Over the last few years much research has surfaced to the effect that cultivated consistency that pushes at some envelope is the most desirable form of anything deserving the name genius.
Much of this confirmed my earlier suspicions in that vein. People called Richard Feynman a genius, whereas he was more likely to frame it as just having an endless, background-process variety of diligence for a set of problems that never completely left his mind. Eventually the right answer popped out, if only because he was systematically exhausting the possibilities, even when other people didn't think he was on the case. Other people, not realizing this, saw him come up with answers out of nowhere. How else to explain it but as Genius?
I've come to wrinkle my nose at the word "genius", if only because of what we've done to it. I don't even mean the fact that it gets thrown around indiscriminately to refer to anyone of talent; that's bad enough. I'm thinking more about the way people associate it with something innate, not something that can be acquired with the right alignment and direction. If someone has an affinity for something, or picks up an affinity for something, in such a way that any "failure" to them doesn't feel like failure but merely fast feedback, most people looking on see something entirely different. They see what looks like a tapping-into of some natural vein, not trial and error in another, more disciplined form.
My annoyance at the word "genius" is also part of my general disgust with the romanticized cult of creativity. I don't meant to say that nobody deserves to be called a genius; there's plenty of people who deserve recognition for their creative work. It's more that we think of it is as something the rest of us are condemned to admire from a distance, all the way down at the base of the plinth, instead of open up and examine for things to make our own.
When pressed as to why we shouldn't be doing this, the answer I get amounts to: Because that would take the mystery out of it! To which I'd reply: What's wrong with taking the mystery out of it? Why is something that all of us should have and benefit from being relegated to the status of a corporate trade secret, when it's really nothing of the kind? Who are we saving this "mystery" for? The too-easily impressed?
If creative genius is really nothing more than a kind of cultivated, systematic diligence, that's fine. That doesn't make the products of that genius any more enthralling when we receive them at their very best. This drum forever goes bang no matter how many times it's cut open.
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Other Lives Of The Mind