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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Recommended: Marilynne Robinson interview

Art in the interview
by Denise Nestor--go see and read!
I have finished work on two poetry contests and am moving on to make a change in a novel that I thought was finished long ago (changed my mind!); pressure from many deadlines having slackened a little, early this morning I rambled about the net for half an hour. And in my wanderings, I found something to recommend.
I suggest that you leap over to Vice and read the interview between Marilynne Robinson and one of her Iowa students, Thessaly LaForce (with a name like that, I'm surprised Thessaly didn't feel compelled to become a poet.) 
Here's a snip to entice:
...Something that I sometimes say, and even sometimes believe, is that there has been a loss of the cult of genius. When I was younger, I remember going around totally deluded by the idea that other people might, in fact, be geniuses or at least be able to express this in any intelligible fashion. The idea that you might do something radically brilliant—that assumption is very empowering and it has given the world a lot of really interesting things to look at. It’s a side effect of the cult of normality—the idea that it would be preposterous and perhaps undesirable to single yourself out in that way. I think that’s why a lot of stuff that basically amounts to breaking china is seen as being creative when, in fact, it’s as subservient to prevailing norms as anything else is, as obedience to them would be.
There is that whole Malcolm Gladwell thing—if you spend 10,000 hours on something, you’ll be good at it. Or good enough. 
The “good-enough” standard is not very desirable.


  1. Hard to live with yourself if you think you are a genius--and impossible for anybody else to live with you. But "good enough" is not a standard--she's right.

  2. Well, she was a wife and is a mother and grandmother, so I expect her illusions were rubbed away fairly quickly. She seems a modest person.

    I prefer a young woman with those illusions over one with "good enough" illusions. Or no illusions.

    And yes, the whole business of put in X hours and you automatically have mastery and Mozart is a bucket of wishful thinking. Though no doubt X hours will improve one's performance a great deal...

  3. I've never read the 10,000 hours thing as a guarantee--more as a baseline. Along the lines that if you want to do something (play cello, write stories, repair heart valves), don't even kid yourself that you'll be any good at it until you've put in at least 10,000 hours.

    I view it as a reminder (reassuring or depressing, depending upon one's personality) that talent + wanting doesn't = success. Want to whine about how you're not doing well (enough)? Put in your 10,000 hours of practice, and then we'll see.

  4. Definitely drive is absolutely essential. And putting the time in. Agree!

    I'm wondering if part of the problem with talking about genius is the way the definition has shifted so radically over time. What if we went back to the beginning?

    Wikipedia / Etymology[edit source | editbeta]

    Main article: Genius (mythology)
    In ancient Rome, the genius (plural in Latin genii) was the guiding spirit or tutelary deity of a person, family (gens), or place (genius loci).[2] The noun is related to the Latin verb gigno, genui, genitus, "to bring into being, create, produce." Because the achievements of exceptional individuals seemed to indicate the presence of a particularly powerful genius, by the time of Augustus the word began to acquire its secondary meaning of "inspiration, talent."[3]

    I think the old idea of a genius really connects up with that feeling of inspirations flooding in from outside oneself... It connects with ideas of being led, and with the sense that one is sometimes connected with something larger (or becomes larger oneself) when writing.

  5. I have to agree that genius has to do with being inspired by something outside/beyond one's self, transcending the merely single voice of individuality and tapping into something larger.
    And every amazing work of art, it seems to me, does that.
    I suppose it's a matter of someone consistently producing amazing works of art.
    A person has to believe in herself, but not necessarily think herself a genius to keep at this.

  6. Yes, that seems right as well... Another way of looking at the same thing...

    I can't say that I really thing about these things. I tend to have a sort of simple view that we are all in the ocean of art together, and that, yes, some are minnows and some are cuttlefish (put that in for Mary B!) and some are great whales. But we all are and together make up the sea.

  7. I would like to have a tutelary deity. Or even just rent one for special occasions.

  8. Your Tutelary Deity7:34 PM, September 21, 2013

    (no URL) XD


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.