On the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series

Douglas Adams and the Wisdom of Madness

By John Shirley

“…the howl of clashing colors, the intertwining of all contradictions, grotesqueries, trivialities: LIFE.”


Misfits may have an edge. I’ve had that advantageous disadvantage. Born baseline spacey and intellectually restless, traumatized by a neighbor at seven, my father dying when I was ten, moving six times before I was twelve, and confirming, when I moved to a new place, that people everywhere are oriented to pecking orders; that many of them are hostile to those who are different; that children who should be friendly and playful are often violent and cruel–look for my picture in the dictionary under misfit.

Being a misfit, I saw that what we’re taught about the world–that schools are “fair,” that the law is “fair,” that people are usually friendly to strangers–was contradicted by reality at its most basic. I recognized the contradictions in life and absorbed the dire facts about human nature sooner than most people do. The absurdities and inequities come home to the misfit sooner–it’s that pecking order thing. It makes sure you get it. Hence the misfit may have a bit of an edge in terms of appreciating the quandary of the human condition. The misfit will be a little less likely to be shattered, perhaps, when the center doesn’t hold, and things fall apart, because it’s always been off center and breaking down, for him. For her.

In the 1980s I became a punk-rock singer as a way to adapt to the apparent hostility of life; later, when  …

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