Wilson summarizes these ideas in the introduction to his non-fiction work, Strange Powers: "I believed that if 'the Outsider' could learn to know himself, and make a determined effort to control his life instead of drifting, he might end as a leader of civilization instead of one of its rejects."2 In his novels (The Violent World of Hugh Greene, Adrift in Soho, The Glass Cage, The Black Room, The Space Vampires, Ritual in the Dark, The Philosopher's Stone), Wilson pictures Outsiders struggling to control their lives and expand their consciousness. Their fight, however, is always difficult, for man's consciousness is an unmapped region, filled with obstacles. To illustrate the nature of the Outsider's struggle, Wilson creates in The Mind Parasites an allegory, in which he shows an Outsider, Gilbert Austin, battling against the personified obstacles of the mind. The parasites symbolize human "blindness," the failure of man to see the value of life and the immense ramifications of expanded consciousness.
In the novel Wilson traces the perceptual development of Dr. Gilbert Austin. Austin, who feels the need to expand his consciousness, progresses from an Outsider to a Superman, who defeats the parasites and leaves the earth in search of other beings like himself. To show Austin's step-by-step progression, Wilson employs sight and perception images throughout the work, but, because the novel deals with the mind, seeing images possess special meaning. When Austin says he "sees" he is actually "feeling": You had to get use to thinking how your mind worked. Not just your 'mind' in the ordinary sense, but your feelings and perceptions as well. I found that by far the most difficult thing, to begin with, was to realize that 'feeling is another form of perception. .., our seeing is also feeling. Before Austin defeats the parasites, he progresses through several levels of understanding. Initially, he exists as an Outsider, who likes the world of the mind better than the external world. He constantly experiments to expand his consciousness. His interest in the mind brings him into contact with Dr. Karel Weissman.Weissman and Austin discuss problems of death and consciousness. Then Weissman dies and Austin receives his papers. By studying these documents, he learns of the parasites. Through his encounter with the parasites, he strengthens his mind, and finally taps into the vital life force. Once he knows how to use the "life force" to gain energy, Austin employs it against the parasites and obtains freedom.
Austin and Weissman are Outsiders. As Outsiders they depend heavily upon their mental and perceptual faculties. They want to dwell in "the land of the mind," for their intelligence and vision alienate them from the somnambulists who live around them. As Outsiders they perceive the phenomenal world as unreal: "Now, both Karel and I[Austin] agreed on one thing--no matter how dissimilar our temperaments might be in others--that our everyday lives had a quality of unreality" (p. 13). This sense of unreality causes them to experiment with their perception; they attempt to expand their knowledge of their consciousness: "We spent a great deal of time discussing problems of human consciousness, and so on" (p. 12).
To explore their minds, they conduct experiments similar to methods which Aldous Huxley and Wilson used to heighten their perception:
For a month or so, Karel Weissman and I tried to "experiment with consciousness." Over the Christmas holiday, we tried the experiment of staying awake for three days on black coffee and cigars. The result was certainly a remark able intensity of intellectual perception. I remember saying: "If I could live like this all the time, poetry would become worthless, because I can see so much farther than the poet." (p. 14)
Wilson, here, employs sight imagery to explain the poetic or mystical experience. Later, after they experiment with ether and carbon tetrachloride, Austin writes, "I certainly experienced some enormous feelings of insights" (p. 14). These insights foreshadow Austin's perceptual development. By showing that Austin and Weissman are Outsiders, interested in perception, Wilson hints at the direction in which their minds are moving. After Weissman's death, Austin undergoes several experiments which move him closer to a knowledge of the mind parasites. These "peak experiences" present Austin with glimpses of the "noumenal" world. Wilson uses sight images to explain these almost ineffable impressions. The first "peak experience" Austin recounts involves his decision to become an archaeologist. Wilson employs this example to illustrate that even at an early age Austin possesses exceptional concentration and perception:
I (Austin]had been reading a volume on the civilization of Ninevah by Layard, which I had picked up casually in the bedroom or a farm at which I was staying. Some of my clothes were drying on a line in the yard, and a burst of thunder made me hurry outside to get them in. Just inside the farmyard there was a large pool of gray water, rather muddy. As I was taking the clothes from the line, my mind still in Ninevah, I happened to notice the pool, and forgot, for a moment, where I was or what I was doing there. As I looked at it, the puddle lost all familiarity and became as alien as a sea on Mars. I stood staring at it, and the first drops of rain fell from the sky and wrinkled its surface. At that moment I experienced a sensation of happiness and of insight such as I had never known before. Ninevah and all history suddenly became as real and as alien as that pool. History became such a reality that I felt a kind of contempt for my own existence, stand in there with my arms full of clothes.(p. 18)
In this passage, Wilson describes a movement in which Austin feels godlike, excited by his glimpse into the "real" world. As he looks at the pool and feels the power of the storm, his mind turns to the book by Layard. For a moment, the excitement, generated by the storm, blends with his interest in the book. As this blending occurs, he feels elated, set free. As a romantic, he yearns to experience freedom and a sense of reality: "Now I have never tried to hide the powerful element or the romantic in my in my composition. I became an archaeologist through an almost mystical experience" (p. 18).
