In the span of a few of days, I read a review of a recent biography of the English poet John Keats and heard about the Cannes premier of director Jane Campion's new film called Bright Star, a biopic about the love affair between Keats and his neighbor Fanny Brawne.
What's up? Are we in the midst of a Keats revival? These are, of course, just two instances of Keats popping up. But we are talking about a consumptive 19th-century poet whose name I used to mix up with Yeats. A movie and a book at the same time suggest something bigger going on. Or is there?
There is no big Keats death or birth anniversary coming up whose accompanying modest fanfare the film and the book could latch onto for marketing purposes. And Campion and the biographer Stanley Plumly have presumably been working on their respective projects for years. It may be mere coincidence that they have finished their work at roughly the same time.
In the past several years, there have been some widely read books that question, directly and indirectly, this notion of coincidence and suggest instead that there are clear, underlying reasons for much of the phenomenon that occurs around us. Those reasons are not always clear to the naked eye, and these writers provide the microscope.
No one has cornered this market quite as lucratively as Malcolm Gladwell . Each of his three books —The Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers — takes academic research and applies it toward understanding the next big thing, intuition and social success. In their widely read book Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner's goal is best understood by the subtitle of the book: "A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything." And finally, there is Geoff Colvin's Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, in which he argues in essence that success is based on hours and hours of "deliberate" practice.
Are we in the midst of a Keats tipping point? Do we explain the fact that Keats produced a lasting, now canonized set of poems all before his death at 25 because he, following the argument made by Gladwell and Colvin, practiced his craft for more than 10,000 hours? I would be happy to see a sudden Keats revival, to see people reading him on the subway and the buses in the way we see Grisham read. But I don't think that's going to happen.
And his death at such a young age places into question whether he had the time to put in his 10,000 hours of practice. In an earlier blog post, I discussed how experience, challenges and failure are important keys to artistic and scientific success. But with the case of Keats, we also need to consider that complicated, often misused term: genius.
And if, by chance, a new musical opens based on the life and work of Keats, or a graphic novel shoots up the best-seller list, the poet himself may tip over in his grave.
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