P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 18
28th October 2001
I. 'The Outsider' - Colin Amery revisits Colin Wilson's
Classic Existential Text
II. PhiloSophos Dot Com
III. 'The Use and Value of Philosophy' - Pathways Internet
IV. Local Groups Update - Telephone Conferencing
I. 'THE OUTSIDER' - COLIN AMERY REVISITS COLIN WILSON'S CLASSIC EXISTENTIAL TEXT
In l956 Wilson's 'Outsider' was an overnight success, and later went into
twelve impressions, the youthful looking 26 year-old was hailed by the critics
as a new Lord Byron. With his large horn rims and high-neck woollen sweater,
author Kenneth Allsop dubbed him one of the 'angry young men' of that period. I
had just started attending that left wing hot bed the London School of Economics
to study law. Mick Jagger was there at the same time but not yet a rock star. To
prepare him for his future career he was studying economics. I heard rumours
that Colin Wilson was pulling expressos in a Chelsea coffee bar off the King's
Road. I never got to that particular haunt, but in 1958 I frequented the Royal
Court Theatre nearby where John Osborne's 'Look Back in Anger' was playing to
packed houses. These highly original thinkers helped shape the future direction
of my life. For the first time I felt the possibility of a framework within
which to be truly myself and evolve a philosophy by which I could live.
Unfortunately my time at LSE ended a lot quicker than I had intended. In those
days one still did National Service and I was trained as a spy and Russian
linguist in a remote Scottish camp. The military posted me to Germany where I
ended up in Berlin shortly before the wall was built. In the divided city I
felt like a true outsider with no roots to call my own.
'The Outsider' began life as a commentary on the ideas of 'Ritual in the Dark'
which was not published until l960 four years later. It evokes with a certain
nostalgia the London of the late fifties. The description of the visit by
Gerard Sorme to the British Museum Reading Room with its beautiful domed
ceiling was one of the places where Colin Wilson and I might have met in the
seventies when I was researching my first published work 'New Atlantis'.
The final chapters of 'The Outsider' were written when Colin Wilson lived in a
tent on Hampstead Heath and caught the 24 bus every day to the Museum. His
girlfriend Joy's father allegedly chased him with a horsewhip when he was
writing 'Sex Diary of Gerard Sorme', mistaking a work of fiction for real-life
experiences. One of the main characters was based on Aleister Crowley. When
this novel was published in 1963 a political scandal swept London in the form
of the Profumo Affair which reached its heights during that sultry summer. At
the time I worked as an articled clerk for a firm of solicitors opposite the
Law Courts where I was sent to file civil proceedings to try and hush the
matter up. These efforts failed and our client had to resign, retreating from
the war-zone to the obscurity of charity work in the East End of London. In the
meantime, Colin and Joy retreated to Cornwall after the horsewhipping interlude
where as a married couple they have lived ever since.
'Sex Diary' was one of several novels written in the sixties which attempted a
form of 'a medium of philosophy'. Later in the seventies Wilson's writing
turned more towards mysticism and the occult which was a natural transition as
many of his novels and works of philosophy foreshadowed its basic concepts,
transforming him into one of the New Age prophets. An American edition of 'Sex
Diary' was released in 1988 entitled 'Sex Diary of a Metaphysician' while I was
completing a law degree in New Zealand. While Colin Wilson had been transforming
his ideas and philosophies I had travelled to Australia in 1965 where I worked
variously as night watchman, roustabout in pubs and read all the philosophy I
could lay my hands on in the elusive search for truth. I read 'The Outsider' in
1968 in a mousehole bedsit below the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I sent Colin Wilson
a postcard telling him his book had changed my life. So began a correspondence
that has kept going in a desultory fashion for more than thirty years. Within a
month I had left my job, deserted my wife and child and hit the road as an
I moved around the globe a lot in the next few years, eventually arriving in
London early in l974 to complete my research on Atlantis at the British Museum.
I caught the red 24 double-decker bus everyday from Hampstead Heath. We had to
order tomes from little cubby holes that were arranged alphabetically. I half
expected to collide with the sex-diarist at his station, for W-Z was adjacent
to the A-C's.
