Wolfe and Gladwell Similarities

Turns out that I can get a lot of reading done in the downtime I have between job applications, photography assignments, and tie making endeavours. I’ve been finding some quite interesting books all over the house, and this week’s fascination has been on Tom Wolfe’s Hooking Up — a collection of essays, novellas and opinion pieces on American life, sociobiology, and other authors’ opinions. I’ve read most of Wolfe’s novels before, Bonfire, A Man in Full and I Am Charlotte Simmons and I’ve throughly enjoyed them all. They’re long and overly descriptive in parts, but that’s part of the appeal, and Wolfe’s way of storytelling. I feel I knew what to expect, at least in writing style, from Hooking Up, and in most parts it delivered. But there were some sentences in there, maybe even some paragraphs that were truly outstanding, and something really quite special.

I’d like to draw your attention to the essay “Digibabble, Fairy Dust, and the Human Anthill” that’s included in the first half of the book (I’d love to link to an online copy of it, but I can’t seem to find one other than a sketchy Google books OCR copy). It presents a wonderful overview of the lore and background surrounding E.O. Wilson’s introduction of sociobiological theory into the science world. It’s a short essay, 30 pages at most, but it contains some absolute literary gold. In particular some great sentence structures that I indubitably feel have entered Malcolm Gladwell’s subconscious to such an extent whereby I hear the rhythm and meter of some of Gladwell’s great talks (in particular those at UPenn and HPU on Youtube) while reading this Wolfe piece:

“There turns out to be one serious problem with memes, however. They don’t exist. A neurophysiologist can use the most powerful and sophisticated brain imaging now available—and still not find a meme.”

and even more so in:

“So our fundamentalists find themselves in the awkward position of being like those Englishmen in the year 1000 who believed quite literally in the little people, the fairies, trolls and elves. To them, Jack Frost was not merely a twee personification of winter weather. Jack Frost was one of the little people, an elf who made your fingers cold, froze the tip of your nose like an icicle, and left the ground too hard to plow. You couldn’t see him, but he was there. Thus also with memes. Memes are little people who sprinkle fairy dust on genes to enable them to pass along so called cultural information to succeeding generations in a proper Darwinian way.”

It’s wonderfully uncanny. But delightful all at the same time. Hooking Up has this article, and some other gems in it. Absolutely worth a little read if you’re even remotely entertained by Wolfe’s prose.

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