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THE DON JUAN AFFAIR by Colin Wilson Articles Booklist Home

In I968, the University of California Press published a book called ‘The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge’ by Carlos Castaneda. Castaneda had entered the University of California – UCLA – as an undergraduate in 1959, and had received a BA in anthropology in 1962. The University of California Press accepted ‘The Teachings of Don Juan’ as an authentic account of Castaneda’s `field work’ in Mexico.

The book told how, when he was an anthropology student, in 1960, Castaneda made several trips to the southwest to collect information on medicinal plants used by the Indians. At a Greyhound bus station, he was introduced to a white-haired old Indian who apparently knew all about peyote, the hallucinogenic plant. Although this first meeting was abortive – Castaneda tells with touching honesty how he `talked nonsense’ to Don Juan – Castaneda made a point of finding where Don Juan lived and was finally accepted by the old brujo (medicine man or magician) as a pupil, a sorcerer’s apprentice.

The teaching begins with an episode in which Don Juan tells Castaneda to look for his `spot’, a place where he will feel more comfortable and at ease than anywhere else; he told Castaneda that there was such a spot within the confines of the porch. Castaneda describes how he spent all night trying different spots, lying in them, but felt no difference. Don Juan told him he ought to use his eyes. After this, he began to distinguish various colours in the darkness; purple, green and verdigris. When he finally chose one of these, he felt sick and had a sensation of panic. Exhausted, he lay by the wall and fell asleep. When he woke up, Don Juan told him that he had found his `spot’ – where he had fallen asleep. The other spot was bad for him, the `enemy’.

This episode helps to explain the subsequent popularity of the book which was published in paperback by Ballantine Books and sold 300,000 copies. Don Juan is a teacher, a man of knowledge – the kind of person that every undergraduate dreams of finding- and he introduces Castaneda to the most astonishing experiences. When Castaneda first eats a peyote button, he experiences amazing sensations and plays with a mescalito dog whose mind he can read. On a later occasion he sees the mescalito god himself as a green man with a pointed head. When Don Juan teaches him how to make a paste from the datura plant – Jimson weed – he anoints himself with it and has a sensation of flying through the air at a great speed. (In their book The Search for Abraxas, Stephen Skinner and Neville Drury speculate that witches of the Middle Ages used a similar concoction and that this explains how they `flew’ to Witches’s Sabbaths). He wakes up to find himself half a mile from Don Juan’s house.

During this period when the book was published many young Americans were smoking pot and experimenting with `psychedelic drugs’ like mescalin and LSD, and Timothy Leary was advising American youth to `Turn on, tune in, drop out.’ This apparently factual account of semi-magical experiences became as popular as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and for much the same reason: it was escapist literature, but, more important, it claimed to be true. Reviews were excellent. Anthropologists and scientists took the book seriously – the psychologist Carl Rogers called it `one of the most vividly convincing documents I have read.’ The philosopher Joseph Margolis said that either Castaneda was recording an encounter with a master or he was himself a master.

This was clearly a success that had to be followed up. A Separate Reality described how Castaneda had returned to Don Juan in 1968. A giant gnat, 100 feet high, circles around him; he rides on a bubble; he has a semi-mystical experience in which he hears extraordinary sounds and sees the sorcerer’s `ally’, who shows him a `spirit catcher.’ The demand for more about Don Juan remained strong but Castaneda had a problem. A Separate Reality came to an end in 1970 and was published in 1971; for the time being he had used up his Don Juan material.

But not quite. He explained in his next book, Journey to Ixtlan (1973) that he had made the erroneous assumption that the glimpses of reality that Don Juan had given him could only be obtained through drugs. Now he realized he was mistaken. In fact, Don Juan had told him many other things during his years as a sorcerer’s apprentice, but although he had written these non-drug revelations in his `field notes’, he had failed to see their significance. Now, looking back over his notes, he had failed to see their significance. Now, looking back over his notes, he realized that he had a vast amount of material that showed that drugs were not necessary for achieving unusual states of consciousness. So Journey to Ixtlan goes back to 1960 and recounts still more astonishing adventures: he has strange visions, mountains move, and Castaneda describes his encounter with a sinister but beautiful sorceress named Catalina. In retrospect, it seems that Castaneda made his first major error in writing Ixtlan (although it was one that, according to his agent, made him $1 million). The `lost’ field notes sound just a little too convenient.

Yet, oddly enough, scholars continued to take him seriously. Mary Douglas, a professor of social anthropology, wrote an article about the first three books called `The Authenticity of Castaneda’, which concluded: `From these ideas we are likely to get advances in anthropology.’ Moreover, UCLA granted Castaneda his Ph.D. for Ixtlan and he lectured on anthropology on the Irvine campus. If reviewers would swallow Ixtlan, they would clearly swallow anything.

Now that enough time had elapsed since his last visit to Sonora, Castaneda could renew his acquaintance with Don Juan and bring his revelations up to date. But Tales of Power (1974) seems to indicate that either Castaneda or his publisher felt that the game would soon be up. The dust jacket declares that this is the `culmination of Castaneda’s extraordinary initiation into the mysteries of sorcery.’ At last, it declares, Castaneda completes his long journey into the world of magic and the books ends with a `deeply moving farewell’.

In may ways Tales of Power – covering a period of a few days in 1971 – is more rewarding than the earlier Don Juan books because it attempts to present a philosophical theory about reality, in terms of two concepts which Don Juan calls the tonal and nagual. The tonal is `everything we are’, while the nagual is pure potentiality. The tonal is the pair of Kantian spectacles through which we see the world and impose meaning on it; it consists mainly of linguistic concepts and preconceptions. These conceptions are illustrated with the usual tales of magical experiences: Don Juan shows him a squirrel wearing spectacles which swells and finds he has travelled one and a half miles. It was at this point, after publication of Tales of Power, that a teacher of psychology named Richard de Mille was persuaded by his niece to read all four Don Juan books one after the other. (`You have to take the whole trip.’) The Teachings struck him as authentic and factual. A Separate Reality raised doubts; it was better written but somehow not so `factual’. And the character of Don Juan had changed; he seemed more `joky’, while in the first book he had been grimly serious. Of course, Castaneda himself had already mentioned this. `He clowned during the truly crucial moments of the second cycle.’ But when he came to Ixtlan, De Mille was puzzled to find that the Don Juan of the notes made as early as 1960 was as much of a humorist and a clown as the later Don Juan.

Made suspicious by this inconsistency, he began to study the books more closely and soon found contradictions that confirmed his feeling that he was dealing with fiction rather than fact. A friend pointed out one obvious inconsistency: in October 1968, Castaneda leaves his car and walks for two days to the shack of Don Juan’s fellow sorcerer Don Genaro but when they walk out of shack they climb straight into the car. De Mille discovered a single contradiction. In Ixtlan, Castaneda goes looking for a casertain bush on Don Juan’s instructions and finds it has vanished; then Don Juan sees him to the far side of the hill, where he finds the bush he thought he had seen earlier on the other side. Later Don Juan tells him, `This moment you saw’, giving the word special emphasis. Yet six years later, in which Castaneda is represented (in A Separate Reality) as asking Don Juan what is seeing and Don Juan tells him that in order to find the bush Castaneda must see for himself. He seems to have forgotten that Castaneda had an experience of seeing six years earlier. And while it is understandable that Don Juan should forget, it is quite incomprehensible that Castaneda should.

These and may similar inconsistencies convinced De Mille that one of the two books had to be fiction, or that, more probably, the both were. He published his results in a book called Castaneda’s Journey in 1976 and it led many anthropologists who had taken Don Juan seriously to change their views. Joseph K. Long felt `betrayed by Castaneda.; Marcello Truzzi, on the other hand, admitted that he felt aghast at the initial reactions of the scientific community on Castaneda’s books and that he was equally outraged by the serious reaction now De Mille had exposed them as frauds.

Castaneda’s admirers were mostly infuriated. Their feeling was that even if Castaneda had invented Don Juan, the books were of genuine knowledge and wisdom, and should be gratefully accepted as works of genius. One lady wrote to De Mille saying she was convinced he didn’t exist and asking him to prove it. De Mille had, in fact, accepted that the Don Juan books had a certain merit, both as literature and `occult teaching’. But, when, in 1980 he edited a large volume of papers on the `Castaneda hoax’ called The Don Juan Papers his admiration had visibly dwindled.

Some of the essays present an even more devastating exposure of Castaneda than De Mille’s original volume. For example, Hans Sebald, an anthropologist who had spent a great deal of time in the southwestern desert, pointed out that it was so hot from May to September that no one with any sense ventures into it; dehydration and exhaustion follow within hours. Yet according to Castaneda, he and Don Juan wandered around the desert for days, engaging in conversation and ignoring the heat. Sebald goes on to describe Castaneda’s animal lore: `Where . . . are the nine-inch centipedes and tarantulas big as saucers? Where are the king snakes, scarlet chuckawallas, horned toads, gila monsters. . .’

