It is the moral question that becomes an existentialist question only by the depth of the attempt to answer it: What shall we do with our lives? The Outsider’s standards are unusually high. For him, ‘success’ and ‘failure’ have a completely new meaning. Ordinary ‘success’ seems particularly poisonous to him: the success of a film star or businessman or the author of a best seller. That is only a way of wading out into the world’s stupidity and losing the possibility of vision (Rebel 65).
The Outsider has no desire for worldly fame and fortune. Those talented writers and artists who do seek such rewards are not Outsiders, and they are not concerned with becoming visionaries. The vision is all that matters to the Outsider. As I said in one of my earlier articles, the Outsider is very much a prophet. Wilson even admits “the Outsider is primarily a critic, and if a critic feels deeply enough about what he is criticizing, he becomes a prophet” (Outsider 224). One thing the Outsider feels very deeply about, and criticizes profusely, is avoiding the superficiality and shallowness that is required to really succeed in the worldly sense. There are too many games to play, too many masks to wear. One is required to be an artificial, subservient lackey, dancing to the tune of the money men. The Outsider wants authentic existence, a vision, not a sacrifice of his Being to the god of mammon.
The Outsider is not a superior human. He “is only the ordinary man raised to an unusual level of perception; his conception of purpose is more exclusive than most men’s” (Rebel 55). But why is his level of perception raised and other ordinary men’s is not?
He crystallises it into a positive recognition of the need for an existence philosophy, a science of living. A ‘science’ only means an attempt to bring order and unity into a subject; the scientist’s method is classification and comparison and experiment. That is the Outsider’s method, too, except that his subject is the actual living stuff of experience, the raw material of the writer (Rebel 66).
The Outsider’s conception of purpose is crystallized into a philosophy of life that will bring order out of chaos and unity out of discord. The Outsider, in my opinion, comes to be an Outsider because of some sort of trauma and suffering, perhaps in childhood, that initiates and motivates the intense conception of purpose to discover a “science of living,” an “existence philosophy.” Wilson is careful to note that the Outsider is only moving toward such a science of living. No one has actually formulated it, but “they may yet do so; it may be the peculiar achievement of Western civilisation to have brought to consciousness the idea of an existence philosophy” (ibid.). Wilson also mentions that the Outsider’s conception of a science of living “has nothing whatsoever to do with any science that exists at present, and certainly has no relation to ‘literary criticism’ or to philosophy” (ibid.). I would say this is as true in 2017 as it was in 1957, although what we have learned in the last sixty years has brought us closer to success, perhaps. On the other hand, the mental-rational structure of consciousness, à la Gebser, continues to deteriorate, forging the way for what may be the greatest revolution of consciousness in the history of the earth. It may be only then that we experience such an existence philosophy, one that will totally transform us. I remain optimistic.
Now, Wilson attempts to describe the Outsider’s vision.
The man of genius demands that the work into which he throws his energy lasts as long as possible…He would like his life, seen in retrospect, to have the unity of a work of art, a meaning, so that he could point to it in answer to that question: Where is the Life we have lost in living? All the wisdom he gains through experience should be used as a tool to shape his life, not merely noted in a poem or novel (Rebel 66-67).
The question, Where is the Life we have lost in living? is a quote from T.S. Eliot‘s Choruses from the Rock. In the opening lines of his Tenth Elegy, of the Duino Elegies, Rainer Maria Rilke, proposes an answer:
Some day, emerging at last from this terrifying vision
may I burst into jubilant praise to assenting Angels!
May not even one of the clear-struck keys of the heart
fail to respond through alighting on slack or doubtful
or rending strings! May a new-found splendour appear
in my streaming face! May inconspicuous Weeping
flower! How dear will you be to me then, you Nights
of Affliction! Oh, why did I not, inconsolable sisters,
more bendingly kneel to receive you, more loosely surrender
myself to your loosened hair? We wasters of sorrows!
How we stare away into sad endurance beyond them,
trying to foresee their end! Whereas they are nothing else
than our winter foliage, our sombre evergreen, one
of the seasons of our interior year…(qtd. in Rebel 60)
This is the genius of Rilke and his “idea of super-consciousness,” the “actual using of his experience in a complete rebuilding of his being. The “terrifying vision” is ordinary life as we know it, the mundane, everyday form of consciousness, where we are forced into servitude to survive. The “assenting Angels” are others who have achieved transformation of consciousness into what we may as well say is the Ubermensch. Rilke’s is a religious vision, but not in the normal sense. Wilson thinks it is “the Nietzschean religion” (Rebel 59), which, of course, is the religion of the Superman.
The process of transformation, which is what I have been looking into for twenty-five years, and what this blog is all about, partly relies upon the assimilation of our “most difficult experiences” (Rebel 60). The emergence from the terrifying vision, this life of suffering, Hell to many, does not come from turning away from it, “shielding our hands from our heads, as if to ward off a blow. ‘We wasters of sorrows’ – we wasters of our own lives.” (ibid.). Rilke asks, “Oh, why did I not, inconsolable sisters, more bendingly kneel to receive you, more loosely surrender myself to your loosened hair?” The breakdown of all meaning is without a doubt one of the best examples of the alchemical stage of the nigredo. The soul brings one to this place of brokenness for a very good reason. In the blackest depths of the earth are where diamonds are born. By an act of will, one must surrender to the process, keeping the vision ever in mind of the new-found splendor that is soon to appear on our streaming faces.
Wilson, Colin. Religion and the Rebel. Houghton-Mifflin: Boston, 1957
Wilson, Colin. The Outsider. Diversion Books. Kindle Edition.
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