Walking to the Heath one Sunday afternoon I met a man who claimed to be John
Symonds, Crowley's biographer who told me he knew Colin Wilson very well and
that he was currently working on a book about the occult. In Hampstead there
were a lot of eccentrics who claimed to know the rich and famous, including a
young man going around the pubs claiming to be Dennis Wheatley's son. The
intelligence on Colin Wilson proved to be for real, however. Friends from the
Atlantis Bookshop spoke of sightings of him in nearby coffee bars garbed in
thick dark sweaters and matching trousers. I heard he was to sign a paperback
edition of 'The Occult' in May l973 at a Regent Street address.
That same week I started a job as a butler in the West End for a titled lady.
However I could not afford to take the time off to meet Colin Wilson since I
would have been sacked. The job helped me to get together the fare for my next
trip to the antipodes. A young occult student of mine from the Hampstead School
of Occult Studies had fallen pregnant and it was essential that I join her in
Wellington before our child was born. I caught my plane finally on a leap
year's day and fulfilled a dream to smell frangipani blossoms in Tahiti. I then
gained the day I had lost by crossing the dateline and reached New Zealand. All
this was appropriate for a passenger reading 'The Occult' on his journey to the
southern hemisphere. In 1976 I retreated to an island off the coast of Auckland
to study Jung and read the tarot cards for a living and worked for a few more
years as an occult columnist.
In the late 1980s I acquired a Siberian pen pal, Sergei, who also liked Colin
Wilson's books and insisted on going to England to meet him. Half your luck I
thought - sitting at the nether end of the world. He sent me a photo to prove
he finally made it, showing the author smiling with his left arm around the
Russian's frail shoulders. He described how on his arrival two large dogs
jumped up and placed their paws on his shoulders which was a story Chekhov
might have invented. I lost contact with my Siberian outsider after the 1991
putsch in the Soviet Union when he wrote to tell me he had given a speech in
the main square of Novosibirsk to support Yeltsin. I thought of him as a
character drawn from chapters six and seven of 'The Outsider' in which the
focus is on the great works of fiction of Dostoievski. The Russian influence
has remained strong in Colin Wilson's writing. The new postscript to those
chapters refers to the central place Gurdjeff occupies in his philosophy.
The philosophical quest is like an endless journey along a railway line where
we glimpse tantalising visions of the truth but swing back from the curve the
train is negotiating just as all is about to be revealed. Reading a Colin
Wilson novel is rather like an embarking on such a journey. In the year 2000 I
decided to revisit the country of my birth. I had earmarked Cornwall for a
visit, partly because my family once visited there and partly in the hope of
seeing my former mentor. He was quite old now, too, a mere sixty nine years on
my calculations. But the meeting was destined never to occur. My letter from
New Zealand did not reach him in time to respond before I left. I visited old
haunts in London I had known in the fifties and sixties. In Cornwall my wife
and I stayed in Penzance and caught a ferry to the Scilly Isles in the hope of
sighting some trace of the underwater kingdom of Lyonesse which some believe
once formed part of Atlantis. We had no such contact but the mystical isles we
visited, once occupied by the Romans and Cromwell had a unique atmosphere. We
caught the train back to London, rounding bends that revealed beaches where I
had once dug sand castles.
On my return to New Zealand I joined a philosophy course. My teacher knew about
'The Outsider' and had once kept a battered paperback copy in his knapsack at
Oxford. A neighbour of his had given refuge to its author before he left in a
hurry for Cornwall. It seemed timely to write to my erstwhile correspondent and
resume contact. With his customary generosity Colin Wilson sent me the proofs of
his postscripts to each chapter of the new edition of 'The Outsider'. The
original text is the one I read in l968 - only my life has changed. I have
already chronicled how I first read of Sartre's 'La Nausea' in a footnote in
'The Outsider'. Interestingly, the new Orion Press edition of Colin Wilson's
work has as its first sentence in the postscript to Chapter One, "When I began
to write 'the Outsider' nearly half a century ago Sartre was the most famous
writer in Europe." The intertwining of my interests with Colin Wilson's works
is somehow illustrated by this observation. This connectedness has operated as
kind of personal telepathy at different stages in my life, when important
decisions had to be taken.
(c) 2001 Colin Amery
On 20th October, I received the following intriguing e-mail from Pathways News
subscriber Tim Harris:
"Dear Professor Klempner,
"I'm interested in embarking on philosophical studies and wonder if I might be
able to work out some sort of trade for your instruction in the Pathways
"I have served as an Internet marketing director in the Web development
industry for years and could offer high quality Web hosting, Web site
maintenance, marketing, and various other services in exchange for instruction.
I believe these things are much much more affordable in the US.
