Annoying Gifted Students: Existential Inauthenticity of Romantic Posers


There sits this year’s most annoying student, Boy Genius, predictably located somewhere near the rear of class in the de rigueur, semi-reclined posture that communicates his self-conscious, petulant rebellion. His carefully choreographed, adolescent pose of indolence is instantly recognizable: another—deep teacher sigh– rebel-without-a-clue. He must be endured like slow-drip waterboarding throughout the long, tedious year ahead.  Consider his insolent body language a kind of smoke-signal harbinger of what will be text and subtext to all future Genius Boy communication: “F all y’all and the retarded horses you rode in on.”

Routinely teetering on the precipice of a 65 average, Boy Genius waits ‘til semester exams roll ‘round to finally coral his vast intelligence, at which time he passive aggressively pulls the only perfect score from his ass. This, as he has already mentally calculated, raises his barely passing semester average to a richly undeserved “C”—and, as he has also calculated, sends the teacher into paroxysms of abject rage.

Upon enduring his hostile takeover of her class for an entire year, she’ll get to see him only once more before graduation, when he briefly pops in the following year to rub her nose in a perfect SAT score or an acceptance letter to MIT.   He’ll be embarrassed at his uncontrollable urge to do something so pathetically obvious, but he just can’t stop himself. This sociopathic turd’s need to assert superiority eclipses the risky delayed gratification of letting you enjoy his undeserved success through… say… a school newspaper article.  You might miss it!  No amount of public recognition will abate the narcissism of his adolescent superego gone wild.  Long ago, his id discovered the backdoor accesses to socially appropriate expressions of violence, including Freud’s tour de force:  violence against himself. Rubbing everyone’s nose in his perfect SAT induces the inevitable self-loathing of the existentially inauthentic, psychological violence to others becoming violence to self.  May the circle be unbroken.

Stealing teachers’ thunder is yet another favorite passive-aggressive pastime for this little shit…that is, when not openly belittling slower classmates and, of course, the teacher for being something as pathetic as…a teacher.  One kid, who designed computer programs in his head, while not pretending to listen or participate in class, went out of his way to inform me that he already made twice my salary–not any great shakes, though damn good money for a high-school senior.   One arrogant punk liked to stand during group projects so he could better belittle his team members, lording his intelligence over kids who were later expected to do all the actual work.  Admittedly he had bigger fish to fry, like the upcoming gallery opening he had in NYC for his utterly amazing portraits.  Little Miss Brainiac, finding a way to explode my lesson with a pre-emptive drone strike, quoted from memory a stanza in the poem I’d read a week earlier– the very stanza I’d later planned to ask slower students to link to themes in our current readings.  She snorted with disgust when another kid excitedly offered, “That’s just like the poem we read!”

“That’s because it IS the poem we read,” was the brutally condescending reply.

I had to admit, furious though I was, that it was a brilliant double play: the teacher’s lesson-plan thunder stolen with a simultaneous shut down of all future contributions from the now blushing girl of mere better-than-average intelligence and shit-hot work ethic.

Thunder theft is usually a one-on-one, genius-teacher transaction:  a quick notification or warning of what might later be—should Genius Boy so choose– the source of ruin of your utterly facile lesson plans geared towards the middle performers. You’ll notice the smug grin and direct gaze that communicates “You’ve been served.” However, thunder theft, while satisfying to the genius, lacks the beauty of complete and total annihilation of classroom dialogue.  Getting the answer right before anyone even sees the question coming has usually lost its luster by about 9th grade, perhaps because it lacks the full-scale insurrection that silences the entire class.  The genius excels in shutting down class dialogue, especially in advanced classes in which at least a fourth of the students have been parent placed over the recommendations of teachers and another fourth are just plain ole run-of-the-mill hard workers.  The genius has the unfair advantage of having already earned a PH.D. –in making other kids feel like earthworms and teachers, pack mules of received knowledge.

I would be remiss were I not to offer up the special shout out to all those colleges and universities that reinforce such shitty behavior by recruiting the worthless genius in spite of …EVERYTHING!  Congratulations for finding a way to invert such pedestrian fables as “The Tortoise and the Hare.” New Moral:   tortoise loses, hare wins, fuck you.  He wins precisely because he detected the absurd, futile activity designed to make him run: the putative race. He’ll NOT be jumping through hoops, over hurdles, or across finish lines set in place by those pedestrian thinkers called TEACHERS! That’s for damn sure!  Many colleges willingly risk the inevitable spike in dropout statistics to lure these obstreperous hares to their hallowed halls.  In the unwritten cost-benefit analysis, having Einstein or Jobs as alumnus outweighs the occasional hit to dropout stats that, after all, only form one part of the reports by which colleges are ranked.  Let’s all welcome Little Miss, Little Miss Couldn’t be Bothered with the C Average and perfect SATs.   In fact, give her a full ride so she can continue doing whatever she was already doing while not pretending to constructively participate in high school. Even the occasional Unabomber outweighs no Unabomber in the Kardashian, image-over-substance calculus of college-admission policies.

