Friday, October 20, 2006

Cringe and Win! - The 5 Most Embarrassing Moments in "PARC"

At last I finally get around to a roundup of the 5 most cringe-inducing moments in James Valliant's deeply cracked "The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics." As the late great Orson Welles once said, so many options....

Feel free to add your own favourite. Best comment (judged by me, no correspondence entered into etc) wins a free copy of Greg Nyquist's "Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature."

5. The Surprise Party of Evil

Random House (why, even the name is irrationalist!) throw Rand a surprise party to celebrate the launch of 'Atlas Shrugged'. In return, Rand throws a control-freaky snit about other people trying to 'control her context'. Later she launches into a analysis of the merits of surprise parties and hilariously declares that, philosophically, she can find "no valid reason for them". Equally hilariously, Grand High Inquistor Valliant's ever-alert nostrils manage to detect the scent of the devil in the seemingly innocent fact that Nathaniel and Barbara Branden played along with the Surprise Party of Evil: "It was the Brandens who were part of the effort to "control" Rand's context through deception...We shall see that this is not the last time that they will attempt to do this..."

4. Jealous Gal


In a feat perhaps unparallelled in the annals of groupiedom, Valliant manages to insert a compliment to Rand on almost page of PARC; sometimes in every paragraph, and occasionally in every sentence. He attributes to her literally superhuman qualities such as immunity to envy or jealousy - as he must, of course, as such emotions are inconsistent with Rand's philosophy, and Valliant's main objective is rehabilitating her reputation as Objectivism's irreproachable exemplar. Unfortunately, groupiedom is blind; these claims are contradicted by his own book. For example, jealousy:

"Female jealousy, in the traditional sense" writes Valliant, "was alien to Rand, and her ability to remain rational - whatever personal feelings she had on the subject - is truly impressive."

But then from the very pages of PARC itself, here's Rand on Patrecia, Branden's glamorous new young cookie:
"...he kept insisting that he sees some wonderful qualities in her, which he could not define and which were not seen, nor even sensed, by anyone else (most emphatically not by me)..."
"And what did he get in exchange for his mind and soul? Nothing. That is the grotesque emptiness of evil. Nothing but the empty chatter with (Patrecia) at their lunches...listening to the theatrical prattling of a girl who bores much lesser minds within half an hour...what else was there to do with a girl of that kind?...If one looks at the above in realistic, existential terms, it becomes pure insanity: why would would a man want to give up all the values representing his mind and his career...in exchange for this sort of silly, trashy, vulgar, juvenile nonsense?"
"(Patrecia) was disgustingly phoney, and I felt strained..."

"Symbolically, this was a battle between my universe and (Patrecia's). Existentially and objectively, the choice to keep (Patrecia's) and to reject (mine) speaks for itself..."

"Existentially, he must not have any romantic or even friendship relationship with (Patrecia)..."

"I feel the strongest contempt I have ever felt - and I regard (Branden, for his relationship with Patrecia) as the worst traitor and the most immoral person I have ever met..."
Yes folks, it certainly is "remarkable" how Rand rises so objectively above mere "traditional female emotions"!

3. Comic Genius













Hey, who says Rand had no sense of humour?


2. Take My Wife - Please!


Perhaps Valliant's most bizarre flight of fantasy is his depiction of Rand and her husband Frank O'Connor as bold rebels against drab sexual orthodoxy - here to teach mankind a new "science of ethics", no less. Basically, Valliant argues that the Rand/Branden/O'Connor menage a trois - Rand's 18-year adultery with a star-struck Branden some 25 years her junior - was, despite obvious appearances, a supreme example of her "remarkable integrity". How so? Well, because - get this - her husband got off on it too. In support of his superbly pervy thesis, Valliant quotes Rand's notes from "Atlas Shrugged":
"(Rearden) takes pleasure in the thought of Dagny with another man, which is an unconscious acknowledgement that sex, as such, is great and beautiful, not evil and degrading."
Valliant declares that, far from resenting it as ordinary men might, for Rand a male "hero" would actually take pleasure in the thought of their loved one getting it on with "another hero". Not only that, but this type of male psychology is, according to Valliant, "almost certain to be an expression of her husband's own psychology...as Frank was...the model for her fictional heroes." For as a "loving husband", Valliant concludes that Frank must surely have "appreciated his wife's complex emotional - and intellectual - needs." What a guy! Far from being intensely angry and conflicted as the Brandens testify, and as one might reasonably expect from being cuckolded, Valliant insists that Frank possessed "such a sensitive and daring soul," that it "may well have given him the capacity to embrace his wife's quest for joy..." - perhaps even finding it "a sexual inspiration." As we say here in New Zealand...yeah,right!

And then the cringing clincher:"Such a scenario,"writes Valliant,"however probable..." Yes, that's right, Valliant really says this! Er, James, shouldn't that really read "however improbable"? Poor, poor Frank.

1. "Too Much For Him"

PARC's biggest faux pas is certainly Valliant's decision to publish Rand's personal notes on the breakup of her menage a trois with Nathaniel Branden. As I've written elsewhere, far from rehabilitating her intellectual reputation among non-Objectivists, they're more likely to sink it for all time. On one level, the pseudo-psychological drivel is bad enough; but it's made worse by the almost poignant portrait of self-delusion that these notes paint of Rand herself. She torturously 'analyses' Branden's supposed 'psycho-epistemological repressions' for page after daft page; yet never does she seriously examine her own reponsibility for the state of the relationship. Does she ever think: Gee, it maybe wasn't such a good idea to have an adulterous relationship with a fanboy half my age? That, as the saying goes, there's no fool like an old fool? Does she ever pick up the moral courage to end the years of "greyness" herself with Branden?; to figure out the obvious reality of the situation and simply tell him it's over? Nope. Her self awareness is zero. Everything that's wrong with their relationship is always and everywhere Branden's fault, due to him being a 'secretly repressed social metaphysician'; not because there's no fool like an old fool, and that the whole thing was obviously going to end in tears right from the start. Reality never enters into it. Rand's self-delusion eventually metastatizes into desperate self-aggrandisement in what will surely become an infamous passage:

"I am convinced that the clearest and probably conscious fear in his mind was the fear of admitting that I was 'too much for (Branden).'...I was too much for him - in every sense of the phrase and in a deeper sense than would apply to the type of men he despises. I want to stress this: I was and am too much for him. This is my full conviction, reached with the full power, logic, clarity and context of my mind..."