Austin, hoping to re-experience his initial sense of freedom, becomes an archaeologist. He does not know what instigates these "moments of freedom"; all he knows is that archaeology is somehow responsible. Wilson, in his "Post-script to the Outsider," recognizes that crisis and challenge initiate "peak experiences." Man, when things are going well, "tends to allow his grip on life to slacken."5 Austin experiences his first insight into reality accidentally, but this experience is enough to launch him on a lifetime preoccupation with perception and consciousness. Once he begins thinking deeply, concentrating upon methods to intensify his consciousness, Austin attracts the parasites. The parasites gather wherever men think clearly and deeply; they converge upon the thinking mind like sharks on a swimmer.
Austin's first impression of the parasites occurs on a night when he discusses the rise in the suicide rate with Dr. Reich and Dr. Darga. He feels their "cold eyes" watching him: "But as I listened to him, something happened to me. I felt a touch of coldness inside of me, as if I had suddenly become aware of some dangerous creature" (p. 21). Austin's awareness of the parasites creates a sense of challenge. Suddenly, he feels fear and defeat. He says to Reich, characterizing man as a sleepwalker, "after all, civilization is a kind of a dream. Supposing man suddenly woke up from that dream? Wouldn't it be enough to make him commit suicide?" (p. 21). The parasites inculcate these thoughts. Before Austin becomes aware of their insidious presence, he views life as absurd: "The idea that came to me was terrible. It was that the suicide rate was increasing because thousands of human beings were 'awakening,' like me to the absurdity of human life, and simply refused to go on" (p. 21). These thoughts, instilled by the parasites, seem paradoxical, for later Austin understands that men, who are "awake," do not commit suicide. Only men tormented by the parasites view life as absurd.
After the meeting breaks up, Austin progresses to another level of understanding. Still brooding about the meaninglessness of life, he decides to climb the stairs to the top of the wall:
"I admit that my mood was romantic, and that I experienced a need to intensify. So I stood there, hardly breathing, thinking of the dead sentries who stood where I now stood, and of the days when only the Assyrians lay on the other side of the mountains." (p. 30)
He uses history to stimulate another peak experience, but the mental activity attracts the parasites. Once the parasites appear, they quickly destroy Austin's mood: "All at once my thoughts took a gloomy turn. I felt totally insignificant, meaningless, standing there•••• suddenly it seemed that life was no more than a dream. For human beings, it never became a reality" (p. 30).