Guess that’s why I loved Dwight, the young gang-banger genius encountered early in my career, long before making the move to greener (i.e., whiter) suburban-school pastures. Sure, Dwight played the same dissimulating pranks as my suburban geniuses. Sure, he had the same ability to predict where I was heading so he could pull the rug out from under me, or pin me to the wall and watch me squirm.   Oh, hell yes, he was full of piss and vinegar–and the occasional Dionysian frenzy of gratuitous violence–but at least he never dreamed of being rewarded for his shitty performance.  It never occurred to him that a poverty stricken little turd in stolen Nikes, with both father and brother in prison, might actually be courted by colleges for merely pulling an amazing SAT score out of his ass. Even ITT Tech looked like a fool’s mirage.  Like I said, the kid wasn’t stupid—just terminally pissed at having so many closed doors that he’d never had the opportunity to arrogantly slam shut all by himself.

Turns out, burning everything to the ground is more a game for the privileged, bourgeois genius than one who has long endured a scorched earth policy that is his urban birthright. The organization of my advanced English class appealed less to the burn-down-the-house genius than, say, the OCD/ Asperger’s genius.   The class offered OCD-like categorical imperatives, regimenting experimentation with a variety of literary critical models—more appealing to Asperger Boy than young Dionysus.  To the bourgeois Dionysus, this ploddingly binary splicing and dicing of literary critical models into bite-sized chunks for the advanced high school student merited nothing less than a thorough razing.   True genius explodes rules before they’ve even been fully established; hence, the ongoing attempt to dynamite all that fearful, neo-Classical symmetry teachers seem hell bent on imposing on obviously random knowledge. Genius embraces the Romantic pose, dismantling any codified structures that might constrain free-ranging intellect.

The Romantic genius possesses almost instinctive radar for reductio-ad-absurdum exceptions to spurious systems or structures teachers gratuitously impose on information… in the service of those kids without a clue.  True genius, however, has Roderick Usher’s desire to bury his identical twin, Poe’s eerie symbol for the all-too-orderly Enlightenment Project and the bullshit neo-Classical aesthetic of symmetry that undergirds it.  True genius likes to attend ORDER’s muffled screams in some distant, sealed chamber while dabbling in the narcissistic and “wildly improvisational” inventions only those momentarily freed from rules can enjoy…or even understand. In fact, as Poe well knows, it is precisely the muffled screams of the twin which inspire the most fruitful improvisation.  Poe’s aesthetic is the Romantic genius’s aesthetic: tear down social convention so you can build something utterly new…and better.  Genius prefers Nietzsche’s precarious acrobatics on the tightrope between Apollonian order and Dionysian frenzy: one absurdly ordered and arbitrarily limited, the other bordering on what Poe calls “the kingdom of disorganization.” It’s a dangerous little Romantic game that often ends badly.  Just ask Poe and Nietzsche.

The fact that Dwight toyed with following father and brother to prison added a certain je ne sais quoi to his quickly fading attraction to the Dionysian genius’s posture of Romantic self-destruction: he grasped that playful prodding of the abyss had consequences far less inviting than finding oneself waitlisted at Yale.   Sure, he could wax as eloquent as the bourgeois genius on his love affair with Romantic ruin.  He writes, “I once was a man who cared about peace, but now I seek only war.  I want to feel the destruction and kill the construction, and tell the world I know not what for.  I want to see the dark and dim the lights so that the night will become me.  And pour out my vanity and my purity so that my body is left empty.”  However, Dwight’s affair with Romantic destruction was short lived.   His one-sentence analysis of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde recognizes the need for compromise lest the path of destruction prove calamitous:  “Neither id nor superego was willing to give up a piece of themselves. It was inevitable that both would be destroyed.”  For those who suffer under the delusion that “gang banger” and “genius” are mutually exclusive identities, I’m here to wake you from your dogmatic slumber.

What separates Dwight from his wealthy, suburban-genius counterparts and, of course, his dumb-as-fuck gang banger peers, is the speed with which he sorted through all the possibilities for escape from, destruction of, oblivion to, or participation in received social structures.  His Romance with raging against the machine had been brought into critical focus by an abusive and criminal father.  One can’t help wondering if  Bourgeois Genius Boy might benefit from a similar beat down.

