I was speaking with a colleague today. She was speaking of what is required in the definition of genius these days. She told me that in contemporary psychology the term genius is not used. Genius assumes too much fate, and fate is not a scientific term. Apparently, genius is now called gifted. When I asked from whom or from what is the so-called gifted gifted—where does the gift come from?—my good friend and colleague could not answer.  Unfortunately, from the perspective of modern psychology, genius or giftedness depends on a Nietzschean amor fati.

This is problematic to me.

When I was a young man the demands of what was considered manly was pretty narrow. It had to do with what you could not tolerate. For instance, I would play music like White Light/White Heat—or even Better Sister Ray—for the sheer satisfaction of making others uncomfortable. I could tolerate it. I enjoyed the noise, especially when others could not tolerate it. The Velvet Underground or the Stooges supposedly made me manly in that I could listen to noise that others could not tolerate.

But now I wonder, who hell am I? I wonder of my own presumption. My pleasure in noise has made me doubt myself when I nowadays speak of manliness in terms of something as silly as what kind of music I had listened to in the past. Who would have thought it depended on the most shocking noise or at least what was most or tolerated as noise?

When listening to noise, in its attempt to out noise another—you may listen to Robert Fripp and Brian Eno or you listen to listen to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music—I think I am being diffident for its own sake.  It is noise but this is a problem. Like others I do not take well to rules some of the time. So I find release in atonal noise “music.” Such music is a dare regarding those others who make more noise, but is also a dare regarding who is the more nihilist. As bad as it is, this seems to be a nearly Stalinist theory of music. Back in the’80s, if you didn’t listen to the ”right music,” you were considered to be someone who had not heard of the latest attempt at making the new atonal, para-rhythmic noise.

So this is gonna be a trail of so called ‘80s music. In terms of pop culture, the ‘80s were all about the surface identity. You have to realize that the eighties was a time that made the surface the point of all things. The ‘80s decided to throw it all out there. Its modus vivendi was “look at me.” Regardless of its intention, the ‘80s was all about modes of making look at me in my idiosyncrasy. This was time I grew up in.

The ‘80s, in terms of popular culture was about identity. One must be defined as being—doing was secondary.  Esse over praxis, but in the ‘80s it was very Marxist  in that esse was a construct of praxis.

As self -indulgent as all this seems to be, this is something worthwhile exploring. I agree that navel gazing is asinine, one must attempt to think these things for oneself.  But at the end of the day, one can’t avoid doing. The ‘80s was all about identity as being. The ‘80s were overly ideological in that way. Nonetheless, the real question should be how one actually lives one’s life.

It is a question of love. Love is confusion. In its diffuse attachment, it shows itself as headless passion. However, it also recognizes what could promise toward a fulfillment in terms on of one’s own. One’s own—family, group, nation—must be the origin of any worthwhile thinking.

I am speaking abstractly in all this, but what I mean is to speak of a desire that has real fulfillment. I think of the American writer John Lancaster Spalding, who said, “always happy never satisfied.”

This is a problem for anyone who wishes to speak to today’s problems.

Let’s try to take an analysis of the problems of human happiness and its impossibility—such as Peter Lawler thinks it.  His most recent boom on modern and American dignity is quite brilliant.

So the dignity of genius is not simply a matter of circumstance. Treating the issue by putting lithium in water supply won’t work. While we can’t live with such excellence, we surely can’t live without either.

Articles by John Presnall

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