Rainer María Rilke

‘The concept that now grips Rilke is in the idea of super-consciousness, and the actual using of his experience in a complete rebuilding of his being.’


‘When closely analysed, it becomes evident that Rilke’s final philosophy is a philosophy of the Will. All experiences can be used as the building bricks of a visionary consciousness if there is a conscious effort at assimilation.’


‘Not being supermen, our brains are not big enough to contain all the world at once: we have to select what is to be remembered; and we remember only those experiences that we allow to penetrate our indifference. Rilke’s Elegies are a plea for an effort of will to assimilate more; a plea for less indifference.’


‘The problem that is still left open is simply the question of how a poet like Rilke is to use the ‘wisdom’ of the poetry to direct his own life. It is the moral question that becomes an existentialist question only by the depth of the attempt to answer it: What shall we do with our lives? The Outsider’s standards are unusually high. For him, ‘success’ and ‘failure’ have a completely new meaning. Ordinary ‘success’ seems particularly poisonous to him: the success of a film star or businessman or the author of a best seller. That is only a way of wading out into the world’s stupidity and losing the possibility of vision.’


‘He goes to great lengths to emphasise the demand for unworldliness, telling the people to think of nothing but God, and not to be anxious about the morrow. The Sermon on the Mount is a demand for asceticism and devotion to God. Jesus attacks hypocrites and worldly-wise-men, and demands a higher standard of conduct. Generally speaking, his attitude to the world is very like Nietzsche’s — harshly critical, and based on a feeling that most men are only half-men, and that they ought to spend all their time becoming whole-men.’


‘On reading the Gospels, it becomes clear that Jesus’s aim was the aim of every prophet and artist — to make men more alive, more conscious; a desire to get more life and more will out of a great sea of half-dead matter. He teaches that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and the vehicle of the expression of the God-force.’


‘This, then, is the essence of Christ’s teaching: it is the will of the life force that men should strive for more consciousness and life (or, as Jesus would have expressed it, it is God’s will that men strive to become more like Him). All men must be made to realise that this is the single and sole aim. When they do so, they will cease to bother their heads about trivialities; they will cease to be petty and quarrelsome.’


‘He had told them that ‘the kingdom of God was within them,’ and that men are gods (as the Eighty-second Psalm states) and must strive to ‘have life more abundantly’ by accepting greater responsibility for carrying out God’s purpose in the world.’


The Church

‘But has there ever been a social discipline that fitted Outsiders perfectly? Yes. Historical fact leaves no doubt that the Church of the Middle Ages provided such a discipline. It fitted everyone in society, from the highest intellectual types to the meanest artisan. And this has been true of every ‘church’ in history — Hindu, Buddhist, Zarathustrian, Taoist, Mahometan. When these churches were at the height of their health and strength, there were no ‘Outsiders.’ The men of genius were born into a thriving tradition; all of them — thinkers, painters, musicians, storytellers — created for the glory of the Church.’


‘Undoubtedly, the Christian Church made for higher civilisation and culture. First, and most important, it provided men with a sense of spiritual purpose and direction. It emphasised the reality of the spirit. Its authority was entirely for the good, for it gave even the stupidest men a sense of being a part of a great universal scheme.’


‘Moreover, it provided a refuge for Outsiders. The Outsider, I have said, is the prophet in embryo. When a man felt a stirring of those same urges that inspired Jesus — the need to seek for ‘more abundant life’ — he entered the Church, and was able to turn his spiritual energy to good purpose. The Outsider is the anti-world man and the Church which had always declared: ‘My kingdom is not of this world’ was the perfect home for him.’


‘But naturally, things began to go wrong. As the Church grew stronger, it also grew more arrogant (Toynbee’s ‘hybris’), more authoritarian. The Outsiders began to find it more and more intolerable. The Outsider naturally begins as an anarchist; it is not until he has begun to understand his spiritual urges that he ceases to be destructive, and concentrates on creation. As the Church became more and more certain of its own power, it ceased to be so tolerant of that early anarchist phase in the Outsiders. In the eleventh century, a sect called the Paterines had objected to simony and other abuses, and the Pope had been glad enough to make use of them in his battle to prevent priests from marrying. A mere century later, Peter Waldo was excommunicated when he objected to the abuses of the Church. The Church was no longer willing to absorb Outsiders who would not knuckle under to its authority from the outset.’


