The Outsider

October 29, 2011 § 46 Comments

By Tai Carmen

“I see too deep and too much.” Henri Barbusse 

“The visionary is inevitably an outsider.” Colin Wilson 

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” Jiddu Krishnamurti 

“I get a kick out of being an outsider constantly. It allows me to be creative.” Bill Hicks

The outsider, by definition, is isolated in some way from the dominant thrust of society. They do not, like the majority, expect to find satisfaction in striving for material success and status, seeing these limited focuses as necessarily generating a mediocre and myopic existence.

What others accept easily, the outsider has trouble accepting.  They tend towards pressing the issue — “But why does it have to be this way?” And so within the restlessness of the outsider rests the seed of the visionary.

But no great visionary is comfortable in their time, or they wouldn’t be a forward-thinker in the first place. We are the misfits for whom the world feels strange. Common to this personality type is often a prevailing sense of dislocation, a feeling perhaps that home is somewhere but not here.

“What can be said to characterize the Outsider is a sense of strangeness, or unreality,” details Colin Wilson in his fascinating and influential book, The Outsider.  “This is the sense of unreality, that can strike out of a perfectly clear sky.”

“Good health and strong nerves,” Wilson continues, “can make [this sense of unreality] unlikely; but that may be only because the man in good health is thinking about other things and doesn’t look in the direction where the uncertainty lies. And once a man has seen it, the world can never afterwards be quite the same straightforward place.”

Literature is rife with stories of outsiders experiencing this moment in which the world is turned on its head, assumptions fall to pieces, and the truth of society’s blindness revealed — from Holden Caulfield to Siddhartha. Philosophy, and its accompanying questions of being and meaning, go hand in hand with the great literary tradition of the lonely hero who undergoes this disorienting transformation of consciousness.

Classic existential novels such as Sarte’s Nausea and Camus’ The Fall explore this relationship between the outsider and the crisis that awakens him from the sleep of the average citizen. A more modern example would be Haruki Murakami’s Toru Okada in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles.

Common to the outsider and the existentialist is the feeling, as Colin Wilson mentions, of unreality. Described below in an excerpt from T. S. Elliot’s classic poem, The Waste Land:

Unreal City,

Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,

A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,


I had not thought death had undone so many.


Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,


And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.


Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,


To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours


With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.

Here we see the poet as outsider watching the daily trudge to work of the average citizen and feeling the life of the city somehow “unreal.” He notes how “each man fixed his eyes before his feet,” and that the sound of the clock striking nine o’clock, signaling the start of the work day, has a “dead sound.” Elliot is not — and does not wish to be — one of them.

Colin Wilson expands, “the Outsider is a man who cannot live in the comfortable, insulated world of the bourgeois, accepting what he sees and touches as reality. ‘He sees too deep and too much,’ and what he sees is essentially chaos.

“[…] When he asserts his sense of anarchy in the face of the bourgeois’ complacent acceptance, it is not simply the need to cock a snook at respectability that provokes him; it is a distressing sense that the truth must be told at all costs, otherwise there can be no hope for an ultimate restoration of order. Even if there seems no room for hope, truth must be told.

“[…] The Outsider is a man who has awakened to chaos. He may have no reason to believe that chaos is positive, the germ of life (in the Kabbala, chaos—tohu bohu—is simply a state in which order is latent; the egg is the “chaos” of the bird); in spite of this, truth must be told, chaos must be faced.”

The person who finds themselves alienated from the dominant thrust of society tends to have a more responsive emotional life, a more vivid imagination, a hungrier mind than their peers. Because of this sensitivity, they are more affected by the world around them than others — more easily hurt, but also more discerning, more astute.

Most outsiders don’t decide to be outsiders, but are born with an inner sense of difference, a sense of seeing or feeling, observing, more than others, often with a driving sense of purpose (however vague) and a lack of interest and/or ability to conform with the expectations of the status quo. Others are made into outsiders because of a particular experience which separates them from the average person’s experience of the world — perhaps an early encounter with loss, a difference in appearance or desire.

