Transnormality theories of Genius

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Transnormality theories

3. Transnormality theories of Genius (from Lat. trans – across, over;  norma – norm, rule)  see the causes of genius in a wide variety of deviations from the actual mental, personal and social norms, in anomaly from physical, mental and spiritual health, in extraordinary circumstances of life, in strangeness of lifestyle and behaviour and unusual way of interaction with the World. These theories consider  the deviation from the norm as the essential criterion and factor of genius and  include as well the conception of positive “normal abnormality” as a the idea of immanent genius pathology.
At the same time, the abnormality or rather the transnormality of the creative manifestations of genius, would directly  address to the actual and unique for each era view of the Norm.

Any deviations, which at first glance may seem painful, appear as a possibility of a breakthrough into new dimensions, as a condition and a powerful stimulus of creativity, the continuous manifestation and affirmation of which is  the most fundamental and deepest human Norm.

The theories of transnormality can be organized as a baseline penthabasis of phenomenal worlds every of which is served as shapeforming context of some certain theories of  genius, and as essential and basic factor that specify their content and qualitative identity.

Table 5. Theories of transnormality

Symbolic world
Psychoanalytical theory
Social world
Conflictogenic theory
Theory of divine
madness and wisdom
Object world
Overcompensation theory
Inner world
Pathological theory

Pathological theory of Genius

3.1. Pathological theory of Genius states that all sorts of abnormalities and a variety of physical and mental health problems lie at the basis of the genius, and that they are manifest itself in eccentric behaviour, neurosis and even mental illness and insanity.
The basic ideas of this theory was set forth in the books of Cesare Lombroso (1863), Max Nordau (1902), Wilhelm Lange-Eichbaum (1928), Ernst Kretschmer (1931), Water Grant (1968).
These authors, on the basis of numerous, often biased chosen and subjectively interpreted facts, state that is a definite link between creativity of genius and physical, mental and spiritual diseases.The first psychiatrist who has undergone problem of genius to analysis was Moreau de Tours. He said that genius is a neurosis, and mental arrangement of genius and a madman is the same.  Cesare Lombroso deemed that physiology of genius and pathology of a madman are much in common. Wilhelm Lange-Eichbaum said that almost all the geniuses are psychopaths.  Ernst Kretschmer believed that psychopathological elements are the essential elements of genius character. Max Nordau claimed that   not every madman is a genius, but every genius is a madman.

Physical disease

3.1.1. Physical disease – is a general condition of an individual to which the whole body is subjected. It causes simultaneous disorders in physical, mental, social and spiritual state. It is closely connected with internal, interpersonal and social conflicts. Many geniuses had different physical anomalies, had a delicate body and low physical activity: Aristotle, Giotto, Demosthenes, Erasmus, Kant, Kafka, Proust.
Vladimir Efroimson (1991) stated that hereditary diseases are happened to be more common among geniuses. Such diseases stimulate their creativity in a special way. Vladimir Efroimson proposed five factors or so-called “stigms” of genius.

1. Susceptibility to a gout. It is a hereditarily fixed level of uric acid in the blood, which acts as a biological stimulator, internal doping of creativity, as its structure is similar to the structure of caffeine and theobromine. At the same time the accumulation of uric acid crystals in tissues leads to gout.  Alexander the Great (of Macedon), Columbus, Peter the Great, Michelangelo, Rubens, Rembrandt, Beethoven, Turgenev, Stendhal, Maupassant, Bacon, Montaigne, Galileo, Newton and Charles Darwin and many others outstanding people had a gout.
2. Morfan syndrome or disproportionate gigantism, which is characterized by long, slender limbs and large hands and feet. He is accompanied by increased release of adrenaline, which stimulates the high intellectual and physical activity. This syndrome was observed in Abraham Lincoln, Hans Christian Andersen, Korney Chukovsky, Charles De Gaulle, Nikola Tesla.
3. Morris syndrome. It is characterized by a high level of sex hormones – androgens. Those who have Morris syndrome are energetic, resolute, determined, fit and intellectual. They have a strong will and a high level of sexuality. This syndrome was observed in Julius Caesar, Peter the Great, Byron, Pushkin, Balzac, Maupassant, Heine, Goethe, as well as Joan of Arc and George Sand.
4. Manic-depressive illness or cyclothymia, which is manifested by alternating phases of an unusually productive and periods of deep depression, was observed in the scientists as Freud, Van Gogh, Goethe, Tolstoy, Diсkens, Schumann, Hemingway and Nikolai Gogol.
5. Individuals with a high forehead. A giant, high forehead is the feature of extraordinary developed frontal lobes of the brain. They play a leading role in the intellectual processes. This syndrome was observed in Beethoven, Liszt, Napoleon, Shakespeare, Voltaire, Goethe, Montaigne, and many others.

