Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Why Not the Best?

Colin Wilson (1931) is a prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction. In 1956 at the age of 24 he wrote his first non-fictional work The Outsider, which was both praised and highly criticized. The work examines and explores the psyche of the social outsider and his effect on society and society’s effect on him through the works and lives of various artists including Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, T.S.Elliot, Earnest Hemingway, Hermann Hesse, Vincent Van Gogh, Friedrick Nietzsche and Fydor Dostoevsky. In the final chapter of this Book he justifies his belief that Western Philosophy is afflicted with a heedless pessimistic fallacy.

Three years later in an Autobiographical note he wrote an interesting insight about the ultimate question that lies behind the Outsider, which is now part of his book Religion and the Rebel:

“How can man extend his range of consciousness? I believe that human beings experience a range of mental states which is as narrow as the middle three notes of a piano keyboard. I believe that the possible range of mental state is as wide as the whole piano keyboard, and the man’s sole aim and business is to extend his range from usual three or four notes to the whole keyboard. The men I dealt with in the Outsider had one thing in common: an instinctive knowledge that their range could be extended, and a nagging dissatisfaction with the range of their everyday experience.”

The Question which each one of us is confronted with, consciously and unconsciously is: Why not the best?


  1. Profound and so timely for today both as individuals and as cultures...

    Well, why not the best?

    And now the "outsider" such a compelling archetype and key for each of us, NO? in terms of each our own social and personal salvation?

  2. hmm..Dar Sahib...as usuall a very thoughtful post.

    I think what bring out BEST from us or from a community is to practice every aspect and not leaving anything...

    The values or policies on which a whole community depend on, should be revived regularly to make changes as per time and consultation should be made to polished them.

    To play piano....was a very unique example....

    In this example....the piano is a community and its notes are community's characteristics??

    Am I right? If yes then...we need skills to extend our range from four/fives notes to whole keyboard.

    Only practice....

  3. It is EXTREMELY useful documentation, but one that I would dissect from all angles. Here the word is "extension" and in my system of "seven stages" I use the term "expansion" to address this question, and IRONICALLY, this is where I declare the personalities analyzed by Wilson to be failures.

    EXPANSION is what I associate with "the Valley of Wonderment." In the modern world, it happens by submitting in love to cultures other than your own, your voices different from yours (as Pakistan did from 1987-2006). It is painful, just like turning the other cheek. But this is what "expands" you existentially and allows you to assimilate "the other" through the inner unity of life. Hence, "expansion" is an organic concept.

    "Extension", you can see, has mechanical connotations, and that in itself suggests what kind of characters would prefer "extension" instead of "expansion." In my humble opinion, it is the singular greatest failure of the intelligentsia everywhere in the modern world that they have turned away from true "expansion." The reason is that "the Valley of Wonderment" (expansion) comes after "the Valley of Unity" (action), which requires an individual to become associated with the spirit of their own culture first. Most of us, the regular visitors of this blog and its writer, can relate to this phase. My first passion was mainstream Pakistani cinema and banal patriotism, and my first "literary battle" was to fought in defense of pulp fiction of my society. Likewise, the list of formative readings mentioned by the writer of this blog a while ago also includes many titles that are best understood to be for popular consumption in Pakistan and are even "politically incorrect." We all, though today we are so much in love with the whole world, have passed through a stage of being passionately patriotic earlier, where we connected with the most popular truths of our society. That was our Valley of Unity, and it was the reason why genuine learning was possible for us in Valley of Wonderment: we were able to love others because earlier we had loved ourselves.

    I suspect that the writers mentioned here did bad in the Valley of Unity, or never reached there. Hence their dissatisfaction with their society was of a different kind, and it led them to seeking "extension" rather than "expansion."

    Akhtar Sahib, I am REALLY grateful to you for introducing this work here, because it can furnish me so many tangible examples for my work. I hope we can discuss it sometime in more detail. Yes, WHY NOT THE BEST? :)

  4. Thank you beta for sharing this with me. 'Outsider' is one of my favorite books.

  5. I should have informed to earlier... My blog was literally hijacked (along with 7 others)...

    I have started a new one: www.iumertoor.wordpress.com. But thinking of coming back to blogger.com... Nonetheless, if you see anything obnoxious on it, that's not me...

  6. This discussion, the insightful comments by Thinking and the exciting Possibilities noticed by Khurram Shafique Sahib along with the original poster compel revisiting and MUCH reflection! Thanx to all. And Umer Toor, I sure do hope you have a better experience with the new blog.

  7. Connie, Thinking and Parveen Aunt, thanks for commenting and sharing your valuable thoughts which make these posts worthwhile, I am highly obliged.

    Like a master and artistic surgeon Khurram Sahib you have dissected the Colin Wilson’s Argument and it’s a very interesting analysis. Will certainly discuss this in detail soon specially in context of ‘luminaries’ mentioned in the post who were bright stars of their times but doubt and pessimism clouded their perspectives

    Umer, goodluck with the wordpress and I liked the last post.

  8. Greetings,

    Thank you for this post.

    When I think of expansion, one thing immediately comes to my mind, and that is the "why" of expansion. Expansion driven by what intention. Expansion for what aim.

    I like the quote you shared. To me, it conveys the author's drive to break free, to move beyond, to grow, being dissatisfied with the current state, sensing more and more into which he can grow. It's a feeling, to me, of melioristic evolving.

    All good wishes,