A lengthy appendage on The Don Juan papers cites hundreds of parallel passages from the Castaneda books and from other works on anthropology and mysticism that bear a close resemblance. The book establishes, beyond all possible doubt, that the Castaneda books are a fraud. Richard De Mille’s own research revealed that Carlos Arana was born in 1925 (not 1935, as he has told an interviewer) in Cajamarca, Peru, and came to San Francisco in 1951, leaving behind a Chinese-Peruvian wife who was pregnant. In 1955 he met Damon Runyan’s distant cousin Margaret and married her in 1960; they separated after six months [their marriage lasted 13 years]. In 1959 he became an undergraduate at UCLA and the Don Juan story begins. . . Castaneda himself has proven to be an extremely elusive individual, as Time discovered when it sent a reporter to interview him in 1973.

In the light of De Mille’s discoveries, this is easy to understand. Castaneda’s career can be compared to that of the Shakespeare forger, William Ireland (see page 189), who began by forging a few Shakespeare signatures to gain his father’s attention and found himself forced to continue until he had concocted a whole Shakespeare play, which brought about his discover and downfall. Castaneda presumably produced the original ‘Teachings of Don Juan’ as a mild form of hoax. The publication by Ballantine lauched him, whether he liked it or not, on the career of a trickster and confidence man. It would, perhaps, have been wiser to stop after Ixtlan, or possibly after Tales of Power.

But the demand for more Don Juan books has presumably overcome his caution. In fact, the fifth, The Second Ring of Power, reads so obviously as fiction that it raises the suspicion that Castaneda wanted to explode his own legend. But he shows caution in offering no dates, no doubt to escape De Mille’s vigilant eye. Castaneda tells how he went back to Mexico looking for Don Juan and instead encountered one of his disciples, a sorceress named Madame Solitude. Last time he saw her she was fat and ugly and in her fifties; now she is young, slim and vital, and within a few pages, she has torn off her skirt and invited him to make love to her – an invitation he wisely resists. Then Castaneda somehow invokes his own double out of his head – not a mild-mannered scholar but a super-male authority figure who hits Madame Solitude on the head and almost kills her. Then four lady disciples arrive and make more assaults on Castaneda, which he overcomes, and after which they all encounter other-worldly beings. . .

In his sixth book, The Eagle’s Gift, Castaneda returns to Mexico as ‘a sorcerous leader and figure in his own right’ (As the blurb says) and enters into a closer relationship with one of the female sorcerers of the previous books, La Gorda. The two of them develop the ability to dream in unison. It is clear that, since writing the earlier book, Castaneda has come across split-brain physiology and now we hear a great deal about the right and left sides of a human being, the left being the nagual and the right, the tonal. De Mille had pointed out that the Don Juan books seem to chart Castaneda’s literary and philosophical discoveries over the years and this book confirms it. For those who read it with the certainty that the previous books were a hoax, it seems an insult to the intelligence. But it seems to demonstrate that Castaneda can continue indefinitely spinning fantasies for those who regard him as the greatest of modern gurus.

Philosopher of Optimism Endures Negative Deluge


Published: August 17, 2005
GORRAN HAVEN, Britain – Any intellectual who divides opinion as much as Colin Wilson has for almost 50 years must be onto something, even if it is only whether humans should be pessimistic or optimistic.

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Colin Wilson, now 74, wrote his autobiography last year.

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Mark Kauffman/Time Life Pictures – Getty Images
Colin Wilson in 1956, the year his first book, “The Outsider,” was published and he was declared a major existentialist thinker.
Mr. Wilson, who turned 74 in June and whose autobiography, “Dreaming to Some Purpose,” recently appeared in paperback from Arrow, describes in the first chapter how he made his own choice. The son of working-class parents from Leicester – his father was in the boot and shoe trade – he was forced to quit school and go to work at 16, even though his ambition was to become “Einstein’s successor.” After a stint in a wool factory, he found a job as a laboratory assistant, but he was still in despair and decided to kill himself.

On the verge of swallowing hydrocyanic acid, he had an insight: there were two Colin Wilsons, one an idiotic, self-pitying teenager and the other a thinking man, his real self.

The idiot, he realized, would kill them both.

“In that moment,” he wrote, “I glimpsed the marvelous, immense richness of reality, extending to distant horizons.”

Achieving such moments of optimistic insight has been his goal and subject matter ever since, through more than 100 books, from his first success, “The Outsider,” published in 1956, when he was declared a major existentialist thinker at 24, to the autobiography.

In an interview last month at his home of nearly 50 years on the Cornish coast, Mr. Wilson was as optimistic as ever, even though his autobiography and his life’s work have come under strong attack in some quarters.

“What I wanted to do was to try to create a philosophy upon a completely new foundation,” he said, sitting in his living room along with a parrot, two dogs and part of his collection of 30,000 books and as many records. “Whereas in the past optimism had been regarded as rather shallow – because ‘oh well, it’s just your temperament, you happen to be just a cheerful sort of person’ – what I wanted to do was to establish that in fact it is the pessimists who are allowing all kinds of errors to creep into their work.”

He includes in that category writers like Hemingway and philosophers like Sartre. In books on sex, crime, psychology and the occult, and in more than a dozen novels, Mr. Wilson has explored how pessimism can rob ordinary people of their powers.

“If you asked me what is the basis of all my work,” he said, “it’s the feeling there’s something basically wrong with human beings. Human beings are like grandfather clocks driven by watch springs. Our powers appear to be taken away from us by something.”

The critics, particularly in Britain, have alternately called him a genius and a fool. His autobiography, published in hardcover last year, has received mixed reviews. Though lauded by some, the attacks on it and Mr. Wilson have been as virulent as those he provoked in the 1950’s after he became a popular culture name with the publication of “The Outsider.”

That book dealt with alienation in thinkers, artists and men of action like T. E. Lawrence, van Gogh, Camus and Nietzsche, and caught the mood of the age. Critics, including Cyril Connolly and Philip Toynbee, hailed Mr. Wilson as a British version of the French existentialists.

His fans ranged from Muammar el-Qaddafi to Groucho Marx, who asked his British publisher to send a copy of his own autobiography to three people in Britain: Winston Churchill, Somerset Maugham and Colin Wilson.

“The Outsider” was translated into dozens of languages and sold millions of copies. It has never been out of print.

The Times of London called Mr. Wilson and John Osborne – another young working-class man, whose play “Look Back in Anger” opened about the same time “The Outsider” was published – “angry young men.” That name was passed on to others of their generation, including Kingsley Amis, Alan Sillitoe and even Doris Lessing.

But fame brought its own problems for Wilson. His sometimes tumultuous early personal life became fodder for gossip columnists. He was still married to his first wife while living with his future second wife, Joy. His publisher, Victor Gollancz, urged him to leave the spotlight, and he and Joy moved to Cornwall.

But the publicity had done its damage. His second book, “Religion and the Rebel,” was panned and his career looked dead.

Mr. Wilson said the episode had actually saved him as a writer, however. “Too much success gets you resting on your laurels and creates a kind of quicksand that you can’t get out of,” he said. “So I was relieved to get out of London.”

He said his books were probably heading for condemnation in Britain anyway. “I’m basically a writer of ideas, and the English aren’t interested in ideas,” he said. “The English, I’m afraid, are totally brainless. If you’re a writer of ideas like Sartre or Foucault or Derrida, then the general French public know your name, whereas here in England, their equivalent in the world of philosophy wouldn’t be known.”

He never lost belief in the importance of his work in trying to find out how to harness human beings’ full powers and wipe out gloom.

“Sartre’s ‘man is a useless passion,’ and Camus’s feeling that life is absurd, and so on, basically meant that philosophy itself had turned really pretty dark,” he said. “I could see that there was a basic fallacy in Sartre and Camus and all of these existentialists, Heidegger and so on. The basic fallacy lay in their failure to understand the actual foundation of the problem.”

That foundation, he said, is that human perception is intentional; the pessimists themselves paint their world black.

Mr. Wilson has spent much of his life researching how to achieve those moments of well-being that bring insight, what the American psychologist Abraham Maslow called “peak experiences.”

Those moments can come only through effort, concentration or focus, and refusing to lose one’s vital energies through pessimism.

“What it means basically is that you’re able to focus until you suddenly experience that sense that everything is good,” Mr. Wilson said. “We go around leaking energy in the same way that someone who has slashed their wrists would go around leaking blood.

