‘Talent Offends, Genius Terrifies’

Myth and Persona in the Biographical Research on Christopher Langford James (1952 – 2008)

Authors

  • Marc Rontsch

Keywords:

Artistness, Persona, Christopher James, Biography

Abstract

Christopher Langford James (1952 – 2008) was a Zimbabwean-born composer, orchestrator and pianist, whose style conflated traditional European musical textures with southern African instrumentation, rhythms, and harmonies. His compositions include works such as Four Portraits for Pianoforte in Four Movements (1982), Songs of Lamentation and Remonstration (1985), Images of Africa (1987), and Paradise Regained (1999).  While my research on James’s life and music has uncovered multiple angles for critical inquiry, the dominant narrative that emerged from interviews with his family, and discussions with colleagues, was that of mental illness.

This article argues that mental illness – while being a very real condition experienced by James – can simultaneously be understood as doing persona work. Through the intersecting frameworks of persona studies and life writing, this article critically interrogates the understanding of stereotypical concepts of mental illness within the construct of what Kim Barbour terms ‘artistness’. Through critical examination of how mental illness is understood and interpreted as a central construction of artistness, this article speaks to the complexity of the construction of James’s biography, and how the narrative performance of James’s mental illness can be understood within the framework of persona studies.

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Published

2022-09-14

How to Cite

Rontsch, M. (2022). ‘Talent Offends, Genius Terrifies’: Myth and Persona in the Biographical Research on Christopher Langford James (1952 – 2008). Persona Studies, 8(1), 131–142. Retrieved from https://ojs.deakin.edu.au/index.php/ps/article/view/1553