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Inspired by comments about “intelligence,” I offer you an open forum on “genius.”


Genius is one of those words, esp. for writers artists etc, that carries heft to it. Most of us want to be genius, or at least the romanticized mythological version of genius, as if genius offers us validity as writers or something like that. Then, of course, there’s that link to insanity, addiction, and excess.


What are your conceptions of genius? What fairy tales and mythologies do you associate with the word?

4 thoughts on “genius

  1. i tend to think of ‘genius’ more in the scientific realm than the artistic, because that’s who i’m around more often, although if i had any philosophy background I might consider it there too. I had a discussion a long time ago at work with a guy I consider smarter than me about another guy who didn’t seem capable of doing certain tasks, and not for lack of trying (this is an electrical design engineering field, for context, math or software engineering might be the closest analogies), and he refered to him as not being able to see complexity all at once, that the more a person has the ability to think of something more and more complex all at once and consider it as a whole and simultaneously as separate pieces, that that person approaches genius.

    But genius probably means an opposite sort of thing in an artistic realm. I think its more like you say, a mythological status and unattainable, because i think with art and literature, intention is rarely realized. Things that succeed in art I think rarely do what the artist orignally sought out to do, and then it succeeds for some other reason the artist never realized. Art may do what an artist wanted, but whether it succeeds beyond that is kind of a mystery. Art succeeds often as fluke, and the more flukes an artist racks up, the closer they become to being a genius (?).

    I think the realm where genius means the most to me might be in a music realm. The ability to compose certain pieces, especially certain symphonies, is dealing with genius in both mathematical and artistic realms.

    But i think overall, it has more to do with the realm you are applying the term ‘genius’ in. Everyone is a genius in some realm.

  2. For writers, the invocation of “genius” seems always performative and/or polemical which is to say the term should always be taken with a grain of salt.

    I’m thinking of the anecdote of Oscar Wilde arriving to U.S. customs and saying that he has nothing to declare but his genius…also Gertrude Stein (this is for you, Josh!) and her identification of Picasso, Alfred Whitehead, and herself as the only geniuses she’s met in her life in the _Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas_.

    And speaking of apprehending complexity at once, Darby, Stein defines genius as “talking and listening at the same time” which seems to fit with your discussion about science.

  3. I hate the concept of luck. I have this habit of saying the only reason I’ve ever had anything published is because I’ve been lucky. I never account for hard work etc etc. Shouldn’t we take ourselves seriously enough as writers to acknowledge our own dedication?

    Still, if asked, esp. in person, I’d say I got really lucky.

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