RE: RARA-AVIS: Murderous geniuses

From: Kerry J. Schooley (
Date: 09 Apr 2004

At 04:53 PM 08/04/2004 -0700, you wrote:
>We don't know who invented certain essential and highly
>nontrivial things, but if we did, we would probably call
>the inventor a genius.

Exactly. And your qualifier is relevant too. A person who exhibits the same behaviour as a "genius" to develop non-essential or trivial ideas is not considered a genius. Application of the label is dependent upon acceptance of the things or ideas invented. Genius is more an indication of approval than a measure of intellect. This is why many geniuses are first considered mad. Their ideas or behaviours don't change. It is the acceptance of those ideas and behaviours that changes (or acceptance of the ideas and a resulting tolerance of the behaviours.)

>But you are right in that the label is not the thing, and
>the label is given by each of us and says something about
>us, not about the referent. There is nothing that
>intrinsically begs to be called a genius. There is nothing
>that intrinsically begs to be called anything. Language is
>language, easily abused (by which I mean that the facts are
>far from the meaning given to the words).

The label is the thing. The application of the label genius is neither accidental nor an abuse of the language. It is quite deliberate. The word is only used as an indication of approval, and to rank the recipient among colleagues. It means that person is smarter than most others. Even the
"evil genius" creates something that is valued by others. In that case, it is the use of the creation that is called into question.

>Best, and I'd better think of something hardboiled to say
>before... Ah, Kafka is noir. And El Greco was a noir
>painter. And Beethoven's Grosse Fuge is quintessentially

Well sure, you think I'm going to argue that geniuses write noir and hardboil? But I think the original question was whether there are genius protagonists in noir or hardboil. And I'm inclined to think not, because this validation of the protagonist calls into question the nature of his struggle, which we suggested long, long ago, is to challenge traditional values. Remember- the lone-wolf detective who sought his own values after seeing the collapse of collective, institutional values under the crush of twentieth century technological warfare? Smack me if I'm wrong, but calling the protagonist a genius implies pre-approval of the outcome of his challenge. It would be an affirmation, not an inquiry.

On the other hand, if we view Sherlock Holmes as the drug addicted misogynist whose work to root out evil does not even slow the slide into war (in fact, whose values lead inevitably toward it), we might have a genius noir protagonist. Maybe?

Best Kerry

------------------------------------------------------ Literary events Calendar (South Ont.) The evil men do lives after them

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