Real Fiction

Exploring the nexus of reading and writing


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The Outsider

Starting one’s journey toward self-realization

This is one of those rare books by a contemporary author, or author of any era, which helps one understand the works of celebrated writers, philosophers, and a few artists, in this case, by putting them into perspective with each other and within a conceptual framework that gives the reader an overall comprehension of their respective contributions to man’s understanding of himself.

Another book which I found to be similarly helpful, although different in tone and approach, is one by philosopher and academic Philip H. Rhinelander.

I have long admired the written work of Colin Wilson and have also listened to him on taped radio interviews which, unfortunately, I have lost through being so peripatetic.

I believe the first book of Wilson’s I read is The Mind Parasites, around thirty-five years ago. Since then I have read many more of his books, having lent some out indefinitely, it seems. The ones I have managed to retain, in addition to The Mind Parasites, are:

The Outsider, first published in 1956 when Wilson was 24, rocketed him to fame, yet I hadn’t read his most widely known book until recently. Here is a synopsis:

…an insightful work of literary and philosophical criticism—a timeless preoccupation which perhaps garners more mainstream attention than his subsequent writings on the occult and crime. The book is structured in such a way as to mirror the outsider’s experience: a sense of dislocation, or of being at odds with society. These are figures like Dostoevsky’s “Insect-Man” who seem to be lost to despair and non-transcendence with no way out.

More successful—or at least hopeful—characters are then brought to the fore. These include Steppenwolf and even the hero of Hesse’s book of the same name—and 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 tries 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”—a narrative he continues throughout his oeuvre under various names… [Source].

Colin Wilson (1931 – 2013)

The Outsider has been and will continue to be, especially valuable to me because in it Wilson discusses many of the authors and their works I have read, some mentioned in the pages of this journal, including:

In no way have I given you the essence of The Outsider in this brief discussion. It is a very important book to start one on one’s journey to self-realization or to help the older of us to make course corrections toward realizing our fullest possible potential.

I can say that engaging in armchair philosophy might be helpful, but insufficient. One must act.


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Writing about writing and arguing for God

ScreenHunter_149 Jul. 03 10.35A very difficult book

The book is The Broken Estate, by James Wood.

I have long wanted to learn more about some of the authors and historical figures (often one and the same) whom this author presents: Sir Thomas More, Jane Austen, Gustave Flaubert, Virginia Woolf and so on. And, I learned about others new to me. I am in debt to the author for educating me.

However, I am also exhausted from the reading of this difficult book. I cannot fully put my finger on the reason or reasons, but the following are thoughts my forebrain reveals.

James Wood is upset by the trivialization of God that most authors offer in their novels. Herman Melville‘s Moby Dick is one of the exceptions. He also likes Jane Austen for introducing the inner dialog of the main character in a new and useful way, but this doesn’t seem to have anything to do about the “God” issue that underlies this collection of essays.

To justify my having said the foregoing, here is an excerpt, regarding the free-will argument, from the final paragraph of the book in the final chapter entitled The Broken Estate: The Legacy of Ernest Renan and Matthew Arnold:

…(A) world of limited freedom and absolute transparency of knowledge, in which not one of us is in any doubt about our creator, would be a limited, useless place. But it would not, presumably, be useless to God. It is what heaven would be like; and why, before heaven, must we live? Why must we move through this unhappy, painful, rehearsal for heaven, this desperate ante-chamber, this foreword written by an anonymous author, this hard prelude in which so few of us can find our way?

The above ends the book.

As an aspiring writer, I am eager to learn from such a master of language and from his criticism of literature. But what is literature as compared with just “writing,” which is what I think I am doing? Answers.com tells us this, in part, about the definition of “literature”:

• Imaginative or creative writing, especially of recognized artistic value: “Literature must be an analysis of experience and a synthesis of the findings into a unity” (Rebecca West).

• The art or occupation of a literary writer.

I take this to mean that writing has artistic value when it is deemed such by those who consider their own writing to have artistic value such as, presumably, Rebecca West.

Rebecca West

Rebecca West, 1892 – 1983

As for literary writer, I find no direct definition on the Internet. No doubt it exists somewhere, but I will attempt my own here: a literary writer is one who, in his writing, refers, implicitly or explicitly, to other writers and their work. T.S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land is a solid example of this, in my view. One cannot understand his poem without first having read and understood a great number of other works of other authors and philosophers, including The Bible.

I have a bias, as may be perceived here, against those who hold themselves out as “experts” in telling us how good or bad, and why, a given piece of writing or art may be.

James Wood doesn’t tell us how we should think; he is telling us what he thinks, and he thinks very deeply. I agree that the notion of God or, more to my taste, the notion of a power beyond us and beyond our understanding, a Life Force (or, as I use in my poetry, The Great Everything), does in fact exist. I believe he is arguing that for the last several hundred years man has undertaken to describe the universe in his own terms through the use of the written word and has reduced God or The Life Force to an abstraction, something less relevant than before.

I will keep this book. This means I will read it again, perhaps ten years from now when I am 81 and will have had more life experience. I may find it less daunting reading then, as I recently found with Plato’s Dialogues, despite their being opaque to me when I was 25.

May the Force be with you.

[response] And also with you

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The Rational versus The Non-rational

Two books read, and not for the first time:


I have read Steppenwolf no less than three times, and each time I feel like I am reading it anew. I almost never expect it, yet it is true that I discover things in each re-reading of Steppenwolf (and of other books by Hermann Hesse, and of books by other authors) that I cannot remember having read before. Such is the hallmark of a “good book” in my estimation—a story of many layers that reveal themselves, over time, to readers who continue to grow toward union with, or at least intimate knowledge of, the author or his concepts.

I have re-read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig so many times that I have abstracted and transcribed the philosophical parts to more efficiently revisit and study the essence of the story.

I see as a common thread in these two books the argument (as in ‘Zen…’) and struggle (as in Steppenwolf) between the rational and non-rational.

Pirsig termed the arguing elements in man as the “classical” and the “romantic” view of the world. Pirsig’s character, “Phaedrus” (who is really the author, himself) reconciles the dual nature of man (i.e., the rational and non-rational) into the realization that “quality” is the over-arching idea that unifies them, or at least provides a framework for balance between them.

In Steppenwolf Hesse shows the man of highly-developed intellect, but of little worldly knowledge or appreciation, becoming aware of the pleasures and values of imagination and sensuality. Another way of viewing Hesse’s character is that he becomes aware that life is mostly or merely an illusion, to be better appreciated by the non-rational than by the rational aspects of one’s nature.

I think/feel (“classical”/”romantic”) these two authors, and other creative people, are the more qualified to help us understand this dual nature in man, and its terrors and delights. I say this having just again scanned a book I recently bought because of its title: Left Brain, Right Brain: Perspectives from Cognitive Neuroscience, by Springer and Deutsch. Through the employment of the scientific method we have learned much about the different functions of the left and right hemispheres of the brain and of the corpus callosum that connects them.

But the poet will bring a concept to life, while the scientist will bring us the “facts” of life.