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Genius in FranceAn Idea and Its Uses$
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Ann Jefferson

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780691160658

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691160658.001.0001

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Cultural Critique and the End of Genius

Cultural Critique and the End of Genius

Barthes, Sartre

(p.195) Chapter 16 Cultural Critique and the End of Genius
Genius in France

Ann Jefferson

Princeton University Press

This chapter describes the gradual discrediting of the notion of genius. In France in the 1950s, contemporaneously with the Minou Drouet affair, it became the object of a powerful cultural critique under the aegis of literary theory, when Jean-Paul Sartre and Roland Barthes—more or less simultaneously—portrayed it as an anachronistic legacy from the previous century, and denounced it as a one of the myths that lay at the heart of bourgeois ideology. Two of Barthes's texts in Mythologies (1957) specifically target genius—one devoted to Einstein's brain, and the other to Minou Drouet. Much the same goes for Sartre, whose autobiography, Les Mots, begun in 1953 (and finally published in 1964), targets genius and the child prodigy as central components of his farewell to literature.

Keywords:   child prodigy, human brain, Jean-Paul Sartre, Roland Barthes, cultural critique, genius, French theory

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