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Darrin McMahon On The History Of Genius

Darrin McMahon

Host Jonathan Judaken speaks with Dr. Darrin McMahon about his new book, Divine Fury: A History of Genius, in which McMahon writes, "Genius. Say the word out loud. Even today, more than 2000 years after its first recorded use by the Roman author Plautus, it continues to resonate with power and allure. The power to create. The power to divine the secrets of the universe."

They discuss the link between "genius" in the ancient world to our modern celebration of birthdays through the festum geniale: the annual ritual and sacrifice to one’s genius, as well as the relationship between the origins of Christianity with pagan religious practices. Their conversation examines where our modern notion of "genius" began and the complex pathways it traveled to arrive at the present day, from Michelangelo, Newton, Mozart, Newton and Napoleon, through the period when a skull's dimensions were thought to indicate intelligence, right up to Einstein, the last of the genius-titans. 

McMahon is the Ben Weider Professor of History at Florida State University and previously taught at Yale University and the University of Rouen, France. He has written and edited many books including Enemies of the Enlightenment: The French Counter-Enlightenment and the Making of Modernity (2001) and Happiness: A History (2006). His work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Daedalus, and The Wilson Quarterly, and his writing has been featured on CBS's Sunday Morning, the BBC, and NPR.

Rhodes College's Communities in Conversation series hosts a free public lecture titled "Divine Fury: A History of Genius" on Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 6p.m. in the McCallum Ballroom. The talk will draw on his new book, tracing the intellectual history of the idea of genius in Western thought. Ranging from the ancients to the moderns, from the poets to the whiz kids of Silicon Valley, McMahon will seek to question what genius has meant to us, and what it might still mean today.

For more information, 901-843-3292, or visit the Communities in Conversation Facebook page.

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