Austin plunges deeper into fear, and Wilson employs sight images to emphasize the insights he obtains:
"At this point, I looked at the moon again and was suddenly overwhelmed with an inexpressible fear. I felt like a sleepwalker who wakes up and finds himself balancing on a ledge a thousand feet above the ground•••• But I suddenly seemed to see that men manage to stay sane because they see the world from their own tiny, intensely personal viewpoints, from their worm's eye view. Things impress them or frighten them, but they still see them from behind this windshield of personality. Fear makes them feel less important, but it does not negate them completely; in a strange way, it has the opposite effect, for it intensifies their feeling of personal existence. ( p. 31)
By recognizing this "feeling of personal existence," Austin perceives that he is not insignificant. Instead, he feels that he possesses all the "knowledge of the ages" (p. 31). These thoughts astonish him, and he turns "his eyes" inside himself. At this point he discovers an important fact: he sees that the space inside his mind is as great as the external space which surrounds him: "Blake said that eternity opens from the center of the atom. My former terror vanished" (p. 32). When his terror subsides, Austin's thoughts develop rapidly, and he inadvertently stumbles upon another great insight. The irony here lies in the fact that the parasites induce his fear and this fear precipitates his insight. Wilson, in this passage, illustrates the parasites' symbolic purpose; they serve as an impetus to evolution. Wilson understands that man is a lazy creature, who needs a stimulus to grow and evolve. Austin, as he stares at the moon, would not have experienced an insight without the impetus of fear. Wilson ex presses this concept clearly in his novel The Black Room. In this novel Wilson presents the thesis that if man places himself in a dark room, devoid of external phenomena which affect his perception, he will force his mind to circumvent habit (one of the obstacles the parasites represent) and enter into a new dimension of consciousness. The black room, then, creates a crisis in the individual; it serves the same function as fear and danger, for it awakens the sleeping mind. As in The Mind Parasites, ordinary men can not survive the rigors of the black room. Only an Outsider possesses the insight to emerge from the room closer to the truth of consciousness. The black room, therefore, serves the same function as the mind parasites; it operates as an obstacle which enlivens, through crisis and challenge, the sleeping, habit-bound brain.
Austin, when he emerges from his "revelation," realizes its significance: "It was a movement. . . of overwhelming insight" (p. 32). Even though he feels strengthened and awake, he notices something dart across his consciousness as he strains to look deeper into himself: "But it seemed that, out of the corner of my eye--the eye of attention that was turned inward--I caught the movement of some alien creature" (p. 32). The mind parasites observe Austin's mental activities closely. From this point on they know he threatens them. The next morning when he awakens, he expresses an insight which marks the beginning of his campaign against the parasites: The everyday world demands our attention, and prevents us from "sinking into ourselves.
"As a Romantic, I have always resented this; I like to sink into myself. The problems and anxieties make it difficult. Well, now I had an anxiety that referred to something inside me, and it reminded me that my inner world was just as real and important as the world around me.(p. 32)
Austin, by seeing that something dwells in his consciousness, commences his evolution toward higher consciousness. As P. D. Ouspensky writes in his work The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution,
to know oneself--this was the first principle and the first demand of old psychological schools...• We think that to know ourselves means to know our peculiarities, our desires, our hates, our capacities, our intentions, when in reality it means to know ourselves as machines, that is, to know the structure of one's machine, its parts, functions of different parts,the conditions governing their work, and so on.6
Like Ouspensky, Austin tries to understand his mind as machine. He attempts to fathom its structure, its hidden processes. By engaging his mind in a search for knowledge, he sets his personal evolution in motion.
One of the most important discoveries Austin makes on his voyage toward self-knowledge is Karel Weissman's notes entitled Historical Reflections. In this work Weissman proves the existence of the parasites and calls these creatures a plague threatening mankind.
As Austin reads Weissman's notes his mind opens to the truth he already suspects. The first sentence shocks him, but as he reads he understands what Weissman has found. Weissman's Historical Reflections seems a parody of Wilson's study of the Outsider and his bout with perception. Weissman states that the parasites appear shortly after the French Revolution. This fact parallels Wilson's conviction that the first Outsiders surfaced during the Romantic period. Weissman notices that until the eighteenth century most Europeans have the ability to renew themselves when depressed or bored. Even though human history before the eighteenth century contains many incidents of horror and terror, man finds a way "to throw it [depression] off as easily as a tired child can sleep off its fatigue" (p. 57). Man, at this time, according to Weissman, considers that he "is a god who will overcome every obstacle" (p. 57). Instead, towards the end of the century, the times drastically change, and "the tremendous, bubbling creativity of Mozart is counterbalanced by the nightmare cruelty of De Sade" (p. 57). Man enters a period of subjectivity and depression, for he is unable to throw off his fits of depression. In his work The Strength to Dream, Wilson discusses De Sade, Lovecraft, Greene, and others in an attempt to find the reason for their abject pessimism. In The Mind Parasites, he symbolically employs the parasites to explain the pessimism of the nineteenth and twentieth century. Austin asks why "the new man" has lost faith in life, lost faith in knowledge (p. 58). The answer, confirms Weissman's report, rests in the fact that the mind parasites, who suck the very essence of life from modern man, exist.
