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Secrets of CreativityWhat Neuroscience, the Arts, and Our Minds Reveal$
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Suzanne Nalbantian and Paul M. Matthews

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190462321

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190462321.001.0001

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Contrasting Modes of Creativity

Contrasting Modes of Creativity

Artist Counterparts in Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Nabokov

(p.259) 13 Contrasting Modes of Creativity
Secrets of Creativity

John Burt Foster

Oxford University Press

This chapter probes the distinction between higher and lower levels of artistic creativity developed in works by an intergenerational cohort of supremely gifted Russian writers, with Nietzsche’s disillusionment in Wagner as a parallel. In imagined renditions of exceptional achievement in music, painting, or fiction, Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Nabokov enact their own high literary aspirations even as they allow for rivalries with lesser talents, for the blindness and hostility of various authorities, and for the urgency imparted by Russian belatedness vis-à-vis the West. In Pushkin’s tragedy of Mozart poisoned by the lesser composer Salieri, inspiration, originality, and many-sidedness emerge as hallmarks of literary/artistic creativity at its fullest. These qualities reappear in the paintings of Tolstoy’s alter ego, the expatriate artist Mikhailov, which include a portrait of Anna Karenina that eclipses the artistic efforts of her lover Vronsky, and in the pseudo-memoir by Nabokov’s megalomaniacal murderer Hermann, whose grandiose delusions are punctured by the parodic virtuosity of the hidden real author. “Genius,” the honorific word often used for exceptional creativity, applies most directly to Pushkin’s portrayal of Mozart (as well as to Pushkin himself). But Tolstoy’s Mikhailov chapters undercut the exceptionality of genius with their dawning interest in emotional infectiousness, which can unite artists with their audiences. In a further qualification, Hermann’s belief in his own genius perverts the ideal of exceptional creativity, indeed reveals its purely destructive potential; while Nabokov in the background gives the issue another twist, in his dazzling experiments with parody as second-order creativity.

Keywords:   rival creativities, Aleksandr Pushkin, Vladimir Nabokov, Leo Tolstoy, Friedrich Nietzsche, talent versus genius, emotional infectiousness, parody

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