It is being made by the people who made Syriana. I didn't particularly like Syriana. I suspect it is a guy movie. (Too broad in sweep on the one hand and not enough heart on the other.) Its message seems to be 1) everything is interconnected---which is also its subtitle 2) the good guys if they don't get killed turn out to be in cahoots with the bad guys, because everyone who survives just wants power---or something like that. I apologize to the makers of the film (and to George Clooney) if I have missed the more important message--- such as American capitalism turns even the good guys into bad guys. But that is not what stuck in my mind.
What links Syriana and Blink, I guess, is that they both keep jumping between a number of stories. Yet Syriana builds to something--- even though I didn't particularly resonate with the film. Blink doesn't build to anything at the conceptual level, though Galdwell is a good story teller. Rather one is left with a jumble of self-contradictory themes. Admittedly unconscious cognition and intuition are tough subjects to deal with. (Perhaps no one knows this better than me.) Yet the job of an author is to find a thread through the jumble---or at the very least to acknowledge the dissonance the material creates. Gladwell takes the kitchen sink approach and blurs over all the essential distinctions.
Why then has Blink been such a tremendous success? I think it comes from 3 things in addition to Galdwell's skill as a story teller. The first is the sheer power of the metaphor ‘a blink of the eye’ for intuition. Yet the metaphor is not original to Gladwell and he does not develop it. Rather it seems like an afterthought used as packaging to market the book. Well sometimes the wrapping paper is more valuable than what is inside.
The second is the nature of popular culture. Being a popular culture guru means staying a millimeter ahead of the crowd--- capturing a trend a second or two before it explodes. Unconscious cognition and intuition have become hot topics of scientific investigation. But let's look more carefully at what is happening here. With respect to intuition, science is finally catching up with experience. Blink in popularizing this material says what everyone knows---if they've ever looked at their thought processes. I have to conclude that an awful lot of people have not. Only then could it come as a revelation that sometimes we don't use rigorous analysis, and furthermore what we use instead works just as well most of the time, and often even better. But Blink gets it wrong because it mistakes figure for ground. Analysis, if it comes at all, for the most part comes after intuition--- and this is especially so in our personal lives, as the work of Antonio Damasio makes clear.
The third reason Blink has been so sucessful is the most interesting to me. Reading Blink is a little like going to a cool cocktail party where everyone is a little high and full of themselves for being at such a cool party. One feels ---why yes--- Glad and Well. I was not a sympathetic reader of this book, as you might well imagine, yet about a third of the way through, even I felt Glad and Well (henceforth G+W). It's as if he encoded a little bit of an illicit substance into the prose. I don't know how he did this. Perhaps it is because as Jeffrey Rosen said in his critique, the book “…succumbs to the fallacy that people with good ideas must be good people. Everyone in the book who gets psychology right is not only or mainly a bright person, he is also a noble human being.”
As soon as the discriminating reader comes down from the G+W high they will recognize that very little interesting or coherent has been said. Rosen called Blink “a book for people who do not read books." I got two thirds the way through and then skipped to the end. I don't recommend Blink; I recommend a glass of wine instead. But if you have already read it and have some insight into the G+W thing, please let me know.
For the Time Being is a book by Annie Dillard I have written about several times ( Oct 24 and Dec 4 posts). After reading 40 or so pages when I first got it, I put it down. It is heavy duty---not aimed at making one feel either G+W. A year and a half later, I picked it up again where I had stopped. Reading a few pages at a time before I went to sleep, I found it to be one of the most compelling books I have encountered. Page after page was packed with insights and a quirkiness that penetrated to my core. Some nights I would only read over the few pages I had read the night before. I still keep it by my bedside. Sometimes I open it at random, and contemplate one of its passages. In one of my many favorites, Dillard says:
Mostly, God is out of the physical loop. Or the loop is a spinning hole in his side. Simone Weil takes a notion from Rabbi Isaac Luria to acknowledge that God's hands are tied. To create, God did not extend himself but withdrew himself; he humbled and obliterated himself, and left outside himself the domain of necessity in which he does not intervene. Even in the domain of souls, he intervenes only “under certain conditions.”
Does God stick his finger in, if only now and then? Does God budge, nudge, twist, help? Is heaven pliable? Or is …praying for things and events, for rain and healing--- delusional?
For the Time Being, like Blink, jumps back and forth between a number of interconnected “stories.” Yet unlike Blink, it builds to a crescendo that unifies all the content and brings the theme of interconnectedness home in an extraordinary meaningful and unexpected way. Though it didn't make me feel G+W in a cocktail party sense, it did something much more important. It left me feeling very small and very big (vS+vB) both at the same time. Dillard's book considers the most difficult questions of existence and then manages to reframe them in a very different sense high. One is also given an interesting mission---should one choose to accept it.
If the Syriana people are really interested in the theme of interconnection and in conveying some of its depths, I suggest they should make a movie out of For the Time Being instead of Blink. I admit it would take a lot of skill and also may require some rearranging. But imagine the cinemagraphic power of a movie that keeps switching between historically important archeological digs on the inhospitable steppes of China, Jerusalem, a maternity ward, and the ceramic soldiers in Xian. Also imagine Annie Dillard as narrator, and my favorite palentologist/theologian Teilhard de Chardin ( played by George Clooney of course) weaving in and out. That is Teilhard to the left. Finally imagine cameo appearances by Isaac Luria, Simone Wein, and many of the other deeply feeling and colorful theological thinkers of the ages.
In fact, you might even say that For the Time Being--- a story about existence--- is the real Blink. Perhaps this is part of what is beginning to bug me about the overuse of the phrase 'a blink of the eye.' Because it is so in, people feel cool and G+W when they say it. However the idiom used in its traditional sense has an undertone of sadness that is experienced largely at an unconscious level. Dillard’s book, in part by heading directly into this sadness and into the heartache of existence, comes out the other side. It brings the powerful (and grounded) sense of Being that comes from accepting what is.