Like baking soda or tinfoil. I’m not quite sure where having a favorite quote falls on this spectrum. This takes the fangs out of it, stops it from staring me directly in the eye like this classic, whose attribution to Hemingway is much debated:
There is nothing to writing. It can be any number you choose, specific or faceless. It humanizes genius but not at the expense of true intellect. There’s a photonegative image within it of a group of people: a room or a dinner party or the whole world. It’s a valve issue, not a reservoir issue. — Thelonious Monk
I think about this quote constantly, almost like a blanky or one of those household products with multiple applications. Then there’s the idea that the quote was not originally meant for me, but for jazz musicians. If we take Monk literally, our commander in chief is a genius. On the surface, it’s too accepting of an idea. One of them is our president. Favorite colors and animals are the jurisdiction of children, who pick to test their own authority. Same thing with a scent, a brand of chocolate, a poet. It works for when you’re feeling jealous or competitive or just idly comparing yourself with others. The Monk quote on the other hand, strikes at the heart of what it is to be a genius. Having a favorite flower, for example, is a tacit indication of sophistication and taste, of knowing flowers well enough to pick one. It’s useful socially as well, a means of separating the blowhards from the sages. MAY 28, 2018
This piece appears in the LARB Print Quarterly Journal: No. How much of your brain’s potential has made it outside of your brain? Every mental endeavor in the world, be it art or mathematics or science, exists to get closer to the truth. The closer you get to the truth of yourself, the closer you get to the truth of everyone else. I fear that a grown woman — nay, a writer — with a favorite quote is not a great look. Her most recent book of essays is Look Alive Out There. There are a lot of stupid and ineffectual people in this world who are the most like themselves. Still, my loyalty to the following sentiment trumps my embarrassment about picking it:
A genius is the one most like himself. 18, Genius
To receive the LARB Quarterly Journal, become a member or donate here. But if we assume he’s already referring to a group of curious people with talent and heart, then this quote becomes the perfect by-a-nose criterion. The broader the category, however, the more juvenile the act of choosing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. But I have one. You become the one most like yourself so that you can come out the other side.
Sloane Crosley is the author of the novel The Clasp, and of the essay collections I Was Told There’d Be Cake and How Did You Get This Number. ¤
There are acceptable favorites and unacceptable favorites. It faces simultaneously inward and outward. You may be sitting across from a Fields Medal–winning, Pulitzer Prize–sporting Prix Goncourt finalist, but Monk’s measure of genius is less about titles than it is about efficiency.