Adonis Diaries

Archive for April 16th, 2013

Are there any Geniuses of Language and Literature? What are your criteria for the selection?

In a previous post https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2013/04/10/masterpieces-in-literature-since-when-part-1/ I asked this question:

Is it possible to meaningfully categorize and classify masterpieces in literature?

It is possible to collect data on the many ways people retrieve, read, or extract sections of masterpieces, and run a statistical package to “cluster” groups of masterpieces under fictitious categories. Like  considering geographic origin, time period, and field of each “genius,” correlated with visits to the respective Wikipedia page and connection to related historical figures

The question will remain: “How meaningful this process is, and does it make any sense for the avid readers?”

It is our nature to classify, even organize human species. We are all basically pseudo-scientists: Scientists main hobby and work is to classify everything.

Classifying masterpieces in literature is a futile exercise, though “academics” cannot help it: It is their livelihood, particularity teachers of literature.

In the next post, I’ll demonstrate the futility of classifying masterpieces in literature.

For the time being, here is a striking example of an alternative way to a taxonomy in literature:

 published “History’s 100 Geniuses of Language and Literature, Visualized

“Genius, in its writings, is our best path for reaching wisdom … the true use of literature for life.”

“Genius is nothing more nor less than doing well what anyone can do badly,” Victorian novelist Amelia E. Barr reflected in her 9 rules for success.

What is genius?

In their latest project, Italian visualization wizard Giorgia Lupi and her team at Accurat — who have previously given us a timeline of the future based on famous fiction, a visual history of the Nobel Prize, and a visualization of global brain drain inspired by Mondrian — explore the anatomy of genius, based on Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds (public library) by literary Harold Bloom.

Playing off Bloom’s use of the Sefirot image — the 10 emanations of the Kabbalah — to organize the taxonomy of the 100 geniuses of language, Bloom identifies, from Shakespeare to Stendhal to Lewis Carroll to Ralph Ellison, the visualization depicts the geographic origin, time period, and field of each “genius,” correlated with visits to the respective Wikipedia page and connection to related historical figures.

Bloom writes:

All genius, in my judgment, is idiosyncratic and grandly arbitrary, and ultimately stands alone … My placement of the hundred geniuses is hardly one that fixes them in place, since all the Sefirot are images constantly in motion, and any creative spirit must move through all of them, in many labyrinths and transformations. … Since the 10 Sefirot form a system in constant motion, all of my hundred persons could be illuminated almost equally well by the other nine Sefirot, beyond the one where I group them, and I intend this book to be a kind of mosaic-in-perpetual-movement.

Appearing here is an exclusive English-language version of a forthcoming spread in Italian literary supplement La Lettura.

{Click image to enlarge)

At the heart of Bloom’s ambitious taxonomy is a concern with the very nature of genius:

What is the relationship of fresh genius to a founding authority?

At this time, starting the twenty-first century, I would say: ‘Why, none, none at all.’ Our confusions about canonical standards for genius are now institutionalized confusions, so that all judgments as to the distinction between talent and genius are at the mercy of the media, and obey cultural politics and its vagaries.

Echoing Virginia Woolf’s counsel on the art of reading, Bloom argues for cultivating an individual sensibility of genius-appreciation:

Literary genius, difficult to define, depends upon deep reading for its verification. The reader learns to identify with what she or he feels is a greatness that can be joined to the self, without violating the self’s integrity….

Genius, in its writings, is our best path for reaching wisdom, which I believe to be the true use of literature for life.


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