Whether the cause for their difference is  a priori or posteriori, the outsider is invaluable to society. As Wilson asserts: “The vitality of the ordinary members of society is dependent on its Outsiders. […] It is their strenuousness that purifies thought and prevents the bourgeois world from foundering under its own dead-weight; they are society’s spiritual dynamos.”

As Arthur O’Shaughnessy wrote in his lovely Ode:

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.

The qualities for which the outsider is ridiculed may prove to be his greatest asset – his difference from others, obsessions, introversion, unconventional perspectives, all fuel the landscape of creation. In his article, “Creative Thinking,” Michael Michalko muses, “Genius often comes from finding a new perspective that no one else has taken.”

Click here for Part 2

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§ 46 Responses to The Outsider

  • Abdelwahab elSadek Salem says:

    ٍِِAs an outsider I could know that I had received from the social base some touches which portrayed me and formed me in some way to be an outsider not only feeling different from others but also looking to others from above as if they are insignificant. Although I appear as a failure and not a star in the world I know that I failed because I was like the Open Eyed in the Country of the Blind. So I stopped to be ambitious and I tried to enjoy their blindness for Survival. I lost my enthusiasm to share with thinking and dreaming. Now I am happy like them. I became insider. This essay moved my sadness inside. It will pass.

  • taicarmen says:

    Well, it’s never too late to express yourself a little! Even if it’s just in a journal, or taking a creative writing or painting class at a local community college. Or even just give yourself the nourishing gift of a quiet walk alone in nature in the evening…Just something to feed your inner dreamer.🙂

    It’s interesting that you mention the Country of the Blind in relation to the outsider, as Colin Wilson refers to that G.H. Wells’ short story of the same name as symbolic of the outsider’s sixth sense which is disbelieved by the others. I was going to mention the piece in the next installment. Be well and good luck on your quest. TC

    • Abdelwahab elSadek Salem says:

      Thanks Tc..
      Much of facts and disclosed secrets of the past became known to my mind. But I hope of sharing them with others. I made a blog with the following link: abdosalem2011.blogspot.com…By the name,”Why I am Christ Returned” … Please consider it and publish it or comment on it. See in it the huge effort I made in. See how I am unlucky by being unknown so far although I call for a very great goal. Thanks!

  • J says:

    Thanks TC…Love your work🙂

  • John M says:

    I feel that sometimes you must be an outsider in order to discover your true inner- self.

    I like this quote you posted:

    “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” Jiddu Krishnamurti

  • taicarmen says:

    I think it’s absolutely true. Almost any truly introspective person enters outsider territory…and I think that self-knowledge is the outsider’s greatest tool.

    Wilson points that out as well in his book — was going to get to it in the next post (part 2) but yes! Agreed!! TC

  • Bob says:

    Of course, as youth (as newly arrived beings), we are all outsiders. We only learn conformity – or buck against it- as we grow up. Those who were fortunate enough to live largely in their imaginations, and in whom a sense of reverence for mystery was cultivated, well, they had no need to grow up, so they keep their outsider view. – Bob

  • Bertold says:

    Really great post! Like your work very much and looking forward reading part 2!

  • Dustin says:

    Thank you! Thats the first thing I had to say because as of late I have been plagued by thoughts about me being the only one I know that is different to such an extreme. My thoughts sometimes confuse even myself, you writing about the beauty and significance of outsiders is a simple miracle that I desperately needed in order to stay afloat. Keep writing, keep reading. Sincerely, Dustin

    • taicarmen says:

