May 24, 2007

The Big Issues

"The way the Angry Young Men became angry old men was not a pleasant sight":

Amis wanted to push Wilson off a balcony during a party ("Look, there's that bugger Wilson"). Of this incident, the author reflects, "For some reason I never quite understood, I seemed to arouse in Kingsley Amis the same deep uneasiness I could sense in Tynan." The explanation is not hard to seek. Wilson gets up people's noses because he has such a high opinion of himself: "I had taken it for granted that I was a man of genius since I was about 13."

He is convinced that the animosity springs from envy - "The success of The Outsider must have galled him," he says of Canetti. But not even his in-laws took to him ("Get out of town, Wilson").

And is The Outsider still any good? Wilson's book was a bible for those post-war adolescents who scowled a lot and wore black polo-neck sweaters - dated beatnik stuff. He conveyed an autodidact's self-conscious passion for Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky and Hermann Hesse, artists "tormented by the questions of why we are alive and what we are to do now we are here".

Wilson didn't only write about outsider archetypes, he was one himself - and to prove it slept in a tent on the edge of a golf course in Whetstone. He suggested that only "people who feel alienated from a materialistic society" really address the big issues. I personally outgrew this in the sixth form, and have quite enough of "the chaos of existence", thank you, when a tin opener won't work.

Posted by Dennis at May 24, 2007 3:28 PM

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