Bob Dylan And Colin Wilson

By Larry Fyffe

Friedrich Nietzsche would likely be embarrassed by the following statement:

“Christianity was an epidemic rather than a religion. It appealed to fear, hysteria, and ignorance.”

(Colin Wilson: The Occult)

Nietzsche did not claim that Christianity be a psychological  ‘sickness’ akin to Sigmund Freud’s displacement of repressed sexual desires, but rather “the morality of slaves” – the religion serves to keep most of the powerless ‘good’ (that is, passive) in their masters’ vineyards; they’re assured their reward awaits in the ‘afterlife’ where any ‘evil’ overlords are destined to receive their just desserts.

Singer/songwriter, musician Bob Dylan could be said to bring  Colin Wilson back to life along with John Calvin and William Blake albeit in Post Modern format:

Calvin, Blake, and Wilson
Gambled in the dark
Not one of them would ever live 
To tell the tale of the disembark
(Bob Dylan: Tempest)

William Blake puts the ‘idealistic’ thinking of the likes of Saint Augustine, John Calvin, and Emanuel Swedenborg out to death. Colin Wilson turns William Blake on his head, and tries to bring neo-Platonism to life by refitting religion and merging it with modern science-oriented “western” society.

Wilson replaces Friedrich Nietzsche’s adventurist “Overman” with the “Outsider”, the latter able to get in touch with ‘spiritual’  worlds, both good and evil, that are far beyond the physical senses, senses that can only give a ‘narrow’ peak into what exists outside; the creative imagination inside the human mind opens up all kinds of future visions, of possible worlds, spaces that are closed off to most human beings by the rigid structures imposed by regimented society.

Novelist Colin Wilson apparently agrees with Nietzsche that the Universe is disinterested in the fate of Mankind which causes humans to be alienated therefrom;  therefore, constructed is supposed-to-be-reality based in part on how the outside world has been perceived in the past.

The Outsider seeks to flee such constraints and go where no man, except those like Emanuel Swedenborg, have gone before.

Nietzsche asserts Man has a Will to Power that causes him to have a belief in an ‘afterlife’; that is, if he has little social and economic control over his present life; the masters, on the hand, has no time for this “slave morality”, a morality of the weak that is essentially pessimistic with regard to human existence on Earth.

Colin Wilson puts a positive spin on Nietzsche’s dark view, and formulates a  New Existentialism – there must be other worlds including an ‘afterlife’ somewhere beyond the self because lots of writings contend there are.

Wilson presents a ‘gnostic’ vision where there are sparks emanated from afar within us that may blaze afire, if not now, then after we die – so intuited by ‘gifted’ artists like himself anyway –  Karl Jung, for instance, who asserts there is an ‘essence’ that precedes existence.

A view not completely dismissed by the narrator in the following song lyrics:

Well, I'm a stranger here in a strange land
And I know this is where I belong
I'll ramble, and gamble for the one I love
And the hills will give me a song
(Bob Dylan: Red River Shore)

Colin Wilson elevates himself to a higher ‘spiritual plain’ though. Emanuel Swedenborg’s ‘gnostic’ optimism tells him that there are special people who are able to grasp more than just glimpses of this eternal ‘aferlife’; it’s more than wishful thinking. There’s a problem though – that which is considered reality these days gets in the way.

That Old Existentialist “reality” expressed in the song lyrics beneath:

Lonliness, tenderness, high society, notoriety
You fight for the throne, and you travel alone
Unknown as you slowly sink
And there's no time to think
(Bob Dylan: No Time To Think)

The narrators in the song lyrics of Bob Dylan, more often than not, take a middle path. Like William Blake – that is to say, mythologies are created by the human imagination entangled with the perceptions from sensing the external world, like observing reflections from a broken glass.

To these artists, modern times be too materialistic in orientation, but there is a spiritual world; not ‘out there’ somewhere beyond the Platonic ‘horizon line’, but instead, beneath our feet, and above our heads – on the horizon line, not beyond it.

With a little bit of luck that ‘tightrope’ can be straddled – the narrator below might be said to put his boot heels to Colin Wilson’s New Existentialism.

Tells the tale of the disembark:

Now, we heard the Sermon on the Mount
And I knew it was too complex
I didn't amount to anything more
Than what the broken glass reflects
When you bite off more than you can chew
You got to pay the penalty
Someone's got to tell the tale
I guess it's up to me
(Bob Dylan: Up To Me)

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  1. Wilson goes down the road akin to that where Martians showed up a long time ago to show humans how to build big pyramids made of stone in honour of mythological figures like Horus and Thelma (intuited self- knowledge), but alas instead humans came to be driven insane with the invention of unnecessary modern technology that “leaves no time to think.”…’pulp science-fiction’ stuff.

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