In response to my blogpost yesterday on the joy of reviews, one reader responded by saying:
"A reviewer needs to have the critical capacity to tell the difference between, as Coleridge puts it, "an intense desire for poetic reputation" and "a natural poetic genius".
Today, Seth Godin's blog is titled 'The gap between good and famous', and ends with the observation that, "While it's a convenient shortcut, the signal of 'famous' is no longer closely related to the desire for 'good'."
My response to these statements is, first - if you look at the list of writers, artists and great thinkers in the course of history, who were unacknowledged during their lifetimes, posthumously to be praised as 'good' - Godin's implication that 'good' and 'famous' were once upon a time closely related is historically inaccurate. Mozart, Franz Schubert, Van Gogh and, more contemporarily, Nick Drake, are but a few examples of deeply lonely and, in their lifetimes, largely unrewarded geniuses.
Secondly, good and famous are not necessarily mutually exclusive - take as example the creative forces of Bach, Beethoven, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Seamus Heaney, Leonard Cohen - all of whom enjoyed, and endured, the comforts and obligations of recognition during their lifetimes. And what about the music and lyrics of Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler? Nobody can deny they are both good and famous and, to top it all, they've lived for decades and look on track to be carrying on with their business for a while yet.
Thirdly - while we can, perhaps, agree more or less on a standard for 'good' (music, poetry, art, etc.), what on earth is 'famous'? Getting likes on Facebook? Getting hits on your blog? Getting applause during a performance? Getting articles written about you? Getting invited to give talks on tv? Actually, unvelievably, getting paid to live by the creative thing you do?
Whatever your criteria, 'famous' definitely has to do with 'getting'. Unfortunately, fame can happen even when you don't ask for it. Getting attention is not nice when you are busy creating and have to make an effort to be left alone to get on with your work.
'Good', on the other hand, has to do with the quality of what you give. It has, I think, to do with your self-respect, your decision to give the best you are capable of. It has to do with love - your love of life, of yourself, and of your fellow man and woman, with whom you wish to share what you have to give.
A "natural poetic genius" is a man or woman or child whose language is so original and fresh that it will travel across tongues far beyond the boundaries of space and time. Many natural poetic geniuses are anonymous. Some, right now, may be making use of the social media in an attempt to reach their kind, without caring in the least about whether they are acknowledged or named.
People who are concerned primarily with their name being known, with being or becoming famous, are probably not focused on creating something of quality to give to humanity.