PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS 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 aspiring writer.
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 program.
"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 it!)
"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 philosophy.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 classroom.
"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 receive suggestions!
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?"
Barbara Edwards Coach, Consultant, Author Graduate of CoachU Phone: +44 (0) 1483 832250 e-mail: email@example.com Web Page: http:---