on May 3, 2000
For over 15 years this has been my favorite book. Wilson explicates a thesis - that much of great Western Literature is written by and concerns men who see and feel more deeply than their contemporaries. Perhaps one might regard them as more sensitive. At any rate, such men are alienated-hence outsiders. Such figures include: Hermann Hesse, Van Gogh, Hemmingway, Lawrence of Arabia, H.G. Wells, Albert Camus, Vaslav Nijinsky, Sartre, Tolstoy, and others.
This book can be used in many ways: as a primer to existential philosophy, an introduction to religious mysticism, or as an introduction to the work and thoughts some of the greatest artists and writers of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Understanding of this book is helped by familiarity with the works and artists Wilson discusses - but it's not necessary. Wilson's discussion of each work/artists is complete enough even without prior exposure. And, indeed, it would be hard to have exposure to all he includes. In a way that, too, is a plus. I used this book as a core curriculum for nearly everything I've studied. I read what Wilson had to say, and if I was interested, I'd then explore those artists myself.
on March 19, 2002
"In April-2000, when an exceptional heat wave had gripped the city of Mumbai in India, a young man, aged 27, stepped out of his house in Mehboob Studio and headed toward Lotus Book House". That was me last year. Over the first 3 months of the year 2000, some strange kind of uneasiness had gripped me.I was feeling divorced from most things and I could not pin down this sense of desolation. Completely led by chance, I ended up picking 'The Outsider'in a bookshop that April. I had no clue who Colin Wilson was or what the book was about. Some manifestation of the acausality principle of Carl Jung was at work I guess. My verdict on the book which is heartfelt and directly from experience(which is the only way one can be true to the book) is that 'The Outsider' is one of the most illuminating books that I have read in my life. The book is a scintillating journey that explores the position of the individual in the cosmos. After reading this book, I have read every single book mentioned in it which is an illustrious list that includes, Sartre's - 'Nausea; Hesse's - Sidhhartha, Narcissus & Goldmund, Steppenwolf, The Magister Ludi; Dostoyvesky's - Crime & Punishment, The Brother's Karamazov..the list is endless. I will recommend it to anyone who wants to explore the question of Man - the individual as against Man - the clock-work mechanism/ cog in the wheel . More importantly, the book is an experience; whatever I have written is only a description of that experience. An experience and its description can never be the same. This principle holds true for 'The outsider'. The reader will realise as he reads that the concepts and survival mechanisms of day-to-day banalities sorrounding his consciousness dissolve and that in some way this book gives rise to that 'oceanic feeling' of enlightenment.
on February 13, 2003
More people have read "Harry Potter" books than Colin Wilson books. So what you might say..True, and that would be qualifying you as an outsider. However, the fact that people seem to not be intereseted in themselves, what they are, and what's their "place" in this world or this reality(ies) is interesting. Isnt't it?
Wilson, in the "Outsider" lays out a study that asks many pivotal questions, questions that most people would label as existentialist. He defines the outsider as a person that "sees too deep but can't help it", a person that instinctively feels he doesnt fit in, becomes troubled by that, and sets out on a personal journey of discovering himself and his position in everything else.
To do this, Wilson studies the message many outsiders have "transmitted" throughout history, may they be philosophers, authors, dancers, painters, artists in general. He looks for parallels amongst them as he tries to interpret and define them, looks for common (but also for uncommon) points, but more importantly looks to detect what it is exactly that disatisfies them about the world they find themselves in.
And he does an extraordinary job at achieving his mission (defining the Outsider is a mission for those familiar with Wilson's works) while inducing provoking thoughts to the reader whether he's an outsider or not.
He also explores the methods of the outsiders he studies. In the end they all emerge as an official club and this is more startling than it might sound. It's the "commonness" among outsiders that's interesting in my opinion.
But, possibly the biggest issue is why does society keep producing Outsiders? Does that mean that as long as Outsiders keep being produced something is "wrong? It more than certainly does.
Any outsiders who will pick up this book to read will not be troubled by the fact that they might be unfamiliar with many artists Wilson studies. In fact, they'll wind up being inspired to study them also. On the other hand, any non-outsiders picking up this book might find themselves frustrated after the first 20-30 pages. And how will you know if you're an outsider or not to begin with? No worries. If you are you more than likely know it already. If you're not sure here's a tremendous and very inspirational book to help you find out. And if you aren't this book might help you understand those that are.