      Glad to hear it, Dustin. It can definitely be confusing to have a vivid inner life and highly active thoughts. Just remember you may be the only person like you who you know, but there are certainly lots and lots of people with whom you can relate in the world. And you will find them, one by one, if you keep an open heart, and stay on your journey. It can take years but if you cultivate your interests and passions constructively (music and the arts, for instance, are full of merry misfits!) you will eventually most likely find your niche. In the meantime, dare to be different and march to the beat of your own drum with pride. I recommend educating yourself as best you can on the vast heritage of outsider’s and dreamers in literature, art and philosophy. Even if they existed in other times they form a larger sense of connectedness, and can serve you well in your own self-understanding and appreciation. Be well and good luck! TC

  • K.F. says:

    Today has been very depressing and discouraging for me so far, but when I came home and saw that you had a new post, my mood brightened considerably. I find your insights on being different very helpful, especially since that seems to be the theme of my struggles today.
    I’ve commented before to say this, but I truly do love your writing. Your posts are always wonderfully thought-provoking. Thank you for sharing your gift.❤

    • taicarmen says:

      It’s an honor to be of help. I’m gratified to hear the post was inspiring for you! That is definitely my aim, so thanks for letting me know.🙂 Just remember you’re in good company if you feel like an outsider, and even though our lot can be more challenging, it also has the capacity to be more rewarding. Just keep looking at the problem from new angles and you’ll find some way through. Good luck!🙂 I’ll leave you with a little gem from Oscar Wilde:

      “A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”

      On, on!

      TC

  • solefield says:

    Amazing, as always! Fantastic quotes… the Ode is one of my favorites… “We are the music makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams”… so wonderful and comforting. The article reminded me of this quote as well: “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche

    We may be outsiders, and may often have more struggles… but it is worth it.

    • tai c. says:

      I love that Nietzsche quote! I may have to use it in part 2… thanks for the great share!

      Nietzche is a wonderful, quintessential example of the outsider (too bad he went insane, not very comforting…! But I’m sure there were multiple factors.)

      Colin Wilson focuses on him quite a bit in “The Outsider”…got me wanting to read more of him than I have, though I’ve read some, I feel a resurgence to really get into his work. As does your quote! Be well! TC

  • i think your blog is amazing! but im more of a tumblr person, could you also post them there? i’ll be the first to follow!

  • Jey says:

    I seriously love everything that you post! I totally feel like an outsider all the time especially since I go to a high school where everyone seems be doing the exact same things. The people here are like a blur. Its nice to hear about other people feeling this way.

    • taicarmen says:

      Oh, high school. I remember it well. Conformity is at an all time high! High school is probably the best example of human conformity aspiration. I suppose it’s such an insecure time, emotionally, what with all the inner and outer changes that occur, that our natural fear-based herd instinct goes into overdrive and status assumes an all-mighty power. Popularity is salvation. Acceptance is survival. Or so the unsaid rules of high school conformity imply. But it’s all bull — people whose personalities are so malleable as to seamlessly transform into whatever they believe popularity requires of them generally make unimpressive marks on the world. That chameleon ability may serve them in the fishbowl of high school, where every move feels monitored by the self-assigned police of cool, but in the real world, its vapidness becomes increasingly obvious, unimpressive and boring.

      My advice: don’t buy the lies. Hold strong to yourself and don’t compromise who you are. Remember that their aspirations towards homogeny are misguided and rooted in insecurity. And even though the world will always have its overbearing status quos, the social pool opens up in a big way after high school, to reveal many more who feel like you.🙂

      Good luck!

      TC

  • Ina Ensslin says:

    TC, I absolutely LOVE your blog and just wanted to mention how much I adore it it. It is so unique, insightful and positive that I always smile when I read it.

