by Colin WIlson
"The Outsider is a 1956 book by English writer Colin Wilson.
Through the works and lives of various artists – including H. G. Wells (Mind at the End of Its Tether), Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, T. S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Harley Granville-Barker (The Secret Life), Hermann Hesse, T. E. Lawrence, Vincent van Gogh, Vaslav Nijinsky, George Bernard Shaw, William Blake, Friedrich Nietzsche, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and George Gurdjieff – Wilson explores the psyche of the Outsider, his effect on society, and society's effect on him.
The Outsider has been translated into over thirty languages (including Russian and Chinese) and never been out of print since publication day of Monday, 28 May 1956. Wilson wrote much of it in the Reading Room of the British Museum, and during this period was, for a time, living in a sleeping bag on Hampstead Heath.
The book is structured in order to mirror the Outsider's experience: a sense of dislocation, or of being at odds with society. These are figures like Dostoyevsky's "Underground-Man" who seem to be lost to despair and non-transcendence with no way out.
Characters are then brought to the fore (including the title character from Hermann Hesse’s novel Steppenwolf). These are presented as examples of those who have insightful moments of lucidity in which they feel as though things are worthwhile/meaningful amidst their shared, usual, experience of nihilism and gloom. Sartre's Nausea is herein the key text – and the moment when the hero listens to a song in a cafe which momentarily lifts his spirits is the outlook on life to be normalized.
Wilson then engages in some detailed case studies of artists who failed in this task and try to understand their weakness – which is either intellectual, of the body or of the emotions. The final chapter is Wilson's attempt at a "great synthesis" in which he justifies his belief that western philosophy is afflicted with a needless pessimistic fallacy."