I've read several Colin Wilson books and what keeps amazing is that each and every one i've read is like "progress" for me, a personal progress, he functions like a keymaster handing out keys to those interested, and the fact that his writting style is never inaccessible is an added plus.
The "Outsider" is possibly the best book of its kind and it's no wonder that it brought Wilson some fame and success. It is a paradox though that even though Wilson has written very many illuminating books since then he still remains an "underground author"..Why`Well, i suppose that may have to do with the fact that he's an outsider himself, who, ultimately, will be read by (primarily) outsiders?
Discover that you are not alone.
on December 5, 2000
To a great extent, I owe the fact that I received a B.A. in English and Philosophy to Colin Wilson's The Outsider. I dropped out of school in 9th grade and later got a G.E.D. It was my discovery of Wilson's The Outsider that inspiried me to go to college and study english and philosophy. That Wilson is amazingly erudite goes without saying. After reading the Outsider, I went on to read almost all of the authors he mentions, and was fairly well read by the time I entered college. Mr. Wilson's books continue to inspire me today, as I have read many of them.
on August 3, 2007
Colin Wilson probably didn't know exactly what he was doing as he wrote 'The Outsider', it seems to be the way that great writers are guided by instinct rather than detached planning. Wilson was obvoiusly passionate about his topic and his later works certainly attest to this. The idea of this philosophical work is to understand the person, who to paraphrase Leonard Cohen 'exists on the outside so you knowwhat it means to be inside'. Wilson does this through examining characters from literature (and how they were effected by those whocreated them- Barbuuse, Dovstoyevski, William Blake, T.S. Elliot, Nietzsche and Wilson himself amongst others), through case studies of the lives of Vincent Van Gogh, T E Lawrence and Vasilav Nijinski along with Gurdjieffand George Fox. Wilson makes a strong argument for his premise which was continually examined in later works. This, along with William Barrets 'Irrational Man' (another classic written in thesame year- 1958) was my introduction into the world of 'real' philosophy. This is a great work and a wonderful introduction to the theme of how to be an authentic person in a world which seems to embrace only limited and 'safe' individuality. This is a work which remains relevent, perhaps even moreso today than when written, and in my not so humble opinion should be required reading at first year university level for humanties students.
on January 20, 2008
Should you buy this book?
Do you find existence unsatisfying because it is meaningless? Do you find life boring because you long for a more meaningful kind of existence? Then you are probably an Outsider, one not bothered by life's seeming trivialities but concerned with the big picture - and nothing comes bigger than the meaning of life. Are you one who shuns short-termism, but instead sees things in terms of the longue durée? Are you one who is exasperated by the apparent base material and animal instincts of much of the population, but instead sees glimpses of eternity that can verge on the divine? Are you unable to communicate clearly your experiences, because most people are incapable of empathising with them? In short, do you not feel at home in the world?
These questions sound as if I am trying to sell you a new religion, or a new cult. But do not worry, for, whilst Colin Wilson gives an analysis of the role of religion in human thinking, his is a staunchly secular enquiry. He writes, "[The Outsider] does not prefer not to believe; he doesn't like feeling that futility gets the last word in the universe; his human nature would like to find something it can answer to with complete assent. But his honesty prevents his accepting a solution that he cannot reason about."
First published in 1956, and a literary sensation of the time, this book is a critical study of a psychological phenomenon, of those who are alienated from their society and express alienation in terms of creativity. Colin Wilson does this by concentrating on literary creativity, although painters (Van Gogh) and composers (Beethoven) also appear. Unfortunately, the thinking classes are no longer as literate as it might have been in the 1950s, so unless you are clued up on literature, and in particular the literature that would have been de rigueur in the 1950s intellectual milieu, you will have to take much of Colin Wilson's evidence at face value.
Such authors through whose works he wades include Jean Paul Sartre, TE Lawrence, Herman Hesse, Henri Barbusse, Albert Camus, Ernest Hemingway, Friedrich Nietzsche, William Blake, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Thomas Mann, and George Bernard Shaw. And those are the more prominent ones. Colin Wilson's critiques of these authors clearly demonstrates that he has read widely and insatiably, but his reliance on you having done the same often leads to assumptions and arguments in the text that do not clearly stand up to proof. He assumes that you know what he is talking about and therefore does not have to provide further evidence for his argument.
