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Trickiness of Genius

January 7, 2014 Leave a comment

Genius is suspicious. Federal prosecutors, in mounting their accusations against JP Morgan Chase, suggested they should have “known better” because much of Madoff’s magic was beyond the normal ways and means. Magic tricks and extraordinary skills are just two pieces of that odd wonder we call genius. In those in whom we deem it, it is an ethereal feature where one’s abilities are so far stretched beyond our sense of reality that we aim to give it room.

A common response to genius is to let it be. Dangerous are the actions that stifle genius or otherwise limit its potential. In her biography, A Beautiful Mind, Sylvia Nasar highlights a similar reaction. The story details the response of John Nash’s family in light of his battles with schizophrenia. Fearful of hindering his mind and denying the world of the great discoveries it was likely to find, they were skeptical of treatment and preferred instead to allow the troubled genius to remain in struggle.

Genius is a tricky thing. Often seen as a powerful force beyond human understanding, many are fearful of hindering its full blossom. One wonders whether JP Morgan Chase saw in Madoff the fetid fumes of genius. Might their failure to act be less about willing negligence and more a factor of some awe for potential genius? Maybe it was less about their easy profits and the sketchy details, maybe they were less interested in seeing how the sausage was produced. In the end they, and all who proffer genius status on the undeserving, suffer for their foolishness: Madoff, not a genius, was merely sneaky crook.

Genius is a tricky thing. Mysterious in nature, we are quick to gift it to another and when rightfully assigned the benefits are endless. Shakespeare writes Macbeth and Rembrandt paints The Night Watch. Miss the mark and something other happens: genius imitated is disaster waiting to happen.

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Towards A Larger Something

July 27, 2013 Leave a comment

Do all humans need something larger to believe in? Where religion falls victim to doubt and atheism takes hold the individual simply replaces one faith with another. It is often suggested that where the religious take confidence in figures like Christ, Moses and Mohammed the atheist community forms similar connects to Darwin, Marx and Shakespeare. In each “great man” the follower invests hope and the search for purpose. If every human needs guidance in “how to live” where might one find a greater sense of purpose beyond these larger figures? Is it possible to live beyond this need for something more? Is a greater power the only real source of sense in a life of seeming futility?

Some might question the importance of these important figures. Surely Shakespeare can be respected, but to serve as a God-like smacks of exaggeration. How might Darwin play a religious like role for the non-religious? When one’s ideas become foundational to existence than these powerful roles take hold. As Jesus framed a model for existence, Darwin has come to represent a way of thinking and seeing the world. The movement from basic theories to broad, life-guiding theories transcends the individual to a religious figure. The prophet is one who provides profound insight in a world of endless confusion.

What of the events that celebrate common bonds and aim to establish greater sense of community? Is the church service replaced by conventions or concerts? Does not one find common bonds with fellow human beings at the rock concert? The similarities are striking if one considers forms of dress, directions of focus and use of music. One might find it difficult to delineate where the differences stand and where the music concert inspired the church service and vice versa. Both have common goals and common means to a success. Certainly both events serve the purpose of bringing seemingly diverse people together for a common goal. No matter the ends of these events, the means to group cohesion are very similar. All humans seem determined to find a greater sense of purpose and seek it out in varied forms and places.

Kicking Cans: Extending Material Through Time

July 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Though inked over five-hundred years ago, the work of William Shakespeare continues to entertain audiences and draw income for those who perform the “ancient texts.” Shakespeare’s work is a masterful body of work but is this the only reason we continue to perform and observe performances of Shakespeare? Why do certain authors and works continue to hold cultural sway from generation to generation?

As all cultures do, our world is undergoing a major shift in human interaction. In our current evolution we are coming to terms with powerful tools that revolutionize the way we interact with each other. Part of this evolution is the transfer of our culture into these new forms. We find the printed work being replaced with digital formats and the complicated adjustments that come from this process. No longer will we utilize a large store to gain access to the written word; instead, great novels will come in the form of digital downloads.

In such states of transition the process of human recommendation takes on a greater power. Just as one human recommending a work to another extends the work from one to two, a culture recommends work that determines our culture’s canon of great work. Shakespeare gained access to the canon simply by the number of human beings who, after experiencing Shakespeare, sought to convince others of the work’s value. Gradually these recommendations expanded and Shakespeare’s power was born. A similar process occurs across all mediums.

How will the new medium of technology alter the way we develop our canon? The technological formats we now utilize are different from the printed form. Likewise, the readers who utilize these tools are different and can utilize the technological devices to advance their interaction with the text. A reader now is not limited to the printed copy of a form. In-device technologies can assist a reader’s understanding, provide access for social interaction with other readers and even create a situation where the reader can access updated or corrected form of a text.

I often wonder if certain forms of art will fail to transfer to the new formats. Is there a reason to worry that poetry will not have a dynamic existence in the digital revolution? Do weakened forms of art eventually die out to be replaced by new, stronger forms? Poetry is not dead of course, but the ancient form of art has a far weaker audience than in previous generations. There are multiple reasons for this and technology is only a minor part but as we move into a world where a new class of readers take control will we discard this ancient art? At what point does a form of art become too complicated or simply ill-suited to a new form.

All art depends on human recommendation to exist. From the single work to the entire form of art, it is the individual’s suggestion of a title that forms the life blood of an art. As technology continues to expand and alter the ways readers interact with text we may find that some forms of art are ill-suited for these new forms. These transitions may have profound effects on our culture but we have little control over what occurs. Fearing the disappearance of a certain work or even type of art is a frivolous activity. After all, all art is a reflection of the culture from which it stems and the death of an art form reveals that the culture does not need it and the art has in some way failed to establish itself as a tool for the generation.

All art must function as a tool for a generation. Tools vary just as generations and with each new dawning the process of tool acceptance or rejection creates a system where some tools remain and some disappear. We may find that just as our retail, social and political worlds are altered the world of art will be dramatically different as our culture evolves. Such is the nature of social evolution, though one must feel anxious that with such alterations come great loss.

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