulties for some years. He moved to a rural area where he lived in a cottage and proceeded to knock out a vast number of books. This was another interesting thing I learned – that a lot of the time he was writing purely for the money, and many of his books were projects suggested to him by publishers rather than topics he was particularly interested in. The Occult, his huge seller of the mid 1970s was such a book along with others on subjects such as UFOs and ghosts. I wouldn’t criticise him for this – I think it’s admirable that he has supported himself with his writing since the 1950s. However I had always assumed that he was an ideas person – that all his books were self generated projects exploring topics that were of importance to him. I appreciate that he is honest about this aspect and I do recall that many of his later books held no interest for me and I felt that he had gone off his game.

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