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2016 Classics Challenge: The Outsider

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Amy Davies - May 5th, 2016

THE OUTSIDER 9780753814321 (2)The Outsider was an instant literary sensation when it was first published in 1956, thrusting the twenty-four-year-old self-educated philosopher, Colin Wilson, into the front rank of contemporary writers and thinkers. Sixty years later, The Outsider is as relevant as ever and remains the seminal work on alienation, creativity and the modern mind.

The book was conceived on Christmas day, 1954. Lacking the funds to return home to Leicester, Colin Wilson had spent the day alone in his room in Brockley, south London. His Christmas dinner considered of tinned tomatoes and fried bacon. At a loose end, he sat down on his bed and started to write in his journal:

‘It struck me that I was in the position of so many of my favourite characters in fiction: Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov, Rilke’s Malte Laurids Brigge, the young writer in Hamsun’s Hunger: alone in my room, feeling totally cut off from the rest of society. It was not a position I relished [. . .] Yet an inner compulsion had forced me into this position of isolation . . . ’

Wilson rationalised the psychological dislocation he felt so keenly in Western creative thinking into a coherent theory of alienation, and defined those affected by it as a type: the Outsider. Through the works and lives of various artists, including Kafka, Camus, Hemingway, Hesse, Lawrence, Van Gogh, Shaw, Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky, Wilson traced a desire to be ‘awake’ and in full possession of one’s capabilities. He argued that the Outsider stands for truth: he or she refuses to conform, refuses the pretence of dullness, routine and respectability, and is engaged in a struggle not to limit experience, but instead to expose sensitive areas of being to what might possibly hurt them. Only by fighting the instinct for preservation and attempting to see as a whole, can each individual escape the general destiny of futility.

We have three copies of this classic existentialist study to give away – to enter:

For more information on the 2016 Classics Challenge, head over to the Pretty Books blog and follow @theprettybooks on Twitter.

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