Thursday, November 01, 2012

Ayn Rand - the Objectionable Objectivist

This blog is currently in 'economy mode' as I'm in the middle of moving 7,000 books, along with the accompanying shelving, bolt by bolt. It's gruelling work. But on the plus side, if I had a latent heart problem, it would have probably manifested itself during the last seven days.

In the meantime, here is a clip about Ayn Rand. I have to confess that when I first became a bookseller, I'd never heard of her. However, I quickly became intrigued by Rand because the only people who asked for her books were, without exception, utter and complete tossers.

Who was this mysterious wanker-magnet?

Several things are clear from watching this video. First, Steve Moore of the Wall Street Journal wears a wig. Second, Ayn Rand's body language is deeply disturbing, particularly the shifty eyes. Third, Paul Ryan is even more ghastly than I thought.

I had thought of reading an Ayn Rand novel, in spite (or because) of Christopher Hitchens' description of them as "transcendentally awful", but unless I'm detained in an institution with a choice that is limited to either Atlas Shrugged or The Bridges of Madison County, it's not going to happen.

In the meantime, let's ponder this pearl of wisdom from Ayn Rand:

"The ladder of success is best climbed by stepping on the rungs of opportunity" 

That's so profound, it almost seems banal and fatuous. I wonder if it's on an 'inspirational' poster?

Ayn Rand rings my alarm bells quicker than a Love and Hate tattoo. So far, I haven't seen any of her novels on friends' bookshelves, but my local taxi firm is on speed dial just in case.

You can never be too careful.


JRSM said...

Oh dear. I've long been a collector of Penguin Modern Classics, but when Ayn Rand was added to their list, that's where my completism suddenly didn't seem worth pursuing any more.

lucy joy said...

I worked with a horrible teacher who had those darting eyes. Never fixed on anything. Her first husband drank himself to death, the second hung himself.

Canadian Chickadee said...

You are wise to be afraid -- be very afraid...I had to read "The Fountain Head" for a literature class. Later, I read a biography of Rand. To put it politely, the woman was an egotistical nut case. And yes, I'm afraid that Romney's running mate Paul Ryan (he of the profoundly creepy eyes) makes no secret of his admiration for Ms. Rand. If Romney/Ryan are elected, God help us all.

Grey Area said...

Ah - yes, but the film version of The Fountainhead is a classic, aside from Gary Cooper's terrible acting, (I always glaze over during his final speech ) and the dubious but watered down plot (seduction by rape, anyone?) - the art direction is wonderful and Raymond Massey and Patricia Neale mesmerising. If you look at is as an exploration of vaguely autistic creative types with terrible manners and limited social skills - but wonderful aesthetics - it's brilliant. Every time I have a bad client with pretentions of creativity - I think of The Fountainhead and fantasise about blowing them up. It's quite hard to get hold of (although a digital version has recently appeared on Youtube) my copy has been passed furtively around the local design community in a brown envelope for some time.

Sarah said...

Save me from the books of Ayn Rand!

Steerforth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LM Bell said...

I recently read 'The Fountainhead' as research, of sorts, but mostly out of interest. It is both cold and so very repetitive.

Wrote a blog post on it here:

Steerforth said...

Thanks for the link. I'd recommend your excellent review to anyone interested in Rand.

Sam Jordison said...

"Wanker magnet" is splendid.

Ayn Rand isn't. I read Atlas Shrugged for work. It was kind of compelling. And extremely absurd.

Meanwhile, Canadian Chickadee: "I had to read "The Fountain Head" for a literature class."

A literature class? Literature? My goodness.

Harry said...

This is an interesting angle on Rand. It's obviously by a hostile writer, but if it's even broadly true it's deeply deeply creepy.

Steerforth said...

JRSM - There have been a few dodgy choices for modern classics recently, but I suppose the term 'classic' isn't the hallmark of quality it used to be. In the age of Classic Star Trek and, even worse, Classic Cola, it seems to mean anything over 10 years old, regardless of quality.

God, I sound like an angry, retired colonel, writing to the Times.

Lucy - I suppose the charitable view might be to assume that Rand was nervous in an interview situation. However, her appalling comments make me more inclined to think that she's not the full ticket.

Chickadee - What I don't understand is how Ryan and co support a philosophy that is so at odds with the teachings of Jesus Christ. Perhaps they'd reply with "God helps those who help themselves" (a quote that people think is from the Bible, but actually comes from ancient Greece).

Richard - Well, bad books often make great films (and vice versa), so I'll have to find a few hours this weekend and watch it on YouTube.

Sarah - And save us all from her fans!

Steerforth said...

Sam - Thanks for the link. I was horrified to read that "one particularly egregious radio broadcast clocks in at just under 100 pages"! However, I was heartened by Stuart Evers' observation that "everyone I've ever met who has expressed a liking of her stuff has been a complete tool". It's not just me then.

Harry - Very disturbing indeed and quite plausible, given Rand's sociopathic outlook. I think it's time for Clarence Thomas to retire.

Canadian Chickadee said...

You are correct, Steerforth. The conservative religious right, Republicans one and all, are the scariest and least charitable people I've ever run across. I'm quite happy to let them believe the world is flat if that's what they want, but sadly they don't wish to accord the same courtesy to any other people or beliefs. It is definitely a case of "my way or the highway."