Mental illness

3. 1. 2. Mental illness. In scientific and mass literature there are a lot of articles describing the mental disorders of geniuses and celebrities. Sometimes these stories are set out carelessly or even intentionally distorted. The basic statements of the theory of genius pathology must be taken into account while examining and discussing these facts:
1. Misunderstanding of the complexity, semantic depth and “fullness of the future” of the inner world of geniuses, the multidimensionality of their life and creative activity. It can not be explained from the point of view of common sense of ordinary people and in terms of the current state of knowledge. Sometimes they are considered to be mad because contemporaries can not understand their own peculiar vision of the future. Thus when Roger Bacon described submarines and aircraft, ships moving without oarsmen, and chariots moving without horses he was considered to be mad. The same happened to Giordano Bruno when he put forward the idea that the Earth is only a small planet among many other planets, that there are a lot of unknown planets, and that the stars are the distant suns. And so was Auguste Comte who suggested that it would come the time when women will be fertilized without the participation of men.
2. There was a problem of absence of universally accepted and clearly defined norm of mental and personal health.  Since C. Lombroso saw pathology in any deviation from the current, accepted by the specialists, and sometimes only by himself,  norm.
He saw the signs of mental disease in the early and late development of a child, in love to traveling  (Torquato Tasso, Benvenuto Cellini, Edgar Allan Poe), in unlikeness to parents, in an unusual, very emotional manifestation  of personality, in taking a great interest in dreams, in having grey hair and being bald, in being skinny and being left-hander.
Although,  it’s generally known, that Alexander the Great, Caesar, Napoleon, Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo, Einstein, Picasso, Marilyn Monroe, Chaplin were left-handers. Paul McCartney as well as many U.S. presidents – Ford, Reagan, Clinton, Bush, Obama are left-handed. Lombroso called Socrates crazy only because of the fact that he was guided in his actions by his inner voice (imaginary demon). He reckoned among mental disorders melancholy, and according to him Aristotle, Mendelssohn and Molière “suffered” from it.
Some researchers believed that even tend to vegetarian diet and meditation was pathology. They also saw the signs of pathology in using different methods that  geniuses used for stimulation creativity: Zola wrote novels tying himself to a table, Milton, Rossini, Leibniz, Kant and Descartes wrote lying in bed, Baumgarten wrote while riding, whereas Helmholts while climbing the mountains. Schiller was usually inspired by the smell of rotten apples lying in his desk. Proust needed a strong smell of perfume and could write only in a room with cork walls. Beethoven poured ice water on his head, and Shelley and Rousseau put their head to the sun to stimulate creativity. Gogol wrote in noisy pubs whereas George Bernard Shaw in the markets and local trains. Renee and Musset could write only wearing elegant clothes, and Gabriel Marquez could do that only wearing overalls.
3. Tendency to attribute pathological features to a genius, biased  interpretations of facts, from the point of view of pre-selected theory, manifestation of so-called “Midas effect”, according to which all the unusual facts have to be interpreted like pathology. So Lombroso put forward the idea that Dante had epilepsy only because of the lines in his poems: « The weeping earth gave vent, and flashed with crimson light, overpowering all my senses, and I fell, like a man overcome by sleep». (Inferno: Canto III. 136). V. Hirsch mocked the authors of pathological theory: “All Wagner’s creations were not appreciated by Nordau, therefore – Wagner is mad.”
4. Poverty of terminological apparatus. Scientific terminology used by the researches of the phenomena of genius was very limited and could not adequately reflect complex inner world of genius,  so they often used psychiatric terminology that was not acceptable for the situation. Thus Kretschmer believed that all asthenic people were schizothymics.
5. Some authors as well as common people tend to disparage the history and geniuses, try to assert themselves searching weaknesses, psychotic disorders, disease, and low passions in celebrities and geniuses. Alexander Pushkin wrote in his letter: «They will gossip about me that I am mean, foul  and odious like they are. You tell a lie, rascals! Yes, that I am foul and mean like you, but in a different way “.

