I have had a copy of Colin Wilson’s book, The Outsider, in my library for a long time. I find I mean something different than he does by the word, “outsider.” I read the first chapter yesterday sitting in my car with Eileen by the lake. The waves were quite spectacular for Lake Michigan. So instead of sitting on the channel as we sometimes do, Eileen parked in front of the beach.
When I think of outsiders, especially those I admire and identify with, I think of people who have not chosen their lot. This means Blacks in the U.S., Indigenous peoples of the Americas, people born in another country but brought here as children to be reviled by government and society alike, and so on. I read a theologian once who said that societal ideas often come from the margins of society. This also appeals to me.
Wilson’s outsiders disapprove of what they are outside of. In fact, their disapproval seems to be intrinsic. He redraws the meanings of H. G. Wells, Sartre, Camus, Kafka, T. S. Eliot and others. He frames their ideas as critiques.
This may be. But for my own part, I identify with outsiders because from a young age I found life confusing. I was born into the Christian tradition and community. But as I grew up I found myself more comfortable with distance between me and it. This didn’t feel like critique only confusion and questioning.
I can remember being in my early teens and sitting in West Court Street Church of God in Flint, Michigan, during a service, thinking the thought, What are we doing here? Where did all of this come from? Certainly fundamental Christianity did not hold meaning for me. My parents were unsurprised. I find that interesting. They continually said they were glad that I and my brother found ways to connect to church in our lives. It was almost like they didn’t expect us to do so.
I think Colin Wilson misreads the thinkers he cites. He hasn’t really brought up any clarity around ideas of meaning in life other to cite Sartre’s main character in Nausea whose existential crisis is temporarily alleviated listening to Sophie Tucker sing “Some of These Days.” This of course struck home with me. Because besides my own connections in life to people I love and who love me, the meaning I have found in life is definitely in beauty like that.
Significantly, Tucker represents to me the outsider. Jazz is (was) an outsider music.
Wilson decides in the second chapter of his book that such reaction is illogical and won’t work in the longer run and is only a “glimmer of salvation.” Maybe that’s the problem with his approach way back in 1956. He was looking for salvation.
For me these problems are interesting to think about but pale in the light of the more extreme debasement of beauty into the handmaiden of profits and glibness. Hari Kunzru quotes Theodore Adorno in his Into the Zone Podcast “It’s Always Sunny in the Dialectic.” Entertainment music is a tool of power, Adorno said, that lulled listeners urging them to consume instead of provoking genuine and emotional intellectual response.
For me the key is the word “genuine.” I trust my own responses to art (music, poetry, novels, essays). I seem to have a bullshit detector combined with a love of beauty, at least for myself.
On another note I have begun reading Brian Catling’s The Vorrh.
I follow Terry Gilliam’s Facebook feed and he mentioned this book as a great read. Good enough for me since I admire his work immensely. I interlibrary loaned it and am over a hundred pages into it.
Gilliam has a blurb on the copy I am reading as does Alan Moore. Catling himself seems to be a rather well known artist in England. This book is the first of a trilogy. It was published in 2012. The subsequent volumes are The Erstwhile (2017) and The Cloven (2018).
The prose style is fascinating. It took me a while to get in sync with it as a reader. It reminded me of adjusting to the prose of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast. In fact in it’s fantastic (literally) nature it reminds me of Gormenghast.