Literary Invention: The Illusion of the Individual Talent

Critical Inquiry 6 (4):649-667 (1980)
In a paper presented at a symposium on structuralism at the Johns Hopkins University in 1968, the historian Charles Morazé analyzed the issue of invention largely with reference to mathematics and the theory of Henri Poincare.1 Poincare, along with the physiologist Hermann von Helmholtz, was the first to put forward a theory of scientific discovery as occurring in discrete phases. In 1926, Joseph Wallas generalized this theory to apply to all creativity, positing phrases which closely resemble those of Morazé. While both Poincare and Wallas use a four-phrase model of invention, Morazé reduces his to three phrases: information, cogitation, and intellection. In information, the inventor becomes familiar with the sign systems and knowledge, the "collective contributions of society," relevant to his field of problems. Cogitation assembles these materials and concentrates them until "a certain moment" when "a light breaks through." This "sudden illumination...forces us to insist upon the neurological character" of the inventive moment. Finally, in intellection, the inventor rationally evaluates the utility of his invention and thus, in a sense, steps outside of himself and rejoins society. The distinction which organizes Morazé 's entire account, as well as most of the discussion that followed his presentation, is between the "collective" support and control of the inventor and his own individual, or "neurological," act of synthesis or creation. · 1. See Charles Morazé 's "Literary Invention," in The Structuralist Controversy: The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man, ed. Richard Macksey and Eugenio Donato , pp. 22-55. Loy D. Martin is an assistant professor of English at the University of Chicago. He has written The Language of Invention, a study of Robert Browning and the genesis of the dramatic monologue. "A Reply to Carl Pletsch and Richard Schiff" appeared in the Spring 1981 issue of Critical Inquiry
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DOI 10.1086/448073
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