Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History

 In Blog, Neil Andersen


Malcolm Gladwell has a podcast called Revisionist History.

It’s smart, fun, and feels like listening to a chapter of one of his books.

I especially enjoyed the Hallelujah episode,  which examines art and creativity. I think it also connects to the artistic experience, which for me involves feeling aesthetically alive. I feel this whenever I experience a pleasurable work of art—one that has used codes and conventions of its form and medium to speak deeply and meaningfully.

When I studied writing in the 80s, I read Janet Emig, who wrote about Mozartian and Beethovian writing styles. The Mozartian style involves thinking for a long time then writing quickly with little or no revision, as though the rough copy has been processed in the writer’s imagination. The Beethovian style involves writing everything down, then revising assiduously over a long period. It is as though the writer needs to read and process her own work. I found this interesting because I use both styles, depending on the task, but I use the Mozartian style more often.

The Mozartian/Beethovian dichotomy connects to Gladwell’s comments on creativity, although he uses Degas and Picasso’s painting styles metaphorically instead, but I think for the same illustrative purposes.

I think that this podcast could be a great discussion starter in a writing unit or course. It might also be useful when discussing cover versions of songs and remakes of movies or TV series.

It is a little disconcerting to hear Malcolm Gladwell, a champion of critical thinking, hawking for his sponsors, but also a great media literacy lesson: bills must be paid and his is an ad-supported podcast.


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