against genius


Which brings me to that Trilling essay I read before I saw Linklater’s Welles: It’s got to be considered in any consideration of genius. It’s a somewhat tortured meditation that goes to considerable lengths to argue that the one reason we should value Orwell is that he was not a genius. While this sounds like a negative virtue, not one you’d put on a résumé, Trilling gives it a positive spin: “Not being a genius” means “fronting the world with nothing more than one simple direct undeceived intelligence and a respect for the powers one does have. … We admire geniuses, we love them, but they discourage us. … They are great concentrations of intellect and emotion, we feel they have soaked up all the available power, monopolizing it and leaving none for us. We feel that if we cannot be as they, we can be nothing.” (The italics are mine.) Who knew that being a genius could be so contentious? And yet it’s a worthy sentiment: We should not use lack of genius as an excuse for ourselves to do nothing because we won’t do anything geniuslike.

more from Ron Rosenbaum at Slate here.