|The Early Days of a Better Nation|
Saturday, July 16, 2011
Consider Wilson on Roquentin, the narrator of Sartre's novel La Nausée:
'Roquentin feels insignificant before things. Without the meaning his Will would normally impose on it, his existence is absurd. Causality - Hume's bugbear - has collapsed; consequently there are no adventures.'
It's the aside - 'Hume's bugbear' - that does the trick. Years later, you'll read Hume and marvel. Likewise the capitalization of 'Will'. This isn't any old will, you see, the kind that gets you and me out of bed in the morning - no, it's the Will of Schopenhauer's Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, to whose 'formidable dialectical apparatus' Wilson has given a nod and a passing wave a few pages earlier.
In his long, frank and often (sometimes intentionally) funny autobiography, Dreaming to Some Purpose (Arrow, 2004), Colin Wilson explains the genesis of his extraordinary first book, published when he was twenty-five years old and a complete unknown who had left school at sixteen. He really had read all the books he cites, and thought about them at length. He'd written about them, in his journals and notebooks, for over a decade, meanwhile endlessly drafting and redrafting his first novel. In the process, he accomplished in passing the key requirement for becoming a publishable writer: write a million words. ('Of crap', I sometimes add, by way of encouragement, because that's what mine were.) The Outsider was an overnight success, but the high-brow critics who'd praised it to the skies soon woke up with a hang-over. Wilson, it turned out, wasn't Britain's answer to Sartre and Camus. None of them, as far as I know, put their finger on what he actually was. Far from being a charlatan, Wilson was an intelligent and sincere young man who read more than enough to put most undergraduates to shame, but who'd never had what a university education could have given him: a training in critical thinking. Instead, he tried to make everything he read fit together and make a coherent story. I did the same myself at the time I read The Outsider, at the age of sixteen. Many of us do.
Wilson went on writing, about a hundred books, about everything: astronomy, crime, the occult, psychology, philosophy, sex, wine, music, UFOs ... always with the same theme as his first. He enjoyed a second success with The Occult, sometimes with the same critics, who this time should have been even more ashamed of themselves afterwards, but weren't.
I've always admired him; for his optimism, his enthusiasm, his energy, his self-belief. In one of his many books he says that it's better to think you're a genius when you're not than to think you're not when you are. There's no doubt on which side he falls. His autobiography is genuinely engaging and inspiring. If I could sincerely write a cult book a tenth as good in its way as The Outsider I'd do it in a heartbeat, if only for the money - another subject on which Wilson is eloquent, and unsparing of his own blushes.
Ideas, people, ideas! What's the world waiting to hear about from me?