An interesting piece in the Independent today here about historical revisionism. The history books were grew up with were short on detail and followed a clear through-line, but as everyone except Creationists improve their understanding of the world, certain things become clear; slavery was a bad thing, many regimes and wars have proven disastrous, capitalism in its most extreme form has enriched the rapacious. Certain people, Mao Tse Tung, Milt Friedman, Henry Kissinger, Corbusier, have been proven wrong in their ideologies, and so we revise.
But when did we decide to revise genius?
Roland Emmerich, maker of rubbish tentpole films (or ‘crappies’) like, er, Godzilla, has waded in with ‘Anonymous’, his film theory that Shakespeare didn’t write his plays, and that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, was the real author. To anyone with an ounce of knowledge, this is simply hilarious. But of course Emmerich doesn’t make movies for people with an ounce of knowledge. As the Indie points out, lack of evidence is no hindrance to a loudly asserted theory in the digital age.
So Shakespeare didn’t write Hamlet, the power behind Dickens was really the actress Nelly Ternan, Churchill didn’t win the war, NASA didn’t land a man on the moon, Hemingway had a feminine side and Van Gogh didn’t cut off his ear; German art historians says that Gaugin lied.
We have to deny geniuses their decisions and their prowess, other because it’s fashionable to do so, makes a good book or we simply can’t understand how anyone can create a work of genius; it’s much easier to be a Salieri than a Mozart.
And writers, by themselves, aren’t usually that interesting – we sit at keyboards and take walks, end of story.