In Praise of Mediocrity

200px-Viktor_Hartman-150x150James Matthew Wilson at Front Porch Republic:

Mediocrity makes visible something about tradition that greatness can often obscure. It is one thing to say, for instance, that the West possesses a valuable tradition because, within it, we find a sampling of awesome geniuses, from Homer and Plato, to Dante, Shakespeare, and Nietzsche. But this hardly explains the value of tradition. Traditions are self-authenticating. They are good in themselves. To live within and participate in a tradition is, again, to keep something alive and to draw things and persons together, across time, in a community of knowledge and love. The second-rate imitator of Keats in Kentucky, the belated composer of an oratorio in Ohio, may seem derivative, as if merely preserving the shadow of greatness in amber. But, to the contrary, they take their place in a way of being and keep that way open for others to tread.

Authors’ names not withstanding, art, technology, and science, the whole world of work and culture, are starkly impersonal enterprises. The anonymous mediocrity, no less than the legendarymaestro, gives his life in the service of keeping a tradition alive; in being himself forgotten he helps something else to be remembered. What a blessed thing to do.

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