The Outsider by Colin Wilson
The Outsider is a unique composition. Although, it is prose, it is almost poetry to all those who are “Outsiders”.
Colin Wilson has defined a category of people called Outsiders who are psychological misfits in this world. He has given examples of real people and through their life story has shown, how for outsiders, living life is a deep psychological struggle against the norms of the world.
I read this book on the recommendation of Prof. Anil Gupta of IIM-Ahmedabad and founder of SRISTI and National Innovation Foundation – India.
I have liked the lucid and precise way in which the author has made a case for the Outsider so much that I have underlined sentences in almost every page throughout the book.
While reading this book, I have constantly felt that I am definitely an Outsider. The society does not recognize the presence of outsiders, therefore there is immense pressure to conform to societal “madness”.
The author has struggled throughout the book to come to a solution to the outsider problem but without much success. Wilson has taken examples of real life ‘outsiders’ and has shown how they have tried to solve the problem without succeeding.
I am pretty sure there are many outsiders in the world who either try to solve the problem without realizing clearly what they are trying to solve or those who simply give up and become mediocre as the rest.
The Outsiders are ‘psychological mutants’ and they need to be understood and accepted and allowed to be themselves… Who am I asking!?
Quotes from The Outsider
The Outsider’s case against society is very clear. All men and women have these dangerous, unnameable impulses, yet they keep up a pretense, to themselves, to others; their respectability, their philosophy, their religion, are all attempts to gloss over, to make look civilized and rational something that is savage, unorganized, irrational. He is an Outsider because he stands for Truth.
Broadbent: …I find the world quite good enough for me – rather a jolly place in fact.
Keegan (looking at him with quite wonder): You are satisfied?
Broadbent: As a reasonable man, yes. I see no evils in the world – except of course – natural evils, that cannot be remedied by freedom, self-government and english institutions. I think so not because I am an Englishman, but as a matter of common sense.
Keegan: You feel at home in the world then?
Broadbent: Of course, dont you?
Keegan (from the very depths of his nature): No.
– From – Bernard Shaw: John Bull’s Other Island, Act IV
The Outsider sees too deep and too much
The Outsider is a man who has awakened to chaos.
The cinema sheet stares us in the face. That sheet is the actual fabric of our being. Our loves, our hates, our wars and battles, are no more than phantasmagoria dancing on that fabric, themselves as insubstantial as a dream…These men (outsiders) who had been projecting their hopes and desires into what was passing on the screen suddenly realize they are in a cinema. They ask: Who are we? What are we doing here?
Art is thought, and thought only gives the world an appearance of order to anyone weak enough to be convinced by its show.
Exhaustion limits him more and more to the present, the here-now. The work of memory, which gives events sequence and coherence, is failing, leaving him more and more dependent for meaning on what he can see and touch.
‘God has some work for everyone to do. There can be no idle hands in his kingdom.’ – This sort of thing is notoriously meaningless to the Outsider
There is an appetite for ‘progress’ in all Outsiders; and yet…not primarily for social progress…Man is as much a slave to his immediate surroundings now as he was when he lived in tree-huts. Give him the highest, the most exciting thoughts about man’s place in the universe, the meaning of history; they can all be snuffed out in a moment if he wants his dinner, or feels irritated by a child squalling on a bus. He is bound by pettiness.
It is not enough to accept a concept of order and live by it; that is cowardice, and such cowardice cannot result in freedom. Chaos must be faced. Real order must be preceded by a descent into chaos.
Steppenwolf knows well enough why he is unhappy and drifting, bored and tired; it is because he will not recognize his purpose and follow it with his whole being.
The man who is interested to know how he should live instead of merely taking life as it comes, is automatically an Outsider… his wretchedness is the result of his incorrigible tendency to compromise, to prefer temperate, civilized, bourgeoise regions. His salvation lies in extremes – of heat or cold, spirit or nature.
When we dream that we dream we are beginning to wake up.
Beyond a certain point, the Outsider’s problems will not submit to mere thought; they must be lived.
The Outsider’s first business is self-knowledge.
He feels that the universe and himself are of the same nature; then all life seems purposive, and his own miseries purposive. The rest of the time is a struggle to regain that insight. If there is an order in the universe, if he can sometimes perceive that order and feel himself completely in accord with it, then it must be seeable, touchable, so that it could be regained by some discipline…Unfortunately, the problem is complicated by quite irrelevant human needs that claim the attention: for companionship and understanding, for a feeling of participation in the social life of humanity. And of course, for a roof over one’s head, and food and drink. The artist tries to give attention to these, but it is difficult when there are so much more important things to think about; and it is all made more difficult by the hostility of other people who everyday arouse the question, Could it be that I’m wrong?
A man becomes an Outsider when he begins to chafe under the recognition that he is not free.
Unknowable. My glimpses of it caused me nothing but trouble because they ruined me for everyday triviality without telling me where I could find another way of living. After it, my life became a meaningless farce.
For the Outsider, the world into which he has been born is always a world without values. Compared to his own appetite for a purpose and a direction, the way most men live is not living at all; it is drifting. This is the Outsider’s wretchedness, for all men have a herd instinct that leads them to believe that what the majority does must be right. Unless he can evolve a set of values that will correspond to his own higher intensity of purpose, he may as well throw himself under a bus, for he will always be an outcast and a misfit.
What is life for? To die? To kill myself at once? No, I am afraid. To wait for death till it comes? I fear that even more. Then I must live. But what for? In order to die? And I could not escape from that circle.
He is a dissatisfied man and therefore a dangerous man. There is human misery, and he asks himself the question: What can be done about it? His healthy minded answer is: ‘You can do nothing as you are.’ And why? Because as he is he suffers from all the Outsider’s disabilities; he is aware of his strength, but has no idea how to use it; he thinks instead of acting.
…for freedom is the greatest burden of all: to tell every man to think for himself, to solve the problem of good and evil and then act according to his solution: to live for truth and not for his country, or society or his family.