"I own the domains philosophos.com and philosophos.org and have been trying to
think how I might but them to use. I also have connections in this industry to
professional Web development companies, Internet data centers, etc.
"I have worked in business, but have sometimes thought how I might like to
study philosophy, go back to school and become a philosophy professor someday.
I certainly do plan on cultivating a scholarly knowledge. Foremost, I view life
as an opportunity to cultivate the mind and Pathways might help. (How lucky you
are in your career to be able to think philosophical thoughts, and get paid for
"Being situated in the United States there surely might be some service that I
could offer. Let me know if there might be anything we could work out. I have
contacted you before, but have been too busy with work-a-day issues to move
ahead with Pathways. This has changed. Sincerely, Tim Harris."
To cut a long story short, with Tim Harris' professional help and advice, I
shall be starting with a blank slate and a new Pathways web site,
PhiloSophos [philosophos.org]. Our mission statement:
Philosophy is for everyone, not just philosophers.
Philosophers need to know lots of things besides
Some writers face a blank page with terror. I always have a sense of
excitement. I know something will appear, it is only a matter of time. I
believe in serendipity. Things turn up at just the right time. You get a nudge
on the shoulder, a casual remark catches you off guard and sparks an idea, a
messenger appears with a snippet of news.
When that happens, always listen attentively. You might not get a second chance!
If you have any thoughts about PhiloSophos, e-mail me at
III. 'THE USE AND VALUE OF PHILOSOPHY' - PATHWAYS CONFERENCE UPDATE
I last reported on the Pathways internet conference in Issue 9 (3 June). Over
the summer, there was not a lot of activity on the conference, but now we are
about to start up with a new theme. Dr Martin Gough, who has kindly provided
hosting for the conference through the Institute of Education, London, will be
reporting on the Pathways conference as part of his UK government funded
research project on the 'Wider Benefits of Learning'.
Martin Gough writes:
"I am formulating views...on e-conferencing as a paradigm of Socratic knowledge
construction, with the learning so-called going on better characterised as
informal rather than formal, even if it were part of a highly structured formal
course in an institution. The distinction between formal and informal is a focus
of my current research centre and the more I can say about it the more the
Society and Pathways will have its profile raised!
"Assuming the existing users are still virtually around, I would like to use
just them just for a brief discussion, before signing up any new people. The
theme should be...on the experience of electronic conferencing, and discussing
Philosophy by such a forum, as a comparison with face-to-face discussion, and a
comparison with other educational situations, including lectures or the school
"There are general questions which could be posed encapsulating that theme. And
we can pose more specific ones:
"Did you have technical problems accessing the conference? How much time did
you spend reading messages, thinking about them, writing responses to them? How
difficult or easy is it to discuss an issue? How do you feel you learn something
(e.g. a philosophical insight)? Is your understanding deeper or less deep when
you do (eventually) learn something? How do you imagine others to be like, when
you do not know how they sound or appear in person? How much does your
perception of yourself get changed?"
- I am now taking names of Pathways News subscribers interested in joining the
Conference as an active participant, or wishing to have restricted access to
the Conference as an observer. Martin Gough will provide usernames and
passwords. I have not yet decided on a new theme, but would be interested to
IV. LOCAL GROUPS UPDATE - TELEPHONE CONFERENCING
Pathways student Barbara Edwards writes:
"Thank you for your excellent newsletter. I would love to form a 'virtual
group' using telephone conferencing. This just needs an ordinary phone. If we
use UK facilities, the cost is 20 Pounds plus people's own private phone bills.
It is cheaper if we dial into the states. If we had say 10 people that could be
2 Pounds each.
"I have spent the last six months writing 'The Coaching Method and ADD' for
Jessica Kingsley. This is a pragmatic book, it has references but is definitely
not academic. However, it has left me with many interesting questions like, Does
attention deficit disorder exist? Is it a disease, something in the brain or
neurotransmitters or a form of personality? How does labelling and diagnosis
work? And what does this do to the question of a person's identity?"
Coach, Consultant, Author
Graduate of CoachU
Phone: +44 (0) 1483 832250
Web Page: http://www.addcoach.co.uk
Philosophy Pathways is the electronic newsletter for the
Pathways to Philosophy distance learning program
To subscribe or cancel your subscription please email your
request to firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this newsletter do not necessarily
reflect those of the editor. Contributions, suggestions or
comments should be addressed to email@example.com