February 12, 2011

So I watched the "Atlas Shrugged" movie trailer...

... over at Instapundit. And when I got to the end, I said "Part One"?! People are supposed to put up with more than one movie full of that stuff?! It was all I could do to look at 2 and a half minutes of that sloshy melodrama.

Is that opus really the rich repository of conservative values it purports to be? Quite aside from the flabby aesthetics, we're supposed to get all righteous about — of all things — building railroads?

And, no, I haven't read the book. I don't read long, badly written novels. A simple summary of the idea Rand strains to propound is quite enough for me. As a general rule, I stay away from novels that were written to make some big political or philosophical point. Writing that last sentence, I realized I needed to quote something Vladimir Nabokov said about art. Googling, I came to this old article by Allen Barra in Salon — "Reading 'Lolita' in Alabama" — and I'm delighted to see that Barra brings up Ayn Rand in the first paragraph:
I knew of only one other writer who inspired such an odd cult among high schoolers, Ayn Rand, who, like Nabokov, was a Russian émigré with an intense hatred of communism. Aside from that, the two could not have been more different. Rand's novels were the kind of transparent philosophical tracts that Nabokov loathed as much as he loathed Marxism. The similarities between the Nabokov and Rand cults was creepy; even more creepy was that I almost never came across anyone who read both of them.
Put me on the Nabokov side of that dichotomy. Anyway, here's what I was looking for from Nabokov:
"Why did I write any of my books, after all? For the sake of pleasure, for the sake of the difficulty. I have no social purpose, no moral message; I've no general ideas to exploit, I just like composing riddles with elegant solutions."... "I don't give a damn for the group... the community, the masses, and so forth ... there can be no question that what makes a work of fiction safe from larvae and rust is not its social importance but its art, only its art." And: "I have neither the intent nor the temperament to be a moralist or satirist." Mediocrity, he thought, "thrives on ideas"... "general ideas, the big, sincere ideas which permeate a so-called great novel, and which, in the inevitable long run, amount to bloated topicalities stranded like dead whales."

173 comments:

edutcher said...

Ann Althouse said...

Is that opus really the rich repository of conservative values it purports to be?

Libertarian, not Conservative. Ms Rand doesn't seem to be anywhere near as popular with Conservatives as she is with Libertarians.

PaulV said...

I read Rand for the sex, not the high dprrf rail.

PaulV said...

dprrf=speed

Tyrone Slothrop said...

Never read either one. I agree with Ann, Rand just looks too boring. I confess to being prudish about Nabokov. I read about Kubrick's Lolita when I was a little kid, and it totally creeped me out. I've never had a positive sense of Nabokov since.

kent said...

[...] we're supposed to get all righteous about — of all things — building railroads?

Shhhhhhh. You'll just end up making Joe Biden cry.

Terry said...

. . . there can be no question that what makes a work of fiction safe from larvae and rust is not its social importance but its art, only its art.

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal" Matt 6:19

Apparently Nabakov was more of a New Testament person than Rand was.

John Salmon said...

Rand is more of a liberal's caricature of a conservative (with her sick focus on selfishness) than anyone worth paying attention to. Plus, she can't write.

Maguro said...

A movie about right-wingers building high-speed choo-choos?

What a dilemma for poor garage!

Paul Snively said...

What I find interesting is that both approaches to writing can "work" in the sense of resulting in what becomes considered classic literature. To me, this disagreement about purpose and execution resembles that between good friends J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Tolkien famously "cordially dislike[d] allegory" and C.S. Lewis wrote some of the most transparent-to-the-point-of-eye-rolling Christian allegory ever, but both "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Chronicles of Narnia" are rightly considered literary classics, as are "Lolita" and "Atlas Shrugged."

rcocean said...

Rand broke with conservatives over a nasty -but accurate - book review by NR in the 50s. She always hated all that "God stuff" and was pretty much an open borders, atheist, internationalist.

IOW, the Capitalist mirror image of a Bolshevik.

And "Lolita" is a very moral book, if read a certain way.

Ann Althouse said...

larvae and rust/moth and rust

It's really the larvae that do the damage. See how he improved that?

Skyler said...

Ann asked, Is that opus really the rich repository of conservative values it purports to be?

As Yoda would say, "And that is why you fail."

t-man said...

Count me in the Nabokov cult (sorry to use that word, Crack).

Ann Althouse said...

"Libertarian, not Conservative. Ms Rand doesn't seem to be anywhere near as popular with Conservatives as she is with Libertarians."

I had "libertarian" originally. Changed it for a reason.

John Lynch said...

Ayn Rand was two things: a critic of socialism and a popularizer of libertarian ideas. She was not a great philosopher and she was not a great novelist.

You will get the same message from shortest work as from her longest.

Her critique of socialism was dead on. It changes capitalist society to an debased aristocracy where who you know becomes more important that what you do. She's at her best when she is skewering the pretensions of fundamentally worthless people. It's still relevant.

Her push for libertarian ideas is less successful, I think. She doesn't accept that society is much more than a collection of individuals.

I had a Randian phase but I grew out of it. There's more to life than productive work, and society is held together by more than money. Tradition, family and religion are the glue, not money. Do we really think money is more important than family? Rand thinks so. Her philosophy is to be taken personally.

Atlas Shrugged is an interesting popular phenomenon. Many people seem to think that such a large book must give some kind of deep understanding of the world. It's certainly subversive. But it isn't literature.

commentor said...

Looked good.

If the train goes below 100mph it blows up, right?

"Dprrf", cert PG.

AprilApple said...

"And, no, I haven't read the book. I don't read long, badly written novels."

OK.

Skyler said...

Rand isn't a libertarian, though many libertarians admire parts of her philosophy.

Fred4Pres said...

There is no reason you could do Atlas Shrugged as a 2 hour movie. If you want to go longer, do a television mini series then. But I was hoping the movie would have been better than the book (like Last of the Mohicans was).

AprilApple said...

I like this from the Amazon comments:

"I thought I'd be ambitious and write an actual review of the novel, rather than a review of Ayn Rand or her philosophy, Objectivism. Although I hold both in high regard, I think any disrespectful ad hominems need no response.

First let me tell you what this book is not. Atlas Shrugged is not a novel depicting ordinary people in ordinary situations. It is not here to tell you what is - it is here to tell you what could be and should be. That is why so many find the characters unbelievable, unreachable, even childish in their idealism.

As for the ideal itself, it is personified in the productive giants of (then) modern America. Dagny Taggart does railroads, Francisco D'Anconia does copper mines, Hank Rearden - steel. For centuries, men have asked what would happen if the working class went on strike; Miss Rand asks, what would happen if the men of industry went on strike.

What would happen if Atlas, a man whose shoulders held a world damning him a robber baron, shrugged? This is not a novel for the chronic skepticists who dismiss strong convictions as dogmatism, nor for the pessimists who proudly declare that they "grew out" of Miss Rand's "naive optimism."

Shanna said...

I actually think the movie looks pretty good, although I never got around to reading the book.

I did read the Fountainhead in high school and enjoyed it, but not enough to read it again. Never read Nobokov...The whole Lolita thing creeped me out.

garage mahal said...

A movie about right-wingers building high-speed choo-choos?

Yea that trailer looked awesome. Rand gushed over a serial killer/dismemberer in her notebooks - calling William Hickman a "genuinely beautiful soul" - is there any of that in this choo choo movie? Not PG stuff.

Fred4Pres said...

I thought the trailer was okay. But hey, I think the Fountainhead is okay (the Cooper courtroom scene is fantasy but good).

ricpic said...

I'm as put off by elegant types like Nabakov as you are by earnest Ayn. Nabokov may have thought of himself as above the fray but his whole life was lived as one of Lenin's whoms.

DaveW said...

It was all I could do to look at 2 and a half minutes of that sloshy melodrama.

Yeah I agree. It didn't exactly make me circle my calendar in anticipation of the release.

somefeller said...

Maybe Rand should have stuck to nonfiction. "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal" wasn't a bad read, at least when I read it about 20 years ago.

But, there is the argument that if you want to influence society in the long run, you have to play in the sphere of the arts, even if that means putting out a few clunkers. For what it's worth, I bet more people have read "Atlas Shrugged" than the book I mentioned, which supports that argument.

Terrye said...

Reading Rand was like pulling teeth for me..synopsis: altruism is bad, capitalism is good, Christians are chumps.

You can not compare anything she wrote to Lolita. Apples and oranges.

Tregonsee said...

Around 1964, when I was starting high school, I tried to read "Atlas Shrugged." I made it about half way before giving up. What put me off was not the technology, which was reasonably current then, nor the philosophy of the individual. I simply could not, in my naivety, imagine that this country could ever be that greedy, nor regard the successful producers as a resource both shameful and to be exploited. Last year I found myself rereading it and marveling at how prescient it was. Railroads, or at least light rail, is back. The best part was matching political characters in the book with real persons.

traditionalguy said...

