that there seem to be two classes of geniuses: one, typified by Enrico Fermi, is wicked smart but in ways you can predict and anticipate -- it's a genius of speed and productivity, somehow just out of reach:
"An ordinary genius is a fellow that you and I would be just as good as, if we were only many times better." You and I would be just as good ... Much of what passes for genius is mere excellence, the difference a matter of degree. A colleague of Fermi's said: "Knowing what Fermi could do did not make me humble. You just realize that some people are smarter than you are, that's all. You can't run as fast as some people or do mathematics as fast as Fermi."
The other kind, exemplified by Richard Feynman, is a genius out of left field. You have no idea what he's going to come up with, it's completely surprising and unprecedented.
"Genius is the fire that lights itself," someone had said. Originality; imagination; the self-driving ability to set one's mind free from the worn channels of tradition. Those who tried to take Feynman's measure always came back to originality. "He was the most original mind of his generation," declared Dyson. The generation coming up behind him, with the advantage of hindsight, still found nothing predictable in the paths of his thinking.
Coleman chose not to study with Feynman directly. Watching Feynman work, he said, was like going to the Chinese opera:
"When he was doing work he was doing it in a way that was just -- absolutely out of the grasp of understanding. You didn't know where it was going, where it had gone so far, where to push it, what was the next step. With Dick the next step would somehow come out of -- divine revelation."
I've been meaning to collect these quotes and mull them over. But there's always some topical tie-in, of course. In this case, it's a film nominated for Best Picture, written by someone who many have called a genius.
If he is one, then Charlie Kaufman must be a genius like Fermi. Each of his three movies has similar elements of self-reference and frustrated love. If you dwelled in these circles long enough, and mixed in some TNG plots and self-help notions along the way, it might be possible to come up with a Kaufmanesque script. It's almost within reach, like Fermi's math.
But that shouldn't take anything away from Kaufman's writing. Just soak up part of this Alexander Pope poem, Eloisa to Abelard:
Dear fatal name! rest ever unreveal'd,
Nor pass these lips in holy silence seal'd.
Hide it, my heart, within that close disguise,
Where mix'd with God's, his lov'd idea lies:
O write it not, my hand — the name appears
Already written — wash it out, my tears!
In vain lost Eloisa weeps and prays,
Her heart still dictates, and her hand obeys.
How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd.
You can almost imagine making a movie from this. Almost. But Kaufman did! And the movie informs the poetry, and vice-versa, in infinite recursion.