‘This, then, is the situation with which we are faced today: on the one hand, the Church, still using the Vicarious Atonement as its cornerstone; on the other, the scientists and rational philosophers, very many of them men without imagination or inspiration. Between them stand the men who are painfully aware of not belonging to either great tradition: the Outsiders.’


‘The aim of the Church has always been to persuade men to behave as if they were something greater than a bundle of appetites and perceptions. In the twentieth century, science has told man that he is just that and no more.’


‘Open religion is the inspired religious insight of the prophet and saint; closed religion is the ritual and law of a Church. On any level, this opposition between the living force and the forms which it puts on like garments, implies existentialism.’

Arnold Toynbee

‘What, then, makes the difference between a successful civilisation and an unsuccessful one? And here Toynbee formulates one of his most valuable conceptions: that of ‘creative minorities.’ In this, he was influenced by Bergson, who, in his Two Sources of Morality and Religion, states his belief that civilisations progress because of individuals, not because of ‘subterranean currents of thought’ or ‘the great unconscious soul of the race.’ It is the conception which Harry Haller, the Steppenwolf, expressed: the Outsiders and men of genius are the spearheads of society; without them, society would fall to pieces.’


‘Toynbee calls the Outsider ‘the creative minority’ (mentioning, at the same time, that it can be a minority of one). The creative minority is the few individuals who are capable of meeting the challenges that confront a society. How do they do this? Once again, the reason is of immense interest in a study of the Outsider: by a process of ‘withdrawal and return.’ These solitary creative individuals withdraw from society into solitude and there wrestle with the problems alone. There, in solitude their vitality and insight increases; and when they emerge, it is with the power to stimulate the rest of society to overcome the challenges.’


‘What Toynbee has actually done is to make a major anti-materialistic statement. Not only do individuals depend upon moral vitality to create and evolve: civilisations need it too. It is pure anti-Marxism. Marxism states: Civilisations develop according to economic pressures; there is no free will. Toynbee states: Civilisations flourish or decline according to the moral vitality of the ‘creative minority,’ and the words ‘moral vitality’ would be meaningless if free will did not exist.’


‘But it is in these last volumes that Toynbee completes his concept of history. Now he is more candid about his notion that all history is the manifestation of God in matter. The aim for the individual — at any time and in any place — is the vision of God; the only thing worth striving for is sainthood. And it is significant that Jung’s theory of ‘psychological types’ was one of the major influences on his religious thinking. Jung’s psychological types correspond roughly to the three types of  Outsider that I have named: the ‘physical,’ the ‘emotional’ and the ‘intellectual.’

Bernard Shaw

‘It is the sheer vital energy, the love of life in all its manifestations, which makes Shaw and Wells so attractive. They had about them what Chesterton called ‘a wild gaiety.’ And in Shaw, this gaiety is closely connected with the influence of Mozart.’


‘His very strength makes him unpopular and remote; he showed penetrating insight into this in Back to Methuselah, where he quotes Wells’s parable The Food of the Gods, in which a chemical food makes some people grow to tremendous size, and the rest of the human race develops a passionate hatred of the giants and tries to destroy them. If Shaw had revealed more of his own weakness, as Joyce and Gide did, he might have had more defenders today.’


‘A theme which runs through all Shaw’s work is this theme of the will to power, the refusal to be browbeaten, moral courage.’


‘Shaw’s Caesar is an Outsider for the very reasons which made Shaw declare that Hamlet was an Outsider; because he has evolved a stage beyond his fellow men, and is quite alone among them, alone and incomprehensible.’