But have you ever read Althouse Shrugged? It goes on and on daily for six years and then says, "To be continued".

Trooper York said...

"And, no, I haven't read the book. I don't read long, badly written novels."

Wasn't that in your reasons to get a divorce thread?

Trooper York said...

Wait was that too mean?

Trooper York said...

Or should I post it in my "Things that will only amuse me and Meade" section. Just sayn'

KLDAVIS said...

More interesting than the film's content is its apparent nature. As Fred mentions, it would make far more sense as a TV mini-series, especially given the fact that the entire cast are TV actors. I think this tells you all that you need to know about the continuing attitude of Hollywood toward non-liberal messages in media. There's no way legitimate film actors wouldn't have been blacklisted for working on this film, and there's no way any of the major TV networks would have aired it as a mini-series. I certainly applaud the effort of its creators to fight against this soft censorship.

Suzy said...

I read and liked the book -- not so much because it was well written (it is long-winded) but because I believe in the overall message. One of my very favorite quotes is from this book: "I never expect to encounter intelligence. To find it here is such an astonishing relief." I do encounter intelligence here, on this blog and in the comments, and it's an astonishing relief!

rhhardin said...

Jerome Tucille's It Usually Begins with Ayn Rand is amusing. I see it's out again.

Look inside and search for Galambosian and take p49.

Or search for Christian and take p.17

traditionalguy said...

As far as I could tell, Ayn Rand was merely a preacher of the virtues of cruelty and theft in the name of beating out the other cruel people and taking it all for herself. As such she was a typical disciple of Social Darwinism's survival of the fittest philosophy. In an age with people like her on the loose, it shows the wisdom of God's decision that men's life spans shall only be 100 years or so. Imagine if she was still on the loose poisoning men's minds.

edutcher said...

Fred4Pres said...

There is no reason you could do Atlas Shrugged as a 2 hour movie. If you want to go longer, do a television mini series then. But I was hoping the movie would have been better than the book (like Last of the Mohicans was).

Didn't read Mohicans, but, if it's anything like Deerslayer, Cooper wrote for his audience and the movie updated a lot for its.

Cooper has to be taken on his own terms.

Ut said...

Are we really supposed to take your criticism of Ayne Rand seriously?

This is a joke, right?

Let's see:

1) You haven't read the book, yet
2) You find it long and poorly written

This is what passes for intellectualism in American academia today.

Ayne Althouse: Credentialed.

markwark said...

C.S. Lewis wrote some of the most transparent-to-the-point-of-eye-rolling Christian allegory ever

No, he didn't. You can roll your eyes if you want, but the "Chronicles" are not allegory.

Fred4Pres said...

Then again with guys like Herman Cain and Mitch Daniels at CPAC promoting the fiscal conservative stump speech, and two years of a Congress and White House that would make Ayn Rand spit, perhaps it is the perfect time for a movie version of Atlas Shrugged.

I also want lots of hot conservative sex in the film, preferably on beds of money*.

* provided they are gold backed.

Fred4Pres said...

Cooper's Last of the Mohicans is a tough read. Even Mark Twain did a great satire of its style.

But unlike Ann, I actually read a book (or at least get half way through) before I declare it poorly written!

Ann Althouse said...

"Wasn't that in your reasons to get a divorce thread?"

You imagine Richard writing long-winded political twaddle? I got my strict, sharp attitudes about art from hanging around with him.

rcocean said...

The Best Review of Atlas Shrugged (the Book)

KLDAVIS said...

"I got my strict, sharp attitudes about art from hanging around with him."

Like, apparently, your ability to judge a book by its cover.

KLDAVIS said...

rcocean...that review is pap.

"In Atlas Shrugged, all this debased inhuman riffraff is lumped as “looters.” ... This spares her the plaguey business of performing one service that her fiction might have performed, namely: that of examining in human depth how so feeble a lot came to exist at all, let alone be powerful enough to be worth hating and fearing."

So, we should stop and try to understand their motivation before we can be repulsed? That certainly is the classic leftist refrain toward all evil in the world.

traditionalguy said...

KLDAVIS...And who appointed Ayn Rand to select the repulsive to be rejected and done away with? She is not the first Death Panelist who won self appointment because only she was smart enough to do the job? To hell with her and "her struggle".

KLDAVIS said...

tradguy, it's a long list, but I'd go with the author(s) of the First Amendment with a big assist from the free market... Though, she'd probably have said herself.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

The best thing to come out of J.F. Cooper is Twain's Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offences.

Chip Ahoy said...

Yesterday we were treated to the spectacle of POTUS returning a tie he had admired, borrowed and then kept. As if it were a gift to have one's own possession returned to them, now -- what? -- anointed or glorified by having been worn by the thief? I can see Rand smirking from here. She could have cranked out 200 pages on that alone. I could be wrong about all this, I'm getting it on mute in the moments it takes to shut it off. The self-evaluation evident passed parody what seems an age ago. But could there be a clearer demonstration for the philosophy of "all your stuff is mine and it is a gift from me when I deign to return a portion of it to you."

The Crack Emcee said...

Ayn Rand, Arianna Huffington, Ann Althouse, and Art

I haven't read the book, didn't watch the trailer, and while familiar with her ideas - some of which I endorse - of course (because of that little cult thing there, at the end) I'm not a fan. So I'd like to remind Ann of Roger L. Simon's observation that how Arianna Huffington lives her life "would make Ayn Rand proud" - which is to say, like Rand, AH confuses life and art.

I've said many times, as an artist, that I will entertain any idea. Naziism, racism, sexism, NewAge, necrophelia - I've heard great songs about them all - but they've had no impact on how I live my life. Because, no matter how immersed in art I get (and that is what happens to me) I have clear moral and ethical lines I will not cross, except in my appreciation of art.

People like Rand and Huffington do just the opposite. Their work talks of freedom while they're running cults. Both are liars, in their lives and in their work, and their work suffers for it. it doesn't matter that they lure people in, or end up living large. The names of those two proud women can be beamed across the sky, in letters as big as the stars, and they'll still read "Fool" to anyone with a proper upbringing and some brains to go with it.

This is why I've been chiding you for your "Good for her" comment about Arianna, and why I think it's sad that Glenn is promoting (what everyone agrees is) this god-awful trailer (and the book) on Instapundit:

The two of you possess more knowledge than probably a quarter of the country (and, by the numbers you pull in, I don't doubt that at all) but, by the same token, we simpletons probably possesses more intelligence than your entire law professor clique put together.

Like AH and Rand, you and Glenn don't strike me as either moral, or ethical people. Glenn has said the difference between law professors and judges is that law professors just throw stuff out there, without a care for how it affects anyone - and I've seen that's true - but it's not right. You've openly applauded completely despicable people, merely because they've put on a show - usually (and falsely) of success equaling respectability - when I know you know, as an artist, that how we look is the least important thing about us. You, both, betray your knowledge.

I am a simple man. An artist, through and through - not cut out for much else - and thus, capable of looking like a clown from time-to-time, but I don't mind. I don't mind because I know I'm "a man" (as my NewAge ex and her feminist friends reminded me as they, collectively, headed out the door) and, secure in my manhood, all I've got to do is live right and stand up for what a man is supposed to - the right things. The moral things. The ethical things.

Others have reduced me to poverty for that, but, as I said, financial success doesn't equal respectability. Roger L. Simon said Ayn Rand would be proud of Arianna's lifestyle, but he also said she's "a political thinker with the depth and conviction of a nepticulid moth." Not exactly a ringing endorsement of either lady's intelligence, or ethics, no matter how good their knowledge of spreading wrong-headed information, or running websites, seems to be.

But, then, that does seem to be the zeitgeist these days.

Chip Ahoy said...

Atlas Shrugged is a great book to practice your mad speed reading skillz. Rand bludgeons the reader bloody hammering the principle in minute detail carefully and sadistically.

A guy I knew named Clyde, could have as easily been named Claud, he was a total klutz and an apparent masocist, carried around a tattered dog-eared copy. He told me he loved the book, that he read it seven times. I said, "Wow, that is interesting, Clyde," but I was thinking, "Slow on the uptake innit."

Beldar said...

I've read both. Rand's writing isn't as bad as you make it out, Prof. A, but neither is it great literature based on its creative use of language or literary techniques. Nevertheless, Rand's message has stuck with me; Nabokov's, not so much.

Kirby Olson said...

They're both about selfish (Nabokov and Rand), but Rand was actually randier and had a guttersnipes' tastes, whereas Nabokov's tastes went more toward butterflies, fine novels, and brilliant sentence-making.

