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Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Genius of Mere Competence

By this I mean something very specific. The source of imaginative or creative thought in criticism is competently noticing what it actually there. It is not so much going out on a limb with stretched interpretations. The genius of writing a good sentence consists of making it say the precise thing you want it to say.

Sounds easy? But what if "mere competence" were actually something that very few people can achieve? My own most ostensible failure come not from failing to brilliant, but from failing to be competent. Everyone is smart enough to do it (almost everyone) but we fail through lack of attention to detail, through mistaking the object of inquiry or not seeing something painfully obvious.


Anonymous said...

This is one of my main pieces of culture shock. I cannot figure out why more people are not competent. First, it takes me a long time to understand that they ARE not. Once I understand this, I understand them, but I am still in shock. So, if mere competence is rare, that explains something.

Andrew Shields said...

People are not competent because they want to rush beyond competence to brilliance. They don't want to "sweat the details."

It's possible to be brilliant without "sweating the details," but it's quite rare, and it's much easier to be brilliant if you do sweat a bit.

Anonymous said...

Well Andrew, then that is more grist for my mill. I oppose the idea that sweating the details is perfectionism which is procrastination which is "fear of success."

Andrew Shields said...

I think I agree, profacero, if what you mean is that "sweating the details" is not "perfectionism" but just good basic work.