Weissman, like Austin, encounters the parasites when he experiments with perception. Initially, Weissman uses drugs, because he feels drugs reach down "to man's most atavistic levels, and release the automatic tensions that make him a slave to his own boredom and to the world around him" (p. 60). The parasites, however, sabotage Weissman's attempts to expand human consciousness. In an experiment he conducts, ten people experiment with drugs. Out of the ten, five commit suicide and two suffer mental breakdowns. Weissman does not know what has happened; he sees no reason for the suicides. Therefore, he undergoes the same experiment. At first he experiences the usual pleasant effect, but when he tries to gain a subjective view of his inner mind, his mood changes drastically:
I attempted to turn my attention inward, to observe the exact state of my mind, perceptions and emotions. The result was baffling. It was as if I were trying to look through a telescope, and someone was deliberately placing his hand over the other end of it. Every attempt at self-observation failed. And then, with a kind of violent effort, I tried to batter through this wall of darkness. And suddenly, I had the distinct feeling of something living and alien hurrying out of my sight. I am not, of course speaking of physical sight. This was entirely a "feeling." (p. 62)
This bout with the parasites unnerves Weissman, but he does not give up. Instead, he renews his effort in an attempt to pinpoint the exact nature of the creatures hiding in his consciousness. By using techniques he says he garners from Husserl's phenomenology, he starts afresh, slowly and methodically taking note of man's mental terrain. As he works, he senses "certain inner forces" resisting his investigation (p. 63).
These forces are the parasites, and Weissman engages them in battle. For two weeks he struggles, until he penetrates a region of consciousness which is new to him. He feels terror and defeat, but suddenly the battle turns and he wins a temporary victory. From his victory Weiss man gains an insight:
And then the realization came to me with such searing force that I felt as if I had been struck by lightning. Everything was clear; I knew everything. I knew why it was so important to them that no one should suspect their existence. Man possesses enough power to destroy them all. But so long as he is unaware of them they can feed on him, like vampires, sucking away his energies. (p. 64)
Weissman, after his victory, continues to investigate the parasites. He knows that once a man recognizes the problems he faces he can devise methods to overcome these problems. Therefore, his knowledge jeopardizes the parasites' existence. The parasites, awake to the threat, renew their attack against Weissman, insidiously using other people and external methods to destroy him. Weiss man, however, before his death, discovers the most essential fact about the parasites:
I have another theory, which is so absurd that I hardly dare to mention it, This is that the mind parasites are, without intending it, the instruments of some higher force. They may, of course, succeed in destroying any race that be comes their host. But if, by any chance, the race should become aware of the danger, the result is bound to be the exact opposite of what is intended. (p. 68)
The mind parasites, then, serve as a means to knowledge. Like man's fall from the Garden of Eden, the parasites denote a flaw in man's character, but in the long run a happy flaw. As man challenges the parasites, he invades new areas of the mind, stumbling upon exciting possibilities. Austin's role in the novel illustrates Wilson's belief that challenges to the human mind serve to develop and benefit the mind, for in his battle to destroy the parasites he becomes godlike.7
As Austin reads, he understands Weissman's notes immediately. Because he is an Outsider and a Romantic, Austin easily adopts the techniques of concentration which Weissman says is necessary to improve the mind:
The odd thing is that, by this time, it wasn't difficult. This exercise of concentrating upon one's own mind had an exhilarating effect. There were certain things that I began to under stand immediately. As an unabashed "romantic", I have always been subject to boredom. This boredom arises out of a kind of mistrust of the world ••• well, I now felt that my duty lay in ignoring the outside world. I knew what Karel meant: that it was vital for the parasites to keep us in ignorance of their existence. Merely to become aware of them was to gain a new feeling of strength and purpose. (p. 71)
From this initial insight gained through his study of Weiss- man's notes, Austin's internal vision begins to improve. He enters fully the "land of the mind."
