So, who can explain “genius”? Or is it like the late Justice Potter Stewart describing obscenity: “I know it when I see it”?
Seemingly, this is what the MacArthur Foundation grapples with annually. Each year it names its national “genius” grant winners. Each of the 24 “geniuses” gets $500,000 over five years to recognize and underwrite their ingenuity.
And once again the recipients are eclectic, the criteria enigmatic.
For example, among this year’s “geniuses” are Lin He, a Berkeley molecular biologist who has been zeroing in on the role of microRNAs in cancer, and Theodore Zoli, a New York engineer working to protect transportation infrastructure in a disaster.
Also included: Mark Bradford, a Los Angeles artist who incorporates everyday items into abstract art, and Heather McHugh, a Seattle poet who works extensively on wordplay, notably incorporating puns and rhymes.
Cancer research, disaster prevention, abstract art, wordplay. Presumably MacArthur knows it when it sees it.