Note that there are no female authors, no Virginia Woolf or George Eliot, which hints at some misogyny. Another problem with Colin Wilson's book is that it sometimes betrays a naïve Manichean approach to morality; he talks of good and evil as if these are absolutes. Indeed, there is no sign that an Outsider might be an ignoble character; was not Hitler an Outsider too?
The original text, then, is quite dated now, especially with the advances of sociological, philosophical and medical knowledge that have been made since that time. (I have wondered whether Outsiderness today would be classed by smallminded and blinkered medics as a mild form of Asperger's Syndrome.) But in the Phoenix edition that I bought off Amazon, not only is there Colin Wilson's 1967 postscript and 1976 introduction, but the author has provided quite extensive postscripts to each chapter for the 2001 edition. These explain his further thinking and insights on this subject.
I came to this book via an even more recent essay by Colin Wilson in edition 56 of "Philosophy Now" (July/August 2006). There, he brought together Fichte's belief that philosophical study must be an active rather than a passive exercise with Husserl's belief that consciousness comprises making active intentional choices with our senses. Colin Wilson concluded that, "Our most brilliant moments of insight happen when `immediacy perception' [what you experience through your senses] and `meaning perception' [what you understand by what you experience] converge." This convergence gives rise to a sense of heightened consciousness.
This struck a chord in me, as I had often experienced a sensation in certain circumstances of `eternal glimpsing'. Colin Wilson's description of Outsiderdom then started to fall into place with my own philosophical alienation, and I bought this book for further elucidation. It has more than succeeded in convincing me of the existence of the condition, but more than that, it has succeeded in instilling me a sense of pride in being an Outsider too! But whilst I can wholeheartedly recommend this book to fellow Outsiders as a starting point, its concentration on literary creativity and on its 1950s milieu can become daunting. What we need is a similar book for the 21st century.
This book is only a starting point for further self-deliberation, and you may feel come the end that the author has taken you up the wrong alleyway. But the journey nevertheless will have been stimulating; time will have been spent but certainly not wasted.
on November 20, 1999
An attempt by the author to get behind the expressions of what he terms outsiders, but in reality are people who attempt to break free from society's constraints and illusions. Rather like the attempt to transform one's life from a catarpillar into a butterfly. Where most people never get beyond the catarpillar stage. Explains the real struggle of those who can no longer accept deception and attempt to seek personal unification, revealing what many great works of art, poetry, and literature attempt to express. The Outsider is the visionary beneficiary when he/she succeeds, but a terrible burden if he/she fails. What the Outsider brings is transcendence from ordinary existence and ultimately is the supreme paragon, and the prophet. Primarily a literative study, with a discussion of such as H.G. Wells, Hemmingway, Dostoevsky, and Tosltoy, it also studies others such as Van Gogh and T.E. Lawrence, and the usual philosophers Nietzsche and Kierkagaard. The message is that prophets, who are those who understand the unpleasant truth for the good of all, are also the most persecuted and misunderstood. It occurred to me that this may have provided philosophical source material for the explosive 60's TV series "The Prisoner". Four stars because it's not for everyone.
on December 20, 1998
I was very surprised to stumble here and find no reader review. This is a very fine book and needs to reach thinking people everywhere.
It richly deserves the five stars I have given it: Till some time back it was the best book I had ever read; recently it got superceded by the writings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky (incidentally Wilson himself is an admirer of Gurdjieff/ Ouspensky and has written a good introduction to Gurdjieff's work entitled "The war against sleep".
O.K. What is this book about? Gurdjieff was in his earlier twenties when he wrote this book and from that perspective, the creation of such a finely crafted book is all the more remarkable.
He draws on the writings of numerous authors like Kafka, Strindberg, Camus, Sartre, Hemingway, Shaw, Hesse and other important historical figures like Lawrence of Arabia, Ramakrishna, Ouspensky, Nureyev and others to make a study of the Outsider.
Who is the "Outsider"? He is Phaedrus the WOLF! in "Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance", the person who feels deeply out of synch with the world he is in and feels the need to learn something for himself on his own.
Does he like solitude? Yes. Is he a thinker? Yes. Is he common? No! He appears to be "A stranger in a strange land"!