You only have to read one sentence of Rand to know that she's an awful writer.

miller said...

Rand's opus is a terribly written and edited book.

I've read it many times. Not yet a dozen times, but I'm close.

It's a fascinating story in one way because a 200 page story has in the absence of a controlling editor become a morbidly obese 900+ page monstrosity.

If she thought of something, she put it in the book.

That's not writing. That's typing.

It's like the Iditarod of Johnny One-Note writing.

And I predict the first 2000-comment Althouse post, mostly by people saying RAND ROOLZ.

Fred4Pres said...

Crack, you make some profound points on the blending of art and life (and the danger of doing so). But I will point out the difference between Arianna Huffington and Ayn Rand.

Arianna is a liar, dishonest to her core. Other than self promotion, what can you contribute as original in anything Arianna has done? Married for money? Used the promise of fame to get various bloggers and writers to give her free content. Promoted sensational lies to make money, not caring of the harm she caused? Managed to bamboozle doofus corporate officers at AOL to buy her out? Art as life? Arianna is a plagiarized version of a Face in the Crowd.

Ayn Rand was a very strange strange person, but she was honest. And Rand made a few good original points, even if she wasn't the best writer.

And that is the difference.

edutcher said...

Tyrone Slothrop said...

The best thing to come out of J.F. Cooper is Twain's Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offences.

I know what you mean (loved the piece when I read it at about 16), but Cooper is the inventor of the Western and Leather Stocking/Pathfinder etc., is the first Western hero, right down to the faithful Indian companion(s), (yeah, about the horse...) and was making it up as he went along.

As I say, you have to get past the nods to his readers' tastes - good girls didn't have sex before marriage, etc., and understand a lot of what he did was new when he did it.

Bob_R said...

Rand's virtue as a writer and a political polemicist is that she identifies great villains. For me, that's what made AS worth slogging through. Politicians, rent-seeking crony capitalists, parasitic wastrel men and women - she paints them in vivid one or two dimensional detail. AS edited could be much better than AS in its current form, so a movie - even two parts - might be quite good.

AA - whatever your reason for using "conservative" rather than "libertarian" it's way off base. Rand is quite radical - in no way a conservative.

Bob_R said...

Oh, I read Lolita at 15 and Atlas Shrugged at 50. Have not joined either cult, and I found both novels a lot of work for the amount of reward gained. (Though the rewards were definitely there.)

buwaya said...

I may be one of those rare people who has enjoyed both Nabokov and Rand. I particularly liked "Pnin" (where he outdoes Tom Wolfe at his own game) and his memoir "Speak, Memory", "Lolita" less so, but not because it is shocking - maybe it was at the time, but not in the last three decades - but because its not as amusing. A shallow reason perhaps.

Ayn Rands novels should be read with the understanding that they are illustrated polemics. I like to compare her with Harriet Beecher Stowe. "Uncle Toms Cabin" is a much worse book in a literary sense than "The Fountainhead" or even "Atlas Shrugged", and has much less original thinking.

Its the contemporary relevance of the ideas that maintain the popularity of such works. Few today bother to read "Uncle Tom", or for that matter "The Wandering Jew" by Sue or "What Is to be Done" by Chernyshevsky, massively influential as they were in their day. When Rand becomes irrelevant she will be another Chernyshevsky. It is a testament to her insight that she is still relevant.

As for "Mohicans", Leatherstocking" and etc., James Fenimore Cooper was very much a second-rater even allowing for the conventions of his time. There are any number of his contemporary popular writers that wrote rings around him, Scott and Dickens to start. Much of the interest in him seems to have derived from his novel and exotic subjects, and possibly because his works were improved in translation.

WV "coindur" - what we want the dollar to be, hard currency.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Rand may be advancing some ideas badly, but until someone does a better job, she's appreciated insofar as she does it...at all.

What ideas? That people who create things and make a lot of money doing it are not reflexively evil. And that the collectivist/statist mindset is both evil and foolish; Rand pulls away the usual mask of "but we meant well."

All these years, and how many films has Hollywood made about Soviet and/or Communist oppression? Yet the Nazi bad guy will live on forever in Hollywood. Why the soft touch on Stalin, Lenin, Mao, Castro, Chavez and the rest? Because they meant well.

Rand does it badly, but she attacks the villains and villainous ideas that our cultural, intellectual and political satraps could not or would not acknowledge. Let someone else do it better, and Rand will fade.

Gabriel said...

Don't bother with the novel or the movie. I read the novel and I wanted my 12 hours back. Read Heinlein's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress". It's much shorter and far more entertaining, and gets across most of the same ideas.

Skyler said...

Crack, you have no idea what you're talking about. You quote Roger Simon as knowing what Rand would say about Huffington? What makes him an authority?

Ayn Rand was a pretty annoying person in many ways, and got a bit too caught up in herself, but the foibles of the author does not invalidate the worth of the ideas she promoted.

The book is brilliant, not for its literary style, but for its defense of our American way of life and why our nation is so great: We have to some degree been capitalists, and to the extent that we have been capitalists is the extent to which we have prospered at all levels of our society.

That's one of the basic ideas of the book. Crack, you ought to give it a try. I suspect you might appreciate parts of it, if not all of it.

Just skip "John Galt's Speech." I've never managed to get through it. It's just too much and detracts from the flow of the story.

Lincolntf said...

My Atlas Shrugged mini-review:

Hard to start, good to read over the course of a summer (with many other books interspersed) or winter, not as terribly written as 90% of the best sellers on the NYT list every week, worth it for the cultural awareness as much as for the philosophical insight. Not the sine qua non of libertarianism or conservatism, but not a waste of time.
Of course I say this 15 years distant from actually reading it, so take it with the proverbial grain of salt.
Meanwhile, I'm getting ready to dig into "Envisioning Real Utopias". Will I make it through even 100 of the 373 pages? Odds say no.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Gabriel:

True; wouldn't that make a good movie? But they'll never make it. I know they made a movie of "Starship Troopers"; any other Heinlein movies ever get made?

virgil xenophon said...

Fr Martin Fox/

A classic example of the demonization of those who "produce" is th case of J.D. Rockefeller, Sr. Here was a guy who rationalized what had heretofore been a highly fragmented, high-cost oil industry world-wide into a low-cost operation that simultaneously assured the dominance of the US over other nations (mainly GB) in the production & refining of oil while providing a steady supply of low-cost product at volume to an ever-expanding US commercial industrial base as well as enabling the expansion of the domestic auto industry with the concomitant expansion of personal freedom that came with widespread pvt. automobile ownership

The Crack Emcee said...

Fred4Prez,

Ayn Rand was a very strange strange person, but she was honest. And Rand made a few good original points, even if she wasn't the best writer.

I'll give her "a few good original points", but the cult she started proves she, too, was a liar:

There's no such thing as freedom in a cult.

I'll let Larry Wollersheim explain it:

It was like living in a gulag in a free country, and the bars existed in your own head...As you’re going through it, you’re told this is the secret of the universe. You hear legends about results that other people are getting. Many people are telling you about their euphorias. After hundreds and hundreds of hours of training, you have no questioning, critical mind left at that point. There’s no concept in your mind that it couldn’t be true. You are so far gone by that point.

Freedom is the answer to cultism, F4P, not the other way around.

Maguro said...

Ayn Rand started Scientology?

The Crack Emcee said...

Skyler,

Crack, you have no idea what you're talking about. You quote Roger Simon as knowing what Rand would say about Huffington? What makes him an authority?

I didn't say he's an authority. I used his example because A) he understands a bit about art, B) he knows about Arianna and Rand, and C) he's connected to Reynolds through Pajamas Media.

The book is brilliant, not for its literary style, but for its defense of our American way of life and why our nation is so great: We have to some degree been capitalists, and to the extent that we have been capitalists is the extent to which we have prospered at all levels of our society.

That's one of the basic ideas of the book. Crack, you ought to give it a try. I suspect you might appreciate parts of it, if not all of it.


I've read enough about it to know it's not "brilliant" - and I said I agree with Rand on some topics, America's place in the world being one of them - but, since I respect you, I'll find my copy and give it a slog.

Robert Cook said...

I read THE FOUNTAINHEAD and ATLAS SHRUGGED in college. I enjoyed the former, and found it appealing for its depiction of an uncompromising artist. I went on to ATLAS and the further into it I read, the more I came to realize...Ayn Rand was insane.

Well, not insane, maybe, just a pompous, high-falutin' Danielle Steele. She made badly written books stuffed with meretricious "ideas," cardboard supermen, superwomen, and supervillians, and rape fantasy sex. Comic books without the pictures. I'd bet Danielle Steele's books are more fun, though.

Rand was humorless and self-important, not too mention a hypocrite, (well, we're all hypocrites to greater or lesser degree).

