Ode to Wallace Stevens and Søren Kierkegaard

How is it that a non-genius can recognize genius? I can think of two basic ways, given two different versions of how genius is conceived:

  1. Genius as mastery: I recognize that someone’s thoughts and thought process are similar to my own, but he or she has brought those same thoughts to something like perfection. It’s about building, refining, integrating.

  2. Genius as flash or spark: When what I have built, refined, integrated, is cut through in an instant by some insightful comment or whatever, I recognize that power and appreciate it on its own terms. This kind of genius may be “irrational”, and may be most effective in what we call “the arts”.

But if everything can only have its proper place, then we effectively shut our eyes to flashes of genius - and divorce power from mastery.

It’s not often that poets are philosophers, and philosophers poets.

It’s an important (and illuminating) distinction of usage, I agree.

In addition, I’d add that genius is a creative act, within a framework of rules, laws, conventions. There’s no genius in thinking up a string of words that no-one has said before - there’s genius in doing so within the constraints of poetic form, meaning and allusion, though. There have to be some constraints that are in some way overcome, and the overcoming has to in some way advance the constraining framework. Whether it’s the craftman’s mastery that changes the craft, or the thinker’s insight that opens up a new field of study.

Of course, advance already moves us into teleology. The practitioners of the field recognise the changes to that field and accord them respect or condemnation, and future practitioners do the same all over again with new information (hence ‘misunderstood geniuses’, who were too far ahead of their time). There’s definitely a normative element defining the thin line between genius and madness.

At least, vanishingly rare that you can place “good” behind both in either case :slight_smile:

All excellent points, O_H.

That happens rarely, it’s mostly due to demagogery, group think and mass hysteria

There is a chain of recognition I think. Does Stephen Hawking talk shit, or does he know what he’s talking about? How would I know? There has to be a context of trust involved. Is Hawking a genius? People who know way more than me about physics seem to think so. Can I trust these people? Other people I know, who know something about physics, trust the people who think Hawking is a genius. Etc. Is that “demagoguery, group think, and mass hysteria”? Or is it just healthy society flourishing?

Please just for once show that you actually know what you are talking about, I’m growing tired of your empty postulations, you havn’t pointed out HOW Steven Hawking is a genious. You are just saying he’s a genious because others claims he is.

‘Genius’ is just a label. Anyone can slap it on anyone else.

You just answered your own question. Do you know of any other way to measure “genius” without direct experience?

More to the point, anon said nothing of the sort.

I’ m not sure there is any line between genius and madness: a genius is a sort of king of the mad to the mad.
For instance the second law of lunacy is to redefine madness (madhouses are literally a thing of the past). The mad would call those amongst them who successfully protect them (once free) by redefining madness an act of genius.

What I am saying is that a genius is by no means someone who is not demonstrably mad; a genius is a sort of king of and only in the eyes of the mad.

I think genius and madness can be related concepts - in which case, perhaps genius in that sense is madness that sane people can relate to. Or a kind of sanity that mad people can relate to.

Genius and madness, are related, in that they both cross that what is commonly considered normal, sane,…

The genius however can don this without loosing a sense for the normal, and is able to tie the extranormal back to the norm.

Contrary to popular belief, a lot of genius, artists, philosophers and poëts end up leading a very routinous ascetic life. They need it to counterbalance the madness.

One could say a genius is a madman, turned out well.

In my OP, I distinguished two different conceptions of genius. I think both conceptions establish genius as beyond the bounds of normalcy, but only the second conception might have anything to do with the bounds of sanity.

Granted, I’m not so sure it makes sense to think of sanity as having boundaries.

If the “mad” can be genius, I’m not sure sanity is even a necessary consideration here. We are speaking of “genius” as an act or property [as “genius” needs context], so to speak – something owned, realized or attained. Is a person a “genius” by the very potential or ownership of said property in any action, or the apparent frequency of that property in all his actions?

A person can do something “genius” without being considered a genius. Yet, a person considered a genius can act in ways quite opposite.

I think we are able to recognize genius because we all have the tools and potential for it. The measure is how often this apparent property manifests in one’s actions. In this light, it seems we’ve only touched on genius as it occurs to us [as an act]. Mastery being of almost constant genius in some respect, and a ‘spark’ being more sporadic but still frequent enough to be recognizable.