“Once you can actually get over that and recognize that this is not necessary, suddenly you begin to see the possibility of achieving a state of mind, a kind of steady focus, which means that you see things as extremely good.” If harnessed by everyone, this could lead to the next step in human evolution, a kind of Superman.

“The problem with human beings so far is that they are met with so many setbacks that they are quite easily defeatable, particularly in the modern age when they’ve got too separated from their roots,” he said.

Over the last year, he has been forced to test his own powers in this area. “When I was pretty sure that the autobiography was going to be a great success, and when it, on the contrary, got viciously attacked,” Mr. Wilson said, “well, I know I’m not wrong. Obviously the times are out of joint.”

Though “Dreaming to Some Purpose” was warmly received in The Independent on Sunday and The Spectator and was praised by the novelist Philip Pullman, the autobiography – and Mr. Wilson – received a barrage of negative profiles and reviews in The Sunday Times and The Observer. These made fun of the book’s more eccentric parts, like his avowed fetish for women’s panties.

As a measure of the passions that Mr. Wilson provokes, Robert Meadley, an essayist, wrote “The Odyssey of a Dogged Optimist” (Savoy, 2004), a 188-page book defending him.

“If you think a man’s a fool and his books are a waste of time, how long does it take to say so?” Mr. Meadley wrote, questioning the space the newspapers gave to the attacks.

Part of Mr. Meadley’s conclusion is that the British intellectual establishment still felt threatened by Mr. Wilson, a self-educated outsider from the working class.

“One of my main problems as far as the public is concerned is that I’ve always been interested in too many things,” Mr. Wilson said, “and if they can’t typecast you as a writer on this or that, then I’m afraid you tend not to be understood at all.”

Colin Wilson

Colin Wilson


GVST: You have a profound understanding of the condition/of the psychology of the poet and of the poetic consciousness, this goes beyond “to be in sympathy with,” beyond empathy or “identification,” indeed it is clear that you are writing about yourself when you write about the poet and such as “Faculty X” and the poetic imagination (and the freedom that is available to consciousness). You are obviously a poet. But I wonder, have you written any poetry?

Colin Wilson: When in my teens—but it was much influenced by Rupert Brooke and Yeats, and I would be embarrassed to see it in print.

GVST: Do you have any favorite poets, and is there any poetry that when you read it makes you say, Wow, now that’s what I call poetry!

Colin Wilson: I’ve loved poetry since my teens, when I had to leave school at 16 and go to work. This made me so miserable—I was working in a factory—that I relied on poetry as an alcoholic does on booze. Eliot was specially important, so was Yeats, and poems like Wilfred Owen’s “Exposure” moved me powerfully. Otherwise, the earliest influence was Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, much of which I knew by heart. Matthew Arnold and Browning were favourites.

GVST: Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that were we to examine the phenomenon of poetry as it appears throughout the ages—starting, say, with Homer, and to Virgil, to Dante, and to the Metaphysicals and to Eliot—that in doing so we were able to identify, in that various poetry, Faculty X as it has made its impression in different ways and at different times and in varying degrees: I wonder, first, what exactly would it be that we recognize as Faculty X, as an instance of Faculty X (is it, the emergence of symbols?), and then, would we be likely to discern, in the various poetry, throughout the ages, an increase in the appearance/occurrence of Faculty X, an indication of what is to come, or would we discern a decrease, a lack, a lessening, and periods of abject absence?

Colin Wilson: Faculty X does not make for symbols. It is simply that feeling of wide-awakeness that you get on a spring morning, and Rupert Brooke is full of it. It is important to grasp that the mind can deliberately change the way it sees things. Brooke tells how he can wander about a village wild with exhilaration. “And it’s not only beauty and beautiful things. In a flicker of sunlight on a blank wall, or a reach of muddy pavement, or smoke from an engine at night, there’s a sudden significance and importance and inspiration that makes the breath stop with a gulp of certainty and happiness. It’s not that the wall or the smoke seem important for anything or suddenly reveal any general statement, or are suddenly seen to be good or beautiful in themselves—only that for you they’re perfect and unique. It’s like being in love with a person. . . . I suppose my occupation is being in love with the universe.”

You can see that this has more to do with Gurdjieff’s “self-remembering”—that simultaneous awareness of looking at something and being aware of yourself looking at it—than with Arnold Toynbee’s experience in Mistra.

GVST: It seems to me the appearance/occurrence of Faculty X is intermittent, and then always only imperfectly realized (albeit, imperfectly realized may be enough, or may be all that can be sustained/endured). It seems to me that in today’s poetry Faculty X is almost entirely absent—this is not only to say that today’s poetry is almost entirely “uninspired,” but that it is almost entirely lacking in “consciousness,” but as though it were written by a machine, a machine that while able to form sentences according to the principles of grammar, could never intuit the philosophy behind meanings and signification. I wonder, is Faculty X for the most part behind us, and when seen to occur is in some vestigial form, or if indeed it lies before us and is indeed a matter of evolution. . . ?

Colin Wilson: Again, poetry should not be equated with Faculty X. I often give as an example of Faculty X a women who was sitting on the lavatory in the backyard of a Jack the ripper murder site when the woman who was waiting for her pointed to the steps and said: “That where Jack killed Annie Chapman,” and the woman screamed and leapt to her feet. That is nothing to do with poetry, but everything to do with a sense of reality, the “shock of recognition.”

Although I have a bookshed full of poets from Auden to Yeats, I don’t read much poetry—too busy writing.

GVST: You mention Palgrave’s Golden Treasury. In 2000 Palgrave issued a special facsimile edition of that. It’s a little hardcover book—if you put your hands together like you’re praying, it fits right inside your hands. It’s a lovely, wonderful anthology—“Selected and Arranged with Notes by Francis Turner Palgrave”—and I am so happy to have a copy. I don’t think we have anything like this for the United States, nothing that is “a true national Anthology.”

Colin Wilson: I keep the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry by my bed.

GVST: Still with Faculty X and the poet: is it not so that poetry, that the poet can make of his poetry, the documentation of the experience of Faculty X, or, rather, of the experience that Faculty X makes available to us, that being the so-called “peak experience,” or, what you have termed “promotion”? Is it not so that poetry can be the result of it, or, that, no, not symbols, but insights, and maybe it was the job of the poet to fashion symbols that stand for or that give form to those insights?

Colin Wilson: It seems to me that you over-emphasise Faculty X, which is essentially a trick of the brain. What is far more significant is what Chesterton calls “absurd good news,” and Proust “moments bienheureux.” It is true that what Proust experienced as he tasted the Madeleine dipped in tea was Faculty X, but what matters is his comment “I had ceased to feel accidental, mediocre, mortal.” Question: Is that true or an illusion? I would answer: True. So what prevents us from grasping it? Our own tendency to what William James calls “a certain blindness in human beings,” what I have called “the bullfighter’s cape” that confines our perception to CLOSE-UPNESS. (The matador defeats the bull by not allowing it a clear view.) Close-upness deprives us of meaning.

You don’t need symbols. Yeats says it with great clarity in “Under Ben Bulben,” in quite clear and straightforward language. Shaw also said it quite clearly, and he is not poet. In Back to Methuselah he defines the problem as “discouragement.” Blake calls it “doubt,” and said “If the sun and moon should doubt / They’d immediately go out.”

The people who deserve blame are the pessimists, the poisoners of our cultural wellsprings, like Samuel Beckett and William Golding.

Idiots parrot “Beckett is a great writer.” He isn’t. With the exception of Godot, which justifies itself by being funny, he is a dreary shit. And in encouraging the notion that life is “a tale told by an idiot,” and that our attitude towards it ought to be one of weary resignation, he is an enemy of human evolution. Other writers have taken the same attitude, including Shakespeare, but there is a greatness in his language that contradicts his negativeness. In Beckett’s later work there is no such counterbalance.

GVST: In your book, Poetry and Mysticism, in the chapter on Rupert Brooke, you say that “to experience ‘promotion’ is the mark of a poet.” You say, “the poem is seen to be the honest expression of a personal emotion, and the record of a certain kind of promotion experience.” You write, “a poet is a certain type of person: one who is subject to unpredictable states of ‘promotion,’ a sense of ‘enlargement’ that is oddly impersonal.” I wonder if over the years since this book appeared (I have the 1970 edition), have any poets come to you and told you that what you were writing was true? And, but surely, this record of experience (that is the poem) is not (when at its best) just some narcissistic indulgence or biography, it conveys knowledge, does it not? Now this is not necessarily knowledge of the type that, say, a Virgil, a Dante or a Milton recounts, but it is, isn’t it, knowledge of some sort, say a knowledge of the possibilities of consciousness? In the case of Rupert Brooke, is it just that we have an instance of an awakening, an instance of Keats’ negative capability, of “the pure poetic experience, the sudden forgetfulness of personality,” and that is that, that is the lesson, there is no need to look any further. . . ?

