INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
EnlightenNext MARCH 8, 2011 - by Elizabeth Debold
IN SEARCH OF TRUE SCENIUS - 1: WHAT IS IT?
The editorial team of EnlightenNext magazine has stumbled upon "scenius" - in more ways than one. We first learned about the term when senior editor Ross Robertson read about it on a blog. He spoke about it on the virtual course, The Evolutionary's Guide To Changing The World, (which is now available to take online!) that we presented together as a team last summer. We were struck by the concept because it pointed to the kind of collective creative process that has made EnlightenNext magazine sizzle with something extra. Moreover, it seemed to be evidence of an evolution in our understanding of creativity. Scenius certainly seems to be one of those ideas that defines the very edge of our current zeitgeist.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. You want to know: What is "scenius"?? It is the collective form of genius. Coined by musical savant Brian Eno, it refers to his discovery that genius doesn't simply arise in extraordinary individuals but geniuses emerge out of vibrant, cutting edge "scenes" or cultural niches where a group of people, often crossing disciplines and areas of expertise, are pushing into something new and rewarding each other for taking risks and challenging the status quo. Think: the Beats, Xerox PARC, women's consciousness raising in the '60s, the nineteenth century. Transcendentalists... There are examples of scenius in the arts, philosophy, science and technology across all cultures and over the last several hundred years of human history.
My colleagues and I have a hunch that scenius plays an important role in culture change. It's fascinating that scenius seems to arise in many different locations at the points of epochal shift. Could it be that a scenius holds in micro form a new potential for culture? If you think about, for example, the salon scene in France during the eighteenth century, the kind of free range of thinking and the easy companionship between women and men was far ahead of its time. It wasn't only that new philosophical and political theories were being discussed - ideas that would dramatically shape the modern world - but that the way human beings related to themselves and each other was new. And that "newness" is now something that we take for granted as reality.
These are some preliminary thoughts about scenius that we have been discussing over the last several months. In this series on our blog, we're going to keep track of what we are learning about scenius as we go deeper into our own investigation. You'll hear about the different authors we are reading and the conversations we are having as we engage together about this new way of thinking about creativity.