Remember your Genius

Two orthodox Jewish gentlemen who’d flown over from NY were in the Seoul, Incheon lounge at crack of dawn when we arrived. One, finishing an audible, online but to me incomprehensible (Yiddish? Hebrew?) conversation, opened up what looked like a prayer book – brown, well used, worn, with hanging page mark strings – and read quietly for a while. I was inspired to do the same and opened up my Office app on the iPad. It was Lady of Sorrows. I was struck by the readings’ images of water, mud and overwhelm and reflected on the destructive waters experienced by the country I had just left. Leaving the lounge to board for my next flight, I passed a small dining room with a tv screen broadcasting the strident, scolding and triumphant tones of the lady anchor from ‘NoKo’. I didn’t understand that either; nor did I know about the missile until late in the afternoon when I was back home safe and sound.

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The grass on the river banks is knee high and setting out for a walk to lessen the effects of jet lag I feel as if I am walking on clouds; clouds, I find, of cricket song. This is wonderful! The leaves of the sakura are looking desiccated as they do having endured the heat of the summer, and I am surprised that autumn feels quite so close. My own skin, pleasantly sweat-free, registers the change first. My sneezing faculties tickle, too, signaling dry air settling in.

Walking south I catch the boys rowing at sundown and sit on the wall to watch. On the far side of the river a soccer game is going on, shouts and laughter rise into the air. Happy sounds, they make me smile. Near me is the regular shush of oars pulling in and out; an occasional bout of bellows resounds from the diminutive cox on one of the larger skulls. The boys are all berry brown, lost in loose concentration, full of grace.

How could we tire of hope? / -so much is in bud. 

(Denise Levertov, Beginners)

All weekend long we waited for the typhoon that had been roiling around taking its own sweet time dawdling north-east. The suspense grew dreadful. Finally, on Sunday night, after a weekend of odd gusts and a bucket of rain here and there, it was upon us, howling and violent. Waking the following day, it was to a world washed clean.

I have been wrestling with Julia Kristen this week reading an interview published as ‘This Incredible Need to Believe‘. Such a compelling title and connected with so much else I’m trying to wrap my mind around. (For example, Coetzee and Kurtz’s ‘The Good Story’ and Ward’s ‘Why We Believe…’) In particular, I’m trying to get to grips with a section on genius and ‘great men’, thinking about the individual and the collective. In particular, I’m interested in the turning point between when people were in touch with the Angel/Daimon/Genius that made you You (where the human was seen as a ‘co-presence’ with the Divine, a fresh expression, a never-before-or-since kairotic emergence; a deeply original, creative, loved and actively loving Singularity) and when people decided that rather than honoring this god/(aspect of) God, they’d project that power instead onto the so-called ‘Great Man’.

Kristeva refers to Arendt who noted that during the Renaissance it was down to ‘men, who were losing God, to displace transcendence toward the best among them. Frustrated to see themselves assimilated to the fruits of their activities … the subjects of galloping secularization endeavored to confer the traits of “genius” and/or the divinity with each of them upon …’ others. From here, the beginnings of celebrity culture can be traced. (Though to say giving power/devotion to the ‘best among us’ is no longer, or quite so undoubtedly, true. It is, at least, open to interpretation: who counts as a member of the group, and what, and for whom, is ‘best’?) Along with the rise of celebrity culture, comes the atomization of the body social and the gradual erosion of pan-human dignity. There’s something to the biblical first commandment that I begin to appreciate as I live into my years and my questions.

The next part I’m going to try to figure out is how the notion of genius animates a ‘loving desire to surpass oneself’ notably in the Jewish and Christian traditions. For the time being, though, to remember one’s own dear Genius seems a small and necessary awareness to bring to the resistance against, if nothing else, creeping despair. This ‘self-surpassing’ I hope, will say something about how we all belong to a bigger story.

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In other wrestling news, I realized the Autumn sumo tournament was on and tuned in to watch the live broadcast on a day when I’d arrived home early and tired from work. It was great fun to watch again. There’s been a long interval in which I have not paid it much mind at all. A little excitable edge-of-your-seat squirming and jeering and cheering at the screen was an enjoyable release of tension.

So ends a week of Now.Heres. Wishing you well.

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2 thoughts on “Remember your Genius

  1. Kate, reading about your wrestling opens in me the realization that amidst all the world’s turmoil (now edging dangerously closer and closer to us on every side of the world) my response has been little more than resistance and, as I wrote to you earlier this week, an attempt (yes, passively) to stay afloat in the depths of bad news. I think I would have a better chance of success if I spent more time wrestling (yes, actively) with challenging texts that elevate the genius, not to mention add some new words to my vocabulary. Thank you as always for your beautiful writing. Susan

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    • Thank YOU, Susan. 😊
      I’ll tell you that in January it was soooo helpful to be doing on online course that really engaged every spare moment I had, so that I did not find myself mired in well … you know. That experience was enriching and got me out of a routine that benefitted from the shift and kept my mind busy rambling along much finer avenues. Taking care of the neighbourhood of the mind is temple-keeping of a high order these days, I reckon. DM me if I can make any recs.

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