10. Semi-Mad Genius Many geniuses were partially insane, if not wholly insane; many geniuses lived on the borderline between sanity and insanity.
Schopenhauer is an example of a genius who was partially insane. Schopenhauer had many irrational fears and anxieties; fearing that people would
misinterpret a trance as death and bury him alive, Schopenhauer “stipulated that his remains be left unburied beyond the usual time.” Cézanne is
another example of a genius who was partially insane. Cézanne experienced “chronic paranoia”; when his friends threw a party to celebrate his
birthday, he left abruptly, thinking they were making fun of him.
It is an indication of the genius’ partial insanity that he goes to extremes and is one-sided. The genius lacks moderation. Dostoyevsky, for
example, said, “I go to the ultimate limit everywhere and in everything; all my life long I have always approached the limit!”9
A second indication of the genius’ partial insanity is that he’s moody, more so than most people are. Genius often oscillates between elation and
depression. Kierkegaard is an example of a moody genius. Kierkegaard’s mental state was described as “depression, alternating with, but more
commonly blended with, a condition of exaltation.” Strindberg was also moody; “throughout [Strindberg’s] life,” wrote one of his biographers,
“his moods varied from elation to the blackest depression.” The moodiness of genius tends to take the form of depression rather than elation;
genius is melancholy. Kafka is an example of a melancholy genius: “every day,” said Kafka, “I wish myself off the earth.”10
A third indication of the partial insanity of genius is that genius often has a tendency toward illness. Examples of geniuses who were chronically ill
are Epicurus, Pascal, Lichtenberg, Schiller, Leopardi, Darwin, Nietzsche and Proust. Illness often has a psychological cause, and chronic illness is
often the result of psychological problems. Certain illnesses, such as epilepsy and asthma, almost always have a psychological cause. Several geniuses
were epileptics, including Muhammad, Dostoyevsky and Flaubert. Proust’s asthma was a symptom of his psychic state, a plea for maternal attention.
While the ideal man, according to the adage, has a healthy mind in a healthy body (mens sana in corpore sano), the genius often has an unhealthy mind
in an unhealthy body. Is it surprising, then, that so many geniuses die young?