Sunday, March 1, 2009


I read an interesting comment on a New York Times article about 'greatness' in modern poetry on Edward Byrne's blog and it got me thinking about greatness in general.

The basic thesis of the original article by David Orr is that poets today are living in the shadow of the greatness of a bygone era. It questions what exactly greatness is and who can achieve it.

I really interested in our quest for greatness, and our quest for discovering greatness. There seems to be a hunger to know what is really, truly great - to define it, pin it up and glory in it.

But what is great? Is it something which speaks into our time, or something which challenges the status quo, perhaps it requires invention and originality, is it whatever the majority deems to be great? Or perhaps what the powerful minority deems to be great - a means of exclusion?

Whatever greatness is, we all want to know it, to be in on the big greatness secret. If Robert Lowell is declared to be the greatest poet of his generation, we want to read his work, and see for ourselves just how great he is. We want to be on the inside of the claim.

Or, we want to know what makes a great coffee, and we will pursue it until we achieve it. We will study the art of coffee making and desire to know greatness in coffee.

Likewise, design bloggers will pursue greatness is design, and desire to be the first to uncover it on their blogs.

Why do we have this obsession with uncovering, revelling in and being part of greatness?

photo: hyperakt prints: Deroy Peraza


onlinesoph said...

It's an interesting concept, isn't it? We all strive for greatness, in some way. For me, it's not enough to be an average writer, or bake a so-so loaf of banana bread. I want to be a great writer, and bake the best banana bread.

I think, as a Christian, sometimes I too quickly downplay mankind's quest for greatness as arrogant and sinful. And there is an element of truth in that. Part of our quest for greatness is a desire to see our name glorified.

But we mustn't forget that greatness, and our desire to achieve the best, is not a bad thing in itself. Our God is great, and he delights in giving us His very best, whether it's the beauty of creation or the fullness of his blessings. Our desire for greatness is perhaps a reflection that we are made in the image of God.

What do you think?

sophg said...

Hi Soph, I had certainly pondered the truth of wanting to see our name glorified.

I also actually think we're looking for gods on earth. In a romans 1 kind of way - looking for something/someone to worship.

On the idea of wanting to do the best you can - I've been thinking for a while now about ambition, and whether it's a good thing. I'm still not sure.

I think we need to watch ourselves. I know I tend to be a bit of an over-achiever in some areas, and won't be happy unless I do well - and that's a lot to do with where I get my self-esteem from.

For me, I need to be ok with average. While I agree with your line about god delighting in giving us his very best - i think this can easily be distorted and become "I deserve the best - why hasn't god given it to me?" in all sorts of areas - career etc.

Hmm still pondering it all. Thanks for your thoughts :)

onlinesoph said...

yes, definitely. We can distort greatness to become an idol. And think we have a right to success.

Maybe the answer is also understanding God's concept of greatness - ie. that the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.

And understanding that while we strive to do things well, the ability to do things comes from God, not us.