Genius and Well Behaved? Nonsense.

Theodore Dalrymple’s look back at Sherlock Holmes, the literary, not cinematic, character, makes a conservative desire to read the books again and avoid the movie. When the film’s trailer appeared, I lamented the cultural insecurity that requires every hero to be a such a superhero as to exist outside of societal etiquette. Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes is a boorish ninja. Dalrymple notes the cultural thread, as well, when speaking of Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

Conan Doyle’s fundamental humanity and decency, as evident in his life as in his work, shine through the canon. This in itself is a matter of interest, if it is accepted — as I think it should be — that the canon is itself a manifestation of literary genius. We have been so persuaded that genius and disgraceful conduct go together that we find it difficult to believe that an affable man such as Conan Doyle can be possessed both of goodness and of superior talent; indeed, appalling conduct is sometimes itself taken as evidence of the greatest talent. If geniuses are badly behaved, ought that not to mean that the badly behaved are geniuses?

It is as if, in the current era, we despise rules so thoroughly that we fantasize about being so magnificent, as individuals, that we needn’t heed them. Of course, Dalrymple also highlights something in Holmes that a declining civilization should consider:

He is a model of self-mastery of the kind that allows eccentricity to flourish, as it so richly once did in England.

Eccentricity must follow from self-mastery. Our culture has been so effective because it has learned millennia of dos and don’ts for us. The rules no longer apply when you’ve followed them so scrupulously as to no longer need them, and it is not with disdain that we transcend them, but gratitude.
(None of which to say that rules don’t sometimes work their way into the culture that deserve to be discarded with disdain so that the civilization can advance. My topic, above, is the collection of behavioral expectations that our anti-heroic superheroes ignore as a matter of course.)

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11 years ago

For an example of eccentricity without self-mastery (or, perhaps mastery of any kind other than winning the genetic lottery) we have Rhode Island’s own Lincoln Chafee.

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