‘Don Juan launches a tirade against Insiders which is more devastating than anything in Swift:

In this Palace of Lies a truth or two will not hurt you. Your friends are all the dullest dogs I know. They are not beautiful: they are only decorated. They are not clean: they are only shaved and starched. They are not dignified: they are only fashionably dressed. They are not educated: they are only college passmen. They are not religious: they are only pew renters. They are not moral: they are only conventional. They are not virtuous: they are only cowardly. They are not even vicious: they are only ‘frail.’ They are not artistic: they are only lascivious. They are not prosperous: they are only rich. They are not loyal, they are only servile; not dutiful, only sheepish; not public spirited, only patriotic; not courageous, only quarrelsome; not determined, only obstinate; not masterful, only domineering; not self-controlled, only obtuse; not self-respecting, only vain; not kind, only sentimental; not social, only gregarious; not considerate, only polite; not intelligent, only opinionated; not progressive, only factious; not imaginative, only superstitious; not just, only vindictive; not generous, only propitiatory; not disciplined, only cowed; and not truthful at all: liars every one of them, to the very backbone of their souls.’


‘Shaw implies, like Toynbee, that the Outsider must create the power to revitalise his civilisation.’


‘Shaw’s diagnosis can be summarised: Human beings are fools because they have no time to be wise. They are thrown down into the world, not knowing who they are or what they are supposed to do. Some of them instinctively feel that life should have a purpose and meaning, and manage to imbue their own lives with a certain direction. These we call men of genius. But the majority take the world much as they find it, and are contented if they can keep alive and well fed, and live and die as their parents lived and died. These are the Insiders.’


‘In Man and Superman: that the artist’s task is to create more consciousness. ‘You use a glass mirror to see your face: you use works of art to see your soul.’



‘Men do not want a religion on those terms. Tell them that they are morally free, and they will shrink from the burden. Not every man is capable of following the Outsider’s hard road to belief. Men do not want ‘moral self-leadership’; they want ‘bread and circuses.’ The men who are capable of carrying the burden of their own freedom are very rare. This is the observation which led Nietzsche to the doctrine that has made him most hated — his ‘Master-and-slave’ morality, which teaches that the human race is divided into masters and slaves: the masters capable of immense will power, immense suffering, immense self-discipline; the slaves too short-sighted to want anything except material necessities and a leader to obey.’


‘And yet Nietzsche’s doctrine is no more than a flat statement of the moral hidden in Dostoevsky’s fable of the Grand Inquisitor. The problem we face today is still the problem that the Grand Inquisitor stated: that Christ’s teaching ‘Be your own leader’ will never suit the majority of men.’


‘Nietzsche summarised his objections:

What is good? Everything that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself.

What is bad? Everything that is born of weakness.

. . . Pity stands opposed to the tonic emotions which heighten our vitality. . .’


‘But it was not ‘God’ and ‘Christianity’ that Nietzsche was attacking; it was the unreal shadows of these things that passed for reality in the Church of his day, and still pass today. What Nietzsche was interested in — and Boheme, too — was ultimate reality.’


‘Nietzsche was naturally an ascetic, a man of tremendous self-discipline, who preferred to concentrate on the positive need to strengthen one’s vitality rather than on the negative crushing of the personality by subjecting it to indignities.’


‘For Nietzsche, as for all great Outsiders, the passion for truth was a discipline — the discipline by which he became a visionary.’


‘Nietzsche asks: ‘What is happiness?’ and answers: ‘The feeling that power is growing; that resistance is overcome.’


‘Nietzsche knew that the ideal of ‘universal peace’ is a false ideal; man will always attempt to create opportunities for the heroic.’


‘Nietzsche and Shaw both believed that the force behind life aims at the creation of higher and higher types of men — and ultimately, at the Superman, or Saint, or god. They believed that life aims at this god-creation slowly and inevitably, as a glacier moves.’

On Religion and Civilisation

‘Spiritual standards have almost ceased to exist, and Freud and Karl Marx have done a thorough job of convincing us that all men are much the same, subject to the same kind of psychological and economic pressures.’


‘Spiritual hell is to place a man of high abilities and great talent in a position where he will be frustrated and bored, denied self-expression. It is, in short, the Outsider’s position in the world.’


‘The obvious necessity is that the great artists and philosophers of the age should also be its religious men and scientists. The scientist should be as capable of attaining religious insight as the monk is of understanding the quantum theory. The necessity today is obviously for a renaissance of the idea of purpose — of the meaning of life. This is the basis of the existentialist revolt.’


