Two very different writers who passed in 2013: Norman Geras and Colin Wilson

Norman Geras, who wrote the wonderful Normblog died in October 2013. I didn’t know him personally, although we exchanged a few emails (principally for his movie polls). His blog was always enjoyable, and beautifully-written. Norm was principally a political philosopher and political historian. His critical and analytic skills were remarkable, and he was possessed of an especial clarity of expression. His blog remains standing, and extends back about a decade; it also remains worth reading. His blogroll is very useful too – fantastic and eclectic coverage of all sorts of everything.  His blog also led me to appreciate a certain strand of country music probably more than I would otherwise do – some achievement!

A very different writer, Colin Wilson, died in December 2013. I first encountered his books in the old Courthouse Library in Galway as a teenager in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. His was a very strange oeuvre – his obits were sniffy, as he went off on a strange course. To a young reader, though, his rambling tour through positive existentialism, and accounts of odd creatures like Aleister CrowleyGeorge Gurdjieff and Helena Blavatsky was eye-opening. The last book of his I remember reading was a workmanlike biography, The Quest for Wilhelm Reich. Reich was an early, influential and controversial disciple of  Sigmund Freud‘s. I do seem to recall Wilson taking some of Reich’s crackpot notions like orgone seriously in this biography (though, thanks, Kate Bush for a great song).

Wilson’s death dragged a memory from the recesses of my brain: about a decade ago, I was in one of the second-hand bookshops on Charing Cross Road in London. A consignment of books was being processed by two guys who worked in the shop. One said to the other (I paraphrase): ‘Loads of Colin Wilson’s – great – the people who are into Wilson are really *into* Wilson!

Wilson took no end of usually-justified criticism for all sorts of reasons through his career – but he may have served a useful purpose: introducing offbeat and different ideas and writers to a larger and popular audience. His example reminds me of someone else who takes lots of criticism – Malcolm Gladwell. Maybe, in time, Gladwell will be similarly seen – someone who has tried to introduce a certain type of work to an audience who might subsequently go and read more seriously, critically and deeply afterwards.

Author: Shane O'Mara

Neuroscientist