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Marjorie Garber

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780823242047

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823242047.001.0001

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Our Genius Problem

Our Genius Problem

(p.124) CHAPTER TEN Our Genius Problem
Loaded Words

Marjorie Garber

Fordham University Press

What is a genius? And why does our culture have such an obsession with the word and with the idea? Genius is fundamentally an eighteenth-century concept, though it has had a good long run through the centuries since. Joseph Addison's essay “On Genius,” published in The Spectator in 1711, laid out the terrain of genius as we use the term today, to denote exceptional talent or someone who possesses it. The Romantics found genius not only in the supposedly wild and uncultivated William Shakespeare, but also in the poets and personalities of their own period—in the extravagant Lord Byron and the intense and charismatic Percy Bysshe Shelley. The eccentric genius is especially familiar to readers of detective fiction. Eccentricity has become a strong identifying mark of genius that the very notion of a non-eccentric genius seems like a contradiction in terms. With the invention of the intelligence quotient, or IQ, came the idea that genius could be quantified.

Keywords:   genius, Joseph Addison, William Shakespeare, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, detective fiction, eccentricity, intelligence quotient, Romantics

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