Evolving a Theory of Genius

Another post on the topic of genius.

And a propos of my last post, who should they be discussing on the radio this morning but  the mathematician Gauss:


He was a child prodigy who had taught himself to read and write by age three and whose gift for mathematics was reportedly discovered by a teacher, who on trying to keep a class busy by asking them to add up all the numbers between one and a hundred (one plus two plus three etc) was astonished by Gauss immediately producing the answer: he had figured out a short-cut and reasoned rather than calculating.  He then got a scholarship courtesy of a local duke.  So far, so encouraging, but as an adult he seems to have become every bit as obsessive and sociopathic as other geniuses and reportedly,  when told that his wife was dying, asked ‘Can’t she wait?’  This idea that genius demands total concentration; one hundred per cent dedication to the exclusion of all else, is deep in our psyche – and I want to question it.  I simply don’t accept that being a genius equals being an arse.  I am performing my own Gaussian calculations here:

genius ≠ arsedom is my first conclusion.

The programme went on to discuss the old infinite monkey argument.  Gauss, when asked if his ability was innate or the result of hard work, replied that it was the latter plus concentration.  Now, I am entirely on board with the idea that hard work is necessary to genius: the latest version of this being the ‘thousand hours’ theory; the idea that practising anything for ten thousand hours will make you an expert.


Well maybe, but have you ever tried to practise something when your heart wasn’t in it?  Did you take piano lessons as a child and hate them?  Surely if Gauss’s life proves anything it’s that the ability was there right from the start, way before he started to work on it.

So I think it all comes down to the inspiration-versus-perspiration question.  It has been suggested that genius is 9% perspiration to 1% inspiration: I’d put it around 75/25 but the principle holds true.  It is entirely possible that were I to practise music for 35 hours a week I would be thoroughly proficient within a year.  I would also be climbing up the wall because, much as I love my guitar, I just don’t wanna.  It is not in me to do this.  Whereas writing for 35 hours a week, busting my gut trying to produce something worthwhile and not getting paid for it – is.

So, to summarise my calculations:

genius ≠ being an arse

10,000 hours ≠ genius

genius = 25% inspiration + 75% perspiration

So there you have it.  Now go forth and multiply.

(In a good way.)

And here’s the programme:


Kirk out

His Light Materials?

I have now finished my re-reading of Philip Pullman’s trilogy of novels entitled ‘His Dark Materials’, and on discovering these I am struck by two things.  The first is the utter power of the imagination; the sheer strength of the envisaging and creation of the various worlds or dimensions through which the protagonists Lyra and Will travel.  He is bold and daring from the start, in that the first novel takes place in another world; and nothing is explained or given to the reader.  You have to work it all out yourself, from the off-beat nature of the Oxford Lyra inhabits * to the frequent references to something called ‘anbaric’ current (only in the second novel do we find out that this world developed power from amber rather than electrum: hence ‘anbaric’ rather than ‘electric’.)  I could go on and on about this and I’m sure others have, but the main thing to say is that the power of Pullman’s imagination and the force of his writing knocks you out like a huge wave.  In the acknowledgements he credits the work of William Blake, and many of the images here are pure Blake, especially the angel Metatron (I can’t find the quote at the moment, but the intensity of his blazing eyes exactly recalls a painting by Blake, which I also can’t find.  I wish I had all day to research these posts, but there you are.)
He is also able to recreate our world with equal authenticity, though the books don’t spend much time here.
Where I think the books fall down is in the rhetoric.  The point is to tell an atheist version of the Adam and Eve myth where the church is the villain (he recreates the excesses of the Inquisition nicely) the angel Metatron is in charge and god – known as the Authority – is old and feeble and ready to die.  Being an atheist myth, it posits the physical world as the only reality and in that sense it is the anti-Narnia, since C S Lewis’s idea (taken from Plato) was that this world is only a faint ‘copy’ or mirror of something more real which we may attain after death.  In ‘His Dark Materials’ there is nothing after death and the dead long passionately to return to the physical world.  But since they are dead, the only way they can return is through a window which Will and Lyra open and which allows them to dissolve into their constituent atoms.
I think the novels fail here – and not just because I’m not an atheist: I think this is where his imagination fails him because he is determined to make this an atheist myth and there is no way to imagine life after death if you’re an atheist.
But don’t take my word for it: read it yourself:
Unless, of course, you already have – in which case read them again.  And take a look at the work of William Blake.  The man was a genius and as I never cease to say, deserves to be celebrated FAR MORE THAN TURNER!!!!!
….deep calming breaths, deep calming breaths….
Kirk out
*this type of fiction, where you posit a world that has split off from ours, is called ‘slipstream’ – as I have recently found out.