‘The ideal of a civilisation is to become ‘self-determined. But what then? It is like saying that the ideal aim of a man is to be perfectly self-controlled. But to what end? A man might strive for self-control in order to be a better soldier or thinker or artist or saint; but self-control is no end in itself.’


‘Man is a telephone line between God and the world, and his business is to be as receptive as possible.’


‘Civilisations wreck when they lose control over their own complexity. And they begin to lose control the moment they begin to think in materialist categories; for ultimately, all power is spiritual power.’


‘Western man — Faustian man — has always been inclined to lay too much emphasis on his intellect. This is the secret of his tremendous material progress; but it is also the cause of his downfall. He loses spiritual power — the vital sense that keeps species healthy. Without this vital sense, the word ‘progress’ is a mockery; it is like having a streamlined car, but no petrol to run it on.’


‘The ideal social discipline is the one that takes fullest account of the men of genius. When society no longer has such discipline, the men of genius become Outsiders: they feel lost; they no longer seem to fit into the social body.’


‘There is a certain type of person who likes to declare that life is meaningless — usually as a justification for some hedonistic philosophy or just sheer empty-headedness. I have tried to argue that there is a meaning, and that it can be discovered by rigorous analysis and a tremendous will to discovery. (Without this latter, all the scepticism in the world is barren.)’


‘What is important to realise is that ‘mystical’ experiences are not experiences of another order of reality, but insights into this order seen with extraordinarily clear vision and greater concentration.’


‘Most people will claim that ‘they know their own limitations,’ although what they really mean is that they have no intention of paying the tremendous price of will power and sweat that makes a great artist. The moral teacher who tries to persuade men to stop looking for comfort and strive to become great is likely to find himself without an audience.’


‘A religion is the receptacle of the heroic, the symbol of man’s need to strive for prehension. Failure of religion and world wars are inevitable companions.’


‘I believe every civilisation reaches a moment of crisis, and that Western civilisation has now reached its moment. I believe that this crisis presents its challenge: Smash, or go on to higher things. So far, no civilisation has ever met this challenge successfully. History is the study of the bones of civilisations that failed, as the pterodactyl and the dinosaur failed.’


‘In our case, the scientific progress that has brought us closer than ever before to conquering the problems of civilisation, has also robbed us of spiritual drive; and the Outsider is doubly a rebel: a rebel against the Established Church, a rebel against the unestablished church of materialism. Yet for all this, he is the real spiritual heir of the prophets, of Jesus and St. Peter, of St. Augustine and Peter Waldo. The purest religion of any age lies in the hands of its spiritual rebels. The twentieth century is no exception.’


‘Not necessarily the Nietzschean Superman, but some type of man with broader consciousness and a deeper sense of purpose than ever before. Civilisation cannot continue in its present muddling, short-sighted way, producing better and better refrigerators, wider and wider cinema screens, and steadily draining men of all sense of a life of the spirit. The Outsider is nature’s attempt to counterbalance this death of purpose. The challenge is immediate, and demands response from every one of us who is capable of understanding it.’


‘Ideas are fashionable, and then become unfashionable, and this is unimportant; it matters as little as that the headlines of the news papers change every day. The standards by which we judge a Shakespeare or Dante are the real and important standards.’

New Existentialism

‘Existentialism states that the most important fact about man is his ability to change himself.’


‘And it is just this fact that all the scientists and social reformers have failed to realise. They think that the only thing that needs to be changed is man’s circumstances, his environment.’


‘Existentialism is the revolt against mere logic and reason. It is a plea for intuition and vision. It is a plea for recognising oneself as being involved in the problems of existence as a participant, not just as a spectator.’


‘For Plato, it was as important to emphasise Socrates’ greatness as a man as to show his brilliance as a thinker. This is existentialism, and in this sense, Shaw is the only other existentialist thinker of the same rank as Goethe and Plato.’


