What is Genius?

The following is extracted from a journal kept while undergoing psychotherapy as a result of an auto accident in which I sustained spinal injuries and the result of denial of medical benefits by my own insurance company.

  Since I'm up and musing, tonight a  minor  discourse  on  genius.
  I'm  just talking to myself, so I might as well write it.  A lady
  named Joyce (sounds  like  the  beginning  of  a  Limmerick)  was
  actually  slightly  annoyed  and  incredulous  when  she  finally
  figured out that I found myself interesting, most  especially  of
  my own observation.  Fuck you very much Joyce.

       A quick check (there is about half a  page  devoted  to  the
  word,  in  little  bitty print - which I can actually pretty much
  read) of the OED shows that contrary to my untutored opinion, the
  word  actually  comes  directly  from  Latin 'genius' through the
  Greek gamma-iota-gamma-nu-alpha-sigma-omicron-alpha-iota verb  to
  be born.
          I  had  always  thought  that it originated in the Arabic
  'djinn' or so phoneticised.  I'm NOT going  to  write  an  Arabic
  font  for  this  dinky printer.  Who does it think it is any way.
  It seems that the Arabic got into the act with the translation of
  the  Arabian  Nights  where the word 'genius' got adopted for the
  translation of the Arabic word because it sounded  somewhat  like
  djinn  and  meant  something  similar  in  Latin.  Hence the word
  'genie' for the being of those tales.  The real meaning in  Latin
  had a definite spiritual meaning, a tutelary spirit attached to a
  man or a place or institution.  Hence, the  syntactico-semantical
  expressions  in  English.   OED  traces  usage back to 1400.  Our
  meaning seems to have come from  the  Latin  through  French  and
  German,  'genie'  in  both languages where the concepts of flair,
  spirit and creativity are attached to the word.  Now, in USA,  it
  apparently  means  to most people some rarefied slot belonging to
  the Idiot Quotient tests, of the B'nai Brith or something.   What
  a  dreary  lot  the human race is becoming.  To think, people are
  actually judged by these idiotic numbers.  The purpose of  genius
  is  now  to  score high on IQ tests!  So much for tutelary spirit
  and creativity.  Who needs creativity  when  we  have  IQ  tests?
  Something  has  gone haywire with science, but that's for another
  night if I remember - a very long  night.   Taking  as  axiomatic
  that  IQ  tests measure very well the ability to score well on IQ
  tests, and that that's  about  all  they  measure,  the  question
  remains,  what  is  genius?  It's clearly something so scary that
  the modern statist mentality can't even deal with the word.   The
  word  itself  has  to be transmuted into some pabulum that can be
  swallowed so quickly the taste can be  ignored.   Score  one:  we
  have  one  nonpabulumatic  adjective  'scary'.  From the original
  Latin, owing to the Greek, it involves a  genuine  creative  male
  spirit.   Why  only  male, I wonder?  It was surface obvious that
  women are the ones that give birth, not men.  A little  jealousy,
  or  a  kind  of complementation.  The female generative spirit is
  always recognized to be somehow  "of  the  earth".   Attached  to
  plant  life  and agriculture.  It is always "mother earth", Gaia,
  Erda, Isis, Ishtar, ...,  all  feminine.   The  difference?   The
  physical  creators  are  female, the spiritual creators are male.
  More?  Not now.  So then, genius  is  a  'scary  male  generative
  spirit'.   Not bad so far.  Why is a male generative spirit scary
  while a female generative spirit is not?  You can see the results
  and  action  in female generation; in the male it cannot be seen,
  controlled, harnessed, coerced  or  forbidden.   No  wonder  it's
  scary.   So  if  it's  so  scary,  who  needs  it?   It  would be
  wonderful.  No war, no bombs, no guns, no warships,  no  rockets,
  no  bows  and arrows, no game food, no tools, no architecture, no
  music, no art, no  mathematics,  no  chemistry,  no  science,  no
  writing,  no  books,  no  knowledge.   Well, nobody's perfect.  I
  guess life is really a crapshoot.  So it wouldn't be too good  an
  idea to eliminate it.  Maybe somehow we could make it conform and
  not be so scary.  May be we get to know it through all  sorts  of
  tests  so  we can control it just like our federal daddy controls
  the economy?  Oops.  Well, maybe  not.   Maybe,  and  this  maybe
  looks  not  bad,  maybe  if it weren't hated and resented so much
  there wouldn't be a problem.  Life has no guarantees, but maybe.

       The  wonderful  contradictions  about  genius:  Resented  by
  people  that  don't  have  it, because they don't have it.  Would
  they really like to be on the other side of  the  fence,  knowing
  that  there  are  people like them?  Where genius flowers so does
  everyone, and it is like a delicate flower that  be  crushed  all
  too  easily.   If  nurtured  early  it  can  grow  as  strong and
  immutable as a mountain.  Something that  cannot  be  silenced  -
  Beethoven?   It cannot cataloged, tested, probed.  There was only
  one Mozart, one Gauss, one Einstein,  and  there  will  never  be
  another.   Genius  is  unique,  a delicate accident.  Upon a mere
  sequence  of  minor  accidents  depends  the   existence   of   a
  civilization,  and  I  use the word humorously, distinct from our
  mute,  naked,  unwashed  and  unhoused  ancestors  of  maybe  one
  thousand centuries ago.  Genetically we haven't changed much.  We
  are still identical in 99% of DNA  to  chimpanzees.   A  sobering
  thought when I get a little to cocky.

Top of Page
Home Page
Essay Page

Email me, Bill Hammel at

The URL for this document is:
Created: 1997
Last Updated: May 28, 2000