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Into the Open: Reflections on Genius and Modernity

Benjamin Taylor
Copyright Date: 1995
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 160
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  • Book Info
    Into the Open
    Book Description:

    Into the Open is a philosophical and literary inquiry into the deeper meanings of genius. What precisely do we mean when we describe someone this way? What legacy do we invoke when we apply this term? To address this question, Benjamin Taylor here explores how three great minds - Walter Pater, Paul Valry, and Sigmund Freud - viewed a figure widely considered the first great modern genius, Leonardo da Vinci. For each of these great thinkers, Da Vinci is of central importance because for each the received idea of genius has ceased to be a romantic certitude or sacred truth and has become a problem.Invoking Nietzsche's drastic critique of genius, Taylor assesses the less programmatic and more anxious cases of Pater, Valry, and Freud. Whereas Nietzsche sought for and found an escape from romantic humanism, Pater, Valry, and Freud cannot relinquish the idea of genius and serve as troubled witnesses to the dilemma posed by the notion of genius. A myth of genius has been our way of making good the losses romantic modernity entails, Taylor writes, A myth of genius has existed to affirm that, among human lives, some have sacramental shape; that, among human lives, some put into abeyance the equation between life and loss. Such is the post-theological, post-metaphysical role into which we have compelled our geniuses. They make for us one last claim on the sublime. A shift away from the special pleading that has lately plagued literary studies, Taylor's unfazed humanism reasserts the timeless standards of substantiveness, clarity, and grace.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8332-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction: We Romantics
    (pp. 1-17)

    Start withAnimal Crackers, the scene where Chico and Harpo accost a Mr. Roscoe W. Chandler—hair brilliantined and mustache twitching, fair game for the Marxist excoriation.

    “I’m-a know you from-a somewhere,” Chico says.

    “My good man,” replies Chandler, “there must be a mistake.”

    “I’m. a-know you, I’m-a know you, just-a let me see. Now I’m-a remember. You are Aby the feesh peddler from Czechoslowakia.”

    “Preposterous! Fantastic! An outrage!” Chandler cries.

    “Aby, and here’s the proof: you got on-a your arm a beeg boythmark.”

    With help from Harpo, Chico throws the man of doubtful identity to the ground and rips...

  5. Chapter 1 Walter Pater’s Eucharist
    (pp. 18-43)

    What would be fun, declared the undergraduate Pater, would be to get oneself ordained and not believe a word of it. And he would have acted on the impulse had not a devout classmate, alert to Pater’s mischief, forestalled him with letters to the Bishop of London.

    Callow as it is, the episode furnishes us with a clue. Having put aside the Christian pieties of a boyhood spent in the cathedral school at Canterbury, Pater kept an admiration for the High Church liturgy. What the pious youth had sought in Canterbury Cathedral, the mature agnostic would seek again in Brasenose...

  6. Chapter 2 Paul Valéry, or the Unmixed Cup
    (pp. 44-68)

    Narcissus bends to what is not.Penche-toi….Baise-toi.Tremble de tout ton être.¹ Kneeling before his reflection in a pool, he dreams of the ultimate exclusion. Scorning nymphs to lust after a semblance of himself, Narcissus would abolish the claims of otherness. “My thirst,” he declares, “is for the unmixed cup”²—selfhood, that is, without the admixture of a world. “I am my own drink.”³ Beauty beholding only itself, thought thinking itself alone:

    … moi, Narcisse aimé, je ne suis curieux

    Que de ma seule essence;

    Tout autre n’a pour moi qu’un coeur mystérieux.

    Tout autre n’est qu’absence.⁴

    But when...

  7. Chapter 3 In Faust’s Den: The Lament of Freud
    (pp. 69-92)

    Storm troopers paid a courtesy call to Berggasse 19 in mid-March of 1938, and a week later came the Gestapo. Not a surprise to the old Galitsianer who lived there. In a letter to Arnold Zweig four years earlier, Freud had likened his life in Vienna to “waiting in a hotel room for the second shoe to be flung against the wall.” On March 11, 1938, Hitler entered Austria. The second shoe had been flung.

    Freud read the Anschluss, as he’d read previous outbreaks of history, by the light of his science. “You see the fact of Man as it...

  8. Conclusion: Bulwarks and Shadows
    (pp. 93-106)

    In 1769 pilgrims first made their way to Stratford-upon-Avon to traipse through a half-timbered house in Henley Street where England’s greatest author may have been born, David Garrick having in that year endowed the place as a shrine.

    Travel the hundred fifty kilometers northwest of London sometime; experience for yourself the lurking phoniness of Henley Street. Henry James did, and readers of his will recall a ghostly tale for which Stratford furnished thedonnée. The protagonist of James’s “The Birthplace,” a Mr. Morris Gedge newly arrived with his wife to assume their duties as live-in caretakers, finds himself hunted, searched...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 107-124)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 125-142)
  11. Index
    (pp. 143-146)
  12. About the Author
    (pp. 147-148)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 149-149)