I just finished a load of laundry, which is not exciting except that it was in my step-mom’s new Kenmore washer, and an article called “Our Genius Problem” in The Atlantic that was extremely interesting. It addresses the change of the word and the meaning/role of “genius” through time, noting that genius is now thrown around at every example of good behavior, that it’s become something that seems attainable through accomplishment. In this way, she says, genius has both lost its meaning and gained new status as a sort of performance, a celebrity role in culture: “The further our society gets from individual agency–the less the individual seems to have real power to change things–the more we idealize the genius, who is by this definition the opposite of the committee or the collaborative enterprise.”
I’m fascinated by the whole article; my head spins. Consider: “despite Thomas Edison’s oft quoted adage ‘Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,’ it’s the inspiration that we dote on.”
I think that’s pretty accurate, in a general sense. Maybe it’s just that I’m reading this book about a guy who’s a self-proclaimed (and sometimes media-appointed) genius in his trade, but I find the idea of this genius-based-on-accomplishment both appalling and appealing. I need to think about this more.