    I’ve been eagerly awaiting a new post so it was a very pleasant night when I saw this just now. When I say I’ve been inspired, I mean it! In fact, I have a copy of ‘The Death and Resurrection’ show on the table right next to me thanks to your post about it way back when. I got it through an inter-library loan and will be finishing it tonight (sadface), but just wanted to HOLLA.
    🙂

    • taicarmen says:

      Holla back!🙂 Thank you so much for the positive reinforcement. It means a lot. I’m so pleased the posts have been enriching! Definitely my goal. Cheers! TC

    • Abdelwahab elSadek Salem says:

      The outsider is a man that wants to share others his thoughts which all of his society refuses. They want him to be in their line. But he refuses it. He looks to his existence as the existence of his thoughts. So when they refuse his thoughts they prevent him from living. So he struggles to insert his thoughts in the world to defend his life. However not all outsiders are positive. Some of them are destroyers through perverted ideals. Life is full of varieties. When the society is unable to arrange how to deal with all kinds of outsiders it becomes a mess and some of the best passes of no use.

  • well written Tai. Interesting books have mentioned, will have a look.

    The way of writing and presenting it is comforting and an inner understanding of what life really is.

    I am proud and honored to share that and see other people that are in the same boat of life.

    Hugs, M

  • F.Faruki says:

    It’s always a pleasure coming back to your blog, Reading it is always enlightening.

  • Allec says:

    Thank you for posting this.

  • Seb says:

    Hi, I just wanted to say that your blog is absolutely wonderful🙂

  • Abdelwahab elSadek Salem says:

    TC. we are looking forward to seeing your second part. Thanks!

  • Z says:

    I really enjoyed reading this, cos I have felt like this for very long, but more so recently in the last year since I graduated from film school.

    I am at a complete loss of what to do with my life – travelling and working with non-governmental organisations comes to my mind – but I constantly feel guilty to not be doing that is money paying, somehow I feel guilty for doing what I enjoy, and feel that i should suffer.

    People tell me I should get over this guilt, that it is just the bullshit that has been fed to us since we were little, like a woman needs to have a child to be a complete woman etc.

    One friend gave me ‘Walden’ to read🙂

    I often feel dislocated, and constantly feel that the world is unreal, so it was a great comfort to read these words in your piece.

    Introversion, extreme emotional responses, very vivid imagination, to the point of living so much in my head, and making so many constructions of people, situations, and relationships that I don’t know what is real any more.

    And then the fear of being rejected for being like this.

    I have tried discussing it with my counselor, but she couldn’t really understand, and tried to force me to be more ‘real’ by telling me my whole life is fiction, and it will continue to be if I don’t take control and do anything about it.

    I don’t know if all of this fits into the description of being an ‘outsider’, I just know I am miserable and finding it hard to leave conformity behind and take unconventional decisions.

    Maybe I need to just accept that this is my self, and live with being this way instead of trying to change?

    • taicarmen says:

      Dear Z,

      Thank you for sharing and being part of the conversation. I’m sorry to hear you’re feeling miserable; glad you find my words to be of some help.

      I don’t think it speaks ill of you that you are unhappy, only says you are seeking, and more honest than most with your discomfort.

      You have already created movement for yourself in admitting it, in sharing it with me and with your friends (if they are giving you recommendations like Waldon, then they sound like good friends).

      My advice is to seek your answer in your creativity. You mentioned film school. That means you have the ability, in theory, to shoot a short film or documentary. What a tremendous craft to have learned! It’s perhaps the most accessible of arts in terms of exciting other people.

      If I were you, I’d devote the last month of this year to what I call dreaming, or vision questing. To me, that means consciously setting aside time throughout the day to go off by myself into nature and think, journal, dream. To reflect inwardly on what I think is important, and what I think is wrong with the way things are done. To grope around inside the darkness of myself and see what treasures may lie there…

      What are your obsessions? What lights up, makes you angry or excites you? These things all point to your vision. You have a unique voice. What do you want to say?

      After giving yourself this last month of 2011 to dream and go inward and take time to vision quest, by the new year I would decide upon a project and throw your all into making it a reality.

      A short documentary or “visual poem” exploring your various questions, feelings, ideas, etc. is a valuable bead strung on the necklace of awareness, which we are all building, piece by piece, together. Just as a single blog post, which I could easily tell myself is meaningless, in fact meant something to you.