I tried to read LOLITA some years back, but I was put off by the rhetorical preening of the language on the first page, so I didn't bother going on to page two. On reflection, the ostentatious language was the language of the narrator, Humbert Humbert, and was surely intended to reveal who he was, and was not authorial showing off by Nabokov. I had been thinking just this week, oddly enough, of giving it another go.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Did you know that the Chinese ideogram for "trouble" is "two vortexes under one roof"?

William said...

Dittoes to Fr Fox and Virgil: We see in There Will Be Blood the further demonization of a John D. Rockefeller type. I don't argue against the greed of Rockefeller, the hypocrisy of Elmer Gantry, the banality of Babbitt, but where are the exposes of Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, etc. In their own time, these men were honored as visionaries by those who excoriated Rockefeller. These men had flawed biographies and left a mountain of corpses behind them. There has been no credible representation of them in fiction or movies. The left is unrflective. Perhaps that is why over the years capitalism ameliorated and communism became increasingly vicious.

Palladian said...

"The book is brilliant, not for its literary style, but for its defense of our American way of life and why our nation is so great..."

In other words the book, as a work of art, is a complete failure.

The defense of our American way of life is a job for our soldiers, not writers.

Fiction doesn't interest me at all except in relation to poetry; that is, when the author is more interested in words than meanings.

Likewise, great paintings are only made by artists who care more about every brushstroke, tone and smudge than they do about the subject.

The Crack Emcee said...

Maguro,

Ayn Rand started Scientology?

Yes. A. Rand Hubbard. I thought you knew!

Henry said...

Somehow I slogged through Atlas Shrugged. In a way it was worth it to get the huge joke at the end when Rand decides there really is such a thing as a free lunch.

The Fountainhead is one of the few books I could not finish. Not put aside out of disinterest. It was painful to read. I threw it in the garbage. Rand didn't know jack about art.

Synova said...

"Libertarian, not Conservative. Ms Rand doesn't seem to be anywhere near as popular with Conservatives as she is with Libertarians."

Objectivist.

In case someone hasn't said it yet.

Those who find the distinction important find it very important.

Dahlia said...

I read both Atlas Shrugged and Lolita; enjoyed them both, though for different reasons.

Back when Alan Greenspan became chairman of the Fed, it was in the news that he was a fan of Ayn Rand. So I thought, 'Here is a guy who is pretty influential, maybe it would be worth it to read a bunch of Rand and see if it gives any insight into Greenspan's mind'. Simple-minded as her books turned out to be, they were well worth the time. If read with a certain kind of detachment, they are really funny. Also, her defense of personal freedom was refreshing since I hadn't read anything like it outside of science fiction.

Lolita was a lot of fun to read. I don't remember any great ideas contained in it though. If I were to re-read either of these books it would most likely be the Nabokov one.

Lincolntf said...

Must everyone and everything be all things or nothing? Re-fucking-lax.

dbp said...

Dahlia hasn't read either of these books yet, but she did leave herself signed-in on my computer.

Synova said...

I, uh, skimmed...

My impression at the time was that the villains were ridiculous because who really thought that way? Taking care of your own family is selfishness? The only moral way to care for others is to care for strangers?

Althouse once suggested (or asked the question) that wasn't altruism the higher morality? I had an "I skimmed Atlas Shrugged years ago" flashback.

It's all a morality play. Like in the trailer. Can a person *say* he's out to make money? No matter how many people you employ and how great your contribution to the economy your motivation has to be pure or it's all for nothing and you're the "bad guy."

The time is right for the movie, certainly. Our economy sucks and we still want to make a villain of industry and resource development, we still want to undermine the "selfish" notions of doing something for the people in one's immediate vicinity. We prefer our efforts to go to some abstract greater good... because it makes us a better person.

It's more important to *care* than to do something that helps anyone.

And a new twist... it's more important to care about the whole Earth and save it for the abstract future people who will live than to improve the lives of individuals here and now.

It's all about how to be the most moral person possible.

Rand clearly saw that vilifying the elements of human nature that lead us to build and create and accumulate wealth and security in favor of an abstract and unaffected "care" for strangers helped no one at all.

But really? What sort of "selfishness" is it to condemn real people in favor of the abstract notion of people in order to serve nothing more than your own sense of personal virtue?

murgatroyd666 said...

I think there might be a market for Atlas Shrugged: The Good Parts Version.

I wonder what a Classic Comics version would be like?

wv: equalse (really!)

Anthony said...

I'm just now reading Rand's Anthem. Seems like a shortened precursor to The Fountainhead. Of course, I mainly am doing so because A) It was a free download, B) I've become more and more libertarian-ish lately, and C) Rush based their 2112 album on it.

20 years ago I would have thought it was nuts to believe we could get that Statist. Nowadays, I worry how we will ever avoid it.

somefeller said...

Palladian, if you are still around, I'd be curious to read your thoughts on the article I linked to at 11:35am. It's by a conservative who says, among other things, that conservatives have to get into the art-creation business (this includes film, music, etc.) for conservatism to have a long-term effect on culture.

miller said...

Oh good lord I agree with Robert Cook.

Julius said...

To me the other cult besides the Randians has always been the Scientologists. Ayn Rand has more in common with L Ron Hubbard than with Nabokov. Plus you always see the books by Rand and the books by Hubbard at the top of the lists where everyone gets a vote on the "Best Book of Whatever". The cult members are called upon to vote the proper way.

This I don't like, Professor:

I don't read long, badly written novels. A simple summary of the idea Rand strains to propound is quite enough for me. As a general rule, I stay away from novels that were written to make some big political or philosophical point.

It's long but it ain't badly written. I was enthralled when I read it at the age of 35. There's a good plot, there's strongly-developed characters, there's suspense; all in all, there's a solid story there and it's one that resonates with a lot of people.

Is there a better way to get philosophy than through story? No, there isn't.

And yes, Rand's world is a little queer. There aren't any women in John Galt's world except for the wives of the productive men, and Dagney. Everyone's name is on their business and they run it like a dictator; there aren't investors or boards or partners or shareholders to deal with. It's a simplified, idealistic world. But this is not necessarily a bad thing-- many great novels feature the same sort of world.

There's something untoward about a Professor labeling a book-- one that she hasn't read-- as "badly-written". How can you know? I too assumed it was badly-written and just a cult indoctrination device until I, you know, actually started reading the words on the pages. I quickly realized I was wrong.

And if you look deep enough, every good novel is written to make a philosophical or political point, especially if you consider psychological growth to be "philosophical". I admire Rand for being upfront and unapologetic about it. That's a virtue that liberals could learn much from.

miller said...

The mark of a good book: "I wish it were longer." But a good author will not grant that wish and will keep the book to the story.

The mark of a bad book: "I wish it were shorter."

The mark of a truly awful book: "This isn't another Ayn Rand novel, is it?"

David said...

It's a crappy book so why not a crappy movie?

mreddy said...

I "read" AS via books on cd in an abridged format and had no problem with it. Someone else mentioned classic science fiction and AS should be approached the same way. The setting seems like an alternative universe. Yet the issues/principles presented seem right out of this world, today. I note that the "best review" mentioned previously was written in 2007. It seems to claim that the world depicted in AS was simply not our modern world. Has anyone who read the book noted any similarities to the crony capitalism of today, three years later? Coincidentally, I was talking to a neuro-psych friend today about an upcoming trial and suddenly AS was mentioned, I don't know by which of us. An hour long conversation resulted (which I hope won't appear on either of our bills). The literary expertise of the writing never came up. We didn't care, I guess. It, like much sci-fi, is about the ideas and I would suggest that the abridged version, especially the CD version, may be the best way for those who wish to have an actual foundation to offer opinions about AS to obtain one.

Coketown said...

Dagny Taggart drives a Camry...the epitome of mediocrity.

To be fair, Atlas Shrugged had a riveting plot. I remember reading almost all of part two in one sitting. Everything else was awful: stale dialogue, one-dimensional and implausible characters, too much libertarian rhapsodizing. Dostoevsky peppered his novels will philosophy; I don't see why Rand couldn't achieve the same.

Every time it came to a philosophical monologue I skimmed ahead--and totally skipped "This is John Galt speaking." Maybe to high school kids (or people who think like them, which is to say libertarians), a philosophy that holds the human individual as the highest moral being in a godless universe seems complete and plausible. But to anyone else who moves beyond it, the absurdity of the whole idea becomes blatant.

I CAN'T WAIT UNTIL ISHMAEL IS MADE INTO A MOVIE!!!!

mreddy said...

That opinion being as to the ideas and plot only, of course. I don't have an opinion as to the alleged turgidity of the unabridged version. I'm all for accessibility, after all. How many of us would know the plot of Last of the Mohicans without the various movie versions? That book was hard to read.

