It was 1980 and I was now a card-carrying Existentialist. Or terminally depressed. Take your pick.
Always wanting to comprehend or vindicate my hopeful despair, I relished this book and its aim to make ontological sense of all the lost and suffering souls of great literature by means of a unifying factor, an e=mc² of spiritual anguish and desolation.
The book’s thrust and argument was that from Raskolnikov to Josef K, from l’Homme Révolté to Steppenwolf, one could identify a single intersection of their multifarious Venn diagrams. Here, in this metaphysical enclosure, stood the solitary figure of the Outsider: an epiphany explaining... well, not a lot really, other than he (it tended to be a “he”) existed.
What the outsiders in Romantic and Absurd literature were collectively outside of, Wilson didn’t say, so one can only extrapolate. A world of injustice, lies, mediocrity, hypocrisy? Where God is dead and only a void obtains? An anarchic cosmos in which morality is individually random and salvation a foolish phantasm, where mankind strives in denial and only the long, cold death of the universe awaits all meaningless creation?
What the hell. Here were Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Camus, T.S Eliot, Kafka, Blake, Hermann Hesse, Sartre... Gadzooks, Wilson had put all the heavyweights on my side. If I wanted, I could now be justifiably miserable for the rest of my life. Thatcher was in power, the bin men were on strike, the National Front were marching and Johnny Rotten was proclaiming “No future.”
If no meaning could be found in an alienated existence, then there was no hope. Such was my experiential conviction. I really was a whole bundle of joy in those days. The thing was, I had an abiding sense of being a fraud at Oxford and not belonging anywhere, a believer in nothing with the absurd as my black flag. At least the beer was cheap.