Bob Dylan told us that he was born many miles from where he belonged and that he had spent his whole life trying to get to where he should have been. In the novelette l'Etranger by Albert Camus the central character, Meursault, feels out of step with the world in which he finds himself. The book title translates as the alien or the misfit in English, the dilemma of a man who does not belong. The French call this alienation dépaysement which literally means feeling like a stranger in your own country.
Consider poor Lemuel Gulliver of Gulliver's Travels who visits places all over the world but is conspicuously foreign in all of them. In Lilliput he is a giant, in Brobdingnag he is a pygmy and in the Houyhnhnms he is a minority species among horses.
In Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, Alice falls down a deep rabbit's burrow into a land where she has no control over events and stands out as a strange, gawky little girl among an odd assortment of people and animals. In The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka the central character, Gregor Samsa, wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a giant beetle. This is a symbolic representation of how Gregor is an alien not just in the world at large but within his own family.
So many writers of fiction are preoccupied with failure to fit in, failure to 'roll' with the real world. They have an obsession with other realities, alternative worlds, places where they believe they might be able to function more effectively. To appreciate their vulnerability, you have only to look at the faces of the hordes of people present at a Star Trek convention. They shine with animation and delight, because now they are not a shop assistant or a bartender but a Klingon warrior or a Romulan. These people are not writers of fiction but are privy to the same joy of stepping into an alternative state of being.
There is something irresistible about the wandering minstrel, the Bob Dylan, just like the Romantic poets of the nineteenth century, Byron, Browning, Keats, Shelley and Wordsworth. These pallid dreamers loved to range over windy moorland, their imagination fired by various opiates, the damp wind fanning their long hair. They revelled in nostalgic longing for something, they knew not what but it certainly wasn't of this world. Their feelings of love transcended anything that ordinary mortals could possibly experience. They were so sensitive it was almost painful and so their poems ran on and on as if they were never going to end.
It is one aspect of the human condition that our reach must always exceed our grasp, so that we will always hanker for what we cannot have but fiction is, if nothing else, a way of allowing us to window shop.
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