Skip to comments.Use of fiction by Ayn Rand
Posted on 10/02/2006 6:59:27 PM PDT by Rob Larrikin
Lefties commonly say there is something wrong with Rands use of fiction as a vehicle for Objectivist beliefs. In a 1957 review of Atlas Shrugged, Whittaker Chambers, who had no idea how successful Atlas Shrugged would be, said, The mischief here is that the author, dodging into fiction, nevertheless counts on your reading it as political reality. Lefties have been using that same approach ever since. Using fiction is mischief and dodging.
Rand was trying to make an otherwise dull subject interesting, and she also wanted to show what might happen in a world where businessmen really did go on strike. Since that hasnt happened, it would need to be fiction. Duhh...
Ayn Rand ping
And those steamy scenes in "The Fountainhead" too. Hubba. hubba.
Nice post. I like Whittaker Chambers even better than Rand.
Welcome to FreeRepublic. Thanks for posting. Thanks for the ping FreeKeys.
That was one heavy book. I read 3/4 of it but it seemed to be repeating itself. I also read The Fountainhead like every other weenie who wanted to be an Architect. FLLW never looked so good as in that book. And he was screwing everything that moved in real life.
Can't believe the book is 40 years old already. Rand was way ahead of her time.
Personally I thought it a very enjoyable novel if far too long and in spots impossibly repetitive. I don't think you can really balance polemic and fiction very well and where she restricted herself to plot, character, and pace Atlas Shrugged stands on its own.
I do take issue with Chambers' statement The mischief here is that the author, dodging into fiction, nevertheless counts on your reading it as political reality. The novel works best where it does describe political reality - her ability to portray the characters she describes as "looters and moochers" is so incredibly sharp that I swear I know personally each and every one of them. It may be that their presence wasn't quite so obvious in 1957 as it is today, but you could drop any one of their bleatings seamlessly into today's degenerate political discourse and never guess that it was half a century old.
Her protagonists, however, weren't in my opinion quite so finely drawn. Not a one of them had a single character flaw except a self-doubt that was removed by the workings of the Ubermenschen Galt, d'Anconia, etc. The real world isn't actually much like that as I see it, and because of that we are unlikely to see the series of events she postulated. Atlas, such as he is, is likely to remain in chains. All IMHO and subject to furious debate, of course.
You have that right. Witness is a tougn but important read.
I'm totally in awe of what authors like Rand did without the benefit of a word processor. Vonnegut too, with Sirens of Titan.
At the time he wrote this article, he hadn't been a leftie in a long time.
I spent a summer reading "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." I know what you mean. How those authors churned out those massive works - alone - is fantastic.
I discovered it when I was 15. For about a year, it seemed like the most important thing ever written. But that speech by John Galt at the end. Snooooooooze . . . .
Except promiscuity and arrogance.
"If they won't build it my way, then, well, I'll just blow it up. There's a good idea! After all, they just own the building. I am the artiste."
Her protagonists were sociopaths. But as you say, her portraits of the moochers was so right on, it hurt. But then, they were sociopaths too.
leftists use ficticious claims, photos, and voters all the time...
Now that is a very interesting point. I don't think Rand regarded either trait as a flaw, actually - the promiscuity in particular was a rejection of conventional sexual morality roughly a decade before it became fashionable that she very much shared and acted upon. It wasn't one of her more endearing personal characteristics.
As far as arrogance goes I'm also inclined to agree. But what need does a person who is perfect have of humility?
'The last time I checked, Whittaker Chambers wasn't exactly a "leftie."'
I said, "Lefties have been using that same approach ever since."
The only perfect man was also the most humble.
The more one has in the way of brains, good looks, drive, money etc, the more desperately one needs humility and the more difficult it is to have. And at that point, it becomes difficult not to have pride in one's humility.
That's why they call it fiction. 1984 didn't describe the real world either but the overall theme sure had a touch of reality. Sometimes it takes a tome to make a point or two. It is not often that one can engage someone in a four or ten hour political discussion and keep their interest while they don't even know its political. Rand uses the correct device. She grew up in pre-revolution and revolution St. Petersburg. She knew of that which she spoke.
