Transnormality theories of Genius


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 the 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 concept of positive “normal abnormality” as 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 the actual and unique for each era’s 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 pentabasis of phenomenal worlds every of which is served as shape-forming context of certain theories of genius, and as an essential and basic factor that specifies 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 manifest itself in eccentric behaviour, neurosis and even mental illness and insanity.
The basic ideas of this theory were 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 the creativity of genius and physical, mental and spiritual diseases. The first psychiatrist who has undergone the problem of genius to analyse was Moreau de Tours. He said that genius is a neurosis, and the mental arrangement of a genius and a madman is the same.  Cesare Lombroso deemed that the physiology of genius and the pathology of a madman is much in common. Wilhelm Lange-Eichbaum said that almost all geniuses are psychopaths.  Ernst Kretschmer believed that psychopathological elements are the essential elements of a 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 – a general condition of an individual to which the whole body is subjected. It causes simultaneous disorders in physical, mental, social and spiritual states. It is closely connected with internal, interpersonal and social conflicts. Many geniuses had different physical anomalies, delicate bodies and low physical activity: Aristotle, Giotto, Demosthenes, Erasmus, Kant, Kafka, and Proust.
Vladimir Efroimson (1991) stated that hereditary diseases 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 gout. It is a hereditarily fixed level of uric acid in the blood, which acts as a biological stimulator, and 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 other outstanding people had gout.
2. Morfan syndrome or disproportionate gigantism, which is characterized by long, slender limbs and large hands and feet. He is accompanied by an increased release of adrenaline, which stimulates 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 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 extraordinarily 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 with the absence of universally accepted and clearly defined norms 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 the love of travelling (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 a 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 stimulating 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 on 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 on 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, a 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 researchers 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 history and geniuses, and try to assert themselves by searching for weaknesses, psychotic disorders, disease, and low passion 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 tempera-

 Neurosis Psychosis
 Axiological   Displastic  Stuck  Paranoid  Depression  Paranoia
 Cognitive Leptosomatic (Asthenic)
  Pedantic  Schizoid Psychosthe-
 Compulsive states
Phobias Ipohondriya
 Affective  Picnic
 Hysterical Affective  Hysteria
(Dissociative neurosis)
Behavioural Athletic
 Excitable  Excitable  Neurasthe-

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, and thin and had 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), the 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 being 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. The 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 intensifying creative expression and giving 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, and aspiration to thoroughness, accuracy and perfection.  It also generates an excessive tendency to theorise, rank and analyse.
3. Conspicuous (demonstrative, affective) accentuation (George Sand, I. Northerner, K. Balmont, S. Dali), deepens imagination and fantasy, intensifies artistic, eccentric and extravagant features, and leads to a 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, a specific state of consciousness and somnambulism when an 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 behaviour 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, the impossibility of compromise, and 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, and perceived it as morbid, but can not control and get rid of it.
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, prevents any undesired event. Nikola Tesla always went three rounds around the building of his laboratory before entering 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 appears 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, suffered from the fear of the abyss, which, he fell, always was ready to open wide behind his left shoulder. Louis Pasteur 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 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 insects. Anna Akhmatova was afraid of open spaces and Michelle Pfeiffer was of closed spaces. Johnny Depp has a coulrophobia – fear of clowns.
c) Hypochondriasis or hypochondria is an 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 bad health. Rousseau had read about symptoms of any illness and 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 behaviour of A. Pushkin, S. Rachmaninov, A. Durer, I. Bunin and Onore de Balzac.
3. Hysterical (modern – dissociative) disorder takes place when a patient exhibits demonstrative and theatrical, very emotional behaviour. Disposed to consider any of his/her experience as a psychological trauma he feels worried about it. It can cause functional somatic, neurological and psychiatric disorders.
Excessive sensitivity, bright hallucinations, ability to auto-suggestion and well-developed imagination can lead to the creation of unique and bizarre worlds, built on openly subjective criteria and according to the laws of a patient’s own logic.
The extreme brightness of representations of the world, the rich emotional colouring of experiences, and the tendency to auto-suggestion was observed at Scriabin, whose music was nervous and impulsive.
H. Berlioz wrote about himself: “Well, this imaginary world is still part of me, and has grown by the addition of all the new impressions that I experience as my life goes on; it’s become a real malady. Sometimes I can scarcely endure this mental or physical pain (I can’t separate the two) … I see that wide horizon and the sun, and I suffer so much, so much, that if I did not take a grip of myself, I should shout and roll on the ground. I have found only one way of completely satisfying this immense appetite for emotion, and this is music.”
Also, Honore de Balzac, suffered from some of the various symptoms of dissociative disorder that were manifested in the life and art of Honore de Balzac, Vsevolod Meyerhold, and Marilyn Monroe.
4. Neurasthenia (literally – “nervous weakness”) is a condition characterized by a combination of increased excitability and irritable weakness that is accompanied by fatigue, anxiety and exhaustion. Neurasthenia in men of genius is caused by over-fatigue, hard work and possible conflict with surrounding people who do not understand their obsession and do not recognize the results of their work. Being under constant stress often led them to a nervous breakdown. Hans Christian Anderson, Karl Marx, Bekhterev and Zoshchenko were in that state at certain periods of their lives.