This is a man who has a sense of tremenduous disquite and takes steps to "see things as they are", whatever that means!
This book is not a dry tome. Colin Wilson is an original thinker, but in his books offers tribute to all thinkers who have influenced him, by quoting large pieces from their works.
Thus, this book is more of a collage and leaves you with a breathtaking perspective on a whole variety of "Outsiders" who have been created in literature.
Hey, if you have read so far, you can decide if you vibrate to the ideas and authors mentioned so far. If so, please go ahead and buy it. Amazon.com reviews have increasingly got cheapened, but I mean what I am saying.
ARE YOU AN OUTSIDER?!!
(P.S.: I would like to get in touch with people who have read this book and enjoyed it. Thanks!!)
colin wilson's "the outsider" is a work of massive erudition and obvious personal passion, highlighting perfectly the problems that faced man philosophically in the 20th century and that still face us in the 21st. wilson studies the lives of various 'outsiders' as varied as van gogh and nijinsky, lawrence and nietzsche, and ties together the more recent themes of the existentialists with these creative and intellectual giants. the problem, though, is that wilson doesn't have much in the way of an answer to any of the questions he so poignantly feels and understands. throughout his work (the 'outsider' cycle) he talks constantly about how this general sense of discouragement and purposelessness in literature & the arts is mistaken, but never gets around to the crucial point of actually telling us why.
he hints at it, of course--'evolutionary optimism', mystical intuition, but none of it is empirically grounded enough to really convince. we can't disprove wilson's theory that man is developing steadily into a creature of the 'noosphere' or the mind, but we can't prove it either, and nothing in the actual world seems to corroborate his theory. when it comes down to it, (and i'm sure wilson himself would admit this), his answers are religious in nature and are therefore vague and abstract. he admires mystics like boehme and swedenborg because they were in contact with what wilson believes is the 'third level of the mind', and yet a page later he'll admit openly that it is very unlikely that the ordinary individual can gain access to this supposed 'ultimate degree' of concentration even with the utmost effort, which leaves one wondering why he bothers writing about it in the first place.
in short, wilson leaves us facing the absurd even as he labors to contrive a solution that may not in fact be there. his work is nonetheless passionate, vivid, and from a man who cares about nothing but these questions.
on October 26, 1999
When I discovered "The Outsider" in May of 1977, I was convinced it was the finest book of its kind. Colin Wilson displayed boldness, originality, and fearlessness in attacking some of the more dubious aesthetic and philosophical ideas of the past hundred years, and establishing his own brand of existentialism which centered on human efforts to become more godlike. Central to Wilson's philosophy is the idea of training the mind to see beyond the "triviality of everydayness," to grasp higher states of consciousness. Wilson's lifelong goal, in all his writings, has been to discover a way for man to will his consciousness to higher levels without the use of artificial stimulants such as sex and drugs and violence. He wrote "The Outsider" to describe man's attempts, through literature, to explore the problem of meaninglessness in everyday existence. His central conflict rested with a respectful but solid refutation of Sartre whom Wilsom considered far too gloomy and negative. But Wilson totally ignores politics and social issues which, of course, Sartre tackles head-on. As I've grown older I've come to recognize that Wilson created in "The Outsider" a philosophy which borders on solipsism and brought navel-gazing to a higher level. Wilson's philsophy is essentially a reaction to forces that prey on all of us. His solution is to concentrate the mind to overcome those forces. Wishful thinking. Most of the world is too hungry and worried about making ends meet to have the luxury of an artistic existence that allows a person to revel in mind games. Most of us have experienced Wilson's descriptions of higher consciousness, such as our feelings at the beginning a vacation or at Christmas. His aim is to invoke that kind of excitement at will. After 40 years of writing books, he is no closer to a solution. He has steadfastly refused to take politics, economics, social, and cultural isues into account, and this would have to be crucial to begin to change our consciousness. Wilson thinks evolution will carry us to a higher level. Someday it may, but as long as most of us are mired inescapably in that "triviality of everydayness," we will have to rely on outside stimulants to raise our consciousness. Still, Wilson's book gives us a key to search ourselves in ways we may not have recognized. Best of all, he reminds us epistemological searchers that there is a whole library of literature out there to guide us on inner journeys. Read the entire "Outside" series. Wilson gets more into sociology in "The Stature of Man," but still he dismisses it too easily.