If you’ve been following our blog posts, you’ll know from David Metcalfe’s Invitations from the Outsider that Colin Wilson, famed independent scholar and prolific author of such books as The Outsider and The Occult, passed away on December 5th 2013. Obituaries have begun to trickle in from The Guardian, BBC, Telegraph, The Independent, and most recently The New York Times. Freely peruse those obits for a full spectrum of praise, posturing, and sad belittlement of Wilson’s life work (The Independent, for instance, features Wilson wearing some odd hair-drying contraption, complete with a list of warnings for youthful literary success; Wilson was 24 when he wrote The Outsider).
Writing in the Books section of the New York Times, Margalit Fox remembers Colin Wilson fondly for The Outsider, which in its time was heralded as an instant existential classic of British literature:
The book’s central thesis was that men of vision — among them Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Nietzsche, H. G. Wells, T. E. Lawrence, George Bernard Shaw, Hemingway, van Gogh, William Blake, Nijinsky and the 19th-century mystic Ramakrishna — stood apart from society, repudiating it as banal and disaffecting.
“The Outsider is not a freak, but is only more sensitive than the average type of man,” Mr. Wilson wrote. He added: “The Outsider is primarily a critic, and if a critic feels deeply enough about what he is criticizing, he becomes a prophet.”
In years to come, actual critics would argue over whether Mr. Wilson was a brilliant synthesist or merely an accomplished aphorist whose work lacked methodological rigor. But on the book’s publication, most reviewers, including the distinguished English men of letters Philip Toynbee and Cyril Connolly, were lavish in their praise.
Though “The Outsider” was often described as a philosophical work, Mr. Wilson saw it as fundamentally religious. Unlike existentialists whose worldview, he felt, inclined toward a dour nihilism, he purveyed what he called optimistic existentialism.
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