Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson by Gary Lachman.
I remember being totally inspired when I came across Colin Wilson’s book The Outsider while at university in the early 1960s. It gave an introduction to philosophy/psychology and literature that had been much neglected in my early education. It was very readable and even had sexy bits to titillate one of such an age. And it was on a theme related to those who felt a bit outside the norms of conventional society, who were a bit different because not just preoccupied with the daily grind of the material world. It also had the intriguing backstory of Wilson’s having lived rough on Hampstead Heath for a period while researching and writing it in the British Museum, of his subsequent popularity as one of the ‘angry young men’ of the 1950s, and how he had fallen out of favour with the literary establishment.
Over the years I have dipped into quite a lot of the books of Wilson’s prolific work, both fiction and non-fiction. He seemed to move from philosophy/literature into more specific fields such as criminality and the occult, but always related to similar themes on the potential development of the individual human being. Generally what he wrote was very readable and seemed to make sense, but making it a reality in one’s own daily life was quite a different matter. So this was but one thread on my own extensive explorations of other authors and systems.
It was a delight to recently discover that Gary Lachman had written this biography of Wilson, which enables the books and their ideas to be put into context with each other and with the realities of Wilson’s life as an author earning a living through his writing. To my mind, Lachman has done a great job, and the clarity of his writing bears comparison with that of Wilson himself. He demonstrates clearly the development of Wilson’s ideas and suggests he should be regarded as a leading thinker of his time, notably playing a part in the development of a modern positive version of the existentialism that reached a negative cul-de-sac with Sartre and Camus. (After The Outsider I read Sartre’s Nausea and hated it.)
The robot of the title refers to our capacity to hand over parts of our lives to an inner ‘robot’ that handles things for us, filtering out parts of our experience of the ‘outside world’. Wilson’s aim is always to help us to move beyond the robot and reclaim meaning in our lives, but at the same time recognising the valuable functions that the robot does perform. It won’t help if I try to explain this much further in a few paragraphs. You’ll just have to read it for yourself. It will repay the effort.
This book will be a valuable reference to Wilson’s oeuvre, and will particularly give an insight into which of his books to begin with if you wish to delve further into his world.