Friday 30 August 2013

The unfortunate (but necessary) negativity of young genius


Because creativity is bound-up with character (specifically, the personality trait of high Psychoticism), it comes in a package. And some aspects of the creativity package are annoying for other people - understandably so.

William Wordsworth is generally ranked as one of the three greatest English poets writing in modern English (along with Shakespeare and Milton) - he also has a reputation as being a rather dull and quiet kind of person.

On the whole, this reputation is broadly correct; but Wordsworth showed unmistable traits of high Psychoticism, including selfishness/ autonomy - but especially in his early life.


In the biographies of highly creative people, including geniuses, there is often a prolonged period when they do very little - they display pronounced negativity: that is to say they know what they do not want to do, but they have not discovered what they do want to do.

This happened in Wordsworth's life. From his second year at Cambridge University he more or less 'gave up' on studying, on preparing himself for making a living, on indeed on pursuing any kind of long term strategy: but he didn't do anything else much.

He wasted quite a lot of money given by his relatives (for example the fees and living expenses of three years at Cambridge, from his Uncle), he mooched around London, he did some travelling in search of something to stimulate him (including fathering an illegitimate child in France when absorbing the revolutionary fervour) and so on.

Even as a grown up, living quietly in Dove Cottage with his sister, Wordsworth took the brightest and warmest room for his poetry writing, and the whole household was organized around his poetic requirements.


(Tut tut, poor Dorothy, consigned to the gloomy parlour. Yet if William had not been selfish, and had not nurtured his genius, then we would not be talking about Dove Cottage and Dorothy at all!)   


Only after many years of this did Wordsworth find his vocation as A Poet, and worked very productively at this.

Now, Wordsworth was one of the most sober and industrious of The Romantics, and there are far more extreme examples of negativity including his great friend Coleridge - who exaggerated these traits by deliberate, then addicted, alchohol and opium abuse.

But the point I wish to make is that even Wordsworth showed clear signs of the cluster of high Psychoticism traits, which meant that he could (and did) work hard and long at what he wanted to work hard at; but could not work at anything else.


As a young man, when creativity is at its highest, Wordsworth would not and could not and did not work at what other people wanted him to work at, and this is the negativity. 

It is easy to imagine Wordsworth dying before he wrote any great poetry, or failing to find and develop his vocation, and being considered nothing but a selfish waster.

Of course, being a high negativity selfish  waster does not, not, NOT make anybody a creative genius; but being a creative genius almost always did entail going through a period of being a selfish waster and looking for The Thing that would stimulate you to hard and prolonged work - and during this period of looking perhaps being derailed by other stimuli such as women and drugs - and with no guarantee of ever coming out of the other side and achieving work of genius which is highly valued. 


A creative genius almost always comes with a price tag, the cost of which is mostly paid by those around him.

If nobody pays the price, the genius does not eventuate.

Harsh - but that's life, I'm afraid.