Eye of the Beholder

Michael Gerard stands in his unkempt studio, paint strewn all around, standing over the body of a young woman with a knife in his hand. The cleaning lady knows he has murdered her. The waiter “could tell he’s a lady’s man all right.” A smooth operator, Michael is the quintessential victim of the axiom of ‘reality is perception’. Ironically, he gives an insight into his own forthcoming predicament when he tells his landlord, “The man you see in me does not exist.”

We see a striking similarity between Gerard and Camus’ Outsider – Meursault. On trial for murder, like Gerard, Meursault is judged not on the facts of the murder itself but on the collective perception of a society judging whether on the basis of his behaviour and actions in the past, he is ‘capable of murder.’ At his trial, Meursault's lack of an obvious display of emotion at his mother's funeral is the focal point. A murderer must be such a man, a man who is incapable of remorse. Camus’ L’Etranger (The Stranger) opens at the narrator’s mother’s death with the famous lines “Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don't know. The telegram from the home said 'Mother died. Funeral tomorrow.' That doesn't mean anything. It may have happened yesterdayand”. Between his mother’s death and his own, Meursault, a clerk, is depicted to be emotionless in his narration and has an affair the days after his mother’s funeral. He is tried for shooting an Arab who had earlier terrorized him and his friend Raymond on the beach. The trial, like those we experience judging and being judged everyday by people we interact with, is based on other’s perceptions and intrpretations of one’s behaviour. Rarely does even the rational mind analyse objectively and without judgement or exercise the need to alter the premise of our perceptions instead of attacking the behaviour. Camus, in advocting a similar sentiment, wrote in the Rebel, “It rejects analysis and the search for a fundamental psychological motive that could explain and recapitulate the behaviour of a character..."

Mersault is judged simply, and some would argue justifiably, for his lack of emotions. After all, emotions are part of our mammalian instincts, and to be devoid of emotions presupposes a lack of the inherent goodness the human race prides itself on being its distinguishing factor.

The trait is characteristic of the outsiders in literature, whether it is in Mersault’s L’Etranger, Henri Barbusse's L'Enfer, Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock or Ulysses, Order and Myth or in the works of Schopenhauer, Strindberg and Shaw.

As all good art takes its forms from the lines of life itself, “that twists and extends and accumulates and spits and drips and is heavy and coarse and blunt and sweet and stupid as life itself” so too we see the outsider in the real world exemplified by the likes of authors like Sartre and Henry Miller, artists like Van Gogh or Henri de Tolouse Lautrec or in the performing arts like Vaslav Nijinksky. Colin Wilson’s much acclaimed ‘The Outsider’ was an excellent analysis of these individuals and how they exist in a social context. Central to Wilson's philosophy, however, is the idea of training the mind to see beyond the "triviality of everydayness," to will consciousness to higher levels without using artificial stimulants like sex, drugs and violence. ‘The Outsider’ was an attempt to describe man's attempts, through literature, to analyse the problem of meaninglessness in everyday existence.

Whether the roots of this lie in selective perception or are factored by representative heuristics, the take out for us is interesting both as individuals as well as stakeholders in the institute whose name we carry. The eternal loop of reality is perception is reality lends potential to shaping perceptions. To some extent, we as a community have been successful in making ourselves beneficiaries of the Pygmalion effect. Granted of course that after what is acknowledged as being one of the most rigorous admission procedures, the ultimately selected subset is among the crème de la crème. All the same, the same individual who is not given the benefit of the brand association (ceteris paribus is difficult to establish, as one would have to negate the learning acquired as part of the curricula), is likely not to achieve the same status with respect to measures of material success.

Bernard Shaw’s version of Ovid’s Pygmalion has the protagonist Eliza elucidate the concept elementally, “You see, really and truly, apart from the things anyone can pick up, the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’s treated.” Whether it be Michael Gerard, The Outsider, the management student in the classroom or during his summer internship, or the cockney flower girl, an understanding of this inherent human fallacy is a double edged sword that is of much utility.

Top 5 Outsiders
Alok Galilieo, Guru Dutt, Premchand, Maradonna, Madonna
Animesh Sonia Gandhi, Negar Khan, Brian Murphy, Yossarian, Napolean
Anshul The batch of 2007 at IIML
Gurpreet Mother Teresa, Sonia Gandhi, M.F.Hussain, Forrest Gump, God
Siddhartha Meursault, Kurt Vonnegut, Allen Ginsberg, Yossarian, Randall McMurphy