Who are the great political fiction writers today? Did Ayn Rand truly begin the great conservative movement or was it Buckley?
"Two words: Farenheit 9/11."
I think Moore made his mocumentary using a collection of truths, mistruths, and cunning lies. He would say, "A = B because [insert lie here]."
Rand was saying, "A is not B," and provided a 'for example' in the form of fiction.
What about Catch 21? The book that spawned a dozen assassinations. Hah!
"Thanks for the vanity, Rob. What an erudite, in-depth commentary on Whitaker Chambers' review of Ayn Rand's masterpiece 'Atlas Shrugged'. The tightly knotted complexity of Chambers' carefully constructed review questioning Rand's merits as a novelist and thinker were simply cut away to nothing by the forceful--even Alexandrian-- simplicity of your deceptively plainspoken counterargument. The mind simply boggles."
Translation: You should use avoidable word baggage to counter an incorrect view.
"Can't believe the book is 40 years old already. Rand was way ahead of her time."
Yes, 40 years old, but still contemporary. As long as we have a party which wants to tax and spend, redistribute income from the have's to the have nots (vote buying), Atlas Shrugged will continue to be contemporary.
I'm luck, I'm retired now and I CAN choose to leave this country/economy if the Wicked Witch of Chappaqua makes it and I CAN stay away for her one term before the people are absolutely outraged and tar and feather her, sending her and the perp to oblivion.
Excellent read, tpaine. Thanks.
Who is Ayn Rand and why should I care?
I have a theory that Rand considered editors the be the "looters and moochers" of the publishing world and wouldn't let one touch her magnum opus no matter how much it needed it.
I agree, in a sense. Read the novel, then read Galt's speech by itself, and it makes more sense. I have always thought that Ayn got kinda long winded with the Galt speech, but in and of itself, it is good, but you have to have the pretext of the novel before it to really appreciate it.
I will agree that it is mighty long, and tends to make the same points over and over.
To read the Galt manifesto without the novel would probably make no sense, but to put the book down when the speech starts and make it a read on it's own (it is!) a day or few later, and it is easier to swallow.
The best use of Ayn Rand's writings fiction or not is as a sleep aid. "WARNING: Do not read The Fountainhead while operating heavy machinery."
Another sleep inducer is Brian Greenes The Fabric Of The Cosmos.
Im glad we dont judge ideas by how well they put you to sleep. Where would Einstein be if we did?
As any Marine will tell you, there is no such animal as an "ex-Marine."
Likewise, there are no ex-Communists and there are no ex-Socialists. Just examine the Clinton family for proof of that.
Who is Ayn Rand and why should I care?
Our socialistic world needs Rand like a desert needs water. Unless you prefer larrikinism, but a lot of it was inspired by Rand.
Here's what I mean, and Rand fans, forgive me, but it's a case in point. The scene where the steam locomotive goes through the tunnel carrying its passengers to their deaths was a metaphor so perfect other authors would kill to have thought of it. It was what happens (and her case is that it's a metaphor for an entire society) when the less capable expropriate the efforts of others and think that they know their proper employment. But she couldn't let the art stand on its own - for passenger after passenger she drives home the specific philosophical mistake that caused him or her to die, hammering the point so deep into the ground that the reader can hardly see it from there anymore. Surely anyone who had paid attention up to then would have figured it out? That's why you trouble to use a metaphor in the first place.
A good literary editor would have cut and polished that gem had she allowed it. That's what you pay them for. And that's what I mean when I say that it's difficult to mix fiction with polemic. Perhaps that's true of all art. It certainly explains why there's so little of the good stuff around these days.
Four Words. Who is John Galt?
I believe the answer is "yes." But they attracted different people to the cause; I'd guess Rand attracted a third, Buckley a third, and the remainder were influenced by both.