Table 6. Types of mental disorders 

Constitution and temperament
 Neurosis Psychosis
 Axiological   Displastic  Stuck  Paranoid  Depression  Paranoia
 Cognitive Leptosomatic (Asthenic)
  Pedantic  Schizoid Psychosthenic  Compulsive states
Phobias Ipohondriya
 Affective  Picnic Cyclotymic Conspicuous
 Hysterical Affective  Hysteria
(Dissociative neurosis)
(Bipolar affective disorder, BAD)
Behavioral Athletic Iksotimic
 Excitable  Excitable  Neurasthenia  Epilepsy

Accentuations or psychopathies

Accentuations or psychopathies are understood as the domination of the individual structural components of Character, as a kind of pattern of the most pronounced personality traits, which characterize genius principally in terms of originality, soleness and the uniqueness of his creative personality.

One of the first attempts to correlate body build and physical constitution with personality characteristics and mental illness was done by E. Kretschmer in his book «Körperbau und Charakter», “Physique and Character” (1921). Based on the analysis of the relationships between body built of poets, artists, scientists, leaders, heroes, and their literary portraits, biographical sketches and works he identified two broad categories of temperament: shizotimics and cyclotymics, each of which has its own specific mental disorders and appropriate features of
creative activity.

1. Shizotimics (asthenics). Schiller, Kerner, Uhland, Tasso, Holderlin, Novalis, Platen had  shizotimic poetic temperament. All of them were slender, delicate, thin and had a beautiful corner profiles. As Kretschmer wrote, they were pathetic and romantic, artists of forms and styles with a  tendency to ideal in form and content. The heroic and idyllic are shizotimic moods that complement each other.
Shizotimics are impractical and they tend to be a book-learning scientist and demonstrate the tendency to theorize and systematize (Kant, Hegel, Newton, Copernicus, Kepler, Leibniz, Newton, Faraday), aspiring to classic beautiful forms (Feuerbach), tendency to extreme pathos (Michelangelo, Grunewald), hankering  to heroically-fanatic content (Fichte, Schelling, Schiller) and to moral idealism, despotism, fanaticism and cold prudence (Savonarola, Calvin, Robespierre). At the same time according to Kretschmer, some shizotimics had different levels of mental disorders from schizoid psychopathy to schizophrenic psychosis.

2. Cyclotymics (Pyknic).  This group was represented by such outstanding people as M. Luther, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Goethe, H. Keller, F. Reuter, H. Kurz, H. Seidel, L. Blucher. All of them had typical pyknic body build (stocky, fat).  From the point of view of psychiatry some of them  were predisposed toward prone to typical manic attacks and periodic mood disorders with manic-depressive features.
At the same time pyknic persons are distinguished by flexibility, agility, mobility and ability to live a full life. Poets-cyclotymics were realists and humorists, scientists -cyclotymics had an inclination to empirical studies, and the leaders -cyclotymics were brave fighters and skilful managers.
The third,  icsotymic (athletic) type of temperament is similar to shizotymic type. Perseverance, stubbornness and rigidity are their common features and  similarities. However icsotymics are calmer and more practical than shizotymics. They are not as sensitive as shizotymics are. And they are predisposed to epilepsy.

