ad astra per alia porci

outsider complex
July 5, 2007, 7:53 am
Filed under: diary


I always had this affinity with the idea of an outsider, the person who is somehow in the flow of things but yet removed at the same time, like a war photographer or a detective, probably because I think I have been in such a role for most of my life.

I got this piece of writing from the Books section of The Guardian. Neil Griffith’s description of the outsider:

“To be an outsider is to feel disconnected from life, from other people, from oneself, the sight lines of communication always just slightly skewed. Outsiders can be perceptive readers of inmost thoughts, but they slip off surfaces and are awkward on firm ground. It is their unfortunate role to stand against life, in Heidegger’s sense of next-to yet in conflict-with. No outsider wants to be one, it is not a lifestyle choice. Whatever its psychological aetiology, it is like an accident of birth: you are either in or you’re out.”

I like the prose and more saliently Griffith’s incisive description of the outsider; I can relate to it pretty well. I tend to sympathise with the loner figure, which explains why I like movie characters that are solitary emotionally and spritually. Tony Leung’s undercover mole character in Infernal Affairs and Djinn’s Harry Lee in the Singaporean movie Perth comes immediately to mind. Literary characters I like who are also outsiders include Marlow in Heart of Darkness and The Great Gatsby‘s Nick Carraway.

Somehow I seem to always feel a sense of disconnect between myself and other people. No matter how hard I might try to connect with others, there is always something short. When there are conversations, I can be involved but still sense a fundamental dichotomy between the inner recesses of my mind and others. When I talk, I tend to feel solitary, alone, like I am talking about something that is entirely privy to myseld and confined to my experiences solely, even though the topic might be one of universal interest.

It would be convenient to attribute this to a prolonged case of adolescent, Holden Caulfield-ish disenchantment and angst that makes me regard the world as, to use Salinger’s protagonist’s favourite catchword, “phony”. However I am acutely aware that I have never experienced the typical temporary adolescent turmoil that everyone grows out of; as a teenager I never felt the compulsion to rebel and to be angsty, I was seldom confused and I have always been a pragmatic optimist. If my life was plotted on a graph, it probably has a gentle gradient as opposed to many zigs and zags.

This leads me to the conclusion that my outsider complex is a permanent feature of my person and my identity. As Griffith noted, it is an “accident of birth”, of which its aetiology is undeterminable. I am not a believer in God and fate but this is probably the single aspect of my life that I am most likely, and tempted, to attribute to religious determinism.

This outsider complex is never a product of angst or itself a source of angst. It comes from without and it is just something that I live with; I am not angry because of its existence.

If i am to describe it, it’s more of a moderating influence that grants me a permanent tendency to be in a situation and yet be detached from and observant of it, whether I like it or not. When people laugh, I tend to laugh less or even not laugh at all; when nobody laughs, I laugh the hardest (at least on the inside, if not expressed outwardly). I tend to believe that I have a knack of reading the thoughts and motivations of others, due in part to this outsider complex.

If life is like a play as Shakespeare would like us to believe it to be, I will definitely be playing the part of the Shakespearean fool: the involved outsider who sees things as they truely are, moderating the extremities of human opinion to reach an equilibrium, but is never the focal point of happenings. 

That said, I would rather be a Feste or even a Touchstone than a Jaques or a Malvolio; I don’t want to be a sad outsider that scorns the joys involvement with the world can bring just because sadness and misfortune is rife. We are made for the hurly-burly of living and it is through openness to possibilities that life is made worth living. I want to possess the élan and joie de vivre and yet maintain my perspective. It is not an easy thing to do and I must say that I am still pretty much detached but I do strive to reach this ideal.


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