44. Colin Wilson – The Mind Parasites (1967)
The Mind Parasites is the second of Wilson’s books featured on the Burroughs Syllabus, and it contains many of the same themes and ideas as the first; 1976’s Space Vampires.
Burroughs writes an extended review of the novel as part of the Mayfair Academy series. Its central conceit – alien mind-entities infiltrated the human subconscious around the time of Beethoven and have been making us crazy ever since – aligns perfectly, and perhaps inspired much of, Burroughs’ own language-virus theories.
In fact, the idea that the virus is “from outer space” is probably a direct lift from this book. Other aspects of his theory can be accounted for elsewhere, but the spaceborne, spacebound nature of language (Mr Martin in The Burroughs File) appears Wilsonian in all its main aspects.
Which isn’t to say that Wilson’s idea is entirely original either. Wilson is a Lovecraftian, and this book was originally published by Arkham Press; the official press of recognised Lovecraftiana (I should know, I’ve been published by them m’self, fnarfnar).
The plot is essentially Lovecraftian. An archaeologist interested in ancient arcana is called out to a new discovery site. They uncover strange stones with carvings that appear impossibly ancient. Tests reveal them to be over 300,000 years old and are mere splinters of vast monoliths buried miles under the ground.
Before you start getting too excited about these, Wilson later ditches them, saying they were a trap laid by the far more modern mind parasites (thus, in my opinion, abandoning the most interesting part of the narrative!).
One of the team commits suicide, leaving papers hinting at creatures living in our unconscious minds, parasitically living off our energies. The protagonist thinks him mad, until, one night, he finds himself beset by the parasites. Doing battle with them in his mind, he finally overcomes them when he finds within himself an inner well of human benevolence.
This benevolence blasts through them “like using a machine gun on children”: it now falls to the protagonist to convince his friends and allies of the existence of the parasites and train them in unleashing their inner human power.
Many are “attacked” and commit suicide. Those who survive eventually defeat the parasites through unleashing their inner potential. It’s an exciting story, at times, and highly original. At times it suffers from having very little in the way of concrete landscape – the battles playing out “in the mind”, with lots of non-specific descriptions of “going deeper”, “moving away”, “invading in hordes”, “retreating to the darkness”.
The most interesting part (besides the ancient temples, which might connect to Burroughs’ old Maya Studies lecturer, but I’ve not read him yet…) is the passing references to artistic and aesthetic modernity as a form of mental parasitism.
Romanticism, with its turbulent emotions. The avant garde, with their anti-human manifestos. The young rockstar who appears in the novel as the embodiment of parasitic darkness. All are shown to be profoundly pessimistic, anti-human, cynical and so, ultimately, designed to sap the natural spirits of humanity.
Viewed through this lens, we might see Burroughs’ urban guerrilla ramblings of the 1960s and early ‘70s – The Revised Boy Scout Manual or Battle Instructions – as being potentially positive, rather than just pure nihilism. He seems dismayed in his letters when people read them literally. Maybe he wanted to restore the fighting spirit which, he was beginning to realise, he had harmed through his own pessimism and his lifelong preference for dark, criminal, brutal, violent and cynical reading.
Another core element can be found in Wilson’s description of the parasites using of out of body experiences in order to possess people and command them to do evil. The protagonist first recognises the parasites after finding himself outside his body, forced to view the vast universe from a “worm’s eye view” and despairing. When he realises the despair has been forced on him, he battles his way back within himself.
Later, we hear of drug addicts addicted to getting out of themselves, rapists who commit their crimes while sitting outside themselves, watching, appalled, and the “natural” reaction of humans overcome by fear (and trauma) by leaping out of themselves.
I’ve yet to read Monroe (it’s on the pile currently), but it seems to me that Wilson’s view of out-of-body experiences as purely negative, and also purely foisted upon humanity by the parasites, is out of line with Monroe’s own celebration of it (which Burroughs regularly cites, approvingly). Wilson instead calls upon the “collective PK powers” of humanity to banish the parasites and reclaim our human lives and destinies.
Burroughs’ understanding of the psychic realm is far more complex and nuanced than Wilsons, which might explain this discrepancy. Where The Mind Parasites presents us with a relatively simple “battle” model for forcing out the parasites, Burroughs recognises the immense power of the forces stacked against him. This leads to The Nova Trilogy, the extended cut-ups, and later spiritual explorations.
Wilson both takes Burroughs a long way in his own thinking and, ultimately, does not go far enough for him. This might be why Wilson was so keen to disown Burroughs, who he found distasteful. Wilson was happy to be writing fiction, Burroughs believed himself to be in a transdimensional battle with Control itself.