Sunday, 20 March 2016

Do We Still Believe in Literary Geniuses?

Robert Archambeau explores the question:
If one were to shout the question “who is a literary genius?” in the general direction of a gaggle of young men in Warby Parker glasses and Chuck Taylor sneakers, the air would likely resound with shouts of “David Foster Wallace!” much to the chagrin of Jonathan Franzen, should he skulk within earshot. But what is meant by the term genius? And how much longer will it be with us? The term, after all, sits more easily with the Romantic poet in his garret than with the writer of our moment, recycling found text on her Twitter account, and thinkers and artists from Walter Benjamin to Damien Hirst have sought to consign the term to the dustbin of critical history. Indeed, should you punch the word into Google’s ngram viewer, you’ll see a slow decline in frequency of usage since 1800, with a steepish drop between 1970 and 1980 before a more recent leveling off. One wonders, then: does genius have a future in our understanding of literature? Or is the genius to be taken to Roland Barthes’ graveyard and buried in state, next to his less-distinguished peer, the author?

No comments: