Tuesday, January 1, 2008

A New Year

Dorothy Parker always greeted the ring of doorbell or phone with "What fresh hell is this?" But I feel much more optimistic about greeting 2008. There is no reasonable justification for this. The political situation is terrible; the environment just gets worse and worse; my generation is aging, falling apart, and starting to die. So why optimism?

As I said, it's not reasonable, which hasn't stopped people from trying to find reasons for hope. Various offerings:

--It's evolutionarily beneficial. If people as a species saw only doom, they wouldn't strive to find food, mate, invest in children, or invent laptops.

-- It's genetic. Some people are just born sanguine.

--It's a plot. The powers-that-be want you to feel optimistic so you don't rebel.

-- It's faith-based: The future will be better.

Any, all, or none of these may be true (although I incline toward number 1). But it's also true that some people rarely feel optimism about the ordinary world, and they're the subject of a book I've been reading -- slowly, slowly, it's that kind of book -- over the holidays. It's THE OUTSIDER by Colin Wilson, a non-fiction discussion that basically boils down to the question: Why bother living? His focus is on people he calls "outsiders," who are those who ask the question at all, who feel a discontent and longing for meaning in life, who feel they never quite belong anywhere "normal." Wilson starts with a round-up of writers, thinkers, and doers who have felt this way, including Camus, T.E. Lawrence, William Blake, George Fox -- the author is nothing if not eclectic. He examines each for the "questions" they pose about life and then the "answers." Since he first looks at those who found no answers but instead sunk into despair, the first two-thirds of the book is incredibly depressing. But now I'm getting into the part about answers, and my interest is keen. I recommend this volume to anyone interested in the "more" they feel that "normal" life does not provide. Warning: You may encounter a definite, although unusually hard-headed, mysticism.

On another subject, I will engage today in a peculiar New Year's Day ritual that I've followed for about twenty years now: excavating under my bed. As I finish books throughout the year, I stash them there for handy bedtime perusal in case I want to reread something. So now there are fifty-plus books under there to be retrieved, sorted, and shelved -- except that I'm out of bookshelf space.

Ten hours into the 2008 and I already am stymied.


none said...

Heh, I can hardly get to my bed for the stacks of books between me and it. As for under the bed...there's things there I haven't unpacked since moving in six years ago.

Ho hum :).

Luke said...

You realize that now I have to get THE OUTSIDER from the library? :)

Cameron Lewis said...

After reading your description of Colin Wilson's "The Outsider," I did some quick reading about him and this book elsewhere. Looks like a book I have to read, so I ordered a copy. :)

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Ah, Colin Wilson! A great writer. an autodidact, who's published about everything: philosophy, music, psychology, criminology, the paranormal, history... He takes all of thought and imagination as his field.

Oh, yeah, did I mention his sf novels? THE MIND PARASITES is a masterpiece. THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE is one of the finest novels of the last century. Or so Joyce Carol Oates thinks. And I'm about to contradict her?