Into an Outsider’s mind


These days I’m almost closing chapters of a book called ‘The Outsider’ by Colin Wilson and despite its pessimistic perspective toward the existence and life, those concepts merge with my current situation of job searching which has been a constant yet hopeful battle between ‘what is a meaningful life’ and ‘Can I get what I want’. Ironically what I want is a meaningful life, just as anyone else, and personally I myself don’t understand what is the source of such stress and conflict. Then why those two are conflicting each other? Is this conflict unidentifiable? I should learn how to just toss out the source of stress which is a mere preoccupation that hasn’t come real yet. But great writers are with me and they already have discussed this matter throughout the human history. As I recall, it was Somerset Maugham who said in his book ‘Of human bondage’ that the life itself is meaningless so why not finding a daily joy from the beloved family. In his story, his narrative describes a man who develops a great ambition only to find out that the great joy comes from having a normal family. But other authors, as Wilson has analysed in his work, are in search of deeper spirituality even though they suffer from the similar conclusion:

“… And underneath all this, even more fundamental, there is the beetle-man’s problem: What is worth doing? For the beetle-man, the problem was complicated by his emotional anaemia: he thinks much more than he enjoys or suffers. Raskolnikov is a little better off: the world’s misery unites his whole being with a mixed feeling of revolt and pity. Particularly, his feeling about ‘lower forms of life’ (Lawrence’s detestation) are unambiguous – about vile old pawnbrokresses, for instance. 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 of how to use it; he thinks instead of acting.”

So chances are that I’m not even having a legitimate conflict. My question is the beetle-man’s problem, asking what is worth doing. Those two mentions above are reachable and under control perhaps, but the problem is that I think much more than I enjoy or suffer the situation. It’s a diagnosed disability. I’m not taping myself as one of the Outsiders that Wilson examined in his book. They are mostly extraordinarily recognised authors in literature history and theory. I’m more like a guy-next-door who has a complicated relationship with everything. I just wanted everything to be clear and simple. Yet Wilson detected this and gave an insight which I highlighted from the book: “… If you say that everything – chaos, darkness, anathema – can be reduced to mathematical formulae – then man will go insane on purpose to have no judgement, and to behave as he likes. I believe this because it appears that man’s whole business is to prove that he is a man and not a cog-wheel… And perhaps, who knows, the striving of man on earth may consist in this uninterrupted striving for something ahead, that is, in life itself, rather than some real end which obviously must be a static formula of the same kind as two and two make four – I am sure that man will never renounce the genuine suffering that comes of ruin and chaos. Why, suffering is the one and only source of knowledge.” And yes, I’m just a man who want a sanity. Just that didn’t expected that to be a sane mind is insanely challenging.


Citing Hemingway, Wilson goes on. “Most men die like animals, not men.” As such, “The Outsider naturally sees most men as failures” because the outsider’s concern is to know how to worth live; to die like men. Questions go further: “Why are most men failure? Why do Outsiders tend to wreck?” The cartoon above has a wit about such sense. The second column demonstrates a conventional man’s thought, calculating and counting mathematically yet suffering from the chaos of undefined identity as the third column demonstrates an aspect of outsider since he doesn’t belong to anywhere. Wilson invites Nietzsche time to time examine his element of Superman.

According to his words; “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. But once this purpose is found, the difficulties are half over.” But the author leads us directly to the conflicting fact that our world is a world without value, which directs the Outsider into misery. So the author continues; “Let the Outsider accept without further hesitation: I am different from other men because I have been destined to something greater; let him see himself in the role of predestined poet, predestined prophet or world-betterer, and a half of the Outsider’s problems have been solved. What he is saying is, in effect, this; In most men, the instinct of brotherhood with other men is stronger – the herd instinct; in me, a sense of brotherhood with something other than man is strongest, and demands priority. When the Outsider comes to look at other men closely and sympathetically, the hard and fast distinctions break down; he cannot say: I am a poet and they are not, for he soon comes to recognize that no one is entirely a business-man, just as no poet is entirely a poet. He can only say: the sense of purpose that makes me a poet is stronger than theirs.” Surely, maybe this seems just insisting that one is an outsider without social validation but personal convincement, but again Blake wrote “If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.”

Here the purpose is something comes with “an appetite for fruitful activity and a high quality of life“. Yet it isn’t certain if this purpose is designated to be a predestined poet, predestine prophet or world-betterer. As Maugham argued in his literature, could this purpose just be having a normal family and finding a joy from daily routine? As this matter, being a world-betterer seems arrogant, especially in this world without value. The Daxue (The Great Learning‘: one of the four books in Confucianism) empathises 修身齊家治國平天下 (discipline the own body, manage the family, govern the nation and rule the world – which is of consecutive order). In this philosophy, the role of world-betterer comes only after reaching personal discipline and satisfaction. This literature intends to teach beyond what is ‘right’ to do. It’s to teach how to be ‘righteousness’. According to this eastern philosophy, an Outsider is rather physical, religious or emotional than intellectual or social. So the division of different types of outsider by Wilson would be simply an exaggerated concern, for those outsiders shouldn’t concern the drifting men as a failure but rather should concern about their own personal righteousness. Once every individual eagers to find out one’s identity and righteousness, the world would become peaceful as the logic of such philosophy.

Wilson didn’t miss this point. He described George Fox as he who felt a ‘hunger and thirst after righteousness’ and linked this hunger and thirst to the characteristic of a religious outsider. He, like all Outsiders, had to learn to work out his own salvation and in case of Fox his spiritual combat resulted in a sudden realisation which gave God his entrance ticket. It’s rather personal and individual, as The Daxue depicts, and the reasons comes from the fact that such religious realisation doesn’t come in relation with men but from ‘aloneness’, as the self who tries to reach what is righteousness for oneself. The literature goes: “Not to be afraid of aiming high, not to be afraid of feeling that the mantle of all the poets and prophets who ever lived has descended on his shoulder, his alone; that upon him depends the future state of all the race. When Fox accepted this for himself, he ceased to be a miserable Outsider and became a great leader.” Yet this concept of standing alone as an ultimate success of mankind already once criticised by Paulo Coelho in his book ‘The winner stands alone’.

The description for the characteristic of an Outsider follows further, but again this simply concludes merging with the statement ‘Most men die like animals, not men.’ The way of death closely links with the way of life, and as Wilson summarised: “The basic problem of The Outsider is his instinctive rejection of the everyday world, a feeling that it is somehow boring and unsatisfying, like a hypnotized man eating sawdust under the belief that it is eggs and bacon.” This analysis is strong to apply especially to modern films and literatures where the crucial tension of the human mind accelerate. For example, Romeo and Juliet died like men, yet tragically but they had their purpose in life. An humanitarians who went to a war zone to help the war victims and died under bombardment can be tagged as dead humanely, rather than an office worker who died by an accident during his everlasting commuting hour. This is why an Outsider would perceive the life of this office worker boring and unsatisfying until to instinctively reject such fashion of life.

I’m glad for the insight that this book has delivered for me. I value the framework of thoughts and the analysis of how to live a humane life, even though the answer appeals to be pessimistic. Yet there lays existence, if one can feel it: the existence of being and the life. It may be appeared as a simplistic dichotomy; dividing the life of an Insider and that of an Outsider. But if his analysis is truly valid: that the great stories ever told by historical poets and writers are telling us how to live and die like men, this rather simplistic guideline of thoughts gives us a powerful insight of how we should dare and what purpose one should embrace.




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