Monday, 10 August 2015

Viewpoints 9: Outsiders

Colin Wilson, Cornwall, 1984
photo: Tom Ordelman Thor NL
I blame Bill Blackburn. It was Bill who first introduced me to the occult writings of Colin Wilson along with the works of Joseph Campbell and Hermann Hesse. All three authors had strong connections with Carl Jung, Colin Wilson writing a biography: C. G. Jung Lord of the Underworld. Curiously, Bill never even mentioned Jung once in the years I knew him. It was my wife who later introduced me to Robertson Davies. After that, I found my own Jungians.

Colin Wilson, of course, is best known for his book: The Outsider. Without giving it too much thought, I began to associate that character with being an independent researcher on the periphery of the academic world. Recently, though, I did give it some thought and concluded that as Wilson's outsiders were a viewpoint of some literary figures seen through a personal relationship with the existential angst of the fifties, our current societies have become so reshuffled that the outsider has become part of a subdivision of a specialty.

I was young when beatniks walked the land. I knew about jazz, but not about the Beat Generation. They seemed to be a group whom people made fun of, but did not seem to be very concerned about. My parents were not unlike a blend of characters in all of those early TV sitcoms: The Dick Van Dyke Show; I Love Lucy; The Honeymooners. For quite while, my mother never worked and bustled around every weekday afternoon in preparation for my father's return from the office. Sometimes, I would meet the train. Old photographs of my mother, my aunt and a friend who sang in a trio modeled too closely to the Andrews Sisters (whom my father actually knew), were incongruous to her current life. In the photographs they were all the very picture of 40's movie star glamour as they performed, but I also know she had worked in the Land Army and at the Lancaster bomber factory where she was quality control for the bomb hatches. Over the years, her dissatisfaction with the fifties-style life became more obvious. When I started my own family, my own childhood family experiences were a rich source of things to avoid.

No small wonder that a society which would produce such Stepford wives would also produce angry young men. Public social criticism was still very general and establishment versus anti-establishment and it remained that way through the sixties, peace, love and flowers finally morphing to sex, drugs and rock and roll. I won't go into the seventies and early eighties, the wounds are still too fresh.

With today's "Windows file system" society, angst has become specialized along with everything else, but it mostly occupies a sub-folder of a specialty. Even environmentalists are increasingly specialized and do not want to hear about anything outside of that specialty. Ironically, the fear of societal fragmentation was quite pronounced in the late fifties and early sixties and it shows in Jung (ed) Man and his Symbols, a work that is, unfortunately, most people's first exposure to Jung.

The fragmentation viewpoint, I think, comes from within an old system when looking at a new system. It sees parts of itself being pulled apart, but it yet can conceive of the new system that is making use of these parts. Since the middle eighties, a fear of fragmentation has been expressed by those bothered by postmodernism. From an academic viewpoint, the fear is quite real as academic institutions were all built around models of specialty, themselves. While an individual can shift gears quickly, institutions are much slower. Only when it is the individual who drives the institution will that change. Such a thing exists already with large corporations who will spend millions on advertising and market research to (hopefully) profit by knowing what the public really needs. The Internet, at first, followed the file structure by having the Usenet, and later discussion groups, classified by interest types. The public, however, started leaning more toward the more amorphous social media like Facebook and Twitter. Neither of these have a philosophy, an agenda, or a product, but they can be selectively used by those who have.

In an evolutionary manner, society and computer applications change to meet new demands: from quantum mechanics comes transdisciplinarity which goes beyond disciplines, and Windows will index the contents of all of your files, regardless of which folder you have used.

Being outside or inside is becoming increasingly irrelevant.

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