Genius is in the mind, not the milieu

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 

Paris, 4 February 2012

As we have frequently pointed out, this is essentially a political blog. However, we have also said that literature and art posts may be added later as well as a section dealing with scenes from real life. Here is a key passage from the western literary canon:

“…ceux qui produisent des oeuvres géniales ne sont pas ceux qui vivent dans le milieu le plus délicat, qui ont la conversation la plus brilliante, la culture la plus étendue, mais ceux qui ont eu le pouvoir, cessant brusquement de vivre pour eux-mêmes, de rendre leur personnalité pareille à un miroir, de telle sorte que leur vie si mediocre d’ailleurs qu’elle pouvait être mondainement et même, dans un certain sens intellectuellement parlant, s’y reflète, le génie consistant dans le pouvoir réfléchissant et non dans la qualité intrinsèque du spectacle reflété.”

Marcel Proust. À la Recherche du Temps Perdu. À l’Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleurs. Première partie: Autour de Mme Swann. Éditions Gallimard (1999), p. 441.

English version by C. K. Scott-Moncrieff:

“…the men who produce works of genius are not those who live in the most delicate atmosphere, whose conversation is the most brilliant or their culture the broadest, but those who have had the power, ceasing in a moment to live only for themselves, to make use of their personality as of a mirror, in such a way that their life, however unimportant it may be socially, and even, in a sense, intellectually speaking, is reflected by it, genius consisting in the reflective power of the writer and not in the intrinsic quality of the scene reflected.”

Antigone1984 comments:

That may well be, but it’s a bit rich, all the same, coming from Marcel Proust who spent his entire adult life in the beau monde, flitting like a bee sucking nectar from intellectual salon to salon mondain, from soirée musicale to soirée littéraire, one moment at the Opéra, the next in the private dining-room of a plush restaurant in the Bois de Boulogne, his whole social existence played out amid the gilded snobberies of le Tout-Paris, mingling exclusively as he did (except for the necessary intercourse with servants)  with the top drawer of French society – the French upper crust around the Boulevard Haussmann and the fashionable denizens of the Faubourgs Saint-Germain and Saint-Honoré – and not neglecting either those ancient aristocratic families who lived secluded behind the closed emblazoned gateways of their hôtels particuliers in the select environs of the Jardin du Luxembourg.

Note on the English translation: We believe that Scott Moncrieff was wrong to begin his version of the above passage with the words “…the men who produce works of genius…” According to us, the original French text simply means “…those who produce works of genius…” Moreover, the context makes it abundantly clear that Proust was referring to creative women as well as men.

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