Thursday, 19 July 2012
The Low Level Polymath
I was once rudely described (by someone I detest) as a "low level polymath." Now the majority of insults tend to bounce off my rhinocerosian hide, but this barb stuck in me enough to hurt, and I think I know why.
The interpersonal savager in question had made a career of insulting people, and so had gone out fo his way to acquire an arsenal of unpleasant techniques with which to practise his art. The one he loved best was "the arrow that comes closest to the truth." He would attempt to divine the target's prime weakness before custom-shaping his warhead, and that meant looking out for the target's most fondly-held idea about himself.
Now, I've always sort of prided myself on having acquired a hoard of near-useless, but to me interesting, information. So it wasn't the "polymath" I objected to, it was the "low level". Damned with faint praise, then? I guess so. But what sort of a mid-list author would I be if I couldn't handle faint praise, right?
I wonder if what had really hit home was the notion that, if a polymath was someone who knows somthing about everything, then what he had implied about me was that I knew virtually nothing about almost everything, This is not an enviable description, however true it may be, and translated to me as an insult.
But more: if I was a low level polymath, then there must be a hierarchy of polymaths, presumably topped at the giddiest height by Stephen Fry, a man who has repeatedly denied in the coyest manner possible that he knows virtually everything about almost everything, and so craftily forms general opinion to the contrary.
I'd like to state here and now that whatever level of polymathy Stephen Fry has reached, so have I.
Wow, I feel much better having gotten that off my chest.