Art+Politics+History+Culture

Do Judge A Book By Its Cover

People say don’t judge a book by its cover, but I say why not? When I first began reading independently as an adolescent, I always went for the choose-your-adventure sci-fi novels because of their covers. They reminded me of role-playing video games and as such, the content was rather parallel. They both focused on the individual’s abilities through determined humanism against all odds. The stories had metaphysical qualities reminiscent of Joseph Campbell’s idea of the hero with a thousand faces who goes on an epic journey and returns with a renewed concept for living differently. It is an ancient and universal quest. As a teenager I became more cynical and read conspiracy theory books, based on their cover, like Holy Blood Holy Grail, Apocalypse Culture, The Mark of the Beast, and others that led to more interesting reads. Choosing books based on covers paved the way to serious literature when I saw a Penguin edition of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, which led me to social contract philosophy and a formal education in political science. This book helped in my own social contract theory of street gang organizations, which will continue to be a lifelong effort.

Recently I was browsing through the urban/cultural affairs section and I saw this book, The Outsider, by Colin Wilson. The plain design instantly captured my attention, and when I read the back matter it only took but a few seconds to decide I would purchase it. So now that I finished it, it gave me a better understanding of the outsider role in literature and life. The outsider is a social problem, it’s related to the anonymous or underground man who is concerned with ideas like sex, crime, disease, or drugs. The outsider is a stranger with inferiority complexes who can’t live comfortably in modern society because he or she thinks too much and too deeply. The outsider, “Knows he is sick in a civilization that doesn’t know it is sick.” The outsider is usually detached, aloof, indifferent to others’ pain and suffering, does not place any significance on anything in particular and perhaps feels most alive in the face of constant danger. Only then, in the face of threat and death, can a person experience true freedom because it shows that there is nothing that can’t be lost.

To assist in his essay, he examines writers that have written from the outsider perspective such as: Kafka, Camus, Sartre, Tolstoy, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, H.G. Wells, Barbusse, Blake, Hesse, Hemingway, and Dostoevsky, half of whom I read under heavy rotation. These writers have all used the outsider as a treatment to explore the sick and nauseating business of life where the general world cannot meet the ultimate demands of the human spirit. The outsider is often civilized and savage simultaneously. The outsider may love cleanliness, order, music, and architecture, yet the outsider also loves lawlessness, disorder, chaos, and the underworld. It is a great assessment of the outsider role in modern society and has helped in the way I view my life and literature, and how constant the outsider role is in each.

However, if we’re talking metaphorically about judging people, I agree we should not judge a book by its cover. Yesterday I was in a wealthy community of Pasadena and I came across a very old white man who looked and me and said, “Are you brush or leaves?” assuming I was a gardener. Racism; alive and well in Southern California.

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