      Productivity in the name of something you believe in is tremendously sanity-producing. Sensitive, creative people require a sense of purpose. If you are feeling lost, congratulations. You are searching and that is good! Just hang in there and keep pushing towards whatever small glimpse of light you’ve experienced in your better moments.

      It’s easy to measure worth with accomplishment, our society tells us we are what we do, how much we make, how important our jobs are, etc. And accomplishment is good for our sense of self-empowerment, but accomplishment of goals that are close to our hearts, not what society tells us we should be doing. That becomes a game of status, and there’s no reason to play.

      I do understand the impact that has. Until I really dissected it, in a post actually (“The Mad Cult of the World,”) the full absurdity of The System hadn’t quite hit me, and I wondered if I weren’t “slacking off” in my alternative lifestyle of freelance writing and editing work, as well. But I have come to believe the true slacking off is to go the easy way, which may look respectable, but doesn’t make your soul sing.

      It’s vitally important that we do everything we can to keep our souls singing! Otherwise, what do we have? A world as if without music.

      It’s good that you’ve identified the feeling, and I think it’s just part of the challenge of doing anything worth while to have to push past some uncomfortable psychological boundaries. If you remember its all in the name of growth, it can take some of the edge off.😉

      I do think you should work on your fears of not being accepted by daring to be different and embracing who you are.
      (Have you read “The Politics of Normalcy?” on this site? I think it relates to your question.) Your most valuable gold, in terms of contributing meaningful material to the world, lies in your unique experiences, your own particular perspective, which could have only come from you.

      Sometimes you have to fake it til you make it, and simply pretend you don’t care what others think when you really do… In fact sometimes, that is the only way to get anything done. As Mark Twain said, courage is resistance of fear, mastery of fear. Not absence of fear.

      I think once you get a taste of that liberated feeling, it’s going to get easier and easier, because you will have experienced its reward. But don’t beat up on yourself for wanting to be liked: we all do. The secret for me was discovering that people really like you best anyway when you don’t give a damn. These are the people who set us on fire because we are all secretly wanting not to give a damn. It’s a journey, it won’t happen over night. But you have to keep moving in the direction of your dreams.

      Ultimately, it’s up to you what kind of life you want to live and who you want to be. Do you want to be someone who lets your fear define you? Of course not. So keep pushing your comfort zones and doing little things which liberate your fears. Spend December reflecting on your inner visions, and by the new year, resolve to do something with them!

      It helps to write stuff out. Make a list of the themes that interest you, free-write in a notebook, etc. And come up with a project to focus on. It doesn’t have to bring in money to be worthwhile, it has only to light you up. That’s what’s its all about. And when you create projects that light you up, you light other people up as well. Then you will start to feel less lost, because you are doing something. You are creating your own meaning. And the more you do it, the more empowered you will feel.

      Good luck!

      Tai

      • Z says:

        Dear Tai,

        When I first read your reply yesterday, I couldn’t bring myself to answer. I cried my eyes out. I couldn’t believe a stranger would take so much time and effort to write me such a meaningful and thoughtful answer.

        As I read it today, I am struck by how you are able to understand so closely the place where I am, of course it’s because you have been there yourself.

        Your suggestion is a very good one, and I will be undertaking it.

        It’s the first time I have experienced such a depth of understanding, acceptance, and some practical guidance too!

