Saturday, 30 January 2016

The writing of William Arkle's A Geography of Consciousness - Colin Wilson's part in the matter

A Geography of Consciousness (1974) was apparently William Arkle's first publication.

It is a book that is very dense and difficult to read - by far the most demanding of Arkle's writings - because it treats consciousness in a series of very strict and abstract, physics-like metaphors, presumably drawn from Arkle's training as a engineer.

(He later wrote a similarly uncompromising mini-book or pamphlet called The Hologram and Mind - self-published in about 1990.)

Although A Geography of Consciousness (GoC) was the first (and for thirty years the only) book of Arkle's that I encountered, I found it impossible to read - and indeed it was the last of his works I properly tackled since my re-discovery of Arkle a couple of years ago. Yet it is a vital book for me - with an unsurpassed concentration of insights and illuminations.

I now see that the reason I did not get much nourishment from GoC before, was that it demands (and, I now know, rewards) total attention - and it cannot be taken more than a page or two at a time - then stopping to make notes, think and absorb. It took me months to read when I finally got through it.

Although Arkle turned-out to have a lot more to say on several matters, it is clear that he was trying to get 'everything' into GoC - and also to depict the way that he had arrived at his conclusions. Therefore, a special aspect of this book to an Arkle-ite is to see his mind 'in action' - to see how he used strict engineering metaphors to think about the highest and deepest spiritual matters.

(Note: What follows is based on the internal, textual evidence of GoC, and I have no direct knowledge about this matter.)

In the lead-up to GoC being published, or perhaps as a condition of its publication; it must have been obvious to Arkle's publisher and supporters - and especially his friend the successful author Colin Wilson - that the main text of the book was simply too difficult.

The happy solution arrived at was firstly for Colin Wilson to contribute an Introduction - describing Arkle and his life, explaining the main ideas, and setting them into a broader context.

In addition, I am almost-sure that Colin Wilson 'ghosted' or substantially re-wrote the first chapter of the book called Foreword - because this is done in a style that is identical with Wilson's own, and quite different not just from the rest of the book but different from anything else that Arkle ever published.

The Foreword, fusing as it does Arkle's ideas and Wilson's clarity, is a wonderful little piece. Even when I found the rest of the book impenetrable - I would often return to re-read it.

This part I especially like:

Imagine that you open your eyes in a dark bedroom. You know it is morning outside, because you can see the cracks of light at the edge of the heavy curtains; it looks like a cold, grey light, and you suspect it is raining. You think of the things you have to do when you get up, and they all seem dreary.

Finally you yawn, cross to the window, and draw the curtains.
Sunlight streams in, marvellously warm!  

You open the window, and the air smells warm and fresh. The feeling of dreariness vanishes. It is replaced by an eager desire to get your breakfast and get outside. 

A moment before, your consciousness has been 'hanging back', like a dog that doesn't want to go outside on a cold day. Now it is straining at the lead, pulling you forward. 

Then, I believe; on Wilson's advice Arkle went through the whole book and wrote a 'Summary' for each chapter - each of which has the appearance of having been done more as an interpretation and re-explanation, than as a 'summary' in the strict sense. Then a detailed Contents was provided, with sub-headings (these are not present in the main body of the text - but this type of analytic contents was a favourite device of Wilson's).

The 'Conclusion' - although clearly done by Arkle, and in his style; also has a rather different style from the main text - more personal and direct, and includes reference to ideas from Letter from a Father which had been composed between finishing GoC and its publication, and to which Wilson refers in his Introduction. I suspect that this section was added at Wilson's suggestion.

In sum, it very much looks as if Colin Wilson had a hand in preparing the final text of Geography of Consciousness, and had made several suggestions on how it could most clearly be presented to the reader - as well as providing the Introduction and (I infer) the Foreword.

Colin Wilson was therefore a friend indeed! - And such generosity in helping a novice author whose ideas he believed deserved a hearing was entirely typical of the man: he did this many times for many other people.

Note added 2 Feb 2016. I had not previously noticed that the self-published pamphlet of Letter from a Father is marked 1973, which is one year before the publication of Geography of Consciousness. Since the Letter was (according to Wilson's Introduction) written after GoC, then this chronology seems to confirm my above inference that there was a prolonged period (of more than a year) during which Arkle was working on how best to present GoC - apparently in consultation with Wilson. This period included evaluating whether or not to include the(already self-published, although this was not mentioned by Wilson) Letter as an Appendix to GoC. Wilson tells us the decision was taken not to include the Letter, as being in an altogether different style. The Letter eventually appeared three years later as part of The Great Gift, which was issued by the same publisher.