Gladwell and Gopnik in the New Yorker

Malcolm Gladwell and Adam Gopnik both have articles in this week’s New Yorker. Gopnik’s, which is, in part, about the increasing distance that football fans feel from player, closes with a meditation on being a sports fan. He cites a book Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, titled In Praise of Athletic Beauty, in which Ulrich claims that our intense relationship with sport stems from, as Gopnik summarizes it, “a happy absorbtion in someone else’s ability.”

Gopnik concludes his essay with the following:

The essential experience of watching sports is experiencing loss; anyone who has consoled a twelve-year-old after a Jets loss, or been a twelve-year-old in need of consolation, knows this. Since loss and disappointment are the only fixed points in life, maybe the best we can say is that pro football, like anything else we like to watch, gives us a chance to organize those emotions into a pattern, a season, while occasionally giving us the hope of something more.

Meanwhile, Gladwell has an article about Enron, in which he debunks the idea that Enron’s shady dealings were a puzzle and that its executives kept secret and argues that they actually constituted a mystery in which all the necessary information needed to understand the company’s finances was freely available. Gladwell, as we know, loves binary distinctions, such as the one he made between Cezanne and Picasso last year:

If things go wrong with a puzzle, identifying the culprit is easy: it’s the person who withheld information. Mysteries, though, are a lot murkier: sometimes the information we’ve been given is inadequate, and sometimes we aren’t very smart about making sense of what we’ve been given, and sometimes the question itself cannot be answered. Puzzles come to satisfying conclusions. Mysteries often don’t.

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