Excellence, Brilliance, Genius. History and Presence of Successful Figures of Knowledge

Excellency, Brilliance, Genius. Histoire and Presence of Successful Figures of Knowledge In the present-day academic scene, multiple notions of excellency and brilliance, creativity and innovation circulate - these termini mirror various facets of a centuries-old genius discourse. The workshop focuses, on the one hand, on this recent development, the implementation of rhetorics, just as "Exzellenzinitiative" or "Spitzenforschungon", in the lingo, in the self-descriptions of the research arena, and in the system of dealing with applications. On the other hand, this development will be historized via reconstructing the history of the genius cult in European writings starting from the turn of the century around 1900 and subsequent decades. The “genius” was an obsessively discussed controversial figure of knowledge and representation in interdisciplinary texts from the Humanities and Sciences as well as in literature, published in particular between 1890 and 1920. Referring to the abstract notion of “genius” had a twofold discursive and strategic function: on the one hand, there was a group of genius-researchers who believed in the “genius” as a godlike savior, redeemer of the society, and creator of culture (amongst others, Hans Blüher, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Ernst Kretschmer, and Otto Weininger). Whereas other theorists described and criticized the “genius” in the context of wider modern socio-cultural problems, insecurities, or utopias (for example, Walter Benjamin, Jakob Wassermann, or Edgar Zilsel). The latter also expounded anti-feminist and anti-Semitic tendencies following the conception of genius, that, through the 1900s, 1910s and 1920s, merged more and more with ideologies of “Aryan” heredity, “racial hygiene” (“Rassenhygiene”), and phantasies of human breeding just as support programs for so-called “high fliers” in the ‘German Empire’. On the other hand, the genius figure – via projection of the qualities of so-called “great men of history”, “eminences”, “representatives of men”, “superlatives of mankind”, “exceptional men”, “intellectual leaders”, and “men-heroes” – helped fragile and newly constituted or reformed academic disciplines, like sociology, sexual science, psychology, and philosophy, just as the academic scholars and writers to construct their professional identity, legitimize their (often cross-disciplinary) methodologies, and reassure themselves of their own rational, intellectual and creative powers. The workshop reconstructs this entangled and complex history and confronts it with recent medializations of knowledge of the genius and the question, how the contemporary high-flyers and genius discorse looks like and in which academic and non-akademic contexts it occurs.

Principal Investigators
Köhne, Julia Barbara PD PD Dr. (Details) (Historic Anthropology and Gender Studies)

participating organizational facilities of the HU

Duration of Project
Start date: 11/2016
End date: 03/2017

Research Areas
Art History, Music, Theatre and Media Studies, Literary Studies, Philosophy

Research Areas
Geisteswissenschaften, Genieforschung, Hochbegabtenförderung

Last updated on 2020-01-06 at 16:49