on 13 February 2011
Remember Brando in 'Last Tango in Paris' he runs in, looking at his mother's coffin, and calls her all the names under the sun. He raves and shouts and screams, he conveys in that moment his true feelings. What he really feels. But that is not the expected reaction. The expected reaction is one of sorrow, grief, pity, remorse, and undying love for one's own mother - even if that's not what he really feels. The question for society then - who do we trust?
The man who lies, or the one who wants to convey his truest of feelings in that moment. Is 'playing the game' - doing what is expected or following the normal convention of society the right way to go? This book explores that phenomenon in astounding detail. The imagery and the scenic descriptions are as vivid as it gets. But there's a much bigger picture.....
The wild boy of Ayeron, Kasper Hauser, Raymond Babbit, and Meursault, are all autistically minded individuals who all share common traits: they are socially inept, egocentric, empathyless, independent thinkers who 'won't (or can't) play the game', who live inside their own minds - but crucially as pointed out in this book - way outside the neurotypical(NT) more common societal sphere. Meaning, that anyone of that other, way less common, brain wiring is seen as detached, cold, odd, strange, out of sync, weird, stange - 'The Outsider'
The discussion of this aspect of the character, is whether he can play the game - if he wanted, but doesn't. Or, crucially, if he IS autistic, he doesn't know HOW to. But this book was written in 1942 (with a later afterword of 1955). Such a predisposed condition and design fault - not of the character's making, were not discussed in those days. Asperger Syndrome did not exist then. It does now. And other reviewers have also identified that fact.
Utilitarian societies are based on the majority - with inclusion of minorities. But this is theory, the reality is very different (it's true because hate crime legislation exists for it) What is more commonly known becomes accepted as 'normal'. So the character in this book, by today's thinking, is either, not normal or autistic. But either way, he is still the terminal 'outsider'.
But who then, knowing this 'difference' has got the guts to stand out from the crowd. Who cares if he's an outsider or not. This book also discusses that type of character.
Then we can add the time at which the book is written. All art and literature is indicative of what is happening in the world at the time. And in Europe the post war era of the individual with is own utter free thinking, who chooses everything in his own life, regardless of the convention, stands out from the crowd. The people of the time (during the war years - they had no freedom, no choices and no vision), needed something, some kind of inspiration. Brando was the acting outsider, but he didn't arrive until 1951.
It's also necessary to dicuss news values. That which is not supposed to happen gets talked about. Bad news is the news. So there's another reason why this book exists. 'The Outsider' exists, therefore he gets talked about - his unwillingness to 'play the game' or in this instance, to tell the court what it wants to hear. An obssession with 'truth seeking' - another classic autistic trait. You have to 'fake' it to make it - that's the common denomenator in society - the hard, cold truth, gritty realism, is what we keep away from. Those who live closer to it - they are the 'The Outsiders' - just like Bukowski in 'Ham on Rye'.
But all the autistic geniuses Einstein, Wittgenstien, Newton, et al. are known for astute logical, scientific and non-emotional based ground breaking ideas - that changed the world, evolved thinking, and proved something previously unidentified. But they were loners, socially inept, difficult characters, who didn't like people. In societal terms, they too were, 'outsiders'. But this character in this book is a killer. Did he mean it?
Albert Camus is the literary equivalent. The one who has the guts to step out side the circle of convention. This book, (very tautologically correct - words are precious and shouldn't be wasted. Why use ten words, when you can use three) is essential reading then - based on what exactly? everything mentioned above. And more. Who is god anyway? why are people petrified of death? why do they need 'another life' to cling to. The characater in this book is a staunch atheist. He won't play that game either. Rightly so?
The book also discusses the differences between a motivist (intention) and the consequentialist (result, regardless of intention) in thought provoking detail. Did he really mean to shoot the Arab, or was it a spur of the moment thing. Manslaughter or first degree murder?
The book also, like Larkin years later with Aubade, discusses all the 'emotions' ones goes through when thinking about death, and all the proclivities and 'feelings' associated with it. But this comes at the end. Just like death it self.
Society loves a bad guy. Iconoclastic, separate, detached, unique. Who's got the guts to stand out from the crowd? The truth is what courts are for. Society, is not about truth, it's about characters. It's about convention, what is accepted as 'normal' and what is not. Anyone who dare step outside that circle becomes 'The Outsider'.
I'd like to read a better novel that explores all these things. I doubt if one exists. This book then, is an Outside in itself.
Sorry to ramble on, this review is too verbose, and no where near tautologically correct, if only I sounded like Fugazi or could write like Camus.