Genius, mortality and underachievement.
Every genius who ever lived was an underachiever. By this I mean, they died with so much more undone, that they could have done, than they ever managed to do. Such is the effect of mortality on genius. It cuts off life, before the fullness of what could have been.
So, when we look back on genius, we are not seeing people as they could have been, we are seeing them, incompletely. Thus, we will always judge them as less than they truly were. Genius is always greater than the record of their completed work supposes.
Imagine, if you will, what Leonardo da Vinci would be doing today, had he lived. If his life was measured in hundreds of years, his creativity would have poured on, in every area, and made a body of work so much greater than he ever had time to do, in his 67 years. Indeed, at the end of his life, it is recorded that Leonardo da Vinci rued how little he had done in his life, of his work. Clearly, he felt that there was much more within him, that he never managed to make manifest. So, our vision of Leonardo, great as it is, accords him to be much less than he truly was and would have become, had he immortality and could still be alive and working today.
Properly speaking, therefore, the body of work of a genius, is just a hint of what they could do, given the possibility of less limited time. Thus, if we are to properly judge a genius, we must imagine what could have been, from the hints of what was. Doing this for some more fecund or profound geniuses, leads us to conclude that they would have been very much greater indeed, had they simply more time in which to become and create.
I hope to see a day, in which genius has more time to live and create. Such a time, would be a great one indeed, for it would afford the possibility of true realization of the talents of the world’s geniuses. Until then, we must satisfy ourselves with the scraps they have the opportunity to create in their short, mortal lives. Until then, we must also learn not to measure a genius by what they did, but by what they could have done, too, had they more time in which to live. Geniuses die with so much more within them, unmade, and unsaid, than they ever had time to create. Let us credit them, with the greatness their potential uncreated works imply, and learn to see them as clues to what would have been, had they not been, like all humans, merely mortal.
Posted by Valentine Cawley
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