I must admit that Wilson’s book, The Outsider, is one of the best I’ve ever read on the problem of attempting to go beyond the boring, everyday bourgeois world to find another mode of consciousness that has the potential to revolutionize one’s earthly experience. He brilliantly analyzes many who have tried and most who have failed. Let’s see how he wraps things up.
As with the Existentialist viewpoint, in general, “the act of willing is important; the result, whether it proves a success or a disillusionment, is only secondary (Wilson 250). Even though Van Gogh killed himself, he became an Outsider the moment he chose the “definitive act” of painting. His choosing this path is what made him legendary. By willing to see beyond the grimy doors of our everyday perception, he created incredible works of imagination. He journeyed to the Land of Nowhere and brought back a little taste of it. The fact that he committed suicide is tragic, but secondary, nevertheless. Van Gogh had created his purpose for living.
The Land of Nowhere, as Suhrawardi called it, is really, as we know, just this world with the opacity removed. When I was eighteen, I had an experience with LSD, where I saw past the seemingly static nature of this world and viewed everything, such as a table, and a wallpapered wall in motion, flowing, undulating, like nothing I can compare it to. These objects were alive in some way. Now, I wouldn’t recommend anyone trip on LSD; it was a harrowing experience for me at the time. But it taught me about the dynamic nature of reality.
Wilson says the faculty of vision, which Blake bade us develop, unveils an incredible dynamo of energy.
The bombardment of the ‘self’ with emotions and sensations like so many shooting stars make the visionary realize that his interior being is more like a mill-race. He is struck forcibly by the kinetic nature of the world itself. While before, he had seen the world as rather a static place, where all sorts of trivialities assumed importance as they would in a dull country village, he now sees the world as a battleground of immense forces. At once he becomes aware of two things, the kinetic nature of the world, and the kinetic nature of his own soul. Instead of seeing the surface of things and feeling that it is rather dull, he sees the interior working of the force of life, the Will to more life (Wilson 255-256).
Most people only interact with their conscious minds. The Outsider, however, more often than not, has ongoing communication between the conscious and unconscious. Most people are merely content to make themselves “as comfortable as possible with as little effort as possible” (Wilson 256). But the Outsider, like Nietzsche, is concerned with choosing a more abundant life through the Will. They “care less about comfort and stability and the rest of the notions that are so dear to the bourgeois” (ibid.).
Wilson begins to draw a few conclusions concerning the Outsider. For one,
…the Outsider would seem to be a basically religious man, or imaginative man, who refuses to develop those qualities of practical-mindedness and eye-to-business that seem to be the requisites for survival in our complex civilization. It must be again emphasized that by ‘religion’ I am not trying to indicate any specific religious system (Wilson 260).
This almost goes without saying, since the Outsider’s dream is to see beyond the mundanities of the physical world. This use of the religious sense is in no way what we consider dogmatically religious, but more like what the word religion really means etymologically. It comes from the Latin word, religio, which means “a linking back.” C.G. Jung informs us that this type of “religion is a vital link with psychic processes independent of and beyond consciousness, in the dark hinterland of the psyche” (Jung 153). This is what the Outsider is after, to travel to the dark hinterland, and live life to the fullest. The true purpose of religion is to link back to the sacred source of all reality.
Wilson gives a brief overview of the mystic, Gurdjieff, whom I have never really been attracted to as a thinker, probably because I haven’t had much exposure to his teachings. Wilson does admit that he was a masterful psychologist. Perhaps, after some study, I can write about him more knowledgeably.
I have only scratched the surface of The Outsider. There is so much ground to cover, it would take a book just for commentary. I leave you with this final paragraph that deals with the problem of civilization, how to adopt a religion that can be assimilated by the masses, and link back to the sacred Source. Then, he discusses the problem of the individual, which is to endure constant striving, exposing one’s inner self to things that may be dangerous, but that will contribute to the state of wholeness.
There are still many difficulties that cannot be touched on here. The problem for the ‘civilization’ is the adoption of a religious attitude that can be assimilated as objectively as the headlines of last Sunday’s newspapers. But the problem for the individual always will be the opposite of this, the conscious striving not to limit the amount of experience seen and touched; the intolerable struggle to expose the sensitive areas of being to what may possibly hurt them; the attempt to see as a whole, although the instinct of self-preservation fights against the pain of the internal widening, and all the impulses of spiritual laziness build into waves of sleep with every new effort. The individual begins that long effort as an Outsider; he may finish it as a saint” (Wilson 281)
These articles on The Outsider are dedicated to the memory of Colin Wilson, who died on 5 December, 2013. May he continue to inspire the Outsiders, of I am one.
Jung, C.G. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (Collected Works 9,1). Trans. R.F.C. Hull. New York: Princeton, 1958.
Wilson, Colin. The Outsider. Diversion Books. Kindle Edition.
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