After reviewing Weissman's ideas, Austin decides to enlist his friend, Dr. Reich. Reich, more scientific than Austin, immediately sees possibilities of which Austin is unaware. Reich introduces Jung's concept of the "racial unconscious" and Huxley's idea, stated in Heaven and Hell that the mind "stretches for infinity inside us" in an attempt to logically explain the parasites' existence (p. 39). The concepts Reich introduces play an important role in the novel, for they explain the powers and insights Austin gains as he looks into his own mind. Inside his mind he taps the unconscious of mankind and finds new truths. His ability to tap the vital life of mankind ultimately transforms him from Gilbert Austin, an Outsider, to Gilbert Austin, Superman, possessor of godlike perceptions.
One of the first changes which occur after Austin adopts Weissman's ideas and utilizes Husserl's phenomenological method to map his unconscious is his experiment with psychokinesis:
I can still remember the greatest experiment of those early days. I was sitting in the library at the A. I. U. at three o'clock one afternoon, reading a new paper on linguistic psychology, and speculating whether its author could be trusted with our secret•••• I started to make shorthand notes. At this moment a mosquito buzzed viciously past my ear with its high-pitched whine; a moment later it passed again. My mind still full of Heidegger, I glanced up at it, and wished that it would find its way to the window. As I did so, I had a distinct sense of my mind encountering the mosquito. It veered suddenly off its course and buzzed across the room to a closed window. My mind kept a firm grasp on it, and steered it across the room to the fan vent in the open window, and outside. (p. 88)
Austin's ability to generate psychic motion demonstrates a definite maturation of mental powers. Psychokinesis, how ever, marks only one step. Excitedly, Austin moves in another direction; he desires to map and correlate his new perceptions:
The business of mapping these mental realms was in a way more exciting and rewarding, for it brought a more exciting kind of control. My mind could now command prospects that were beyond anything I had dreamed of before. For example, I had always been bad at mathematics. Now, without the slightest effort, I grasped the theory of function, multidimensional geometry, quantum mechanics, game theory or group theory. (p. 93)
Although Austin's understanding and concentration improve rapidly and he sees with very little distortion, he still suffers depressions, inculcated by the parasites. Before he can progress to the highest level of perception, he must accept the fact that life is meaningful. Wilson, from his first novel, Ritual in the Dark to The Mind Parasites, creates characters who undergo a three-part development. Initially, the characters (the protagonists) exist as Outsiders, who perceive the world differently from most human beings. Next, after examining the world, watching the proceedings like spectators, the characters adopt a nihilistic attitude and suffer from spiritual dyspepsia. John A. Wiegel, in his critical work on Wilson, writes of Gerard Sorme, the protagonist of Ritual in Dark:
Gerard is one of Wilson's most sensitive Outsiders; and, as such he experiences "vastations" in which he doubts his own existence. He is also susceptible to fits of anger and deep depression. Once, when Gerard comes upon his upstairs neighbor who is quite naked, he is startled to discover an impulse to kill the old man. It is apparent that Gerard's threshold of indifference is low; and Wilson is obviously preparing for significant psycho philosophical perceptions.8
These perceptions come in the third phase of the Outsider's development. In this phase the protagonists see that if they judge life to be useless, they must be using some criteria. In other words, if a man knows something is meaningless, he must possess knowledge of what is meaningful in order to judge. Once the characters accept the fact that life contains meaning, they initiate search for that meaning. Hugh Greene, in Wilson's novel The Violent World of Hugh Greene, summarizes this idea: But as I sat in front of the bus, traveling back into town, it came to me that there was an element I had left out of my calculations. If all men are futile, why had I been given a perception of futility? If all men are equally diseased, how had I managed to recognize, if not from an intuitive idea of health? 9
Hugh considers that his concept of health springs from some "ultimate truth." Austin, like Hugh, during a period of crisis, also feels the existence of "ultimate truth." Hugh's impression of an unknown power directs him to assume that life has meaning; so, too, does Austin's glimpse into his unconscious. This glimpse into the unknown eventually enables Austin to defeat the parasites.