Colin Wilson: The promotion experience is, like Proust’s “ceasing to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal,” A GLIMPSE OF WHO YOU REALLY ARE. Which is why Nietzsche can talk about “how one becomes what one is.” Cyril Connolly once said that inside every fat man there is a thin man struggling to get out. Well, inside every weak, modest man there is a Zarathustra trying to get out. That Zarathustra is the poet.

GVST: For the young intellectual, for the sensitive outsider (that was me, and still am), to come upon the books of Colin Wilson, whether by happy accident or by recommendation, he is soon come to see Colin Wilson as his hero. Beckett and Golding and for that matter Sartre and Ayer and Heidegger and Wittgenstein and Derrida are nobody’s heroes. Alienation will never go away, in fact it’s getting worse, and the young intellectual, if he has the brains, he can say a hundred reasons why the world should go straight to hell. (The death of God is as eternal as God is.) But the philosophy in The Outsider is affirmative, it is life-affirming, that is the trick, while at the same time being this unprecedented analysis and commentary of Existentialist literature. . . . My question is this: Are you still optimistic? In the Postscript to The Outsider (was this in 1967?) you say you feel exciting things are about to happen, that we are on the brink of some discovery that will make our century a turning point in human history. . . . Given the state of philosophy, and of literature, and of politics and of the religions (and of what some say is today a war of religions!)—are you still optimistic?

Colin Wilson: Of course I am, because my optimism is a general basic verdict on human existence, as the pessimism of Beckett or Celine or Andreyev is their own assessment, and it seems to me to be full of their personal weakness and subjectivity—their poor emotional health, if you like.

In The Outsider my starting point was all those 19th century writers and artists who came to a sad end, and who ended by saying (in the words of a friend of mine) “The answer to life is no.”

My reaction was like that of an accountant who is reacting to the statement “We had better declare bankruptcy.” “No, no, no. You’ve plenty of better alternatives.”

GVST: In your book The Occult, in the chapter entitled, “The Poet as Occultist” (and just this chapter, in itself, is an education), you begin by saying: “The poet is a man in whom Faculty X is naturally more developed than in most people.” And you ask: “Do poets, in fact, possess a higher degree of ‘occult’ powers than most men?” Now, granted you do caution us (on page 59): “It would be a mistake to think of Faculty X as an ‘occult’ faculty.” None the less right prior to that you say: “Faculty X is the key to all poetic and mystical experience; when it awakens, life suddenly takes on a new, poignant quality.” Now, I think there are indeed occult aspects to poetry, and by “occult” I mean only that they are hidden, hidden in that they are avilable to the adept only (but that anybody, given the talent or aptitude, may become an adept and read for himself these hidden aspects). But more, given his truck with symbols—and you write (page 106): “a symbol can gain a hold on the imagination and cause a more powerful response than the actuality that it represents”—I wonder, given his truck with symbols, is not the poet indeed a sort of magician (able to work change at a distance)? I wonder, given the idea of “the poet as occultist,” have you, since, modified your views at all?

Colin Wilson: In that chapter I was asserting that poets and artists have a naturally wider range of powers—second sight, telepathy, glimpses of the future—than non-poets. In fact, all men have wider powers than they realise, and underestimate them because of the human tendency to self-mistrust, the “fallacy of insignificance,” which I have been fighting all my life. If my “message” was clearly understood, it would be “You are stronger than you think.”

GVST: Your book Poetry and Mysticism (I have the Hutchinson of London edition, from 1970) is just loaded with ideas and insights and is of interest not only to the poet but to the student of literature as well, and with all these ideas there is what will be for many a fresh perspective, a fresh approach to the whole subject. This book has definitely been a hand up for me in my education in poetry, and, what’s more, in my discovering for myself the possibilities available to me. I say to any poet who has experienced inspiration—but I mean that profound, uncanny inspiration that has left you with a re-organization of your subjective life!—I say you must study this book. And there are probably copies of it in university libraries all over the place. (And it deserves to be reissued, indeed all your writings on poetry and on the psychology of the poet ought never to go out of print.) I think what is going on here (in this, Poetry and Mysticism) is a conditioning, a preparation, a propaedeutic (and not only for the poet but for the reader as well) for a new kind of experience of poetry. You write (on page 50): “Poetry makes us slow down. It is as if I was in a hurry, panting and rushing, and someone said: ‘Stop it. Slow down. Relax for a moment.’ The basic difference between poetry and prose is not so much a matter of the form as of the content. Prose is always in a hurry to get somewhere; it is either telling a story or pursuing an argument. When you read a poem—even if it is in a vers libre that is indistinguishable from prose—you automatically slow your mind down to a walk knowing that it can only produce its effect if the mind is relaxed.” Now that doesn’t seem all that extraordinary, but what I think you’re getting at is a matter of deliberative reading, a reading that is conscious (i.e., not mechanical, not by rote, not by routine but that is “slowed down and focussed”) and that is intentional. And this is in line with what you write in the Postscript to your book The Outsider. It is there that you say: “perception is intentional.” That is so important to consider! This concept has become for me—and is, I think, for every poet—a key to many doors.

Colin Wilson: I said it most simply in telling that story of the Master Ikkyu, who was asked by a workman to write something on his tablet, and wrote, “Attention.” Disappointed, the man said “Cant you say something more?” And Ikkyu wrote, “Attention. Attention.” “But what does attention mean,” asked the bewilderd workman. “Attention means attention,” said Ikkyu.

GVST: I can say that The Outsider has had two effects on me: One, I knew that then my mission was to read every work of literature, of philosophy, of psychology and of religion that you quote from or make reference to. And two, my whole idea of what reading was and of how to read had changed. Up ’til then I don’t know what I was doing (something called “reading,” I suppose), I would be reading Andrew Marvell and trying to visualize in my head, trying to make a motion picture out of the poetry, and I realized I was wasting all my energy, all my energy on this production, on what I thought was the production of the meaning of the poetry. My reading was intentional, but it was focused on the wrong thing. In my own, personal necessity to make sense of this concept (perception is intentional), I realized that as I was reading I was visualizing meaning, and at the expense of signification. The difference is between visualizing (which takes a great deal of conscious energy) and understanding, between seeing—seeing, for instance, identity, difference, contrariety—and just allowing my powers of intellection to know them, to know them as they are and for what they are (—they are ideas, they are concepts, and they are clothed in sound and orthography). I say, given all your research, and all your scholarship and explorations, can you say that you have found confirmation that the answer does indeed lie with Faculty X, and the station where to be able to avail ourselves of it at will? Can you say that you have found confirmation that consciousness does indeed exist but such that there can be a growth in consciousness? And if so, is this the human potential?

Colin Wilson: For years I pursued my investigation into the question of the peak experience and how it comes about. And then, towards the end of 1979, I had a major breakthrough. This is how I describe it in a book called The Devil’s Party: “On New Year’s Day, 1979, I was trapped by snow in a remote Devon farmhouse, where I had gone to lecture to extra-mural students. After 24 hours we decided we had to make an effort to escape. It so happened that my car was the only one that would climb the slope out of the farmyard. After several hours’ hard work with shovels, we finally reached the main road. The snow on the narrow country road had been churned up by traffic, but was still treacherous. And in places where the snow was still untouched, it was hard to see where the road ended and the ditch began. So as I began to make my way home, I was forced to drive with total, obsessive attention. Finally back on the main Exeter road, where I was able to relax, I noticed that everything I looked at seemed curiously rea1 and interesting. The hours of concentrated attention had somehow ‘fixed’ my consciousness in a higher state of alertness. There was also an immense feeling of optimism, a conviction that most of our problems are due to vagueness, slackness, inattention, and that they are all perfectly easy to overcome with determined effort. This state lasted throughout the rest of the drive home. Even now, merely thinking about the experience is enough to bring back the insight and renew the certainty.”

This experience of a “more powerful” consciousness seemed a revelation, because it was not some sudden mystical flash; I had done it myself. So it ought to be possible to do again.

I found it far more difficult than I had anticipated. I often tried it when driving, and achieved it briefly, but never for long. I did, in fact, succeed again on a long train journey. But when I tried again the next day, on the return journey, I found it impossible. Obviously, the effort had exhausted some inner energy. I began to suspect that it was the sense of emergency that had brought about my first success, and that this was difficult to create at will. But over the years I have gone on trying. And finally, about two years ago, I found I was succeeding in learning the “trick” that would achieve the kind of focused attention required to release this sense of access to some kind of brain-energy. This focused attention brings with it an insight: that one of the main problems with the quest for insight is our tendency to what might be called “negative feedback.”