Snow and Proust

I don’t think there’s much doubt that CP Snow really wanted people to compare him to Proust.  He drops Proust’s name into the narrative now and again as if to remind us and somewhere I read that a woman had told him he was the best writer since Proust.  The first time I came across Snow, Marcel Proust was just a name to me: like everyone else I’d heard about the madeleines and the memories.  But now that I have read him, the comparison seems somewhat absurd.  Not completely absurd: after all, Snow has the cast of characters, the introspection, the reflection on society, the minute observation of petty snobbery, that characterises a lot of Proust’s work.  But Proust is an utter genius: whereas, although Snow was an excellent writer in his time, his time has gone.  He saw deep into his time, but he didn’t see beyond it; whereas Proust, who wrote on Time; time lost, time lived, time regained – was, i ronically, able to see beyond the society in which he lived.

Nice try, CP – but no doughnut.

I mean, madeleine.

Kirk out

…all in the best pah-ssible taste!

Yes, and as a pair of outrageously uncrossed and re-crossed legs passes through all our minds simultaneously…


…let us take a trip back in time.  You’ll need to wrap up, though, against the icy blasts that blew through the world yesterday as memories of the Cold War were revived and then – let us fervently hope – laid to rest with the body of You Know Who.  I avoided the event and had a much warmer time: instead of reliving all that frigid stuff, I went along to hear Bruce Kent speak at the local Methodist church on the subject of peace.  I wore red as suggested on facebook as a rather warmer protest against the money spent on the funeral – a state funeral in all but name – and it was good to have something positive to do rather than spending the day avoiding the coverage.

Other warmer blasts across the country have this week included programmes about Joan Bakewell.  The woman is 80! – 80!  That’s eighty!  Eight-zero!  I can hardly believe it – she’s astonishingly together and lucid; she looks 60 (yes, I know she dyes her hair but still – look at those facial muscles!) and her voice, when she speaks, sounds like a 30-year-old’s.  Her conversation is as bright and cogent as it ever was: she’s a woman who’s always interesting, and who offers a rare example of charm and gravitas working in unison.  So catch up with these before they disappear:



Meanwhile over on radio, R4’s programme ‘Great Lives’ examined the life of Kenny Everett.  Here was a genius; a complete one-off, a great example of irreverence without nastiness, and with so many gags – I guess you’d have to call them ‘gags’ though they were more like riffs really – that you’d only just got one when three more had gone by.  I used to listen to him on London’s Capital radio after he’d been sacked by the Beeb, something which happened in those days with monotonous regularity.  Ironic, then, that he should be remembered on the sober and stately BBC Radio 4 by friend and colleague Chris Tarrant.  The programme inevitably had to deal with Everett’s worst moment, the ‘Let’s bomb Russia’ fiasco, which Tarrant reckoned was due to his political naivete rather than any right-wing nastiness or latent cold-war enthusiasm.


There was scarcely less controversy after that about him ‘coming out’ as a Tory than there was about him coming out as a gay man – and perhaps more, since his anarchic style meant that a lot of his fans were on the left.  Many of them never forgave him.

The Beeb also made a brilliant programme about him a few years back.  Kenny was totally brilliant and did things with audio-tape which no-one had ever done before, or – probably – since.  Sadly the programme doesn’t seem to be available now but here’s a page about it:


* Sigh *
Let’s not bomb Russia…
Kirk out
PS  Oh, and May 27th is the anniversary of the start of this blog so I shall probably do something to celebrate.  Any ideas?

