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Colin Wilson’s Idiosyncratic Literary Legacy

Rather than creating a glorious new literature of positive art, Colin Wilson delivered an odd mix of dodgy philosophy, pulp novels, and paranormal studies—the latter often downright silly.

Colin Wilson burst onto the paranormal scene with The Outsider in 1956, and his reputation and public image have been on a slow decline ever since. Some of his 118 books sold well, and some didn’t. Wilson, a self-taught laborer who wrote his way into the literary scene and grew to be yet another example of the English eccentric—mild mannered but obviously idiosyncratic—was clearly an odd duck.

Gary Lachman, author of a 2016 book about Wilson (Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson, Tarcher Perigee, New York) is also a rare bird, since few musicians have thrown away rock stardom in order to study the occult. An original member of the New Wave band Blondie, he gave up rock and roll to research the paranormal and eventually write a number of books on esoteric subjects, including biographies of the usual oddball thinkers including Jung, Swedenborg, Madame Blavatsky, and Aleister Crowley.

Lachman bills Beyond the Robot as a “rediscovery” of Colin Wilson. In spite of the title, it is mainly Wilson’s work being studied here. Many pages are spent explaining his philosophical ideas, while his life is often overshadowed. Though Lachman has known Wilson’s widow and two sons for years, they often seem like peripheral figures, and the subject seems to have been completely absorbed by his work, in more than one sense.

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The War on Science, Anti-Intellectualism, and ‘Alternative Ways of Knowing’ in 21st-Century America