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What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures
What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures
Malcolm Gladwell
Back Bay Books, 2010
448 pp., $17.00

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Sarah Ruden


The Age Demanded an Image

On dogs and Malcolm Gladwell.

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One enthusiastic viewer of a Millan video, a "dance-movement therapist" named Suzi Tortora, has worked "for a number of years" with "an autistic boy with severe language and communications problems." But in a video of the two of them together, the child is only three and a half and is throwing a normal-sounding tantrum (running back and forth, throwing himself on the floor, flailing, sitting up again, twisting, squirming, crying) with a normal-looking denouement (calming down and saying "OK" to an offer to dance).

What is abnormal is the reward: the woman's gentle but stimulating touch, her massaging then playful movements, her engaging gaze: clear messages to the child that his behavior needs another person—a special, irreplaceable one—to bring it under control, and that the process is pleasant and inviting. For me, shaking off the effects of Gladwell's storytelling is like the end of a hallucinogenic drug trip: the whole exhaustively reported, culturally dominant world of social science doesn't seem real any more. How much of its "evidence" has been manufactured? And when will those most contemptuous of the religious point of view accept as much of compelling reality as that view mandates?

Sarah Ruden is a visiting scholar in classics at Wesleyan University, where she has been translating the Oresteia of Aeschylus for the Modern Library series with funding from the Guggenheim Foundation. The Music Inside the Whale, and Other Marvels: A Translator on the Beauty of the Bible is forthcoming from Knopf in 2014.

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