Accentuations of character. Theory of accentuations of character and their relationship with the creative manifestations of personality was developed by K. Leonhard, who argued that accentuated personalities potentially contain the possibilities for both positive social achievements and negative social charge. Thus a variety of soft  mental disorders can accentuate and enhance some features, characteristics and abilities, thus to intensify creative expression and to give it a unique identity.
1. Stuck (paranoid) accentuation (Michelangelo, Savonarola, Arthur Schopenhauer) intensifies such traits of genius personality as obsession, passion, persistence, ambition, pride, arrogance, a tendency to dominate, and a steady adherence to overvalued ideas.
2. Pedantic (psychasthenic) accentuation (John Calvin, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Immanuel Kant, Marcel Proust, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, F. de Chateaubriand, Frédéric Chopin, Descartes, Giambattista Vico, Henri Bergson , Nikolai Berdyaev, Arnold Toynbee, Thomas Mann, Charles Darwin, Franz Kafka, Anton Chekhov) intensifies susceptibility, vulnerability, sensitivity to various influences of the socio-cultural environment. It leads to self-immersed reflection and enrichment of the inner world, excessive scrupulosity, aspiration to thoroughness, accuracy and perfection.  It also generates an excessive tendency to theorizing, ranking and analyzing.
3. Conspicuous (demonstrative, affective) accentuation (George Sand, I. Northerner, K. Balmont, S. Dali), deepens imagination and fantasy, intensifies artistic, eccentric and extravagant features, leads to longing for recognition and fame.
4. Excitable (epileptic) accentuation (Napoleon, Moliere, Dostoevsky, Agatha Christie) can increase the intensity of emotions, stress, concentration, and brightness of experience. It can lead to exaltation, hallucinations, to a specific state of consciousness and somnambulism when individual creates yielding to a powerful external force, being on the thin line between the conscious and unconscious.


Neuroses are functional mental disorders involving emotional distress but when an individual keeps the lucidity of mind and critical estimation of his/her own state and behavior is not outside socially acceptable norms. The main factors, due to which geniuses had neuroses,
are various external or internal conflicts related to their specific way of life and activities, psychical traumas and protracted emotional and intellectual overstrain caused by selfless work over a long period of time.

1. Depression is accompanied by feelings of emptiness, despair and hopelessness. It often happens to extraordinary artists whose nature can be characterized by sticking, impossibility of compromise, a sharp sense of duty and fairness. Creative depression was experienced by many geniuses; among them are Goethe, Nikolai Gogol, Henri Matisse, Ernest Hemingway, Mihai Eminescu, Akutagawa Ryunoske.
2. Obsessive–compulsive disorder is a mental disorder and diseased state, usually caused by a psychical trauma and by overstrain, at which obtrusive ideas, thoughts, unmotivated fears and motions appear at the patient involuntarily. People understand it, perceived as morbid, but can not control and get rid of.
a) Rituals. This neurosis is accompanied by repetitive senseless acts of thought or actions that a person has to perform to reduce anxiety, which, in his opinion, prevent any undesired event. Nikola Tesla always went three rounds around the building of his laboratory before entering into it, and, when living in a hotel, asked for a room the number of which was divisible by three. Various types of obsessions were typical for Georg Hegel, and composers Gustav Mahler and Maurice Ravel.
b) A phobia appear as an obsessive, uncontrollable fear of an object or situation which is often recognized as irrational.
Blaise Pascal, after his coach almost fell off the bridge, was suffered by the fear of the abyss, which, he fell, always was ready to open wide behind his left shoulder. Louis Pasteur who discovered germs, touched a doorknob only with a handkerchief. After a cholera epidemy, Nikola Tesla was afraid of touching dusty objects. He always washed his hands, and demanded the 18 daily towels per day living at hotels. Howard Hughes, Michael Jackson, Donald Trump and Cameron Diaz suffered from mysophobia (germophobia) – fear of germs. Nikola Tesla also avoided all round objects and Alfred Hitchcock was afraid of oval objects. Salvador Dali had a phobia of grasshoppers, and Woody Allen was afraid of all the insects. Anna Akhmatova was afraid of open spaces and Michelle Pfeiffer of closed spaces. Johnny Depp has a coulrophobia – fear of clowns.
c) Hypochondriasis or hypochondria is a illness anxiety disorder, which is characterized by fears that minor bodily or mental symptoms may indicate a serious illness.
Hans Christian Andersen was a typical hypochondriac who never ceased to complain of a bad health. Rousseau having read about symptoms of any illness immediately felt them. Mayakovsky all his life was manically afraid to fall ill, to become infected and to be injured. He carried with him a bar of soap and iodine, and when was ill, he took the temperature all the time. Hypochondriacal symptoms were observed in the behavior of A. Pushkin, S. Rachmaninov, A. Durer, I. Bunin and Onore de Balzac.

To be continued

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