Sunday, February 05, 2006

Magnified Aberrations

I recently read Ben, in the World by Doris Lessing and found myself reminiscencing about some other books. It was not too hard to see the common thread that runs through all of them.

In every story the protagonist is an outlier or turns into one. They set an uncontrolled chain of events in motion by just "being". Their aberrations are not as unusual as they are extreme. Ben has the body of a middle-aged man at eighteen, Owen Meany has an inadequate voice, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille in Perfume has no smell of his own and Ignatius Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces is a slob of epic proportions. By turning into a roach, Kafka's hero renders conformity impossible.

While society grudgingly tolerates non-conformism, extremely deviant individuals get pushed beyond the brink. They represent the threshold of our collective ability to accept, live and let live.

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