Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Outsider

A few posts back, I described the book Alien Dawn by Colin Wilson which had just come into my possession.

Wilson, however, was responsible for writing a book that sounds far more influential.  That is to say, if I am comparing descriptions.  The name of the book is The Outsider.  The Outsider examines just what effect people termed "outsiders" have on the rest of society.  An "outsider," as defined here, means someone who has little to no interest in the Status Quo, what is marketed to the masses, or what fashions or societal norms are required to fit in with the rest of the herd.  Those who choose this path or have it biologically chosen for them are termed "outsiders" by the rest of the herd.
Here is a partial list of the outsiders whose lives and works help make up the bulk of Wilson's book:

H.G. Wells
Albert Camus
Franz Kafka
T.S. Eliot
Hermann Hesse
Vincent Van Gogh
George Bernard Shaw
Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Friedrich Nietzche
G.I. Gurdjieff

A thorough study indeed.  Upon publication, Wilson was bashed by many critics.  Here was a 24 year-old author with no PhD who claims to have written a text that examines human alienation and how the outsider influences society.  In fact, Wilson wrote the book in the reading room of the British Museum during the day while he was spending his nights in a sleeping bag on Hampstead Heath.
Sigh.  This is a side of academics of which I am not very proud.  This kind of attitude fails to consider the fact that the men who wrote the influential texts that Wilson examines did not have, for the most part, any kind of higher degree.  Yet the books and works are nevertheless considered part of the academic "canon."

I am excited to read this book.  I enjoy literary criticism and this book has the additional dimension of being perhaps therapeutic, just as it seems to have been for several readers in the Amazon comments section (linked above).  I see myself in much what Wilson describes.  I certainly do not place myself among the writers above in terms of the quality of my work.  Not by a long shot.  What I do share is their view of society, the absent need to fit in with everyone and everything else.  The knowledge of there being others like me makes me feel less alone.
Now how is that for literary irony?  "Outsider seeks same in order to not feel alone in rejecting society."
So The Outsider goes on the to-read list.  Yes, that list seems to expand by the day.  I will get to these.  Perhaps it would help if I didn't fall asleep for three hours in the afternoon as I did today.

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