Copyright © 2006 Colin Wilson & Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino

Frases extraídas del libro “Las fuerzas morales” de José Ingenieros

Frases extraídas del libro “Las fuerzas morales” de José Ingenieros
La antorcha lucífera no se apaga nunca, cambia de manos.

Es ventura sin par la de ser jóvenes en momentos que serán memorables en la historia. Las grandes crisis ofrecen oportunidades múltiples a la generación incontaminada, pues inician en la humanidad una fervorosa reforma ética, ideológica e institucional.

Los jóvenes cuyos ideales expresan inteligentemente el devenir constituyen una Nueva Generación, que es tal por su espíritu, no por sus años. Basta una sola, pensadora y actuante, para dar a su pueblo personalidad en el mundo. La justa previsión de un destino común permite unificar el esfuerzo e infundir en la vida social normas superiores de solidaridad. El siglo está cansado de inválidos y de sombras, de enfermos y de viejos. No quiere seguir creyendo en las virtudes de un pasado que hundió al mundo en la maldad y en la sangre. Todo lo espera de una juventud entusiasta y viril.

Cada generación anuncia una aurora nueva, la arranca de la sombra, la enciende en su anhelar inquieto. Si mira alto y lejos, es fuerza creadora. Aunque no alcance a cosechar los frutos de su siembra, tienen segura recompensa en la sanción de la posteridad. La antorcha lucífera no se apaga nunca, cambia de manos. Cada generación abre las alas adonde las ha cerrado la anterior, para volar más lejos, siempre más. Cuando una generación las cierra en el presente, no es juventud: sufre de senilidad precoz.

De seres sin ideales ninguna grandeza esperan los pueblos.

La juventud escéptica es flor sin perfume. De jóvenes sin credo se forman cortesanos que mendigan favores en las antesalas, retóricos que hilvanan palabras sin ideas, abúlicos que juzgan la vida sin vivirla: valores negativos que ponen piedras en todos los caminos para evitar que anden otros los que ellos no pueden andar. El hombre que se ha marchitado en una juventud apática llega pronto a una vejez pesimista, por no haber vivido a tiempo. La belleza de vivir hay que descubrirla pronto, o no se descubre nunca. Sólo el que ha poblado de ideales su juventud y ha sabido servirlos con fe entusiasta puede esperar una madurez serena y sonriente, bondadosa con los que no pueden, tolerante con los que no saben.

La inercia frente a la vida es cobardía. Un hombre incapaz de acción es una sombra que se escurre en el anónimo de su pueblo. Para ser chispa que enciende, fuego que templa, reja que ara, debe llevarse el gesto hasta donde vuele la intención.

No basta en la vida pensar un ideal: hay que aplicar todo el esfuerzo a su realización. Cada ser humano es cómplice de su propio destino; miserable es el que malbarata su dignidad, esclavo el que se forja la cadena, ignorante el que desprecia la cultura, suicida el que vierte la cicuta en su propia copa. No debemos maldecir la fatalidad para justificar nuestra pereza; antes debiéramos preguntarnos en secreta intimidad: ¿volcamos en cuanto hicimos toda nuestra energía? ¿Pensamos bien nuestras acciones, primero, y pusimos después en hacerlas la intensidad necesaria?

El pensamiento vale por la acción que permite desarrollar. El hombre piensa para obrar con más eficacia y multiplicar el área en que desenvuelve su actividad. Corrompen el alma de la juventud los retardados filósofos que aún la entretienen con disputas palabristas, en vez de capacitarla para tratar los problemas que interesan al presente y al porvenir de la humanidad. Los jóvenes deben ser actores en la escena del mundo, midiendo sus fuerzas para realizar acciones posibles y evitando la perplejidad que nace de meditar sobre finalidades absurdas.

Literatura de las aceras


Existe una tradición silenciada, un fantasma que no recorre Europa, y es la literatura de clase obrera, entendida como narrativa escrita sobre, para y por gente de clase obrera. Pues en el pasado, las vidas y barrios y empleos de la gente común han sido visitadas por turistas, voyeurs y taxidermistas culturales de todo tipo, pero siempre con pasaportes de otras clases, nunca con intención de quedarse, y menos aún esperando que los protagonistas de sus instantáneas fueran el público de sus obras.

Hasta no hace tanto, lo habitual era que las novelas sobre la clase trabajadora no estuviesen escritas por sus representantes legítimos, sino por autores de clase media-alta que decidían contarle al mundo “cómo vive la otra mitad”; repletos de buenas intenciones, eso sí.

Es un poco delicado, esto de definir quién es un autor de clase obrera y quién no. En mi opinión no es sólo el linaje, el bagaje, lo que cuenta, sino también tu público y la forma en que cuentas lo que cuentas. Por ejemplo: ¿Entras en el sorteo si eres un autor joven nacido en el extrarradio proletario de Barcelona pero escribes como una octogenaria rica de Salamanca? ¿Qué pasa si, habiéndote criado en el Vallecas de 1973, optas por ambientar tus novelas en el Belsen del 45? ¿Y qué pasa si tu padre era fontanero, pero el tono de tu debut oscila entre Matías Prats senior y La regenta? Una de esas novelas llenas de palabras que nadie en la calle pronuncia desde hace cien años, como espejo de azogue o, qué se yo, brasero.

Todas estas dudas evidencian que etiquetar a un autor con el sello de clase obrera es un embrollo infernal. Con todo, algunas claves para la clasificación de esta literatura sí pueden aventurarse: debe haber nacido en un entorno humilde (del lumpen a la baja clase media), debe utilizar un lenguaje sin pretensiones (nada pomposo, jamás buscando la aceptación de la alta cultura) y centrar su temática en el medio que la rodea, así como aspirar a ser leída/comprendida por su propia clase. Quizás estas características no formen un sólido axioma, pero es de cajón que si un autor ambienta sus novelas en la Francia de Napoleón o su prosa parece escrita en mandarín no puede considerarse literatura obrera o marginal. Esta última acepción sirve para subrayar que, independientemente de si sus protagonistas trabajan o no, deben haber crecido en un entorno de clase desposeído y suburbial, sin la capacidad pecuniaria o las influencias sociales imprescindibles para alterar el curso de sus vidas; en la clasificación, por tanto, entran también criminales y secretas, cholos y vagabundos, punks y skins.

This is england
En la Inglaterra del siglo XX, antes de la llegada del punk y sus letras sobre asco cotidiano, uno tenía que retrotraerse hacia la literatura marginal de los 40 y los 50 para encontrar palabra escrita que surgiese de, versara sobre y conectara con la gente de la calle. Los dos fenómenos artísticos con temática working class más relevantes de los años 50 y 60 serían los angry young men (John Wain, Kingsley Amis, Colin Wilson, John Osborne, Alan Sillitoe) y los equivalentes británicos de la nouvelle vague cinematográfica: free cinema y kitchen sink (Tony Richardson, Karel Reisz, Lindsay Anderson). Ambas manifestaciones, sin embargo, tendrían raíces académicas y pueden ser consideradas una mirada empática desde la clase media a la obrera, equivalente a la que utilizarían años después cineastas como Mike Leigh o Ken Loach.

Sólo un puñado de autores pueden ser considerados auténticos representantes de la literatura obrera británica: está el socialista Robert Tressell y su influyente novela de conciencia proletaria The ragged trousered philantropists (aunque terminada en 1910, no cobraría relevancia hasta su publicación sin amputaciones políticas en 1955). Tenemos a Brendan Behan, que era irlandés pero no importa (escribía en inglés, qué caramba); ex IRA, ex pintor de brocha gorda y borrachín irredento, además de persona de gran humanidad, sus dos célebres novelas biográficas sobre la vida carcelaria (Borstal boy y Confessions of an irish rebel) entran por derecho propio en la experiencia marginal.

Lo mismo puede decirse de la materia prima de donde se sacaron todas aquellas películas de fregadero con las caras de Rita Tushingham, Tom Courtenay y Albert Finney; el kitchen sink literario. Pues las novelas kitchen sink sí tienen alma asalariada: John Braine (Un lugar al sol), Stan Barstow (Esa clase de amor), David Storey (El ingenuo salvaje), o la dramaturga Shelagh Delaney (Sabor a miel) eran carne de council estate, gente común que llevaba inscrito en su ADN el ritmo de la cadena de montaje o la mina, el desempleo orgánico familiar y el hartazgo primordial de los sin-un-duro.

Está también, cómo no, el mencionado Allan Sillitoe; otro hijo de obrero no especializado, abandonó la escuela a los 14 y sólo empezó a escribir cuando, tras enfermar de tuberculosis en Malasia, la RAF le otorgó una pensión vitalicia. Sillitoe, gracias al éxito de Sabado por la noche, domingo por la mañana y La soledad del corredor de fondo, es uno de los pocos autores ingleses de origen humilde que lograría traspasar la recia malla de prejuicios del establishment literario.