Michael said...

Someone witty once wrote, "A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author."

If he hadn't died before Atlas Shrugged was written, I would have sworn that it is what he had in mind.

Paul Snively said...

markwark: No, he didn't. You can roll your eyes if you want, but the "Chronicles" are not allegory.

It's true that Lewis didn't think of them as allegory, and there's probably some technical definition of "allegory" that the Chronicles fail to meet. But whether because literary sophistication has moved on from the point where it wasn't allegory unless your main character was literally named after a property you wanted to portray ("Giant Despair" in "The Pilgrim's Progress"; "Hiro Protagonist" in "Snow Crash") or just for the mundane reason that a writer tends to write in accordance with what they believe (see beginning with "Since Narnia is a world of talking beasts..." here), yes, I find the Christian allegory in "Narnia" downright thudding. And I say that as a practicing Lutheran.

Ann Althouse said...

"Likewise, great paintings are only made by artists who care more about every brushstroke, tone and smudge than they do about the subject."

In a novel, I look for sentences. I want them to be individually interesting.

That's why I don't have to read Ayn Rand to know it's bad. And I'm not "judging a book by its cover," as someone here said. I open a book and read some sentences at random. That tells me what I need to do. In a novel, if you read 5 sentences and you don't care, that's it!

Coketown said...

"In a novel, I look for sentences. I want them to be individually interesting.

Maybe books of quotations would suit you better than novels? This one is pretty good!

Luke Lea said...

Buwaya: ""Uncle Toms Cabin" is a much worse book in a literary sense than "The Fountainhead" or even "Atlas Shrugged", and has much less original thinking."

I dare say that you, like most people nowadays, have not read Uncle Tom's Cabin. If you had you would have some sympathy for Edmund Wilson's assessment in Patriotic Gore: as literature it is a surprisingly good novel, in some ways a great one.

rsb said...

I have read both of them and Nabokov is the artist for sure.

Rand had some ideas about the individual and proselytized that.
The Fountainhead wasn't bad but is not in the same league as anything by Nabokov.

Trooper York said...

"You imagine Richard writing long-winded political twaddle? I got my strict, sharp attitudes about art from hanging around with him."

Really. I must admit I never read any of his stuff. Does it have any barbarian slave girls or exploding asteriods or femme fatales with big tits and a bad attitude?

The Crack Emcee said...

somefeller,

Palladian, if you are still around, I'd be curious to read your thoughts on the article I linked to at 11:35am. It's by a conservative who says, among other things, that conservatives have to get into the art-creation business (this includes film, music, etc.) for conservatism to have a long-term effect on culture.

I've been campaigning for just that, here and elsewhere, for years now, but few take me seriously, so I'll say it again:

I Am Ready, Willing, And Able: We're Waiting For Y'all

ForLbrty said...

Ayn Rand, the Sun Tzu of the 20th century?
Sun Tzu says we are fooling ourselves by inventing these rules, blinding ourselves to perils on every side.
http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2011/02/08/sun-tzu-the-enemy-of-the-bureaucratic-mind/

Fort said...

Luckily for Ann Althouse, this article,Exibit A, isn't very long. The talent is without question better than that displayed here, using any metric Mark Twain proposed with regards to Fenimore Cooper at least.

Again, it's a short article, not circumlocutory, I promise you all.

Fred4Pres said...

Crack: Ayn Rand's salon of young sycophants who sexually serviced a creepy old woman who sure as hell had no physical resemblance to Dagny Taggart and Dominique Francon is strange to be sure. But that is not a cult in a L. Ron Hubbard way. That is more akin to a bunch of suburban swingers thinking that they are avant-garde. They aren't, they are only pathetic.

J said...

What would happen if Atlas, a man whose shoulders held a world damning him a robber baron, shrugged? This is not a novel for the chronic skepticists who dismiss strong convictions as dogmatism, nor for the pessimists who proudly declare that they "grew out" of Miss Rand's "naive optimism."

Now, that be the bark of the AynRandersnatch, at....Ayn's Galthouse.

The ripened Rand, of late 60s and 70s eschewed her pop-Nietzschean writing such as Shrugged and Fountainhead (did she reject 'em completely?? probably not, since they brought in a sh*tload of shekels)--and actually started quoting the likes of Locke n Jefferson. Ayn McRand

She was a confused ol ho, but would not have approved of...TeabagCo

J said...

A certain type of hipster conservative loves Nabokov, or at least the cliffsnotes to Lolita---reminds him of like Roofie days back at Sigma Crappa Epsilon. Kubrick mostly botched it, IOHE (tho Winters did a pretty good Charlotte Haze--all-Amerikan Bimbo-mommy)


Nab's def. a step above Rynd, but....mostly empty technique. Like a Liberace of prose.

kent said...

[...] the "Chronicles" are not allegory.

A contention capable of being fairly argued either way, certainly; but other Lewis works, such as (say) The Great Divorce, unquestionably are allegory.

Grames said...

Sez Althouse: "In a novel, I look for sentences. I want them to be individually interesting."

So you hate Hemingway too? Anyway...

From chapter one of Atlas Shrugged:
The great oak tree had stood on a hill over the Hudson, in a lonely spot on the Taggart estate. Eddie Willers, aged seven, liked to come and look at that tree. It had stood there for hundreds of years, and he thought it would always stand there. Its roots clutched the hill like a fist with fingers sunk into the soil, and he thought that if a giant were to seize it by the top, he would not be able to uproot it, but would swing the hill and the whole of the earth with it, like a ball at the end of a string. He felt safe in the oak tree's presence; it was a thing that nothing could change or threaten; it was his greatest symbol of strength.

One night, lightning struck the oak tree. Eddie saw it next morning. It lay broken in half, and he looked into its trunk as into the mouth of a black tunnel. The trunk was only an empty shell; its heart had rotted away long ago; there was nothing inside—just a thin gray dust that was being dispersed by the whim of the faintest wind. The living power had gone, and the shape it left had not been able to stand without it.

Years later, he heard it said that children should be protected from shock, from their first knowledge of death, pain or fear. But these had never scarred him; his shock came when he stood very quietly, looking into the black hole of the trunk. It was an immense betrayal—the more terrible because he could not grasp what it was that had been betrayed. It was not himself, he knew, nor his trust; it was something else. He stood there for a while, making no sound, then he walked back to the house. He never spoke about it to anyone, then or since.

Eddie Willers shook his head, as the screech of a rusty mechanism changing a traffic light stopped him on the edge of a curb. He felt anger at himself. There was no reason that he had to remember the oak tree tonight. It meant nothing to him any longer, only a faint tinge of sadness—and somewhere within him, a drop of pain moving briefly and vanishing, like a raindrop on the glass of a window, its course in the shape of a question mark.
[end quote]

This is good writing, and is a style in itself. You are entitled to not like it, that is a claim about yourself and you are the expert. You cannot claim with any plausibility or justification that this is bad writing, and a claim about something beyond the confines of your skull must be justified.

Christy said...

@Gabriel and Fr Martin Fox, Tim Minear (Angel, Firefly, and more) has written a screenplay for Moon...., but that was a couple of years ago and nothing has happened. It is probably my favorite of all Heinlein's novels. Rocketship Galileo became the 1950 movie "Destination Moon." Then Donald Sutherland did "The Puppet Masters" in '94.

When I read Atlas Shrugged with my pals at 16 I thought Ayn Rand ruled. By the age of 35 I stopped trusting anyone over 30 who still loved Ayn Rand. No one does great things alone, without a complex support system. An adult who thinks they can hasn't grown up yet. JMHO

Held my nose and read Lolita for book club about 5 years ago. I was shocked to find it a wonderful book. Once I realized Nabokov could only write the character if he understood just how creepy Humbert Humbert was, I was okay with it. The writer and the reader were looking on at the pervert. Who wants to get into the mind of a pervert, after all?

Paco Wové said...

"On reflection, the ostentatious language was ... not authorial showing off by Nabokov."

No, there was definitely an element of showing off involved. (And I say this as someone who considers Nabokov a great writer.) Some authors are worth reading an large part because of what they can do with language.

Crimso said...

There are those (perhaps most?) who refuse to label her a philosopher. Synova dared to utter the dreaded "O" word. Many years ago, when taking a modern philosophy class, we were tasked with writing a paper on a modern philosophical work, but the professor wanted us to get his approval on the subject before we wrote it. I suggested Rand. He said Rand would be okay, but that her writings were fiction and so weren't philosophy. So I showed him a copy of "For the New Intellectual" and he agreed.

