In this talk, Darrin McMahon will draw on his new book Fureur Divine: Une histoire du génie (Fayard) to discuss what Europeans in the 19th and early 20th centuries described as “the religion of genius.” Replete with its own reliquaries and pilgrimage sites, iconography and cult of the dead, the religion of genius steadily acquired acolytes from the 18th century, when the modern genius was born, incarnated in the likes of Newton and Napoleon, and drawing on themes developed since antiquity. Genius-enthusiasts fed the cult in the decades that followed, emboldened by Romantic doctrines and an extensive scientific literature that attributed superhuman powers to nature’s chosen. Such enthusiasts prepared the way for the religion of genius’s terrible abuse in the early 20thcentury, above all by the Nazis, leading to the genius’s subsequent democratization and even death.
Darrin M. McMahon is the Mary Brinsmead Wheelock professor at Dartmouth College, and formerly the Ben Weider Professor and Distinguished Research Professor at Florida State University. Born in Carmel, California, and educated at the University of California, Berkeley and Yale, where he received his PhD in 1998, McMahon is the author of Enemies of the Enlightenment: The French Counter-Enlightenment and the Making of Modernity (Oxford University Press, 2001) and Happiness: A History (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2006), which has been translated into twelve languages, and was awarded Best Books of the Year honors for 2006 by the New York Times, The Washington Post, the Library Journal, and Slate Magazine. In 2013, McMahon completed a history of the idea of genius and the genius figure, Divine Fury: A History of Genius, published with Basic Books. He is also the editor, with Ryan Hanley, of The Enlightenment: Critical Concepts in Historical Studies, 5 vols. (Routledge, 2009); with Samuel Moyn, of Rethinking Modern European Intellectual History (Oxford University Press, 2014); and with Joyce Chaplin of Genealogies of Genius (Palgrave, 2015). McMahon has taught as a visiting scholar at Columbia University, New York University, Yale University, the University of Rouen, the École Normale Supérieure, École des Hautes Études, and the University of Potsdam. His writings have appeared frequently in such publications as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, New York Times Book Review, Slate, Washington Post, The New Republic, and the Literary Review.
Book review (New York Times)