Los demás autores proletarios de la primera mitad del siglo XX serían olvidados o ignorados por la élite intelectual del país. En la Inglaterra prepunk se les exigía/suponía a los autores la pertenencia a un mismo árbol genealógico; por separadas que estuviesen sus ramas del tronco clásico, no era concebible que esas ramas pudiesen haber brotado en otro árbol, otra tradición. Por supuesto, esto es una insensatez. Sería como haberles exigido a The Clash que sonaran como Mozart, sin comprender que no sólo no se parecían en nada, sino que ni siquiera formaban parte de su linaje. Eran otra cosa. Otro mundo, que no se podía juzgar con los parámetros del clásico.

London Books es una nueva editorial inglesa impulsada por John King –el autor de esos violentos pepinazos sobre hooligans y punks que han sido best sellers en el Reino Unido: The football factory, Skinheads, Human punk…– nacida para arrojar luz sobre la otra tradición. King toma como punto de partida a los escritores working class de los 80 y 90: Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting, etcétera) y los menos conocidos Ben Richards (Throwing the house out of the window), Alan Warner (Morvern Callar) y Stewart Home (69 things to do with a dead princess). Y tira hacia atrás, aduciendo que estos no sólo no brotaron de la nada, sino que formaban parte de una cultura sepultada. King ignora a los angry young men y rescata desde su editorial a las auténticas voces del margen: Sillitoe (de quien publica la semiolvidada A start in life), Gerald Kersh, James Curtis y Robert Westerby. Exceptuando al primero, los tres novelistas restantes serían ignorados por la crítica y permanecerían descatalogados hasta hoy. Los tres buscaron su inspiración en las propias raíces y arrabales; hablaron de un mundo de ex púgiles, chicos listos sin un duro, buscavidas con navajas de afeitar, contrabandistas y jazzmen heroinómanos, sastres judíos y dueños de clubs de jazz del Soho, putas y macarras, teddy boys y jamaicanos, opioadictos y alcohólicos, squatters y beatniks.

Wide boys never work (1937) de Robert Westerby retrata a los wide boys, chavales malogrados de los años 30 abiertos a cualquier experiencia delictiva: inmorales, desconfiados, agresivos y elegantes, el suyo es un mundo malcarado que ningún novelista convencional quiso tocar ni con pértiga. Night and the city (1938) de Gerald Kersh –quizás recuerden sus dos adaptaciones fílmicas– describe tanto el mundo del proxeneta como el de la lucha libre del submundo. Enmarcada en el ambiente sórdido del Soho londinense de la época, en esta obra se pinta al ponce, al chuloputas, como lo que es: no el pimp enjoyado y fardón del universo futuro (y ficticio) del rap, sino uno de los parásitos más miserables de la creación. They drive by night (1938) de James Curtis es otra de las novelas míticas del submundo de entreguerras inglés, esta vez ambientada en los cafés de carretera del extrarradio londinense y su ecosistema de camioneros, fugitivos de la ley y motoristas.

Todas estas novelas tienen en común el estar escritas con el lenguaje y argot popular de su tiempo, y están repletas de pícaros inolvidables, tuberías atascadas, paños húmedos, frío en los huesos e ineludible verdad. Aunque London Books se deja al fascinante Frank Norman (un escritor que Raymond Chandler definiría como potencialmente peligroso), es de esperar que las primeras dos novelas de ese ex convicto matasietes (Stand on me y Bang to rights) sean futuras referencias.

London Books, además, patrocina The Flag Club, una asociación literaria fundada en 1999 y que orbita alrededor de diversos pubs míticos de Londres. Funciona por invitación exclusiva, y su meta es reunir a varias generaciones de escritores proletarios –de Sillitoe a Welsh– para debatir, tajarse y canturrear canciones cockney, Small Faces o The Streets. Una cosa inspiradora, en fin, y que le llena a uno de envidia.

América: El nuevo mundo (libre)
Estados Unidos nunca tuvo las manías del Reino Unido, y a sus autores menos convencionales “jamás se les exigió que se limitaran a un paquete de referencias clásicas”, como dice John King; más bien todo lo contrario: se hicieron famosos, fueron estudiados, crearon escuela. Podríamos trazar una línea genealógica que incluyera a autores como Henry Miller, Richard Ford, Raymond Carver, Russell Banks, Joyce Carol Oates o Norman Mailer, pero para estrechar la búsqueda les diré los que en mi opinión representan el culmen de la literatura marginal norteamericana: John Fante, Nelson Algren, Harry Crews, Charles Bukowski, Hubert Selby Jr. y los beats.

John Fante es Dios, así que no hará falta extenderse demasiado. Sólo digamos que sin él y la engañosa sencillez de su prosa, sin su fuerza emocional, sin aquel estilo confesional tan suyo, sin su desarmante honradez y angustiosa necesidad de contarse, de relatar su entorno y las vidas de la gente que conoció, no existiría la mitad de la narrativa actual. Fante es un buen ejemplo de lo tratado aquí: el autor hecho a sí mismo, marginado por la academia y el establishment, un hombre con pasiones y demonios para dar y vender, alguien que estuvo siempre en contacto con la gente común y que jamás se contentó con escribir desde su torre de marfil.

Fante mantuvo hasta el final que, así como la universidad era indispensable para la ciencia, el derecho y la medicina, era no obstante una institución destinada a destruir al artista. Fante, autor de incontables relatos cortos y ocho novelas (entre las que se cuentan Pregúntale al polvo y Espera hasta la primavera, Bandini), insistía en que el talento no era suficiente para escribir; hacía falta “humanidad, humildad, reverencia por el prójimo y respeto hacia la mujer”. Yo siempre imagino a Fante haciendo cosas poco-de-escritor: echando pulsos con amigachos, jugando a béisbol con la borrachera postbarbacoa, meando en un árbol o arreándole un taburetazo a alguien. Fante, desde luego, era una class in itself. Único. O casi, porque Charles Bu-kowski se le parece mucho. Bu-kowski, semidiscípulo de aquel veinte años más tarde (era su mayor fan), es como un Fante a quien los sabuesos del infierno están mordiendo las posaderas. Mucho más borracho, sórdido, putero y autodestructivo, y con mayor intención de retratar lo feo y enfermo.

Charles Bu-kowski, lamentablemente, sucumbió –como Hunter S. Thompson– a la imagen que los fans más frívolos tenían de él, y se acabó convirtiendo en el beodo irrespetuoso y algo patético que tanto fascinaba a los universitarios. Pero yo recomiendo ignorar su alcoholismo, aunque este impregnara sus mejores trabajos. Bukowski era el hombre que definió el estilo como “no llevar coraza de ningún tipo ni fachada alguna; completa naturalidad”. Y son esta completa desnudez temática y rabia de nudillos sangrantes, la flema verduzca de sus palabras, los atributos en los que hay que fijarse; la idea de que la vida de un cartero es tan intensa y dramática como la de un rey. Tan sólo por ello merece ser leído.

Así como Fante y Bukowski son medio conocidos en nuestro país, no puede decirse lo mismo de Hubert Selby Jr. o Nelson Algren, a quienes la gente recuerda tan sólo por las adaptaciones fílmicas de sus novelas. La vida de Hubert Selby Jr. es horripilante, y se la resumiré en morse: marino mercante / tuberculosis / operación-carnicería con pérdida de medio pulmón / diez años en cama (allí decidió escribir) / adicción a la heroína y los calmantes. ¡Oh, gozo y alegría! ¡Oh, felicidad! Sus libros hacen que el ambiente de la última semana en el búnker de Hitler, en comparación, parezca la Semana Grande de Bilbao. Drogadictos muy adictos, homosexuales muy apaleados, violaciones muy gráficas y vagabundos muy descompuestos. Y además escrito con un estilo stream-of-conciousness a lo Kerouac que ignora gramática y puntuación, que se pasa por allí el apostrofado y, por ejemplo, utiliza / en lugar de ” porque estaba más cerca en su máquina de escribir. En fin: lean Última salida para Brooklyn y anhelen el silencio de la tumba.