The point I'm trying to make is that philosophy can be a slippery thing to get hold of. In my Intro to Phil class we read Plato, Descartes, Kierkegaard (might as well have been in the original Danish), Marx, perhaps a couple of other big names I'm forgetting, and ended with a contemporary feminist philosopher whose works read like Marcotte on acid (Shulamith Firestone). If Firestone's ravings were philosophy, then you'll have to put Rand (and Col. Walt Kurtz) up there with Aristotle. No philosopher has all the right ideas. The best philosophy isn't that which wins you over, but that which makes you THINK FOR YOURSELF.

KLDAVIS said...

"And I'm not "judging a book by its cover," as someone here said. ... if you read 5 sentences and you don't care, that's it!"

That was me...it's not very difficult to tell who said something on here (CTRL-F).

You're under no obligation to read the book, but I might suggest that if you've only read 5 random sentences of a 1200 page book that you refrain from critiquing it publicly. You'll only make yourself look foolish.

KLDAVIS said...

Crimso said, "her writings were fiction and so weren't philosophy" ...and yet you read Marx?

J said...

Rynd's philosophy ?? Sort of Aristotle-xtra-lite meets JP Morgan. (at least, after she rejected her earlier guru Nietzsche).

A is, indubitably, A.

Basic, but a bit beyond the average republican mormon

Crimso said...

And I'm not an Objectivist nor a Rand scholar, but I see a number of commenters here that apparently misunderstand at least some parts of her philosophy. Not to pick on you, Christy, but just being the most recent:

"No one does great things alone, without a complex support system."

Rand argued no such thing. She asserted that such complex support systems would be best if they sprung from the individual's self-interest. You can argue (perhaps correctly) that this is idealistic and impractical, but plenty of people believe Marx was correct too. I'm unaware of any nations attempting to use Objectivism as their guiding philosophy. I am aware of nations that have used Marxism as their guiding philosophy. You're entitled to your own opinion as to whether those nations were successes.

Crimso said...

KLDAVIS:
My 6:07 comment should clear things up a bit.

Skyler said...

Ann, your assertion that you can read five sentences and judge a book is unworthy of you.

Just admit that you don't like what people portray her ideas to be. That is sufficient. When you try to judge a book you haven't read, you demean yourself and your profession.

Ayn Rand wrote a very good book, "The Fountainhead." She claims "Atlas Shrugged" as her greater work, and in a way it is more representative of her developed philosophy, but I think it is less interesting.

Ayn Rand is certainly a flawed character. Her sordid affair, announced to her husband as a logical act, is one of those flaws. And there are others, such as her tendency to be cantankerous.

But she was quite intelligent and hard to best in debate. Her mind was very quick.

But she allowed her quick mind and ability to think things through thoroughly to convince her that she was always right. That is annoying and did much to damage her reputation and the reputation of her philosophy.

Michael said...

J: There are mormons out there in the valley where you live aren't there? And porn stars I think.

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WestVirginiaRebel said...

Rand's philosophy is definitely not what you'd call the modern definition of conservatism as embraced by some current Republicans and moralistic nannystaters. She's too rigid in her own beliefs, but it's important to note that the hero of Atlas Shrugged is an individualistic capitalist. That's what the railroad represents at least as far as I can tell.

If you want a more coherent libertarian philosophy, try Heinlein, who was truly independent.

J said...

Grazi for evidence, Mikey the
stalker.

Some around you too , at least for now.

Not after we gt yr HD and your financial records, perp, and put yr little shyster a** away. You're not in charge of sh*t, Klanboys.

Capichay?

J said...

Heinlein was a flag-waving jingoist, a Nixonian hawk, a pulp-hack and opportunist, and mostly a pseudoscientist.

RAH's probably even lower in ...Hades than Rand (metaphorically speaking).

Crimso said...

Maybe so, J, but he's just so damned quotable.

The Crack Emcee said...

Fred4Prez,

[The Objectivists aren't] a cult in a L. Ron Hubbard way. That is more akin to a bunch of suburban swingers thinking that they are avant-garde. They aren't, they are only pathetic.

Oh, I agree with you there, but you know me:

A cult is a cult is a cult is a cult.

The results are always the same. What particular form they take as "followers" doesn't matter, except as study, because, Fred my good man, I hate cults.

buwaya said...

Luke,

I have read "Uncle Tom" - many years ago. That was my impression at the time, and I'm sticking with it until I get around to re-reading it.

But de gustibus and etc.

EnigmatiCore said...

I read Atlas Shrugged. An editor should have cut half of it.

Jim Howard said...

Saying you know Rand writes poorly without reading her like saying you know what Rush said even though you never listen to him.

ken in sc said...

I read them both, Rand and Nabokov with pleasure. However, the way I read is to skip long boring speeches and look for the next active verbs before I start reading again. That makes 'Atlas Shrugged' a lot more enjoyable. 'Lolita' was depressing. I think 'We the Living' is Rand's best work. It would make a much better movie(I understand that Mussolini commissioned one to be made for anti-Russian propaganda reasons). It is comparable to Pasternak's 'Doctor Zhivago'.

Charlie Martin said...

I don't read long, badly written novels.

Well, then you should try Atlas Shrugged.

(If you didn't read it, how do you know it's badly written?)

Palladian said...

"Palladian, if you are still around, I'd be curious to read your thoughts on the article I linked to at 11:35am. It's by a conservative who says, among other things, that conservatives have to get into the art-creation business (this includes film, music, etc.) for conservatism to have a long-term effect on culture."

I haven't yet had time to read the article, but my general philosophy is to be against all efforts to consciously shape art into a political tool of any kind. Someone who sets out to advance conservatism, or indeed any other political philosophy, through art is not an artist but a propagandist.

To me, great artists never really know what they're doing, or why.

Old N' Cranky said...

...No wonder you voted for a Socialist...it's been nice...good-bye forever, or until you learn the difference between an Objectivist, a Libertarian, a Conservative...and a Socialist...

MikeR said...

I tried to read Atlas Shrugged in college. I got through everything except for John Galt's speech (50 pages worth!).

Henry said...

If you didn't read it, how do you know it's badly written?

I read it. It's badly written.

Michael said...

Palladian: Your work place pictures are wonderful. I would also agree with you relative to politics and art. I believe that conservatism will thrive without overt help from the artistic community, but I long for more classical/conservative talent displayed by artists. How many painters can draw? How many sculptors could sculpt realistically? The drive from the left to explode traditional values, including artistic values, has undermined our very understanding of beauty. In a bad way.

Chris said...

Ayn Rand is probably important for people to read in their early 20s, as PART of a wide-ranging literary diet. Her two big books, Fountainhead and Atlas are engaging and full of both BIG IDEAS. I think even when they were published though, those long expository passages and pompous speeches must have been corny.

Chris said...

From AprilApple's comments: "Atlas Shrugged is not a novel depicting ordinary people in ordinary situations."

That's actually the key to understanding Rand and her writing. She's not interested in ordinary people. Why write about ordinary people doing ordinary things when you can right about extraordinary people taking delight in doing momentous things? She was an Idealist, some would say to the point of pathology. But she was one of a kind, and definitely cannot be understood in the context of any movement.

Synova said...

"That's actually the key to understanding Rand and her writing. She's not interested in ordinary people. Why write about ordinary people doing ordinary things when you can right about extraordinary people taking delight in doing momentous things?"

Fiction is supposed to represent something important about the human spirit.

Do we value more highly fiction that deals with ordinary things, do we call it literature, when it must certainly encourage us to be small?

William said...

There are any number of great writers who are poor prose stylists. Theodore Dreiser was god awful, worse than Harold Robbins, but Sister Carrie remains a great novel. I'm told that Dostoevsky benefits enormously from being translated. His prose is clumsy and ham fisted in the Russian....And then there are other writers who use words with delicacy and subtlety to express nothing except their own delicacy and subtlety. There are tons of writers like this.....I know Nabokov is a master stylist but many years after reading him, I can't recall a single insight or image. Ditto with Ayn Rand. She's supposed to be some kind of great thinker but I can't recall any great thoughts.....I recall scenes from the movies of their books with more clarity than anything from the books themselves. That's not true of The Great Gatsby, David Copperfield, Huckleberry Finn or the books that you grow up loving (and starring in your own movie version).

Synova said...

"When I read Atlas Shrugged with my pals at 16 I thought Ayn Rand ruled. By the age of 35 I stopped trusting anyone over 30 who still loved Ayn Rand. No one does great things alone, without a complex support system. An adult who thinks they can hasn't grown up yet. JMHO"

I don't trust anyone over 30 who "loves" either a personality or an ideology because I think it indicates a lack of thoughtfulness. That's not at all the same as finding value, however. Because there certainly is value.

If a person takes the ideas they understood in a simplistic manner as a 16 year old or as a college student and they still hold those simplistic ideas at 30, then that is also a problem. An example might be "one does great things alone, without a complex support system." That's a simplistic understanding of Rand and it really ought to be discarded before the age of 30.

