How Did They Know?

 Posted by on 14 November 2005 at 8:06 am  Uncategorized
Nov 142005

While Googling, I accidentally happened upon this two-page discussion of Ayn Rand’s fiction. After overcoming my horror at the appalling grammar, I was intrigued by the vehement expressions of hatred for her fiction and philosophy from people who managed to only read a few pages of her fiction. The bizarre misunderstandings from her defenders and detractors were also quite fascinating, in a morbid kind of way. Although these kinds of comments aren’t new to me, I’ve never found so many collected together. Here are some samples:

Ayn Rand is definitely the worst, most supremely vacuous writer to ever be accepted by the mainstream of literature. Her philosophies are, in a word, absurd—influenced by cold war propaganda and empty, capitalistic rhetoric. She is also the only writer I’ve ever heard of who writes 900 pages novels in which every character remains the exact same on the first page and on the last page. Sloppily written and profoundly stupid, Rand’s works are not only utterly irrelevant (both in the realms of philosophy and literature), they are painful.

From another writer:

Although Rand’s treatment of many issues is less than perfect, in my opinion, she really answers some key questions about human happiness and social structures in general. I haven’t read Anthem, but I have read the Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, both of which I enjoyed immensely. They may lack the storytelling zest that many people are used to and enjoy so much, and they don’t really embrace any archetypal ideas, but that doesn’t seem like their purpose. I think that their purpose is to convice people that individuality and creative achievement are the most sacred things anyone can hope to obtain. Almost everything I’ve read seems to say, “yes, life has some problems, but these can be overcome.” What authors don’t typically show is how. All solutions came in hints and whispers, riddles and rhymes, but Rand is one of the few people who just say, “Invent! Invent and you’ll be happy.” I think that this has to be taken on it’s own.

From another writer:

I have never read ayn rand. ok, maybe abut 10 pages of Atlas Shrugged. I only read it because i was at the time sleeping with this canadian woman from vancouver. What struck me was not the absence of a narrative style (that shouldn’t be any reason not to read a writer). But what annoyed me was the existentialist credo she had obviously assimilated and was now trying to preach. Existentialism is not an Ethic. At least not a universal one. That is why, existentialism never really became a powerful philosophical trend. That is why, sartre tried at one point to justify it by trying to marry it with Marxism. That was because sratre knew that he argued himself into ma corner – if what was right and wrong depended on the individual as long as one faced the consequences of one’s actions, then there was no way to say something could not be done. But The existentialists also believed in responsibility, mauvais foi, as they called it, bad faith. Responsible acvtion. It gets sticky here, because what is responsible can be debated upon. What is responsibl;e for you, goddog may not be for S.S. because of the moral values one has been incvulcated with. If we follow this line of reasoning, then we have to go back to Nietzsche and his genealogy of morals. But lets not go there.

Goddog is right when he says that everyone is left to do his own thing, but there must always be the burden of responsibility. Freedom is not another word for nothing left to lose. It is not a liberation. it is a burden, that comes with a social conscience.

Ayn rand tries to take this and then preaches the right kind of behaviour. It became for me a fictionalised self-help book. I would venture to say that the only reason why she has become big in the second half of the 20th century is the escape route she provided for people like George Bush. I bet he has a whole shelf full of her books. Oh sorry, I forgot, Bush doesn’t know how to read english. Well then, barbara bush must have told him some bedtime stories taken from rand’s work.

Okay, i am being mean here. And i apologise. I was only trying to say that rand was preaching a right way of doing things, a right way of living. Invent, Invent and you’ll be happy, says Ian, very early on in the posts. But Creation is a tragic exercise. Creation is Death. If all writers were happy when they invented their tales, if all artists were happy after hoiurs of labouring over their canvases, if all musicians were happy after writing their songs, then, there will be no more writing, no more art, no more music. Because art, creation, this inventing that ian claims rand exhorts us to do, is a recognition of the chimerical nature of human emotions.

