The Road Into Ourselves
A take on Colin Wilson’s “The Outsider”
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“Everyone’s life is a road to himself, to self-realization.” (Hermann Hesse, Demian)
tinue on from my last post, wherein I recommended reading The Outsider by Colin Wilson, I thought it appropriate to take the novel as this week’s starting point. Hastily summarized: The Outsider is a jumble of modish nihilism, ranging from Camus, Sartre, Hermann Hesse and TE Lawrence to Blake, Van Gogh, Nietzsche, TS Eliot, Kaand Dostoevsky. And although I will not dedicate this post to the work in particular, I would like to take the opportunity to examine the theme of Outsider-ness to which the book lends its name.
From early childhood we’ve been primed to exemplify the traits most likely to produce social acceptance, while inversely hiding our more outlandish qualities. This, according to Jung, creates a ‘persona’, or social mask — “a compromise between the individual and society as to what a man should appear to be. He takes a name, earns a title, represents an office, he is this or that. In a certain sense all this is real, yet in relation to the essential individuality of the person concerned it is only a secondary reality, a product of compromise, in making which others often have a greater share than he.” (Carl Jung, Collected Works Volume 7)
Following Wilson, most people drift through life in a trance of indifference. This lack of overarching life purpose “lulls them into a state of permanent drowsiness, like being half-anesthetized, so that (they) never attempt to stretch their power to their limits.” To some, this numbed sensation, or lulled state, is unbearable. For them (these so-called Outsiders) the awareness that there is more to be achieved makes them obsessed with finding an escape from “the triviality of everydayness” (Martin Heidegger).
The norms of society teach us how to play a role, which, at times, can alienate some of us feel from ourselves. Few, at some point, haven’t felt like Kierkegaard: “I have just now come from a party where I was its life and soul; witticisms streamed from my lips, everyone laughed and admired me, but I went away…and I wanted to shoot myself.” What can one do when in the presence of such an internal chasm? A divide between our persona and our “true” selves? Should one withdraw from society, and become a hermit within the boundaries of their skin? Or should we alter our personas ever so slightly so as to mix both social expectations and inner desires? Wilson seems to think that such a passive stance hinders mental growth, and diminishes our chances of coming to any intrinsic truths. But what is more important? Truth or approval?
Before answering such a towering question, we must first come to know who we are, as constructing a “new” personality is both a scary and dissociating endeavor. Most believe that conformity is the only gateway to acceptance. However, it is very much possible to spur the chains of normality by being who we truly want to be. Firstly, we must accept ourselves for who we are, for if we are insecure about our differences, we will remain an outcast. Who wants to accept someone who can hardly accept themselves? A solid foundation onto which we can build is of the utmost importance as we strive for purpose and adopt ambitious goals. We ought to be put in positions we fear and fortify ourselves. One must “create their own system or be a slave to another man’s” (William Blake, Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion).
That said, the task of remaking our persona and feeling more fulfilled within ourselves is not an easy endeavor. Many of us look back to our pasts, and the sadness and frustrations we have endured, and wonder whether it is worth the effort. The more we fear ourselves, however, the more the monstrous head of regret will loom over our heads. Rather than looking at the task as a burden, we ought to go about it like one of those pivotal challenges for which we would risk our life. In the end, we risk loosing ourselves everyday we choose not to align with our true essence.
Shakespeare once said that the whole world is a stage, and all men and women are merely players. This theatrical quality to human existence is apparent everywhere and visible in everyone — it is on us to be the director over our lives, though at times it can be isolating.
As Wilson makes mention of Nietzsche on several occasions, denoting him as the ultimate outsider, it is only appropriate to end this post by quoting him: “Is it a good thing that the universe exists, even though we on Earth know that the price of that is enormous suffering?” He proclaims “Yes!” Suffering is everywhere and in everything. We can only lull our senses for so long before the horrid realities of guilt and dread come pummeling towards us. And when they do, what else is there but to numb our senses with distractions, be it in the form of chemicals such as alcohol or drugs, or visual and compulsive stimuli, such as through video games and consumption. No, Nietzsche seems to say that the only way out of the hell which is our human existence is to come to the intrinsic Truth about our being, even if the road inside ourselves will, at times, be lonely.