‘But freed from the bondage of the trivial and the immediate, man plunges into a world of new sensations and new self-discovery. This is the real meaning of the word education; the profoundest of all senses, in which Goethe uses it in Wilhelm Meister. Real education means existentialism, and existentialism means exploring one’s inner world scientifically.’


‘And here we see that the concept of existentialism involves inevitably the idea of self-discipline and self-transformation — the religious idea.’


‘The existentialist is the artist-philosopher, and his natural medium is the Bildungsroman: the novel or play which is about the maturing of its central character through the impact of his experience. Examples of this are Wilhelm Meister, The Brothers Karamazov, Meredith’s Ordeal of Richard Feverel, Mann’s Magic Mountain, Hesse’s Demian, Sartre’s Chemins de la Liberté, Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms, Joyce’s Portrait, Shaw’s Immaturity.’


‘True existentialism cannot be communicated in ordinary logical language; it can only be expressed in the drama, in poetry (and it is no coincidence that Eliot has stated that all great poetry is dramatic in essence), in the novel.’


‘True existentialism is the dramatic investigation of human nature through the medium of art. The true existentialist philosopher is the ‘artist-philosopher’ of whom Shaw spoke in Man and Superman.’

The Outsider Figure

‘And now we arrive at a crucial question: Is the Outsider strong enough to create his own tradition, his own way of thought, and to make a whole civilisation think the same way?’


‘The argument I am propounding is quite simple:

Outsiders are a symptom of a dying culture. Without sense of purpose, there can be no life.

Society always begins to die from the head downward. First, the men of genius lose their sense of purpose. When that happens, the decline has begun.’


‘The Outsider is a romantic and a mystic; and what is more, the essence of Western civilisation — the ‘Faustian culture is mystical and romantic. Western culture is the culture of Outsiders. ‘Siegfried, Parsifal, Tristan, Hamlet, Faust are the loneliest heroes in all the Cultures.’


‘The Outsider is not a ‘crazy mixed-up kid.’ He is not a bored and inefficient bank clerk. The essence of the Outsider problems lies in the need for self-transcendence.’


‘The Outsider’s way of thinking is called existentialism. But it might as easily be called religion. It is a way of thought which, like the religious way, regards man as involved in the universe, not just a spectator and observer, a sort of naturalist looking at the universe through a magnifying-glass and murmuring: “Mmm. Most interesting.’


‘The Outsider is a man who struggles for power over his own complexity, over the civilisation which conditions him and tries to distort his identity. Hesse believed that the Outsider is the highest form of life that civilisation knows — next to the prophet. Nietzsche believed that the Outsider is a halfway house to the Superman. In Toynbee, the Outsiders are the men who solve the problems of a civilisation, and keep it alive.’


‘The Outsider’s greatest need is to find a way in which he can become a visionary. The Outsider is a freethinker because the only kind of thought worth anything is free thought. This means that he can accept nothing until he has proved it by his own direct insight.’


‘For the Insider, moral and intellectual ideas are unimportant in comparison with aesthetic satisfaction. But for the Outsider, nothing matters but moral heroism. The Insider does not mind people being trivial and unheroic because life is still good. The Outsider cannot begin living until he has solved the question of how to live; like Ivan Karamazov, he rejects the world, he rejects life if it must be lived trivially. He craves greater intensity of life.’


‘The Outsider is the heroic figure of our time, and Outsider tragedies — those of Nietzsche, Lawrence, Van Gogh, Nijinsky — are the great tragedies of our time. That is why the great bulk of modern literature must be detestable to the Outsider.’


‘The Outsider’s question: How does one become a visionary? is the belief that these moments are not beyond reconstruction and comprehension. What is the essence of the ‘moment of vision’? It would seem to be a sense of the multitudinousness of life, a release of energy into the brain (Nijinsky: ‘God is fire in the head’; Yeats: ‘Heaven blazing into the brain’) which revitalises all the areas of one’s memory.’


‘The essence of boredom and exhaustion is the narrowing of the brain, confinement, a sense of being imprisoned in time. This is its opposite: a sense of the immense strangeness and greatness of life, of ‘unknown modes of being.’ It is a tonic emotion that revitalises and creates courage. In which case the man intent on ‘becoming a visionary’ now has a definite aim: to learn enough about the structure of his own brain to be capable of flooding it with energy at will.’