Nelson Algren es mi héroe personal, así que todo lo que pueda contarles de él será poco. Algren escribió, entre muchas otras cosas, dos de las novelas más importantes de la literatura moderna: El hombre del brazo de oro (1949) y A walk on the wild side (1956). En ellas se trata la adicción a la morfina y la prostitución (respectivamente) de manera simpatética, compasivamente, en una época en la que algo así era im-pen-sa-ble. Su amante ocasional Simone de Beauvoir le definió acertadamente como el típico “escritor americano autodidacta y de izquierdas”, pues la empatía de Algren impregna toda su obra, y de ella emerge una auténtica simpatía hacia los menos afortunados. De hecho, una de las grandes peleas de Algren con Otto Preminger (que adaptaría El hombre del brazo de oro) tuvo lugar cuando el cineasta quiso saber cómo el escritor conocía a “ese tipo de gente” (mascullado con desprecio). Algren, furioso, no podía comprender cómo alguien querría retratar a gente por la que no sentía respeto ni cariño; “I like these people in my book”, recalcó, angustiosa e innecesariamente. “Un escritor debe identificarse siempre con los objetos de su horror y su compasión”, añadiría años después. Algren llamaba a su estilo reportaje emocional, y lo apuntalaba con compasión, cabreo y una inmensa –e indispensable– conexión con el resto de la raza humana. Él era el hombre que dijo: “A cuanta más gente emociones, mejor”. Y quien, al ser preguntado (cuando era un autor establecido) si ya se consideraba de clase media, contestó: “Estoy en la clase media; pero no soy de la clase media”.

En cuanto a Harry Crews… Bien, si han visto alguna foto del hombre sabrán que es for real, como dicen los ingleses. Cara de bulldog comiendo limones, tatuado patibulariamente, ceño en perenne V y jeto de no haberse reído en la vida (“No soy una persona divertida”, afirma). Algunos le llaman southern gothic writer, aunque no en su cara, porque les masticaría y escupiría en el fango. La prosa de Crews es dura y cierta y salvaje y bella; hay dolor, y hay sangre, pero nunca buscando el shock barato (como sí hace Palahniuk). En sus libros, ni la miseria ni la brutalidad son trucos de magia. Crews, como Algren, siente verdadera empatía por los hombrecillos desmenuzados de sus libros. “Toda mi narrativa va de lo mismo”, dijo. “Gente actuando de la mejor manera posible con lo que tienen. A veces con compasión, a veces no. A veces con piedad, a veces no. Con honor, o sin él. Y así siempre”. Crews es un escritor y a la vez un hombre de los de antes, de los que talaban árboles y alimentaban familias y mantenían su infierno interior a raya. Crews escribió en la biografía de su infancia, A Childhood: “Solo el uso del Yo, esa encantadora y aterrorizadora palabra, podía llevarme al sitio donde tenía que ir”. Crews, así, se enfrentó al mundo en pelotas, pecho por delante; quizás por ello sus novelas están tan llenas de cicatrices.

De la beat generation no voy a contarles nada que no sepan. Quizás no fueran todos working class, pero eran unos holgazanes antitodo enamorados de la benzedrina y el bebop, y por su desprecio cruel a los valores de la clase media ya entran en esta selección. Algunos de sus libros son esenciales (En el camino, de Jack Kerouac, o Aullido, de Allen Ginsberg) y otros un tostón de charlatanería pseudohippie que no hay quién lo aguante (Los vagabundos del Dharma, también de Kerouac). Pero eran majos, los chavales. El testigo de estos nombres ha acabado hoy en una constelación de novelistas repartidos por la geografía estadounidense, y cada vez aparecen más autores nacidos en pueblos con 300 habitantes y nombres como Bagofmanureland, Pissinthewindcity o Whoreville (me los acabo de inventar; no los googleen). Mi favorito es Donald Ray Pollock, ex peón de una fábrica de empaquetado de carne de Knockemstiff (este sí existe; está en algún culo-de-mundo cerca de Ohio). El debut de Pollock se titula, adecuadamente, Knockemstiff, y empieza con la frase “Mi padre me enseñó cómo hacerle daño a un hombre una noche de agosto…”, así que ya pueden imaginarse por dónde van los tiros. Puro realismo cangrenado a lo Harry Crews, lleno de white trash, adolescentes repletos de esteroides, trailer parks, telebasura y automedicación, accidentes de tráfico y un montón de armas y alcohol de quemar. O sea, brutal y muy adictivo y recomendable.

Razón: Aquí
España y Catalunya tienen un problema grave en cuanto a la narrativa marginal. No es tanto que aquí la literatura sea en cierto modo una cosa de niños bien, aunque eso es innegable: Mendoza, Azúa, Gil de Biedma, Vila-Matas, Bru de Sala… No es tanto que la tradición obrera no exista, porque muchos de los autores prestigiosos de los últimos treinta años son de origen working class: Vázquez-Montalbán y Terenci Moix (el Raval), Quim Monzó (Les Corts), Julià de Jòdar (Badalona), Juan Marsé (el Carmel)… No, lo que sucede aquí es que cuando aparece un autor de clase obrera tarda muy poco en desclasarse. El paso de los quintos en la Barceloneta a los dry martinis en la Bonanova es fulgurante, imposible de captar por el ojo humano. Todos los autores que tres meses antes eran aún orgullosos hijos de curriqui de barrio dan, tras ser publicados, un triple salto no-mortal hacia la vida literaria de la postgauche divine. Como afirma Julià Guillamon, crítico literario en Cultura/s, “aquí se pasó del obrerismo y la conciencia de clase al hedonismo postmoderno sin pasar por el punk”. La literatura de todos estos ex proletarios de sangre, por tanto, se convierte en cuanto a aspiraciones, contenido y forma, en burguesa. De repente entra en acción un proceso de vila-matización por el cual deja de ser relevante hablar del bodeguero de la esquina o de la prima Montse, y cobra vital importancia hablar de Nikolai Mordinfoski, un autor ciego, leproso y satanista de la Checoslovaquia del 14. Y a cada uno le gusta lo que le gusta y dramas más grandes que este hay en el planeta; pero es una pena, no me digan.

Hoy, en España, a los autores de narrativa sobre-para-por la clase obrera no les haría falta quedar en un pub –como hacen los del Flag Club– porque cabrían confortablemente en una cabina telefónica. Muerto el gigantesco Francisco Casavella, muerta la rabia; o eso parece. Tras Casavella –representante primordial de autor-hecho-a-sí-mismo, autodidacta y narrador de barrio (ver su debut, El triunfo, y todos los rumberos y trileros que lo pueblan)–, las plazas de autor working class están vacantes, y hay que hacer un verdadero esfuerzo para encontrar un puñado de autores que encajen en esta definición.

Yo, desde aquí, me voy a permitir apuntarles dos nombres emergentes en la literatura de barrio DC (Después de Casavella): Uno es Pablo Rivero (Gijón, 1972), y La balada del Pitbull (Trea, 2002), su impresionante debut. Pocas veces se enfrenta uno con un libro tan honesto, vital, vivido y verdadero como aquel. En el Pitbull –quizás mi libro español favorito de los últimos cinco años– Rivero no vuelve la cara ante nada, no moraliza, no se disculpa: su historia de unos chicos lumpen de Gijón está llena de palizas, racismo, fútbol, chaquetas Alpha, pena, rabia de clase y confusión. Y, de acuerdo, una pizca de redención (aunque pírrica). La percepción, lo cuidadoso de la mirada de Rivero, la empatía y ternura que desprenden sus palabras al hablar de aquellos manguis de barrio, es algo auténticamente conmovedor. Su siguiente trabajo, Últimos ejemplares (Trea, 2006), es igualmente impresionante, así que conviene no perderle de vista.

El otro es Carlos Herrero (Madrid, 1975). Prosperidad (Barataria, 2007) es una lacrimógena y patética novela ambientada en el barrio madrileño del mismo nombre, y plagada de teleoperadores, macarrones caseros, ancianas seniles, novias gordas, borracheras ultra-deprimentes, enfermedad incurable y fracaso no-épico. Pura narrativa de fregadero, de la que pocas veces se ve aquí. Herrero ha continuado su debut con Cuentos rotos (Barataria 2009), una recopilación de cuentos igualmente amargos, dulces, terribles y llenos de absurdo existencial proletario.

Y de momento, aquí nos quedamos. A partir de ahora, que el ejemplo de estos dos autores locales germine dependerá, por una parte, de la manga y apertura mental de los editores, pero también del tesón de aquellos que van a escribirlos. Así que no desfallezcan, aspirantes a novelista; esa obra maestra está justo ahí, al lado suyo, a la vuelta de la esquina. En su calle. Sólo tienen que agarrarla.

(El título de las novelas extranjeras mencionadas en el texto se ha puesto en castellano sólo cuando hay constancia de ediciones o adaptaciones españolas de la obra)

Colin Wilson – Estudio sobre el Necronomicon


Frases seleccionadas del prólogo al libro “La Religión y el Rebelde”, de Colin Wilson, un joven iracundo…

Frases seleccionadas del prólogo al libro “La Religión y el Rebelde”, de Colin Wilson, un joven iracundo…
No me parecía un paso atrevido definir al Marginal como el síntoma de una civilización en decadencia: los Marginales aparecen como erupciones de una civilización moribunda. Un individuo tiende a ser lo que su contorno hace de él. Si una civilización está espiritualmente enferma, el individuo sufre la misma enfermedad. Si tiene la salud suficiente como para combatir, se convierte en Marginal.