Synova said...

"But she allowed her quick mind and ability to think things through thoroughly to convince her that she was always right. That is annoying and did much to damage her reputation and the reputation of her philosophy."

From the very few snippets of interviews I've seen with her I get the idea that she felt any measure of humility was illogical.

She can be profoundly wrong about that without being wrong about her basic understanding of human nature and economics.

thule222 said...

I couldn't put it down. It haunted me. It seemed to be describing current events and it came out 50 years ago. There were ideas I've never encountered before or since.

I don't believe Rand's philosophy is that good. For instance I think the book takes a nosedive after Galt's Gulch. I think what's going on is that Rand was in her midteens when the communists took over Russia. Her dad ran a drugstore and he tried to keep it open under the communists. I think that's what drives the book and gives it it's power. Her experience of watching what the communists did to him.

Synova said...

Coketown: "Maybe to high school kids (or people who think like them, which is to say libertarians), a philosophy that holds the human individual as the highest moral being in a godless universe seems complete and plausible. But to anyone else who moves beyond it, the absurdity of the whole idea becomes blatant."

I suppose that this is true if one believes atheism is absurd. But even in a universe inhabited by God, the individual must be the only moral being. How could it be elsewise?

All moral choice and action is undertaken by individuals. When we attribute morality to incorporations of moral actors we become foolish. Will resides in an individual. Responsibility resides in an individual. In a universe that is not godless, the soul resides only in an individual.

I think that a person can understand that Rand was *extremely* impressed with herself and still understand that she was never as simple as to suggest that an action became moral simply at the whim of an individual. I don't believe she was an anarchist, after all.

And yes, anarchy seems to be popular with teenagers. And anarchy is absurd as a philosophy.

William said...

Aesthetic Law: If the movie is more memorable than the book, the book isn't that great.

jr565 said...

I saw an Ayn Rand movie (maybe the fountainhead) where an architect feels slighted that his work has been changed so decides to, in the middle of construction to become a saboteur and blow his own building up. Then he argues that the artist has to neither sacrifice anything of himself to others nor being forced to submit to coercion or force or breach of contract or some such. And I'm thinking "what world is this guy living in"? I can see a painter ripping up his painting if he feels his benefactors are forcing him to betray his muse, but an architect blowing up his own building? First off, people could have been killed, using munitions is not that perfect an art. And secondly, even if noone is killed, how does the artist/architect not know that people walking by wont be exposed to toxic dust that will make them sick for life.
Rand's characters, like libertarianism think that every man is an island unto themselves. Only they have to live in society just like the rest of us. If I were on that jury I'd have thrown Gregory Peck's ass in jail and said his justification of terrorism because he felt slighted that he had to compromise his principles one iota was drivel and poppycock,

Bruce Hayden said...

Interesting comments. Not nearly as heated and partisan as usual, and some of the the usual subjects on either side are actually debating each other civilly.

I don't believe Rand's philosophy is that good.

It may not be that good, but it does seem to resonate with a lot of people right now, I think in response to the statism and crony capitalism of the Democrats who have been running the country.

It reminds me of my kid's high school graduation. A friend of my ex, a former state level Republican politician attended. The group at the table was leaning to the left, and this person was obviously watching words. But some comments, and shared chuckles, at the idea that money found on the ground didn't have to be reported, and then the word "Galt", and we both knew which side of the fence we were on.

I read Rand's book some 40 years ago (I think in high school), and thought that it was a bit long winded. But it seemed to fit into the sci-fi that I was mostly reading at the time (and continue to read to the present). I had just read all the juvenile Heinlein, and so Rand didn't seem that bad. It was long and tedious, but I finished it in good time. Then, leafed through it maybe 20 years ago, and put it down without buying it.

I read fast, esp. fiction, and was never married to an author. And, my background in school (before law) was math, science, computers, and business. So, I don't have Ann's sensibilities here. I never could appreciate fine literature. Probably never will.

Finchy said...

Ann, I feel like I'm missing a joke that must exist in this post. The merits of Rand aside, the sentiment you express is this odd, willfully ignorant dismissiveness towards the book. I'm not used to hearing such an anti-intllectual, anti-critical thinking tone tone out of you.

I'm missing something here, right?

Clyde said...

I tried to read it and got as far as the point where John Galt takes over the air waves and makes his 100-page speech. I got bogged down and put the book down for six months. I tried to slog through it, but then I put the book down again. Some good political points in the book, and the villains look a lot like our current political class, but the book itself is just unreadable.

TheGiantPeach said...

I read Ayn Rand's novels when I was in high school. I found them to be both exciting and troubling. It was the late 60s, and nobody I knew was reading Ayn Rand. I remember feeling a great need to discuss her ideas, and there Just wasn't anybody with whom I could do that. Not long after that, I guess (judging from this discussion at least), it became quite common to read her novels at that age.

I think a good movie could be made from Atlas Shrugged. The novel does have a cinematic quality, shifting between the different interconnected subplots. Rand did work on movie scripts before she was successful as a novelist, and I guess it shows in her novels.

I think readers fifty years ago expected novels to be vehicles to advance philosophical, social or political ideas, in ways that would be jarring to a modern reader.

Alex Ignatiev said...

Atlas Shrugged is one of those things that you can either read or you can't. That's really it. It's not too profound, or lapidary; it's an adventure story. It may not be high art, but it sells in Peoria (per Mamet's Maxim). And it's been selling in Peoria for decades. Stylistically it's far weaker than The Fountainhead, which has strong, differentiated characters, rather than types, driving the plot.

Charlie said...

@Fr Martin Fox:
"Why the soft touch on Stalin, Lenin, Mao, Castro, Chavez and the rest? Because they meant well."

The joke is that they didn't mean well; they just got the useful idiots to think that they did.

rogerz said...

I realize there is not enough space here for an actual book review, but, still, all of the critical comments are distinctly unsupported by coherent argument: it's long-winded, trashy, soap-opera-y, preachy, etc.

Rand certainly does not appeal to those with the modern naturalist aesthetic, but that *could* be a virtue, to the truly open-minded: let's see what the author was trying to accomplish (in her words, the portrayal of an ideal man) and let's see how she did that. What aspects of plot, theme, dialog, characterization, language did she use to accomplish her goals? Given her purpose, the use of archetypes, speeches and an epic story arc might be justified.

The point is, if you are trying to objectively evaluate a work of art, and not just state your feelings about it, you should at least be mindful of the author's goals.

Oh yes, and Ann's "5 random sentence" test is the epitome of subjectivity.

I enjoyed The Fountainhead more - I felt more invested in the story and characters. But, I recognize the artistry in Atlas Shrugged. I'm not sure a successful film could be made of it, but I'm willing to watch the whole thing to get at least one data point.

mcarswell said...

I loved reading Atlas Shrugged... but the trailer disappointed me for several reasons: 1. mainly, that a railroad story in the 21st century is not compelling at all. So much of the novel would necessarily change/unravel if such things as cell phones, internet, GPS, computers existed. 2. The actress Dagny does not convey the real Dagny... her voice, steely eyes, composure, etc. And the actor playing Hank looked apologetic.

rogerz said...

And one addendum to my previous post: it is certainly legitimate to criticize an artist's _purpose_ (stated or implicit), even if they expertly achieve that end. For example, Jackson Pollack was very good at producing paintings which demean and devalue integrative consciousness. But, that does not mean I enjoy the experience of viewing his paintings, or that I accept his goal as worthy.

Making a normative judgment about artistic ends, and then using that to evaluate the artist, is a reasonable critical methodology. But, one should be honest about it. In Rand's case, this honesty would entail such admissions as: "capitalism is evil", "individualism is a myth", "happiness is not possible", "there is no such thing as an ideal man" (or, less bravely, more "nuanced" versions of these claims).

somefeller said...

Palladian @8:49pm: Thanks for your response. The article is worth spending some time on (it's pretty short), but I think your comment raises the problem with its argument. Saying there should be more conservatives in the art world so the art world won't be so one-sided politically is one thing, while saying there should be more conservatives in the art world so there will be more pro-conservative art created is another. And the latter raises the issue of propaganda.

Bruce Majors said...

Adjectives/pejoratives do not equal analysis or criticism.

Like Obama or Krugman or Pelosi in relation to those dumb voters, you know that you are wiser than the millions who love this book and see something in it.

Not your best post.

Bruce Majors said...

The book of course is not the movie.

There is an entire website devoted to exploring the book, for those who cannot manage to read it:

http://www.exploreaynrand.com/1957/

KLDAVIS said...