        Thank you, thank you🙂

        I will be keeping this reply close to my heart and reading it often🙂

    • Abdelwahab elSadek Salem says:

      Z; I don’t know what TC will tell you. But I experienced some of your feelings. I spent long time living in books of thinking wanting to know the meaning of existence. When I joined the common people the majority I hated them for there trifle conversations. The matter appeared as if my mind accustomed to live in the world made of books. That isolated me and somehow I hated even myself and became ready to die. At this edge you become before three roads: one of them is called the brake. The chemicals of the body attracts you to try another direction automatically. Maybe you didn’t reach that state yet. You feel that you should revise the religious teachings, where you find some comforting words, and events to weep for, and events to make you compare your events with them. You find a kind of real life you missed. The chemicals of the body encourage you to continue in that considerable period. So you come to believe the idea of forgiveness, and the idea of thanking God for living even in the bad situations. Some who experience that return deep in their root belief and others borrow another and others live with their own idea. In the end you will be able to live relaxed accepting life as it is. That’s why they say you must reconcile with yourself.

      • Z says:

        Dear Abdelwahab,

        Thanks for your reply.

        Yes, I have experienced the same thing, of finding ideas and worlds constructed in books so much more stimulating than people, barring a very precious few.

        Yes, I have tried to find answers through literature and art, though not so much through religious writings.

        I guess you are right, I have to figure out my own idea, reconcile myself, and live with my own philosophy!

        Thank you once again, for taking the time to write.

        Wishing you the best,
        Z

  • I like this field because it is full of high cultured people looking for the most complicated problems of the heroes of this age, who have intelligent minds. They want to feel the satisfaction of life on the level of the consciousness. Please read my work in the blog and give me your opinion. If I were not logical you would tell me it frankly.

  • Mikk says:

    WOW, this is powerful for me. I found this blogpost through the site “stumbleupon”. I’m so so greatful that I did.

    I recognize myself in every sentence, it touches something deep inside me, nearly makes me cry.

    Thank you for this, what a great help, inspiration and comfort both part 1 and part 2 are!

    I’m loving the comments, people sharing their stories, and you TC replying to them with so much warmth and understanding.

    Much love to you all!

    /M from Sweden.

    • taicarmen says:

      It touches my heart that you felt touched by my offering, Mikk. Truly, a unification of dreamers is one of my dreams. Thanks for being part of the connectivity! Be well on your journey, fellow traveler. TC

  • Yes, Unification of Dreamers is necessary in this age. TC why don’t you make a group in that name on facebook? It will be successful.

  • ciaran808 says:

    So, this is what I am feeling……….thank you for defining it in such a comfortable and appetizing manor.🙂 (Sigh of satisfaction and relief/release.)

    C

  • clunkerlove says:

    I’d like to chime on famous literary works which define the ‘outsider’ genre, throwing in a few more just in case some of your readers (or even you) haven’t had the pleasure of reading them.

    Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield nails the persona perfectly but I’d argue that you omitted the greatest outsider that ever was; Ignatius Reilly in Confederacy of Dunces, a tragically comic figure that Hollywood has conceded can’t be replicated on the big screen. A very close second is Yossarian in Catch-22 – he’s a great example of “…the great literary tradition of the lonely hero who undergoes this disorienting transformation of consciousness” – Yossarian being the embodiment of the person who can’t unsee what he’s seen as his life becomes ever more absurd and dangerous.

    Left out of this list is Voltaire by Candide, an 18th c. work of monumental and absurd proportions about a man who goes from feeling that he’s the center of a perfectly functioning society to realizing that it’s a horrible farce. Also there’s Death on the Installment Plan, another more recent French work about a world that rejects our protagonist’s every attempt at normalcy. Come to think of it, An Invitation to a Beheading by Nabokov can be interpreted similarly as our beloved protagonist succumbs to the power of his inferiors. All are highly recommended works – and it was only now that I realized the common thread they all had. I’d never stopped to consider that there was a common thread to the literature I love so much.

    Kudos for mentioning Haruki Murakami in this piece – HM is one of the reasons I wanted to go to Japan as I was in disbelief that such good literature could have come from anywhere on this planet. I was the ultimate outsider during my year there, but it always felt ‘right’ somehow. Now, ten years later, I’m just another outsider American, a modern Voltaire. Wish me luck.

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