En mi caso, la pregunta fundamental que existe detrás de Marginal es: ¿cómo puede el hombre ampliar su esfera de conciencia? Pienso que los seres humanos usufructúan una parte de conciencia tan angosta como las tres notas centrales del teclado de un piano. Que el área posible de los estados mentales es tan ancha como el teclado entero, y que el objetivo fundamental y el trabajo del hombre consisten en extender esa esfera de tres notas a todo el resto. Los hombres a que me referí en El Marginal tenían en común: un conocimiento instintivo de que su esfera podía ser ampliada, y una persistente insatisfacción del ámbito de sus experiencias cotidianas.


La mayoría de las personas que conozco, viven ejemplarmente así: trabajando, viajando, comiendo, bebiendo y conversando. El ámbito de la actividad diaria en la civilización moderna levanta un muro alrededor del estado ordinario de conciencia y hace casi imposible mirar más allá. Tal cosa es provocada por las condiciones en que vivimos. Es lo que ocurre en una civilización que siempre hace ruido como una dínamo, y que no proporciona ocio para la paz ni la contemplación. Los hombres comienzan a perder la intuición de modos desconocidos de ser, esa capacidad de construir que los llevaría a ser algo más que cerdos altamente eficientes. La pérdida de esa capacidad produce un horror contra el que el Marginal se rebela.


Una tarde estaba pegando sobres con una esponjita húmeda, cuando un joven que parecía cómodo desempeñándose como mandadero comentó: Destruye el alma, ¿no es así? Una frase de lugares comunes, pero nunca la había oído antes, y la repetí como una revelación. No destrucción del alma, sino destrucción de la vida; la fuerza vital frenada produce un olor como el agua estancada, y el ser entero se emponzoña.


El aburrimiento, sabía, quería decir no tener lo suficiente que hacer con las propias energías vitales. La respuesta a esto, sencillamente, reside en extender el radio de la conciencia, poner en circulación las emociones y hacer trabajar la inteligencia, hasta que nuevas áreas de conciencia sean incorporadas a la vida, así como la sangre que empieza a circular nuevamente por una pierna que ha estado entumecida. Eso era apenas el punto de partida. Disponer del ocio no es suficiente, el ocio es sólo un concepto negativo: el ancho y despejado terreno donde uno puede edificar casas decentes después de hacer quitado los conventillos. El problema siguiente es empezar a construir.

Cuanto más se combate, mayor caudal de vida es posible. Por eso, para mí, el problema de vivir se resolvía en la cuestión de elegir obstáculos que estimularan mi voluntad. Instantáneamente, reconocí que nuestra civilización va en sentido contrario: toda nuestra cultura y nuestra ciencia están apuntadas a capacitarnos para realizar la menor voluntad posible. Todo se hace fácil y si, después de una semana de rutina oficinesca y de viajar en ómnibus, aún sentimos la necesidad de aplicar un exceso de energía, siempre podemos entretenernos con esos juegos asociados a obstáculos artificiales, donde la voluntad se aplica para derrotar a un equipo de jugadores de cricket, o fútbol, o simplemente a luchar contra la imaginaria Esfinge que inserta las palabras cruzadas en el diario.


Cuando decía que Platón, Goethe y Shaw fueron existencialistas, implicaba que los tres fueron pensadores para los que pensamiento y vida son inseparables. El otro hombre para el cual pensamiento y vida resultan inseparables es el artista; su arte es el resultado del impacto de la vida en su sensibilidad.


Resumiendo, el existencialista es el artista filósofo, y su medio natural es la Bildungsroman –novela educativa—; la novela o la obra que se refiere a la maduración de su personaje central a través del impacto de su experiencia. Ejemplos de esto: Wilhelm Meister de Goethe, Los hermanos Karamazov de Dostoievski, El proceso de Richard Feverel de Meredith, La montaña mágica de Mann, Demian de Hesse, Los caminos de la libertad de Sartre, Adiós a las armas de Hemingway, El retrato de Joyce, Inmadurez de Shaw. He citado aquí juntas las mayores y las menores para enfatizar la anchura de esta rama. Déjenme terminar dogmatizando: en el siglo XX, la única forma seria del arte literario es la Bildungsroman.


Imaginación es el poder captar, sin esto el hombre sería un imbécil, sin memoria, sin premeditaciones, sin capacidad de interpretar lo que ve y siente. Cuanto mayor es el poder de captar, más alta es la forma de vida; y en el hombre, el captar se transforma en una facultad consciente, que puede ser denominada imaginación. Si la vida es avanzar hacia estratos más elevados, más allá del mono, más allá del hombre-trabajador e incluso del hombre-artista, esto se produce mediante un mayor desarrollo del poder de captar. El anhelo religioso es la búsqueda de una intensidad de imaginación más grande.


En ese punto comencé El Marginal. Mi tesis era que la religión comienza con el estímulo del heroísmo reemplazando a la imaginación. Los Marginales de los primeros capítulos eran hombres hambrientos de heroísmo, encallados en una era no-heroica. Su anormalidad como Marginales residía en sus intentos de fabricar su propio heroísmo. La queja de Roquentín –La náusea de Sastre— era: No hay aventura, e implicaba que esto es verdadero en la civilización moderna.
Traté de demostrar que el ansia por una mayor intensidad de imaginación –de vida— toma la forma de una búsqueda del heroísmo. Este hambre de lo heroico era completamente visible en las vidas de Van Gogh, T. E. Lawrence, Rimbaud, Gauguin. Guido Ruggiero ha llamado a Gauguin y Rimbaud Santos existencialistas, y declaró –con completa precisión— que el existencialismo toma a la vida como una novela de aventuras.


Nietzsche sabía que el ideal de una paz universal es un ideal falso; el hombre siempre intentará crear oportunidades para lo heroico. Las guerras del siglo XX son la expresión de una frustración inconsciente. Kierkegaard tenía razón cuando dijo que el aburrimiento es el verdadero mal del mundo. Una religión es el receptáculo de lo heroico, el símbolo de la necesidad del hombre de luchar por la captación. Las guerras mundiales y el fracaso de la religión son compañeros inevitables.


El Marginal debía ser considerado como un fenómeno de la civilización moderna. Se llegaba a esta conclusión: es el síntoma de una civilización en decadencia. Pero, al menos, es un signo de salud.


En cualquier época, la religión más pura está en manos de sus rebeldes espirituales. El siglo XX no es una excepción.


Cada vez que una civilización llega a un punto crítico, es capaz de crear un hombre mejor. La respuesta exitosa a la crisis depende de la creación de un nuevo ser. No necesariamente el Superhombre nietzscheano, sino un tipo de hombre con una conciencia más amplia y un sentido de sus propósitos más profundo que nunca. La civilización no puede continuar en el presente embrollo, este desfile de miopes que producen mejores y mejores refrigeradores, pantallas de cine más y más anchas, secando constantemente en los hombres toda vida espiritual. El Marginal es un intento de contrabalancear esta muerte de los propósitos. El desafío es inmediato y exige respuesta a todos los que sean capaces de entenderlo.


Si nuestra época está al borde de su última decadencia, como la civilización griega en los tiempos de Platón, el Marginal sólo puede observarla con curiosidad científica, y continuar -como Platón- meditando en problemas no tan inmediatos. Este separarse es la básica condición del sobreviviente, un signo de optimismo fundamental:

Todas las cosas caen y son construidas nuevamente.
Y aquellos que otra vez las construyen están contentos.

Así decía Yeats.

Los Marginales aparecen como erupciones de una civilización moribunda

Colin Wilson
[Todas estas frases fueron extraídas por mí del prólogo al libro titulado La Religión y el Rebelde, de Colin Wilson, que fue publicado en una antología de prosa de varios escritores preparada por Miguel Grinberg. El libro -la antología- se tituló Visionarios Implacables, y fue editado por Mutantia en el año 1994].


Como se podria definir en pocas palabras lo que es un outsider?

Una persona que viviendo dentro del sistema no pertenece a este y crea su propio sistema de vida?

La facultad X

Tema Duplicado con

Monitor de 19 pulgadas

Uno de los primeros capitulos de Lo Oculto de Collin wilson habla sobre los cambios de vision. Este monito que compré el dia de hoy, del que Chipola compró el gemelo, es una prueba de esa tesis.

una de posibilidades tremendas al ampliar la vision y elcalculo de probabilidades inherente.