Author Elizabeth Gilbert, famous for her bestseller Eat, Pray, Love, suggested Thursday that we kill geniuses by demanding super-human powers from them.
The problem, she says, lies in how we attribute the qualities of geniusness.
Instead of seeing the individual as a genius, we should view the brilliance as a gift from an unknowable outside source — some might call it a muse, others a fairy or god force — that visits us on occasion to participate in an act of creation, and then leaves to help someone else. Gilbert was referring primarily to those in the arts, but her talk applied to anyone who creates something sublime, whether it’s a painting in the Sistine Chapel or a quantum equation.
We are our abilities. However, when we try to claim those abilities arise from us, we get neurotic. Better to see them as just abilities.
For this incognito performance, Bell had only one condition for participating. The event had been described to him as a test of whether, in an incongruous context, ordinary people would recognize genius. His condition: “I’m not comfortable if you call this genius.” “Genius” is an overused word, he said: It can be applied to some of the composers whose work he plays, but not to him. His skills are largely interpretive, he said, and to imply otherwise would be unseemly and inaccurate.
People throw the g-word around too much, but what they don’t want to face is that very few are geniuses, while most of us are just highly trained monkeys working in the steps of masters. But that doesn’t promote equality, justice, tolerance and the notion that we can be whatever we wish or describe ourselves to be.