Monday, January 17, 2005


Professor Ann Althouse comes to the defense of both Malcolm Gladwell and Judge Posner, the first in response to a charge (made by Judge Posner) that the prose in Gladwell's new book Blink : The Power of Thinking Without Thinking is "bland and padded with clichés," the second, more weakly, responding to a profile of Posner (not authored by Gladwell but published a few years ago in The New Yorker, Gladwell's usual literary haunt) that called him "ectoplasmic."

Althouse posits that the padding in Gladwell's writing is The New Yorker's fault:
Somebody, somewhere along the line at that magazine, a long time ago, decided the writer has to paint a picture for the reader. So whether you're interviewing a movie star or a scientist, you've got to give us some words about the person's face, what the room was like, what food was consumed, whether a dog trotted into the room.
Since Blink did not itself appear in The New Yorker, I guess this boils down to a claim that Gladwell's slightly flabby writing style was learned at that magazine's knee. But Althouse's rueful re-quoting of the somewhat uncomplimentary Posner profile from the same magazine belies this charge: "he has about him the distant, omniscient, ectoplasmic air of the butler in a haunted house" does, I believe, add a dimension to the understanding of how Posner can write such original let's-get-to-the-point-right-away legal opinions--as well as books--all at an unholy and clerk-destroying pace. It's not a superfluous description (and Althouse herself lauds the article as "rich").

Much as I respect Professor Althouse (and Malcolm Gladwell too--I own and have read The Tipping Point and greatly enjoy his contributions to The New Yorker over the years), I think she is wrong to believe that Posner's criticism of Gladwell is payback for the ectoplasmic remarks: remember, this man chuckles when accused of holding views "bordering on fascism." He also praised The New Yorker profile as "witty, perceptive, and on the whole accurate, though there are a few points that I would take issue with." (The Warrior Monk posted this about the "inhuman monster" last year)

I think if Posner is irked at Gladwell's--or The New Yorker's--literary style, it is more likely due to Posner's preference for spare and sometimes vicious prose as demonstrated in his own writing. For example, his review of
Evan Gerstmann's book Same-Sex Marriage and the Constitution contains this jab:
It is a strange implication of Gerstmann's approach that if a man wanted to marry his sterile sister, his eighty-year-old grandmother, three other women, two men, and his chihuahua, a court would have to turn somersaults to come up with a "compelling state interest" that would forbid these matches.
(the review prompted, in part, this previous post here)

Even the very phrase Althouse has taken issue with has a certain appeal. Although Spitbull's current motto/descriptor reads "an effete and impudent blog" I now intend to petition The Warrior Monk to change it to "
bland and padded with clichés." A much better tagline than we could ever have come up with.


Post a Comment