‘The Outsider cannot help feeling that men do not learn from experience — not the really important things. When adulthood is reached, most men seem to reach a level of maturity at which they remain until their faculties begin to decay. There are, of course, some men who seem to squeeze the subtle essence from their experience and learn by it: the great poets and artists. The last quartets of Beethoven represent the accumulated experience of fifty years, and there seems to be no reason why he should not have gone on indefinitely — writing still greater music as he got older.’


‘Very few men can serve as examples of this kind of development. It requires a peculiar sort of honesty. Among modem writers, W. B. Yeats, Andre Gide, Rainer Maria Rilke, possessed this honesty; Rilke especially deserves closer attention as the epitome of the existentialist poet.’


‘But for the Outsider, all men lose their lives in living them. All men are failures.’


‘The Outsider only exists because our civilisation has lost its religion. The Outsider is the result of Whitehead’s ‘bifurcation of nature,’ and Spengler’s Decline is a study of civilisation in which the Outsider has become the representative figure. The bifurcation of nature is the cause of the decline of the West.’


‘The Outsider sees this as the final difference between men. Will power and obsession are all that counts. The obsessed man is great; the satisfied man is not. The Outsider’s natural attitude to philosophy is this: Do not ask whether the philosophy is true; look at the philosopher and ask whether he is great. A man who is not obsessed cannot be great.’


‘The Outsider is the man who yearns for a return to ancient standards — the standards which recognise that ‘cleverness’ is of the intellect alone, that wisdom is a complex of intellect, emotions and body.’

Religion and the Rebel

‘A few words should be said about the plan of this book. It has given me far more trouble to write than The Outsider, for the subject is far more complex. In the first chapter, I have tried to present the outline of The Outsider in a concentrated form, and to emphasise that what I mean by existentialism covers a broader field than what Kierkegaard or Heidegger or Sartre mean by it; my existentialism is closer to Goethe’s idea of Bildung. I have tried to underline this by illustrating my thesis with analyses of Rilke, Rimbaud and Scott Fitzgerald; the last because he is, in all essentials, a man of the twentieth century.’


‘The second part of the book swings back to the problem of the Outsider, and his attempt to become an Insider by accepting a religious solution: Boehme, Swedenborg, Pascal, Ferrar, Law, Newman, Kierkegaard and Shaw are all examined and their solutions scrutinised. Shaw is deliberately included in the list of ‘religious Outsiders’ to emphasise that he is not quite the lone phenomenon that modern critics seem to believe, and to demonstrate his affinities with other anti-materialist thinkers since the sixteenth century.’


‘Like The Outsider, this book will be a casebook. But most of the emphasis will no longer be on the sense of misery and futility. In The Outsider, a formula was arrived at: The Outsider’s salvation lies in extremes. One could rephrase that: The Outsider only ceases to be an Outsider when he becomes possessed, when he becomes fanatically obsessed by the need to escape.’


‘The second part of this book will be mainly concerned with defining these notions of ‘heaven’ and ‘supersanity.’’


‘The Outsider was an attempt to argue the thesis that man is not complete without a religion. The inspiration of the book was William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience. James had also, in his own way, attempted to do what Pascal, Hulme and Whitehead have attempted. His argument amounts to this: Man is at his most complete when his imagination is at its most intense. Imagination is the power of prehension; without it, man would be an imbecile, without memory, without forethought, without power of interpreting what he sees and feels.’


‘Naturally, this is always bound up with the idea of the heroic. Even the heroism of Hemingway’s novels has an ultimate religious significance.’


‘My thesis was that religion begins with the stimulus which heroism supplies to the imagination. The Outsiders of the early chapters were men with hunger for heroism, stranded in an unheroic age.’


‘I tried to show that the craving for greater intensity of imagination (which means precisely the same as greater intensity of life: ‘to have life more abundantly’) takes the form of a search for the heroic.’


‘I tried to show the way in which heroism is the basis of the lives of all great religious figures.’