Of a surfing expert with Asperger’s, Lehrer writes, “Clay’s ability to innovate in surfing is rooted in a defining feature of his mental disorder.” Is Lehrer saying that Clay’s surfing expertise is the result of his disease, or merely that certain properties of the disease may lead to success in fields like surfing? Are there an unusually high number of surfers who suffer from Asperger’s? We are not further enlightened.
Lehrer may want us to believe that creativity is essentially abnormal, medically or socially or intellectually; but the history of creativity is riddled with geniuses who worked within the conventions and in the centers. So, perhaps sensing that he has made himself a hostage to fortune, Lehrer also assures us that sometimes rest and relaxation, or outsider status, or a lack of knowledge, is not really the secret to creativity. Sometimes the secret is, in fact, hard thinking. In a brief discussion of Auden, he writes that “September 1, 1939,” feels as if “it were composed on the back of a cocktail napkin,” but assures us that this “ease” is an illusion, and that the poem required a lot of hard work. This is one of the features of Lehrer’s genre: make an absurd claim, and then act as if you alone have the insight to knock it down. It is ridiculous and condescending to conclude from even a perfunctory reading of Auden’s poem that it could have been jotted down on a cocktail napkin. Lehrer goes on to say that sometimes inventions do not come until one can “think no more,” and that an obsessive focus is crucial. Uh-huh. So the lesson of Lehrer’s hot book is this: creativity comes from intense thinking, or it doesn’t.
Isaac Chotiner: The Curse Of Knowledge: A Review Of Jonah Lehrer’s “Imagine: How Creativity Works” | The New Republic. This is a really major takedown — I hope Lehrer will write a response.