Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The Mind Parasites

Colin Wilson The Mind Parasites (1967)

Once was that I held Colin Wilson in relatively high regard, at least as the one author of cranky pseudoscience literature who stood a chance at being right about some of it. Somebody had given me a copy of Mysteries, of which I read about half. I tried it a couple of times, on each occasion losing interest around the halfway mark, at which point Colin started bringing in theories too wacky even for me. Later I realised that most of the good stuff had actually come from T.C. Lethbridge who wrote some broadly fascinating books about dowsing and the like. Mysteries tied Lethbridge in with some of Wilson's own ideas, most notably the one about a ladder of selves, which seems to work quite well as psychological analysis without requiring that one should take it as a literal description of the mechanism of the human mind.

Later I picked up The Outsider from a charity shop, but ended up giving it away because I couldn't be arsed to read it. The Outsider was amazing according to apparently everyone, an important book in the truest sense; and then my friend Paul Woods, who I seem to recall having had some dealings with Wilson in his capacity as a criminologist, always spoke very highly of the man, albeit not quite so highly as Wilson spoke of The Mind Parasites, his own novel:

Is it not time that we create a new type of novel? I think of a hatchet biting into a tree and making the chips fly, not an evasion of reality or a description of it, but an attack on it... What is needed is an existential realism. Like the social realism of the Soviets, yet biting much deeper; its attitude is not passive or pessimistic. In a qualified sense, it might be called practical; it wishes to change things. What it wishes to change I prefer to leave unsaid, it can be inferred from this book.

Really? This was a new type of novel? I was expecting some sort of - dunno - a mash-up of William Burroughs, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Guy Debord, massive ideas flying about left, right and centre, a book reading like nothing I have ever read before.

The Mind Parasites gets off to a tremendous start as a more contemporary take on Lovecraft's squelchy mythology with mysterious blocky cities discovered several miles underground, events unfolding with the chilling realism of a Quatermass serial; after which it all goes very much tits up. The underground city is revealed to have been a red herring for reasons which either remain unclear or are so poorly described that I've forgotten them. The true culprits are the mind parasites, malign incorporeal entities dwelling in the depths of the collective unconscious, or some other place which probably makes more sense if you've read either Jung or Huxley. These entities are the cause of war, racism, cruelty, inequality, suicide, boredom, accidents at work, and Doctor Who having been shite since it came back on the telly. Were it not for them we would all be telepathic supermen, at our full potential and qualified to lead the common herd of humanity to its destiny and all that good stuff. The thing that bothers me is that I suspect Wilson may actually have believed at least some of this crap.

A few years ago I made fumbling attempts to identify a literary genre which I provisionally named dinnerpunk based on it comprising poorly written yarns which come to their authors as they mow the lawns of their Surbiton homes as Marjorie is preparing dinner. They've read Biggles, several Ian Flemings, and it can't be that hard considering some of the fairies who make a living of it, so they're jolly well going to have a go. Dinnerpunk fiction tends to be written from an entirely male perspective, suggests a conservative view of the world, usually one fixating on some peculiar detail such as aviation history - because nutters are always into planes for some reason - and amongst the cast of chaps and renowned scientists, there's nearly always somebody identified simply as the Colonel. Dinnerpunk is the written equivalent to Bob Mortimer's Graham Lister character. It knows doctors and dentists, professional people...

Regrettably, after the tremendous start described above, The Mind Parasites reveals itself to be not merely a disappointment, but to be fully-leaded weapons grade dinnerpunk.

Neither is there any evidence to indicate that the crew of the Pallas intended to build a new civilisation on another planet. There were only three women on board. The number would surely have been higher if any such plan had been contemplated?

I should jolly well, say so. Our heroes are a team of top scientists who travel around in a gang of about fifteen for most of the book, routinely pooling their psychic powers to make the world a better place. Human history is a litany of woe thanks to the mind parasites, because it was them what made us do all that bad stuff like Hitler and that, which ironically is itself a typically right-wing narrative, the enemy and source of all woe being those people or things over there; it's because of them that we can't have nice stuff. Freed of the mind parasites, we are able to travel around in gangs of fifteen making stuff more good, even psychokinetically sending the moon crashing into the sun because that was where the mind parasites was all coming from innit. Except the mind parasites are actually ourselves, or at least ourselves what have failed to evolve into thinking, reasoning supermen, people who know doctors and dentists. Meanwhile the black nations of Africa unite and rise up against the white man because the mind parasites make them do it innit, just in case you mistakenly thought they might have had any other better reason to be pissed off.

Frankly, it's a complete fucking dog's dinner besides which even Lindsay Gutteridge's dinnerpunk tour de force Cold War in a Country Garden may as well be The Mayor of Casterbridge. The psychological discussion amounts to pseudoscientific bollocks of the kind which invariably namechecks Velikovsky, Gurdjieff, Madam Blavatsky and the usual wankers; there's barely a story to speak of; and there's a faintly unsavoury aftertaste of Hubbardry - telepathy, Nietzsche, supermen blah blah blah - except Hubbard could at least string a decent story together. This is like bad van Vogt stripped of all charm and art.

He had a shuddering distaste for most human beings; he once complained to me that most of them seemed so unfinished and shabby. Myers made me feel that the true historian is a poet rather than a scientist. He once said that the contemplation of individual men made him dream of suicide, and that he could reconcile himself to being human only by considering the rise and fall of civilisations.

I suspect Colin Wilson, whilst he may have been prone to a degree of ukippery, probably wasn't entirely a man without merits, but none of them are to be found in The Mind Parasites which was most certainly never a new kind of novel by any description. It's not often that I'm driven to such harsh words with regard to a book, but this really was a complete load of shit.

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