Some of the disinformation and just plain lies that the Republican men are spreading about contraception and women's health issues is mind-boggling. Coupled with the fact that several of these Congressmen are members of the Congressional science committee makes the situation truly appalling. They don't understand anatomy, let alone science!

The next few days are going to be very scary here in the US. I just hope Obama can hold it together and win the election on Tues. Nov. 6th.

Pray for us, Steerforth. Keep your fingers crossed and stay tuned, as they say in the funny papers.

Brett said...

"God, I sound like an angry, retired colonel, writing to the Times."

Ha, ha; and how about "Limited Edition"?

I had to read the mercifully short "Anthem" in school c. 1970. Was it for the required course, (in Florida), "Americanism vs. Communism"? Must have been.

Gill said...

Even your "economy mode" blogs stir up our emotions Steerforth! We're the neighbours to the north and are most troubled by the events unfolding in the US. We share Canadian Chickadee's sentiments. We can only hope that Nate Silver is right:

Steerforth said...

Well Gill, there is a third option:

Brian Busby said...

I read Anthem as a newly minted teenager. Why? Well, It was short, and it was science fiction - but mainly because Ayn Rand was being pushed by Rush (an unavoidable band for we Canadians). At thirteen, I found her writing dull and silly, which led me to think that that Rush just might be same. A few months later Joe Strummer proved my suspicions correct. Screw Neil Peart, his chimes, his gongs and his tiresome drum solos, give me Topper!

Steerforth said...

I'm glad to see that there's a happy ending to Topper's story:

Brian Busby said...

Thanks, Steerforth.

Good old Topper. I knew he'd pull through.

Kid said...

Famous comic artist Steve Ditko (co-creator of Spider-Man) Is apparently a follower of Rand. When he collaborated with Stan Lee on Spidey and Doctor Strange, he produced some highly entertaining stuff; however, after he left Marvel and started incorporating Rand's philosophy into his work, it became preachy and tedious. A lesson to be learned, perhaps?

Steerforth said...

Kid - I suppose many comic book characters epitomise Ayn Rand's philosophy, although she probably encourage them to stop wasting their special powers on protecting the weak and vulnerable.

Anonymous said...

"What I don't understand is how Ryan and co support a philosophy that is so at odds with the teachings of Jesus Christ."

Which is referring to a set of historically questionable stories, about a set of infantile supernatural stories, which makes Rand more interesting. Hitchens, when he didn't (on one occasion) slag off Rand, articulates this very well.

Rand lived in an appalling Soviet collectivist regime associated with more intolerance and murder than Nazism. She has to be seen accordingly. In mundane political terms it's easy to slag her off. I'm not sure what her intentions were but either way, my interpretation is more mythological countering, yes, pernicious collectivism but also suggesting something more subtle. I don't care if Rand intended this or not - I am the reader not her, the author.

Howard Rourke, in a complex and intriguing way, is actually Christ-like (if you want to get into such territory). That's a remark inviting you to consider a little more - before you feel inclined to any yah boo sucks silliness. It makes no difference to me what you think (this is not a fight) but it would be interesting if you could engage with this idea. Rourke suffers a great deal, is prepared to do so, and if necessary die, for what he regards as the "fountainhead" which he thinks is potentially available to everyone. That is revolutionary stuff wresting power away from clergy, institution, and collectivist cant.

Steerforth said...

Thanks for the comment Anonymous - it's always refreshing to hear an opposing viewpoint.

I don't believe that the ethical teachings of Jesus are invalidated by the "infantile supernatural stories" of miracles and Roark sounds more like a Nietzschean superman than Christ-like figure.

I think most right-minded people are repelled by Soviet-style collectivism, or even a welfare system that produces a feckless underclass, but I don't see that Rand's vision offers a viable alternative other than, ultimately, a state where an elite live under armed guard to protect them from their less successful compatriots.

I can see that Rand was reacting to the appalling abuses that took place in the Soviet Union, but she seems to have been as much of an inconclast as Lenin, wanting to destroy the traditions and insitutions that maintained order and justice.

But I will keep an open mind and explore the subject further, as I'm fascinated by the attraction that Rand clearly holds for many people.

Anonymous said...

You didn't specify the "ethical teachings" which don't need to be designated as the work of a mythological figure born according to a ridiculous no sex myth.

"Jesus Christ" - if he even existed - taught a great deal more (silliness) than just be nice to people.

Roark may sound like a Nietzschean superman if that's what you choose to see. He is not however attempting to build any empire, to elevate himself, or impose on others. He suffers a great deal and is prepared to die for contrary reasons.

Why do you castigate iconoclasm as some kind of inherent evil, all bad, associated with bad guys?

I'm no Rand fan-boy, but I think her work provokes a certain one dimensional silliness when people condemn it.

I don't really understand this - no book, of any kind, is any kind of political programme; all books are subject to interpretation and the authority of the reader not the writer.

Steerforth said...

I've had several drinks, so I'm probably not in the best state to write a coherent reply, but I thought the point was that Rand was a philosopher first and a novelist second. Her novels aren't just works of art or even 'entertainments', but also driven by strong political convictions. Unlike many novelists, her agenda is pretty unambiguous.

Re: iconoclasm - I admit that I am reactionary. I prefer evolution to revolution and am quite happy to continue living in a constitutional monarchy, so I plead guilty on that count. With a few exceptions, I am repelled by iconoclasm.