Monday, January 18, 2010

On The Meaning Of What We Do II

Freddie deBoer (h/t Andrew Sullivan) has this to say about Ayn Rand:
People far abler than I have prosecuted the case against Rand,
and I don't intend to rehash it here. But this tendency of her writings
and her philosophy to compel people to slap concrete on the foundation
of their own ideas, to build a moat around their intellectual life, to
categorize the whole world into the tiny fraction who are worthy and
the great horrid mass that are simply not to be listened to in any
circumstance... this is the greatest failing of the woman and her
teachings. There are a worse things to inspire people towards--
genocide, war, ethnic cleansing-- but still, a philosopher whose
greatest contribution is a vast incuriosity is a dismal thing.

Emphasis mine. What a beautiful turn of phrase, and a beautiful metric by which to judge an author's efficacy: can they really turn their prose into something concrete, through the minds of the assembled?

What's interesting about this is that it points out something to me that has always been fascinating about Ayn Rand. I find her literary style -- not just her philosophy -- to be alienating and abhorrent. I dislike the way she renders characters, and the quality of the worlds she inhabits. But I have seen her prose transform other people in ways that very, very few other fiction writers have. She really was the L Ron Hubbard of her times. Her words carry a power that, to this day, still holds people in her sway. I wish she had chosen a more positive way to make her impact.


Freddie said...

It has to be said: you can't question her influence, and her power over some people.

Someone who I respect has long made this important point: Rand's philosophy was, in its infant stages, a very direct response to her experiences with Stalinism. It would be truly unfair for me to fail to keep that in mind when I think about her. Where I think criticism remains is in the fact that she lived in America for many decades (and could see very well that, for all of its advantages over Bolshevism, American capitalism wasn't some perfect machine for sorting the virtuous), without ever moderating her message; and in the fact that her followers don't have the excuse of intimate exposure to Stalinism, which makes their devotion to Objectivism less defensible. From my perspective, anyway.

Scott Walters said...

I feel the same way as you. I admire the clarity and logic of her prose, especially "The Romantic Manifesto." But when she applied her ideas, even in those works, it was with a lack of generosity that was shocking. But I think people in theatre could benefit from the kind of intellectual rigor that she demonstrated.