There is hope for the Magnum Hopeless…

So today I went up to our hut in the woods. Like Proust I have been putting off from day to day the writing of my novel. It all seems so unwieldy and hopeless, I don’t really know why. So anyway, having communicated with the spirit of my genius (this is not a thing of the ego, so it isn’t boasting to say I am a genius, or I have genius within me) I made a start. here is that start. It doesn’t have a title as yet.

Not sure if I put this poem on but it’s always worth repeating:


my magnum hopeless lost between

the armchair and the seat

I watch the sitcom of my life

Alas! It’s a repeat.


Chapter 1/2 or, Prologue

Let me begin now, for now is the only place to begin. Now is the moment of conception, when the egg pierces the womb, when the womb penetrates the sperm, when the sperm leaves the sky and comes down from the sky-gods to vanish upon the earth. Look! The rain has all dried up, our tears are wiped away – and here we are.

Let us begin here, for here is where we are. Here we stand in the playground. The bell has just rung; the sound-waves ripple in the air, we are frozen in our attitudes. In a moment we must go in to our lesson. But not yet. Not quite yet. For a moment let our wilder heads spin, let us dream of worlds in the sky fallen down to live in the puddles on earth. For a moment, let us breathe, hold, and wait. For a moment let us be.

Let it begin with me, for only I am here, though others may be reflected in my fariground mirrors. In my Hall of Ego sits a self-portrait with family; snaps with friends. They grow darker towards the past. Disregard all the images of me alone – I know there are too many.

– Alas! You’re quite right – here is another one. I can’t help it. I only hope it may be more accurate than the others.

Yes. Let’s have tea. Let’s go. Did you notice the coats though? The coats at least were accurate. The coats were all mine.

Is your tea strong enough? Not too strong? Good. So we can be quite comfortable. Move the cushions if you don’t like them. So. Where was I? Yes.

To begin at the beginning is the most tedious thing imaginable, don’t you think?

OK that’s it for now – I’ll continue in the next post. Now we’re going out for dinner.

Pip pip!

On Attachment…

This is called Samskara in yoga.

How was my weekend?  I hear you cry.  Well.. a bit mixed.  After thiis whole psychotic trip I had some bad times, some very dark and paunful moments when this whole thing seemed like a repetition of what I went through after Dave: ie being in a very dark place and failing to teach.  So there were moments when the whole weeken (a residential with my students) seemed to be falling apart.  Some of them got annoyed with me because I forgot things they had told me.  I had forgotten anything told to me in the previous three months.  The only thing I could do about this was explain slightly and apologise.

It was clear to me that a lot of complex dynamics were going on with my students and that training teachers is a whole different ball-game from teaching ordinary students, in the way they relate to you.  I’m sure I flt the same degree of difficulty when starting to teach, but it’s so lng ago now, and I have developed such a degree of expertise (not only in teaching but in dealing with people) that I can’t remember how it was.  Anyway, my thought on all this was that I now need a guru for myself in order to do this.  So I asked the universe to bring me one.

Watch this space!

Odd, really.  I never wanted a guru – never thought I could trust anyone enough to give them that kind of power.  But then, I never thought I could trust anyone enough to get married and share my life with them.  And I think that where I am now is analogous to where I was before Mark and I got married – ie just before a big life-change.

My difficulty is this:  how to be a genius but also come back down to earth so that I don’t screw up as a teacher.  Because I need the teaching as well as the writing.  I am Gemini, a twin sign, and I have these two aspects to my being.  Also I think women approach things differently.  This makes things harder but is ultimately a strength. because we don’t put all our eggs (!) in one basket.  These thoughts are connected also to male orgasm and the “pushing through” (or penetrative!) aspect of male energy.  Women are slower, more diffuse, but we get there, and in the end, it is the female energy (not always the individula woman) who is wiser.  As the Tao says:

“Know the masculine, but keep to the feminine”.  Because it is the female energy that is in touch with where we live.  And that is what we need – to come back down to earth.