The fellow could certainly write beautifully. I happen to think he missed several points with respect to his review of Atlas Shrugged, as I've mentioned above, but not all of them. I would not characterize Rand as a fascist, for example, but I do detect a whiff of the autocrat in nearly all her writings, and in her personal life she certainly behaved like it.
I also think the gas chamber comment was over the top. But what fate did she really think would face the looters and moochers? The novel ends before she has to say. I do not think it would have been pretty. And what place in the society to come would be occupied by those incapable of displaying the sort of personal independence and brilliance she ascribed to Reardon, Galt, and Taggart? I don't think even Rand pretended that was a universal human characteristic. It's a little uncomfortable to contemplate, frankly. I suspect that her utopia would have had a very dark side to it. All IMHO with the usual reservations, of course.
Ayn Rand ping
'The last time I checked, Whittaker Chambers wasn't exactly a "somebody."'
I find value in Rand's works. For the curious who want to know what all the fuss is about, I would recommend the following to be read in the order listed.:
1. _We the Living_ (novel) Of all of Rand's fiction, this one reads the most like a conventional novel. But a lot of her philosphical meaning gets through, even though it's still early in her career. I think it's her best meld of story and philosophy. Characters in the novel have motivations and convictions and carry them consistently through the novel. I could go on, but just read it. Or rent the Italian movie _Noi Vivi_ if you're more into movies. Among ther best and truest movie adaptations ever. I recommend this even more than _he Fountainhead_.
2. _The Virtue of Selfishness_ (philosophical work) Probably the best distillation of her philosophy. Written around the time of _Atlas_. Reading this book is excellent grounding for a reading of either _The Fountainhead_ or _Atlas Shrugged_. Mainly to get a better handle on all the philospohical profiles of the chracters, their interactions, andd where their choices lead them.
If you only read the first two books, you'd probably have a much better understanding of Ayn than any critic could tell you and why, at the very least, you DON'T like her.
If you want to read more novels, you might resume with
3. _Anthem_ (Novella) and then follow through with:
4. _The Fountainhead_ and/or _Atlas Shrugged._
or if you want to read more books covering her thinking, you might read:
_ Philosophy: Who Needs It?
_ The Romantic Manifesto
_ Capitalism: The Unknow Ideal
_The Ayn Rand Lexicon_ (philosophical overview)
A fantastic overview of Ayn's position on a number of social, political, economic, and philosphical topics. As well as terms ideas that Ayn uses throughout her writing. While this large volume discusses most specific points of her philosphy and opinion in full context, I find it best to have read most of the previous works before jumping into this one.
As for her writing... It's Ayn's own effort in what she calls the Romantic (as opposed to Naturalistic) style of writing. Most of us are familar with the Romantic style in such genres as superhero comics and pulp fiction. Ayn took superheroes and made them into people that never changed out of their suits, so to speak. Now, THAT IS a gross simplification, because the characters are much more complex than the traditional superheroes of HER time, but perhaps not so much more than of the graphic novel superheroes of OUR time.
The mistake many make with Ayn after reading her novels is thinking that they HAVE to be the EXACT same kind of person that they just read about. Or that applying Rand's ideas will turn you into some sort of monster. Well, no, you don't and no, it won't. You are still you and you do the very best you can. You can be your pleasant, normal, FReeper self and still understand and even(!) appreciate what she had to say. You CAN find points that you agree with her on and not "lose your soul"!
Of course that was before the socialists hijacked the term to suit their purposes (young conservatives who think their ideology should be spread throough the gun barrel).
Any Rand knew liberals well. Her language was often subtle and drawn out. A more candid Rand will be found in "The Letters of Ayn Rand".
Or, hey, forget Rand's books. If you want an entertaining read by the master of science fiction that covered a LOT of the same ground, I encourage you to read Robert Heinlein's _The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress_. It's almost as if Heinlein had read _Atlas_ and he said, in the form of a novel, "HERE'S how you say all that to an American audience!" There are some real zingers for ideas, but at least he explains them and puts a recognizable human face on them.
Does Owen Kellogg really need to label his post as sarcasm when asking Who is Ayn Rand and why should I care?