Finchy said...
"[T]he sentiment you express is this odd, willfully ignorant dismissiveness towards the book. I'm not used to hearing such an anti-intllectual, anti-critical thinking tone tone out of you.

Almost like she doesn't know something so she's saying "I don't care"...

Synova said...

@Fr Martin Fox:
"Why the soft touch on Stalin, Lenin, Mao, Castro, Chavez and the rest? Because they meant well."

Charlie: "The joke is that they didn't mean well; they just got the useful idiots to think that they did."

I think that all of these people did mean well, if looked at the right way. I don't think they were *vandals* no matter how much they managed to destroy. In fact, I think that CS Lewis's observation that evil might rest but someone acting for your own good will never rest, applies to these people.

And yes, I believe that the reason that they get a "soft touch" from so many is partly because those giving them a "soft touch" don't want to admit that their own beliefs about what works are wrong, but largely because they "meant well."

That's why the guy saying he's out to make as much money as he can is vilified, no matter the good he does, and the person "trying to help" who does no good at all is a hero.

That's why no one, no one AT ALL, ever bothered to wonder if the Annanberg Foundation and the efforts of Barack Obama materially improved the life of even a single child.

sierra said...

And, no, I haven't read the book. I don't read long, badly written novels.

Thank you!

doughtyman said...

I don't read long, badly written novels. How would you know it's badly written? Oh, just read some hacks review.

rcocean said...

Hate to tell all the Rand fans this, but most people with a knowledge of fiction think "Atlas Shrugged" is *not* well written.

Generally speaking, you don't need to read a whole novel to discover whether its well written. Very few novelists write one chapter or page badly and then write well for the remainder of the book.

Its kinda like singing or playing the piano. You don't need to listen to the whole concert to know the performer isn't very good.

Synova said...

The question of "well written" is silly anyhow. It's certainly competently written prose. I don't think that anyone is suggesting that the words themselves are music. I thought it was long and didn't really read it. I'm not going to insist that any random person ought to love it and be drawn in despite an antipathy for the ideas in it.

People like different things. People even like different things as different times. And in the end, life is too short.

I do find it rather odd to try to make a virtue out of refusing to read something, however. It's almost like, I'm a better person because I refuse to read this, and that is just absurd.

My own opinion on the relative value of well written prose is that it's actually not very important. It can even be off-putting and isolating, creating a wall to shut people out, when the author's skillful prose overshadows either ideas or story.

This is why best sellers tend to be "poorly written." I notice the mechanics and notice the coarseness or mistakes clunky prose, but the truth is that most people don't. Most people don't notice any of it, not the point of view or tense or inconsistencies in either. They notice the story and characters.

Revenant said...

Atlas Shrugged is to Objectivism what the Left Behind is to conservative Christianity. I.e., written mostly to push the underlying moral system, at the expense of well-developed characters and plausible storylines.

Objectivism is an interesting philosophy that is worth exploring, if only because it will make you think harder about whatever moral system you already follow. But I'd recommend reading Rand's non-fiction work, not "Atlas Shrugged". :)

Phil said...

Ann said: "And, no, I haven't read the book. I don't read long, badly written novels."

Ann, It's too bad you're someone who judges a book by what others say about it, rather than by actually reading it yourself.

It's too bad also that you don't realize that two minute trailers don't always tell you whether you would like the actual movie.

Shanna said...

Generally speaking, you don't need to read a whole novel to discover whether its well written. Very few novelists write one chapter or page badly and then write well for the remainder of the book.

I don't think you can judge a book by a few sentences. The question to me is, can the author create interesting characters and plot and maybe examining interesting ideas. Beautiful sentences are a bonus, and combined with the above, would make a great book.

Some books have bad sentences but for whatever reason, story, characters, or ideas, draw you in or make you think. And someone might be able to write a few lovely sentences but have no ability to string together a competent narrative.

Shanna said...

This is why best sellers tend to be "poorly written." I notice the mechanics and notice the coarseness or mistakes clunky prose, but the truth is that most people don't. Most people don't notice any of it, not the point of view or tense or inconsistencies in either. They notice the story and characters.

Indeed. I would add that I think that if the author has created a story or characters that draw you in, even with clunky prose, they have succeeded and in a way that is good writing.

Peter said...

I loved Atlas Shrugged when I read it in my twenties, right up until the end. I lost all interest in Rand and objectivism when the book ended with Eddie Willers left out in the wilds on a stalled train. Eddie, the faithful assistant, cast aside as one who had no value to the glorious stars of the book. Sorry, eddie was loyal and capable. Loyalty is a two way street. When I was in boot camp in 1964, loyalty was beat into me. When I earned my Corporal's stripes the senior noncoms took me aside and reminded me that if I expected my squad to be loyal to me they had to know I was loyal to them.

Sorry, what they did to Eddie was criminal. It's one thing to fight the looters but you don't do it by shooting your own men in the back.

knox said...

The movie "A Room with a View" is better than the book. So is "Jackie Brown" better than "Rum Punch." IMO.

knox said...

Rand's writing is clunky, but there's something there or we wouldn't still be talking about her.

rcocean said...

Look "Atlas Shrugged" is art/entertainment. If anyone wants to know Rand's ideas they can read her non-fiction in 1/10th the time.

Not wanting to read "badly written" novels isn't some moral failing nor does it show a closed-mind. Its an art preference. I don't like to read "badly written" novels either.

I also don't like songs with awful lyrics, movies with bad dialog, or verbose newspaper columnists who take 500 words to say something that could be said in a 100.

And I'm always amazed at the hold people like Ayn Rand, Karl Marx, Freud, Darwin, or even Richard Dawkins have/had on people. Maybe, its like Chesterton said, once you stop believing in God, you'll believe in anything.

Brian said...

The fascinating thing about the trailer being shown at CPAC is that the anti-intellectual mantle is being proudly worn by the GOP. It's as much the statists as those who despised everything that Rand seemed to be against. Her idealism was about the good and the great. The use of government in Atlas was more about incompetence than anything else. Yes there is certainly some state run contrivances, but the core theme is about the strength of the individual. I mean, EPA, NASA, EDARPA? These are evil collectivist instruments?

The US is not Russia. Those statist in Germany make some pretty awesome cars. There is more than one way to win. That said Rands thinking is interesting and worthy of debate.

The thing I fear is that the movie will be co-opted by the Coulter crew and instead of telling a not bad story with some quasi-interesting thinking it'll turn into Palin's Alaska redux.

Athanasius said...

Bravo, Ann! I have never understood the mania for Rand. I find Atlas Shrugged turgid and truly badly written.

What a thoroughly unpleasant, self-absorbed woman she was.

Give me Milton Friedman any day - smart and a truly decent human being.

ndmike said...

And I'm always amazed at the hold people like Ayn Rand, Karl Marx, Freud, Darwin, or even Richard Dawkins have/had on people. Maybe, its like Chesterton said, once you stop believing in God, you'll believe in anything.

I think that Chesterton's thoughts on mania are more apt here. The line about a small circle being just as infinite as a large circle, but less large. That, and the idea that there is a cleaner and cooler world that exists outside the suffocation of a single argument.

RobertT said...

The plot line to Atlas Shrugged was too over the top, but the Fountainhead was a fantastic bk. Easily one of my favorites. Her politics gets in the way of most of her books, but not this particular one.

Blue@9 said...

I enjoyed both in my youth, although Rand was clearly no match for Nabokov as a wordsmith. Both had similar backgrounds, emigres from the insanity of the early Bolshevik revolution, and their work is not as dissimilar as you might think. Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading would have been well-received by one in the cult-of-Rand (and what was Cincinatus C's crime? gnostic turpitude.) Even Lolita and Pnin would appeal, seeing that they feature the disaffected heroes of a senseless, oppressive government or culture that demeans the individual.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Charlie said...

@Fr Martin Fox:
"Why the soft touch on Stalin, Lenin, Mao, Castro, Chavez and the rest? Because they meant well."

The joke is that they didn't mean well; they just got the useful idiots to think that they did.

Well...that was my point; I myself certainly don't consider those killers to have "meant well." But our cultural elites have had a soft spot for this sort, and either still do, or don't want to revisit that embarrassment.

cliff said...

It is astounding how many pseudo-intellectuals (and worse, the real ones) get off on bad mouthing Rand. I get that the lefties do it. She calls them out for the evil (or VERY stupid) creatures they are. So they have to respond in their vicious little way. But the rest of you? Unlike many comments here, she isn't about "money". She isn't about "selfishness" (she intentionally used that word to make an honest point that of course you all twist) She is really about one thing - a person's life being their own. Not the community's, the government's, the people's, or some "God's". If you disagree with that, you're wrong, but do it honestly, not through snide little intentional misinterpretations and arrogant "smarter than thou" dismissals.

Movie trailier looks pretty good too.