“The words chance and genius do not designate anything that actually exists and therefore cannot be defined. These words designate only a certain degree of understanding of phenomenon. I do not know why such a phenomenon occurs; I think that I cannot know it; therefore I do not want to know it, and I say: chance. I see power that produces effects incommensurate with common human qualities; I do not know why it happens, and I say: genius.”—Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace.
We make a fetish of everything, even simple human effort and insight. We don’t really want to understand what makes greatness, so we give it a mystical explanation, such as “genius.” I’ve known genius in many different people about many different subjects and in many different actions. Consistency is all that is missing from one life to the next that makes a person into the noun, “genius.”
Žižek, again in In Defense of Lost Causes, writes:
“…this refusal-to-know… resides in the properly fetishistic dimension of populism. That is to say, although, at a purely formal level, the fetish involves a gesture of transference (onto the fetish object), it functions as an exact inversion of the standard formula of transference (with the subject supposed to know): what the fetish gives body to is precisely my disavowal of knowledge, my refusal to subjectively assume what I know.”
Fetishes let us live with ignorance. “Genius” is label that lets us separate ourselves from the reality of an other’s effort.