Unoriginal genius


“The world is full of texts, more or less interesting; I do not wish to add any more”

This quote is from an article in the Chronicle Review. I highly recommend reading the article, particularly check out the section on the author’s “Uncreative writing” class at UPenn. The article is about how there is a trend in literature toward combining/using other people’s words to create new content. 

The prominent literary critic Marjorie Perloff has recently begun using the term “unoriginal genius” to describe this tendency emerging in literature. Her idea is that, because of changes brought on by technology and the Internet, our notion of the genius—a romantic, isolated figure—is outdated. An updated notion of genius would have to center around one’s mastery of information and its dissemination. Perloff has coined another term, “moving information,” to signify both the act of pushing language around as well as the act of being emotionally moved by that process. She posits that today’s writer resembles more a programmer than a tortured genius, brilliantly conceptualizing, constructing, executing, and maintaining a writing machine.

It is fascinating to see this happening in the world of literature; a similar trend seems to be happening in statistics. A ton of exciting and interesting work is done by people combining known ideas and tools and applying them to new problems. I wonder if we need a new definition of “creative”?