From another writer:

Rather late in life (mid/late 30s) I was prevailed upon to read Rand by a young friend who found her to be amazing and wonderous. I admit to having reservations, but because I liked this person I decided to make a sincere attempt.

By page 20 I was disgusted, but vowed to press on. By page 40 I decided that a lobotmized hamster wouldn’t find it credible, but that I would read it as a form of cultural studies. By page 60 I decided watching bad afternoon game shows would be a more enlightening, uplifting, and intelligent form of cultural studies.

I actually threw the book away, something I have only ever done to one other author (a copy of Rush Limbaugh’s book that fell into my hands). A couple of years later I thought perhaps I may have been too harsh, or maybe AS was not the most representative work, so I tried The Fountainhead. Made it about 1/3 before it too went in the trash….

More than anything what offended me was the “characters” Rand creates as foils for her principle sympathetic characters to outwit, out argue, and generally debase. These foil characters aren’t caricatures or cartoons, they don’t have nearly that much breadth or depth. They are such lame, pathetic, unidimensional nonentities that one has to wonder why they are created at all.

Sadly the answer comes all too quickly – what Rand presents as the ideas and philosophies that she wishes to disprove are in fact such fantastic distortions, misrepresentations, and gross mis-characterizations that she needs characters equally lacking in substance to act as mouthpieces for them.

And of course Rand then had the sympathetic characters intellectually demolish these bogus philosophies with ideas that are only marginally less specious. Specious arguments, straw man and ad hominum attacks – who could ask for more?

So there may be something to what Rand had to say, but I didn’t find it in what I read. What I got was lame ideas presented as better because they were contrasted against ideas that were falsely represented as even lamer – hardly a foundation for a life philosophy (but more than enough substance for much current social policy, at least some people seem to think so).

Another writes:

I have only read one book by Rand, “For the New Intellectual” and all I can say is that it was trash, to be blunt. I didn’t like it very much because in this book she says that today there is no new thought or new “creations”. I disagree with that because even though there are a lot less people thinking, there are a lot more that are thinking. Take everyone in this forum for instance. Dionysus, whom I’ve chance to talk with a few times and Persevere who has really good points and who’s discussions I enjoy reading. To someone else it may very be just people talking but its more than that. It seemed to me that Rand belittled that saying our world today isn’t as inventive or growing as it was back then. I see it as this, we’re still exploring, the depths of the ocean and space, and we are still THINKING! There may not be as many genius’s now as there was then but we are not at a standstill. Another thing that irked me was how Rand catagorized people as being emotionally controlled or physically controlled, the Witch Doctor and the Atilla the Hun theory. I’m neither so what does that make me? I know for fact I don’t fall into any catagory and I don’t think anyone else does either. We are merely people. What was her new philosophy? Perspectivism? something like that. I think its unfounded because how do you base a philosophy on not following a philosophy? Thats a contradiction. The short of it two thumbs down. I’ll read the other books before I comment on how the writer is as a whole.

I can understand that a person might dislike Ayn Rand’s fiction and/or philosophy, perhaps even strongly so. I can’t possibly agree, but that judgment is comprehensible to me. After all, if a person is a serious mystic, altruist, or collectivist, they just won’t be able to stomach her heroes and their ideas.

However, I’m completely baffled by the immediate hatred that some people have for her fiction after just reading a few dozen pages. Precisely what could they feel so clearly at such an early stage? The comments by such people aren’t particularly helpful; they’re usually not much more than vague emotional ejaculations. I suspect that such people aren’t actually able to determine the source of their feelings by introspection. But what is it in Ayn Rand that tips them off?

I also understand how people might miss some of the deeper philosophy in Ayn Rand’s fiction. But what would lead anyone to think that her philosophy is a marriage of Existentialism and Marxism? Or that her basic message is “Invent! Invent and you’ll be happy”? Where do people get such crazy readings?

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