pico iyer in the times book review, arguing once again that geniuses are above the little moral rules or everyday decency that of course ought to govern others. the revival of this really quite stupid modernist hoohah is disturbing in a minor way, and you'd have to think that underlying it is iyer's justification for being an asshole to his kids tonight or whatever. one thing to notice: all the geniuses who transcend the petty irriatations of treating people decently in iyer's thing are men. also, let me just mention that in some cases the assholery may well be one of the main reasons we're thinking that someone is a genius: iyer obviously expects geniuses to be assholes, and it is but a slight shift to start regarding assholes as geniuses. so in virtue of what was steve jobs a genius? maybe writing all that great code and designing all those sleek devices? no that wasn't his role. his role was to be an asshole. oh, lucian freud was a disgusting human being who made disgusting and mindlessly overrated art. but he was a late-breaking modernist genius-asshole so it almost doesn't mater what the paintings look like as long as he was abusing people all day.
"All of us know — we almost expect — that an artist will use up everyone he meets in the hope that the payoff in the public sphere will make up for casualties in the private." wait, all of us know what? i almost fucking expect, excuse me? oh you know i've known some very good artists, writers, thinkers and stuff: do i figure they should be as vicious as they are good or something? i am dating a very good painter, for example. do i expect - or, like iyer's happy victims - want, to be used up, along with everyone else? christ why would i expect that? art is supposed to require casualties, like barrel bombs cause collateral damage, only why that should be is rather mysterious. but then you'll be able to recognize the geniuses by the scorched corpses in their wake. that makes it easier because, um, sometimes it's hard to tell from the work.
the moral impunity of artists is something we added circa 1860 and deleted circa 1960, but which people still yearn for: the genius as sadist, audience as masochist. it is a devastating reflection on the people who think this way, incompatible with even rudimentary good taste, for example. really, i do believe it has led to extreme critical mistakes, as when you fall in love with the persona of a picasso, a joyce, or a wittgenstein, and feel the glow of the morally exempt superhuman who lies behind it. then the objects take on a sadistic aura and you prostrate yourself before them (think of the women who had to be sacrificed to make hemingway's novels, or get picasso past the blue period! the casualties were worth it, though, because if picasso hadn't made women suffer, there would be no art. really this is the way this line of thought tends). this i believe makes it difficult to see the work clearly and place it plausibly into a normal human context which we might co-inhabit. the work, i have to say, is almost unbelievably disappointing relative to the standard, but even if it wasn't....
the worse you are, the better you write. i would like iyer to reflect on whether that is actually borne out in his experience, and i would suggest that he reflect on why he would want to believe something like that. according to iyer, the question of why great artists are fuckwads was already ancient when yeats asked it. i would like to see some evidence of that. in fact show me a clear example of anything of that sort before 1800 and i will be momentarily chastened.
this genius crap needs to be over, and iyer's piece is as good an argument for shooting geniuses on sight as for celebrating them as transhuman god-monsters. actual human beings produced these items, and no argument gets them out of the demand to treat people kindly, or try to keep their promises, or to not rape people, etc. i think you had better paint a lot lot better than freud to justify being freud, or really it doesn't matter how you paint. and insofar as iyer is saying 'i am exempt from decency because i am working on a novel', he is making an argument for pistol-whipping literary novelists, as if we needed another argument.
maybe other professions should take the philip roth-v.s.naipul approach: being an ethics professor isn't an ethics contest! i just had a good theory, but that required abusing 17 people. oops, sorry sweetie but i was out last night with two call girls and an ounce of blow, again. it is the demand of my work! but you will be happy to be a casualty.