24
Jan 06

A mainstream criminal

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 178 views

From Never Had It So Good by Dominic Sandbrook:

“The writer Peter Vansittart recalled an appearance by [Colin] Wilson at the ICA, where he announced: ‘Man’s enemies are herd-values, triviality, the weight of mental inertia, stale ideas and irrelevant history; escape is in self-realization, self-mastery, to expand luminous moments of vision and insight into authentic freedom.’ During the question period, a bizarre exchange ensued when a middle-aged woman stood up and asked Wilson: ‘I have a beautiful home and a well-kept garden, a loving husband and two friendly and well-behaved boys. We have saved and made sacrifices to afford them an excellent education. We enjoy simple things, and go abroad to see places of historical interest. So please tell me, in all seriousness, where I have gone wrong’. Wilson then rose, ‘a man of wrath’, and stormed:

‘You…you’re the worst of the lot! Unspeakable! A mainstream criminal! Of course you enjoy simple things, you’re incapable of anything else. Your house is garbage, your garden a midden and a swamp, your husband is Gordon FitzHomo and your children are dung. Their school should be prosecuted. You’re the dregs of the country, barely conceivable in your enormity and it’s apalling that you were ever conceived. When you nerve yourself to go abroad, black flags are run up and the port authorities hold their noses.’

This was not an untypical performance.”

Sandbrook’s book really has it in for Colin Wilson, who he pitches against the ‘Movement’ writers (Amis, Larkin, etc.), it being clear where his sympathies lie, even though Amis and Larkin come across as sneery young fogeys. The debate seems all too familiar, to the point where you half expect to see “Comments (63)” after Wilson’s quoted rant. The question – and it’s a question that recurs pretty much every time I dip into the inter-aether – is why there still aren’t more people who can display cultural and intellectual hunger and enthusiasm without it going hand-in-hand with this sort of cultivated contempt?

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