This 1998 op-ed by Harry Binswanger comparing James Joyce’s Ulysses with Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was mentioned twice in two days last week: once in my OAC Intermediate Writing Class and once in private e-mail from Klaus Nordby in response to this post on the quick critics of Ayn Rand’s novels. I love the opening:
Did someone say “culture wars”? A major battle erupted recently on the literary front. At issue: What is the best English-language novel of the century? The two opposing camps picked two opposite novels. Here is a representative passage from each.
He kissed the plump mellow yellow smellow melons of her rump, on each plump melonous hemisphere, in their mellow yellow furrow, with obscure prolonged provocative melonsmellonous osculation.
The visible signs of postsatisfaction?
A silent contemplation: a tentative velation: a gradual abasement: a solicitous aversion: a proximate erection.
She sat listening to the music. It was a symphony of triumph. The notes flowed up, they spoke of rising and they were the rising itself, they were the essence and the form of upward motion, they seemed to embody every human act and thought that had ascent as its motive. It was a sunburst of sound, breaking out of hiding and spreading open. It had the freedom of release and the tension of purpose. It swept space clean, and left nothing but the joy of an unobstructed effort. Only a faint echo within the sounds spoke of that from which the music had escaped, but spoke in laughing astonishment at the discovery that there was no ugliness or pain, and there never had had to be. It was the song of an immense deliverance.
Clearly, one of these novels is a stylistic masterpiece, and the other is trash. The fighting is over which is which.
Read the whole thing, if you like.