Psychoses are characterized by a partial loss of connection with objective reality, an immersion into the world of his own fantasies and are accompanied by acute distress and suffering.
Vincent van Gogh had a total of over 150 psychiatric diagnoses, including three types of psychosis: schizophrenia, manic-depressive psychosis and epilepsy.
This did not prevent him from winning the fame of one of the most outstanding, original and great artists in history.
1. Paranoia is manifested in geniuses by the creation of their own bizarre worlds, which are systematic, logical, complex, and organized around super-valuable ideas of making revolutionary scientific discoveries, creating masterpieces in the arts, and realizing their special mission of transforming society.
Geniuses of the paranoid type are characterized not so much by the presence of morbid suspicion, chicanery, and mania of persecution as by the transformation of these symptoms into ideas of greatness and conviction in their special, high mission.
They imagine themselves as the centre of the world, jealously asserting their freedom, and are characterized by an unshakable confidence in their rightness and a passionate, unrestrained pursuit of their goal.
Just here highlights the thin line between genius and disease and reaffirms the essential criterion of genius is the high value of the results of his work, creating masterpieces and making discoveries for the progressive development of mankind. Empedocles, J. Strindberg, E. Pound, K. Malevich and P. Picasso belong to this type of great people.
2.  Schizophrenia is characterized by splitting, disorganization, loss of integrity and harmony of the internal world of the personality, and formation of separate autonomous fragments within it, including imaginary, but subjectively real, independent subjects and “voices”.
In so doing, the personality builds up fenced off from the objective world, a unique individual reality, with its own laws and values.
Violation of criticism and domination of own criteria of estimations leads to the blurring of borders between conscious and unconscious, to superimposition and mixing of real life and dreams.
This mental deviation is characterized by a deepening of reflection, auditory hallucinations, extraordinary creative productivity and a change in the perception of reality.
In this sense, we can talk about the formation of a unique way of perceiving reality, a special vision of the world, which consists in giving things and events their own unusual, often tragic, meanings, in considering them from their own, non-standard point of view.
The unusual, mysterious productivity of creative personalities who show symptoms of schizophrenia gives grounds to consider it not as a disease, but as a special form of human existence. (K. Jaspers) or as a special mode of functioning of the psyche and brain (B. O’Brien).
Currently, the predisposition to schizophrenia and the disease itself is not considered with
inferiority positions but in the context of the adaptive essence of all reactions of an organism, which allows us to understand it as a consequence of natural evolutionary changes of a species leading to the expansion of its adaptive possibilities (I.V. Davydovsky, D.F. Horrobin, I.Y. Lagun).
A full immersion into the creative process and the world of his heroes, strenuous search for the truth, the right word and the exact means of expression lead the creator into a state in which reality reveals its most bizarre and unexpected sides, in which he can experience vocal hallucinations, experience the powerful action of external forces.
So the schizophrenic symptom of the influence formed in the inner world of independent subjects,   to some extent,  recalls described by K. Paustovsky’s « rebellion of heroes», which, in the process of writing an artistic work, cease to obey the will of the author and begin to act according to their own logic.
The release of the subconscious forces, the destruction of all social barriers and the removal of professional stereotypes, and the splitting and mixing of objects of reality lead to the formation of fresh, bizarre connections, the creation of non-standard associations and the generation of novelty.
What the creative person does consciously, with the help of various methods and techniques, the person with certain schizophrenic symptoms does freely and naturally, under the influence of powerfully unfolding intrapersonal structures.
Thus, in literary creativity, this irregularity reveals itself in the juxtaposition of incomparable concepts, in an original interpretation of events, in the unjustified accentuation of minor details, and in unexpected paradoxical conclusions.
In the visual arts, it reveals itself in the tendency to detach from ordinary reality, to break the usual connections, to disintegrate the depicted objects into their constituent elements, to autonomic objects, and to depict abstract concepts and entities (V.M. Milyavsky).
In the modern literature, there are descriptions of the whole constellations of outstanding cultural figures who in their life activity and creativity exhibited various schizophrenic symptoms and syndromes:
Servants of the spirit and philosophers: Georg Hegel, Friedrich Nietzsche, Charles Fourier, René Descartes, Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Scientists: Blaise Pascal, Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, Herbert Spencer, James Cardano, James Harrington, John Nash.
Writers and poets: Nikolai Gogol, Konstantin Batiushkov, Ferenc Kafka, Johan August Strindberg, Johann Helderlin, Rainer Rilke, Alexander Dumas the Son, Veniamin Khlebnikov, Vsevolod Garshin, Mikhail Bulgakov, Ernest Hemingway.
Musicians: Robert Schumann, Alexander Scriabin, Sergei Rachmaninoff.
Artists: Albrecht Dürer, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Vasily Kandinsky, Michael Vrubel, Pavel Filonov, Mikalojus Ciurlionis.
Dancer: Vaclav Nijinsky.
Many perfectly healthy creative individuals, in the course of their life and creative work, may from time to time experience subdued, smoothed manageable schizophrenic symptoms.
Viewing this mental disorder from an evolutionary and cultural-historical perspective allows us to conclude that schizophrenia can be understood as a disease from a clinical point of view, as a borderline condition from a social one, and as a norm from a cultural perspective.

To be continued

Навигация по теме<< Предыдущая записьСледующая запись >>