sees the eighteenth century as the stage upon which an unprecedented
freedom movement lit up and exploded in a tragic flash. This was
the moment when Diderot made of the genius a personal, secret,
and indefinable kind of soul, in the absence of which nothing
beautiful or very great could be accomplished. The genius would
be an exceptional calculator who attracts notice in things great
and small. He is a sort of prophetic spirit.
of creative genius has been quite rich since ancient times. For
the Greeks, the daimon, a “personal god,”
watched over men, places, and things, uniting the human with the
divine. In the modern world, where God is absent, it is the individual
creator who can take His place. One need only read and listen
to some discourses on contemporary art to grasp how a Romantic
conception of this exceptional being with superhuman powers, whose
mission is modeled on a religious one, continues into the present.
We have asked the sociologist Pierre-Michel Menger to review the
different types of explanation that make it possible to apply
the notion of genius to artists. Using the case of Beethoven,
he offers us an answer to the antinomies found in the human sciences.
Bruno Moysan, a musician and musicologist, responds to him with
a reflection on the virtuosic brilliance of Liszt in nineteenth-century
society on its path of democratization. There, the artistic genius
maintains equal distance from a rejection of the logic of democratic
egalitarianism and from the essentialism of aristocracy and absolutism.