Saturday, 30 March 2013

Beyond the Average

It’s generally said that the line between genius and madness is narrow. Often it’s blurred as well like in the case of John Forbes Nash, Jr. who is a brilliant mathematician with a record of mental illness having suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. He would never have received the Nobel Prize in economy, if he didn’t have such A Beautiful Mind. Firstly, he began his life as a not very sociable prodigy tipping over into so-called madness only later for reasons unknown. And secondly, he managed to fight back the voices of non-existent people in his mind and returned to what we call a normal life. If his paranoid schizophrenia has disappeared completely or if it just isn’t showing anymore, I can’t tell. I’m no expert on the human brain. 

However, genius and madness are both deviations from what we call normality. And everything that doesn’t fit into our view of how the world, people and life are or should be disturbs us. At best we are amazed, at worst we are scared. In former times it could happen that genius was mistaken for madness, especially with the common people and women. Less than two hundred years ago a highly gifted Sofia Kovalevskaya had to fight to be allowed first to study and then to lecture mathematics at a European university. Today we are in awe of people like her who are highly intelligent and many of us would love to see their children belong to this elite, but extraordinary talent still has a touch of the mysterious, the unearthly, the paranormal. 

Average people don’t care about equations describing the mathematical patterns of the universe and human behaviour. Average people don’t care about making out a new prime number in the infinite row. Some might not even remember what a prime number is because it doesn’t help them to master their lives. Literature is less of a mystery to the public which easily leads us to believe that everybody can write. The truth is that everybody can pen or type a text, but only few can tell a story that is worthwhile reading. True literary genius is often difficult to discover among the crowds of writers because it has a habit of thriving in dark corners that can easily be overlooked. Magazines like Prime Number try to bring them out into the light. 

There are uncountable realms of imagination unknown even to avid readers, each one of them a white spot on the literary world map. To disclose the well hidden gems of contemporary literature it needs dedicated explorers of the calibre of Alexander von Humboldt, who sacrificed his entire fortune to his discoveries, or devoted surveyors like Carl Friedrich Gauß, whose mind was able to reveal the so far unnoticed. As Daniel Kehlmann expressed it, those two giants of the Age of Enlightenment were, each one in his way, Measuring the World. Numbers were their key to life and to the future. The literary quest must be for distinctive stories, words and style that don’t follow strict rules and that cannot be measured. What a task!

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