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Thread: Is literary talent inborn or can it be learnt?

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    Is literary talent inborn or can it be learnt?

    I remember watching an interview with Christopher Hitchens once in which the interviewer said something about everyone having a novel inside them. Hitchens replied "yes, and in the vast majority of cases that is where it should stay – inside them." Was he right? It seems obvious that IQ is inherited and that no amount of study will ever turn you into a Harold Bloom or Stephen Fry. And clearly sporting talent is largely inherited as well. How about writing? (or, for that matter, painting, music etc). How good do you think someone can get through relentless hard work? I don't mean hack journalism btw but poetry, fiction, general creative writing etc. Personally, I'm convinced you can either do it or you can't.

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Clearly, literary talent is NOT inborn. If we look at extremes, this is easily proved. If a person never learns English, he will not be a great English novelist. It is also clear that literary (linguistic) talent IS inborn. A dog may understand simple commands, but will never be a competent linguist (let alone a novelist).

    Therefore (as with many things) literary talent is both inborn and learned. If we compare it to other arts, it seems that musical talent has the greatest "nature" component. Mozart was writing symphonies at age six. No six-year-olds have been competent novelists. I don't think (I may be wrong) that painting or sculpture creates child prodigies, either. They are skills that must be learned.

    Even sporting talent must be learned (although there is clearly an important component of inherited potential). Someone who has never learned to skate will become a good hockey player only after Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours of practice, whatever his natural potential.


    The exact degree to which nature trumps nurture (or vice versa) is indeterminate for literary talent, as for many other kinds of talent. Neither, however, is exclusively important.

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    Registered User Red Terror's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by WICKES View Post
    I remember watching an interview with Christopher Hitchens once in which the interviewer said something about everyone having a novel inside them. Hitchens replied "yes, and in the vast majority of cases that is where it should stay – inside them." Was he right? It seems obvious that IQ is inherited and that no amount of study will ever turn you into a Harold Bloom or Stephen Fry. And clearly sporting talent is largely inherited as well. How about writing? (or, for that matter, painting, music etc). How good do you think someone can get through relentless hard work? I don't mean hack journalism btw but poetry, fiction, general creative writing etc. Personally, I'm convinced you can either do it or you can't.

    “Do you know why I believe in the novel? It’s a democratic shout. Anybody can write a great novel, one great novel, almost any amateur off the street. I believe this, George. Some nameless drudge, some desperado with barely a nurtured dream can sit down and find his voice and luck out and do it. Something so angelic it makes your jaw hang open. The spray of talent, the spray of ideas. One thing unlike another, one voice unlike the next. Ambiguities, contradictions, whispers, hints. And this is what you want to destroy.”
    ― Don DeLillo, Mao II

    In the following video at 46:13 into it you find the following quote spoken by an actor.

    There has never been a single, great revolution in history without civil war. --- Vladimir Lenin

    There are decades when nothing happens and then there are weeks when decades happen. --- Vladimir Lenin

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    Registered User Red Terror's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    Clearly, literary talent is NOT inborn. If we look at extremes, this is easily proved. If a person never learns English, he will not be a great English novelist. It is also clear that literary (linguistic) talent IS inborn. A dog may understand simple commands, but will never be a competent linguist (let alone a novelist).

    Therefore (as with many things) literary talent is both inborn and learned. If we compare it to other arts, it seems that musical talent has the greatest "nature" component. Mozart was writing symphonies at age six. No six-year-olds have been competent novelists. I don't think (I may be wrong) that painting or sculpture creates child prodigies, either. They are skills that must be learned.

    Even sporting talent must be learned (although there is clearly an important component of inherited potential). Someone who has never learned to skate will become a good hockey player only after Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours of practice, whatever his natural potential.


    The exact degree to which nature trumps nurture (or vice versa) is indeterminate for literary talent, as for many other kinds of talent. Neither, however, is exclusively important.
    I remember reading in Roger Ebert's movie review for "The Search for Bobby Fischer":

    From The Virgin in the Garden, by A. S. Byatt Child, prodigies are found most often in three fields: chess, mathematics and music. All three depend upon an intuitive grasp of complex relationships. None depends on social skills, maturity, or insights into human relationships. A child who is a genius at chess can look at a board and see a universe that is invisible to the wisest adult.

    Regarding Mozart: Does anyone still listen to the symphonies he composed at age 6? I don't think so --- probably because they were vastly inferior to his later work.
    There has never been a single, great revolution in history without civil war. --- Vladimir Lenin

    There are decades when nothing happens and then there are weeks when decades happen. --- Vladimir Lenin

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    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Red Terror View Post
    “Do you know why I believe in the novel? It’s a democratic shout. Anybody can write a great novel, one great novel, almost any amateur off the street. I believe this, George. Some nameless drudge, some desperado with barely a nurtured dream can sit down and find his voice and luck out and do it. Something so angelic it makes your jaw hang open. The spray of talent, the spray of ideas. One thing unlike another, one voice unlike the next. Ambiguities, contradictions, whispers, hints. And this is what you want to destroy.”
    ― Don DeLillo, Mao II

    In the following video at 46:13 into it you find the following quote spoken by an actor.

    Meh, not necessarily democratic. Try Haoran, The Golden Road, which was the propaganda novel of the Cultural Revolution. That's a bit naive.

    Generally its easy to create allegories for reality through novel-formatted fiction, which create a good outlet for political expression. Furthermore, novels tend to be easy to read and understand, which allows greater acceptance by a "movement" than other modes like poetry or essays.

    As for whether we all have a novel inside us -- good novels are the creation of specific moments and temperaments. There were no novels in European languages until recently because the mode did not exist -- Shakespeare, for all his talent, had no novel inside of him. The novel as written today is a product of adaptations in printing technology, simplification of vernacular languages into a written form, and the movement of nationalist sentiment that has swept the world since the 18th century.

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    Christopher Hitchens was the perfect put- downer that's how he made his fame but he could be cruel. He had a certain intelligent arrogance about him which made him ready to pounce. Steven Fry was a much softer character , more humourous and more human. Both quite high flyers, but popularity often comes through being in the right place at the right time. Some say talent will out but is it always recognised?

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