The last sentence of Jorge Luis Borges’ review of “Citizen Kane” (in selected non-fictions) is: It is not intelligent, though it is the work of genius -- in the most nocturnal and Germanic sense of that bad word.

I cannot figure out what Borges meant by ... genius -- in the most nocturnal and Germanic sense of that bad word.

  • Litcrit may be OT. – Kris Jun 25 '18 at 13:05

He is qualifying what he means by "genius." This is highly poetic, so I'm just taking a stab here, but if there is a specific context I am missing, please correct me...

Firstly, he is saying that he is using this word in an unconventional manner - he is not using the 'daily,' '9-to-5' definition of "genius," but rather a definition that you would bump into if you stayed up late (nocturnal.)

Secondly, he is making it clear that when he writes "genius," he doesn't mean 'super smart,' but rather, he means what the word historically (etymologically) meant, which was more like, as Webster defines, "attendant spirit [of a deity]." So it's more at that 'Citizen Kane is the product of a god working through a man...' I presume he says "bad word" because he is frustrated with how everyone just uses it to mean 'very smart,' these days.

Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/genius

  • Thank you tidbertum. Your answer helped me to get the point about Germanic sense of the word “genius” but as for the use of “nocturnal” in the sentence I am not quite convinced. If I’m not mistaken, the words genius, genie, and jinni are more or less synonymous. In some cultures it is believed that such (so-called) spirits are active only at night. Could Borges’ reference to “nocturnal” (nocturnal sense of the [bad word] “genius” be somehow related to this point? – Bahman Farhadi Jun 25 '18 at 16:44
  • excellent observation! that makes a lot of sense! – tidbertum Jun 25 '18 at 19:05

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.