28 September 2004, 9:22 AM
Your Humble Blogger has a deep ambivalence towards the whole MacArthur “genius” fellowships, but once again, I’m impressed by this year’s crop. And the important thing is that only a few of them are younger than me.
Than I am.
Anyway, good grammar or bad grammar won’t make me the first blogger genius.
I know the John T. and Catherine D. MacArthur Foundation does not, itself, call them the genius awards. I do think they are complicit in the whole genius culture end of these awards, though. I really am troubled by the whole sense of that in these awards, the sense of individual genius that the awards foster. Take, for instance, my own favorite of this years genii, Tommie Lindsay (also here and here. And here). I am thrilled that he’s getting the money. He deserves it, and I suspect he will put it to better use than many of the other genii. On the other hand, Mr. Lindsay is not, by himself, the only one who deserves recognition for what he’s doing. Achievements are cooperative; it doesn’t diminish Mr. Lindsay to say so. But the name is his. He’s the genius, in today’s New York Times and on Oprah and the Tavis Smiley show.
It’s not that he’s not a genius, you understand, whatever genius means and is. It’s that identifying him as such, singling him out, strikes me as a little awkward, particularly in an educational setting. And the problem isn’t with picking him, or with picking anyone else for that matter, but with a cultural emphasis on individualism, on genius, that I think is bad for us all. If the water we’re all swimming in wasn’t saturated with geniusism, auteurism, celebretyism, RBIism, Trumpism, and all manner of pretense that individual achievements are individual achievements, then I’d be thrilled that someone was pointing out that certain individuals do, indeed, excel. So perhaps it’s not fair to knock the MacArthur Foundation, when all they are really doing is handing out money to people who deserve it, and who, I’m sure, are heartily sick of the genius business themselves.
So never mind. Well done, fellows (and, um, femmows?)