Unlike Dwight, Bourgeois Genius Boy luxuriates in cagey existential inauthenticity.  Escape, destruction and oblivion are merely  inauthentic rebellious pretenses to the bourgeois genius, whose real purposes ooze from the edges of his half-assed,  passive-aggressive obstruction of all efforts to keep him within striking distance of the unearned rewards he knows await him… for merely existing. In short, his pose of “dangerous” indifference comes with full awareness of the social safety net that wealth and privilege has in place to catch him, embrace him, and send him off to the Ivy League.  Again, he’s not stupid.  At times, he is frustrated … even enraged by his own inauthenticity.  But ultimately he embraces inauthenticity with a petulant shrug… and a latte from the college bookstore.

Dwight had already peered into Poe’s “kingdom of disorganization” and found it…lacking.  He both admired his brother’s willingness to fuck with chaos and fretted over the excessively ordered environment his brother’s Dionysian frenzies had earned him: PRISON TIME. In the following poetic summary, Dwight almost envies the structured life prison has finally imposed on his brother: “I remember me and my brother used to sleep a few feet from one another.  Now we sleep miles apart.  Some people say he’s on the inside and I’m on the outside, given that he’s in jail.  But, what if he’s got the good end of the stick, free from the worries of the world?  We used to steal clothes, shoes…just whatever.  We drank booze to lose the pain of a broken home, and smoked pot to breath out the smoke caused by the burning down of our hearts.”   Dwight had had plenty of time to evaluate the bitter-sweet prison problem. In an extended metaphor poem, he digs further into the conundrum, comparing prison life to death:

The music’s loud, my ears are ringing

I hear the angels singing.

They sing the same songs Devils do,

With slightly different tones.

Now dead in hell, confined by bars,

Told when to eat and sleep.

I see that life is death disguised,

In the form of a labyrinth.

Gee, I wish I could have written like that as a high school senior…or even now.

Dwight’s exploration of the Greek meaning of his name is particularly revealing:

My Name

In Greek my name is Dionysus,

The tyrant of Syracuse.

An Abusive, highly Intelligent man,

Who was known for being cruel.

                                 My father named me after him,

Continuing his legacy.

Now he’s smiling; I’m cursed like him,

And laughed at regularly.

Six demonic numbers create

That of my name.

My father’s work I can’t escape,

It’s driving me insane.

                           Dwight, Dwight, is what I’m always called.

I hate this name, and it hates me, too,

And both of us shall fall.

But poetic reverie is just that, a dreamscape in which one can safely explore possibilities…and then reject them. I watched as Dwight rejected the possibility of falling. Fully comprehending that there would be no safety net of wealth or privilege to cushion this fall, he simply willed not to fall.  Because, in Dwight’s chaotic world, to fall is…to fall. Fall into a high-school dropout–like 52% of your friends. Fall into a 20% homicide victim rate.  Fall into a 40% homicide perpetrator rate.  Fall into prison—like 32% of your literal and figurative brothers.  Fall into a BIG, DUMB STATISTIC.

No, Dwight had had his fill of his father’s name, opting instead for the Apollonian order his vast intelligence could create upon a whim.  He notes that “when surrounded by changing variables, you create a constant. I created within myself both father and mother, and continue to raise myself.”  Later, Dwight explores the physical abuse he endured for years at the hands of his tyrannical father, Dionysus, Sr.: “I’ve been beaten until pain felt like comfort. I’ve been scarred for life with bites from fights and scared to sleep when it turned night.  I thought he’d kill me or I’d kill him. His fist fit comfortably with my face. He hit me until I had different personalities, and some of them I hate.   Those days of torment made me into the man I am now:  strong, self-reliant, independent, ambitious, and destined for success.  Do I hate my father?  No. He was a confused man.  And even though he chose the wrong path of discipline, it was vital to make me into a person who cared about his future.”  La voila!  Therein lies the difference between the upper-middle class and urban-poor genius:  Bourgeois Genius Boy’s existentially inauthentic Romantic pose is jettisoned in favor of something akin to unabashed, Dale-Carnegie optimism. Dionysus be damned! Apollo be praised! Let the sun shine in.

     Ran into Dwight at the thrift store a couple of years back.  Always knew I’d see him again.  He had a little boy who was clever like his dad.  And, he was obviously a doting father, looking for used children’s books to read at night when he came home from classes at the local tech college where he studied computers.  May the circle be …broken.


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