But where does the genius lie? The person or the act? And what becomes “genius” to the experienced genius – would it be recognizable to those who aren’t so experienced?

For example, many musicians go through a sort of evolution throughout their careers. They learn new things, mature a bit, try new sounds, etc. Now say you meet a musician who you regard as the best. His mastery is unrivaled. However, his experiences eventually lead him to the conclusion that genius is not in the harmonies and rhythms he creates, but just the opposite. His music becomes a cluster of disorganized noise with no apparent flow or purpose. To him that is the real genius of music, whereas you consider it nonsensical. Do you disagree about his genius because of sheer arbitrary designations, or did his knowledge and mastery allow for some esoteric realization?

Yes, i meant “what is commonly considered sane”, by the general public that is, “the norm”. I think there are a lot of different way to be sane, also outside the norm, but i didn’t mean to use it in that way there.

My idea on the distinction you’re making in the OP is that both conceptions are necessary aspects of the genius. Not two different kinds of genius, but two different properties that need to be reconciled in one person.

When i say this i’m thinking of some of the greatest genius in history. They did both, not only did they master the existing methods, they broke them down and moved beyond them, starting over and building something anew.

Great post, Statik. I like that someone finally pointed out that “…we are able to recognize genius because we all have the tools and potential for it”. The question of where genius lies is an interesting one. I actually agree with phyllo to some extent here - that it is an arbitrary label that can be applied to anything. But we have to be careful in saying that. I mean, can we really? The complexities of social interactions, cultural trends, personal and societal values, etc. are such that what we consider to be genius is highly volatile.

Regarding your questions about mastery and esoteric realization, consider modern art. Picasso and others, highly trained in classical art technique, went on to create paintings that were shocking in their childlike simplicity. Many people disparagingly claim that a child could have painted them. So the questions for me are 1) could a child have painted them? and 2) did these artistic explorers free art from something like “the tyrranny of classicism”? or does the success of such art depend on mastery of classical technique?

Well said, I agree with you.

Undoubtedly volatile and arbitrary, I agree. However, I also think experience and the open exchange of information serve well enough in allowing us to recognize something irregular, unique, extraordinary, or beautiful in some way. Not recognition objective properties, per se, but inter-subjective irregularities.

So I agree we form these arbitrary designations, but I also think that is how we recognize genius. If someone tells me a person, or thing, is “genius”, I actually tend to be far more skeptical until I am persuaded myself. If we justify genius subjectively, our justifications are bound to be subjective. This is where communication serves to affirm.

This is exactly what I was getting at! Nice example.

Could a child have painted them? Something similar perhaps, but, then again, what is “genius” about a child drawing like a child? The genius there seems deeper than the surface.

Did they free art? I think they kept it free insofar as they kept it moving [evolving].

Did the success depend on mastery of classical styles? This is the difficult one for me, but I think the answer can be both yes and no. The success likely depends on the presence, influence, and some knowledge of classical style [I’d think]. However, some evolve as if solely by merit of an innate talent.

Yes, intersubjectivity is what I’m trying to get at.

Do you think maybe these artists’ mastery of classical techniques may have served as a mass psychological tool - a trick in a sense - to convince the public that the childlike painting can be appreciated? that it’s valid to appreciate a childlike painting? Perhaps it’s an intermediate step in the process of teaching people to appreciate the beauty in everything.

On the other hand, contemporary art seems to me (I could be wrong - I’m no expert) to be characterized by lack of mastery in the classical sense. Given that environment, people don’t take art very seriously anymore, and the discipline of seeing, including seeing freshly, has perhaps declined because of it.

An aesthete, searching a painting for signs of genius, must know how to look at a work of art, and to look with her whole being.

That is an extremely interesting notion. I’d think of it more as an attempt to reconcile than a trick, so to speak. I tend to think certain types of talents produce and recognize particular types of beauty. So, I think of the artists as genuine insofar as they see the beauty in their own representations [or what goes into them]. However, I also think they desired acceptance and appreciation, and most importantly validation [as you said], in their own methods. The result being an implicit interest in raising awareness and promoting those methods. I do think that it serves well to help, and teach, us to appreciate beauty in something different.

I agree, though I think the interest in mastery has declined as well. The art in it becoming more like those sporadic ‘flashes’ of genius than a conditioned practice.