Austin's life and death struggle with the parasites occurs on a night when he sits in his room making notes. Suddenly, he "feels" the "shivery" presence of the parasites (p. 107). He understands, as he tries to deceive them by thinking about mathematics, that they are "watching" at a "deeper level of unconscious" than ever before. Finally, he falls asleep, and the parasites rush in and occupy his mind. To punish him, the parasites induce a feeling of nausea. This feeling parallels what Roquentin experiences in Sartre's novel Nausea. Under the malevolent influence of the parasites, Austin feels that life is meaningless:
Suddenly, abysses of emptiness were open beneath my feet. It did not even produce fear; that ''culd be too human a reaction. It was like contact with an icy reality that makes everything human seem a masquerade, that makes life itself seem a masquerade. It seemed to strike at the heart of my life, something I had thought untouchable. (p. 113)
At the moment of defeat, the parasites withdraw, and during this respite, Austin obtains an insight which fills him with strength. This insight parallels the "intuitive idea of health" Hugh receives: Now a thought came that helped to turn the tide. It was this: that since these creatures had deliberately induced this feeling of total meaninglessness, they must be in some way beyond it. As soon as this idea floated into mind, strength began to return. (p. 114)
Austin now sees that the absurdity of life is an illusion. Once he transcends his nihilistic world view and begins to perceive that "the mind ••• was a universe of its own," he grows rapidly; ultimately, contacting a force which he cannot identify. His contact with this force signifies his greatest change. Unable to name the force, he simply labels it as benevolent:
No doubt a religious man would have identified that force with God. For me, this was irrelevant. I only knew that suddenly that I might have an unexpected ally in this fight•••As soon as it started, it spread like an atomic explosion. I was almost more afraid of it than of the parasites. Yet I also knew that this power was being released from myself. It was not really some "third force", outside me and the parasites. It was some great passive benevolence that I had contacted, something that had no power of action in itself, but which had to be approached and used. (p. 116)
Once Austin taps the vital life force his change is complete. He has not overthrown the parasites completely, but this action is just a matter of time. His perception now improves rapidly, and he moves outside the realm of ordinary perception into the world of extraordinary in sights. Austin marks the existence of the first superman; he signifies the direction of man's possible evolution.
He explains what has occurred:
I should try to make this point quite clear. If man had not been an "evolutionary animal", the parasites would have found a permanent host. There never would have been the faintest chance of man discovering their existence••• But a small percentage of the human race--about a twentieth, to be precise--are evolutionary animals with a deep and powerful urge to become truly free. (p. 180)
Austin, with his genuine concern for freedom, obtains the ultimate in human perception. At the end he sees all, knows all. He metaphorically stands as an example of man's greatest potential. He represents the rope which stretches between "seeing" man and Superman. As Nietzsche writes, "man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman--a rope over an abyss. 10
1. Colin Wilson, Voyage to Beginning: An Intellectual Biography (New York: Crown Publishing Inc., 1969). In this work Wilson traces, by subjectively studying his motivations and the sources of his major ideas, his philosophical development.
2 Colin Wilson, Strange Powers (New York: Vintage Books, 1976), p. 13.
3 Colin Wilson, The Mind Parasites (Oakland, Calif.: Oneiric Press, 1967), p. 82. Subsequent references are to this edition, and hereafter page numbers will be included in parentheses in the text.
4 Wilson, Voyage to Beginning, pp. 320-23.
5 Colin Wilson, The Outsider (New York: Delta Book, 1956), p. 294.
6 P. D. Ouspensky, The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution (New York: Vintage Books, 1973), p. 12.
7 Wilson, The Outsider, p. 294. Wilson defines his term St. Neot Margin: "It is the recognition that man's moments of freedom tend to come under crisis or challenge, and that when things are going well, he tends to allowhis grip on life to slacken."
8 John A. Wiegel, Colin Wilson (Boston: Twayne Publisher, 1975), p. 67.
9 Colin Wilson, The Violent World of Hugh Greene (Boston: Houghton M:lifflin Company, 1963), p. 217.
10 Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1961), p. 43.
Keith William Harvey
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