Karl Brullof, “Genius of Art“
I have started to read a book Divine Fury: A History of Genius by Darrin M. McMahon. I am approaching this book with a substantial bias: I think that the term “genius“ is an old vestige of patriarchal thinking, which denied women their souls (the female equivalent of “genius“ for the Romans was “juno“). From Encyclopedia Mythica:
“In Roman mythology, the genius was originally the family ancestor who lived in the underworld. Through the male members he secured the existence of the family. Later, the genius became more a protecting or guardian spirit for persons. These spirits guided and protected that person throughout his life. Every man had a genius, to whom he sacrificed on birthdays. It was believed that the genius would bestow success and intellectual powers on its devotees.
Women had their own genius, which was called a juno. …
However, not only individuals had guardian spirits: families, households, and cities had their own. Even the Roman people as a whole had a genius. The genius was usually depicted as a winged, naked youth, while the genius of a place was depicted as a serpent.“
Agathodaimon (“good divinity“), genius of the soil around Vesuvius
I have also been warming up recently to the thought of Henry Miller from his Tropic of Cancer, who said that genius is dead, we have no need for him but instead we have need for “strong hands, for spirits who are willing to give up the ghost and put on flesh…“ In the latest instalment of her Fairy Tale Fridays, Amanda of dreamrly posted a tale about a woman who has a tea shop. I encourage you to read that story. It is the miraculous powers that she possesses that I think are exactly the type of juno/genius that our times are in need of. That woman reminded me of the main female protagonist of a wonderful novel by Jose Saramago entitled Blindness.
In the story, a massive epidemic of blindness affects everyone in an unnamed city. To protect the healthy citizens, blind people are quarantined in a filthy asylum, where crime is rampant and the inmates are constantly threatened and humiliated in their struggle for survival. The doctor’s wife is the only resident who can see, though she hides that fact. She had pretended to be blind in order to accompany her husband to the asylum. I believe The Seeing Woman is a wonderful remedy for our civilization struck by collective blindness.
With all my initial trepidation, the book by McMahon does seem worthwhile and I am going to devote my time to reading it. I reproduce the first two paragraphs to whet your appetites and I promise to post more in the near future:
“GENIUS. SAY THE WORD OUT LOUD. Even today, more than 2,000 years after its first recorded use by the Roman author Plautus, it continues to resonate with power and allure. The power to create. The power to divine the secrets of the universe. The power to destroy. With its hints of madness and eccentricity, sexual prowess and protean possibility, genius remains a mysterious force, bestowing on those who would assume it superhuman abilities and godlike powers. Genius, conferring privileged access to the hidden workings of the world. Genius, binding us still to the last vestiges of the divine.
Such lofty claims may seem excessive in an age when football coaches and rock stars are frequently described as “geniuses” The luster of the word—once reserved for a pantheon of eminence, the truly highest of the high—has no doubt faded over time, the result of inflated claims and general overuse. The title of a BBC television documentary on the life of the Nobel Prize–winning physicist Richard Feynman sums up the situation: “No Ordinary Genius.” There was a time when such a title would have been redundant. That time is no more.”