By this point, "The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics" is too much for just about anybody.

22 comments:

Neil Parille said...

Dan,

Lot's of good stuff here. I already own PARC, but I'll put in my five cents:

5. What made me laugh about Valliant's comment is his statement: "Had the Brandens first inquired into whether Rand . . . liked suprise parties . . . ."

The Brandens: Ayn, do you like suprise parties?

Rand: Why do you ask?

The Brandens: Uh, no reason.

4. What's worse is that Rand denounces Branden as the most immoral man she met, but rather than break with him, continues her friendship even describing how they spent hours talking.

2. Valliant even relies on NB's memoirs as "proof" that Frank liked it. NB said that Rand told him that it didn't bother Frank. So NB's book becomes reliable when it supports Valliant's crazy theory?

1. I think it's around that section that Valliant says Rand could even be "objective about her own objectivity." That was one of the biggest laughs for me in the book.

Michael Hardesty said...

Daniel, I'm afraid that yet again you are associating the whole of humanity with your limitations.
By your logic, Atlas should have died on the vine after Chambers
"withering" (read:psycho) "review."
Gee, what happened ? How many MILLIONS of copies later ? How
many books has Greg, Scotty Ryan
sold ? And how many people read Bill Dwyer's crap ? Questions answer themselves.
Surprise parties, lots of people
are not crazy about surprise parties.......The Brandens probably knew that, so why go along with something they knew to
be offensive ?
Your seriously claiming RAND was jealous of Patty Poo ? You gotta
be kidding. Hospers wrote me that even Nathan treated her like shit in public when they were out here
in LA and in fact Hospers claimed
Nathan probably did something far
worse than that ! Which I'll refrain from repeating in lieu of proof.
I met Frank and once had dinner with him & Ayn, I can imagine him
having exactly those self-contained qualities that Valliant
speculates on. I know this will
bring chuckles from all those Silents Of The Laughs that still torment poor Mike Prescott but what the hell.....
Then you have to stoop to ageism
to find a handle to condemn Rand
for doing what MEN have done from time immemorial, have an affair with a younger person from another gender ? Boy, I bet that gets a lot of chuckles from Mikey's laughs crowd.......You might as
well just call her a kike, it would be as rational.....a woman
scorned, oh, how original !
So much for your "demolition" !
You shot yourself.

Dragonfly said...

I don't know what I find more amazing: the silliness of Vaillant's book, that seems to be written for retarded children, or the fact that grown and apparently educated people fall for it, describing it even as a conversion experience. How is it possible that they swallow such childish nonsense?

I really don't know what the most silly part is, there are so many of them... Is point 3 really an authentic quote from V's book? Unbelievable...what has that to do with a sense of humour?!

Well, if I'd to choose, I think the idea that Frank liked the fact that Rand had an affair with Branden, let alone that he found it a "sexual inspiration" is the most ludicrous. People who can swallow that kind of nonsense must be really brain-damaged. In uncritically worshipping their guru some people lose all rationality, objectivism can be dangerous for your mental health!

Michael Hardesty said...

Dragonfly, you have written nothing of a cognitive nature to reply to, just the usual ad hominems.

Daniel Barnes said...

MH:
>Your seriously claiming RAND was jealous of Patty Poo ?

Such claims are backed Rand's own writings. The passages I quoted are entirely typical jealous female putdowns. Check that "(most emphatically not by me)" one...;-)

>I met Frank and once had dinner with him & Ayn, I can imagine him having exactly those self-contained qualities that Valliant speculates on.

Errr...Valliant is going a little further than speculating on what you nicely describe as Frank's 'self-contained' qualities, don't you think?

>Then you have to stoop to ageism to find a handle to condemn Rand for doing what MEN have done from time immemorial, have an affair with a younger person from another gender ?

Oh, rilly? Have another read.

You'll find what I actually criticise is:
1) Valliant's far-fetched attempt to rationalise Rand's adultery as an example of "remarkable integrity." I'm not 'judging the whole of humanity by my own limitations.' The behaviour Valliant describes - men getting off on having other men sleep with their wives - certainly does exist. However, it is extremely rare that it occurs without jealousy, anger, and other typical emotional fallout exactly as the Brandens describe. So it is not the Brandens making improbable claims based on slim or no evidence, but Valliant himself!
2) Rand's lack of self awareness. It is true that she is doing what MEN have since time immemorial - with exactly the same results! Her failed relationship with Branden conforms to an utterly stereotypical template. Duh!
3) Along with this I also criticise Rand's avoidance of personal responsibility for her part in the failed relationship. She blames it all on Branden via pages of absurd psychobabble about his 'repressed social metaphysics' etc. According to her, the reason Branden dumps her for a younger honey is because of his fundamental psycho-epistemological problems! Pull the other one mate, it's got bells on.
Her own poor judgement in failing to see the blindingly obvious is never mentioned.

Michael, 'there's no fool like an old fool' is not an 'ageist' saying. I myself am middle aged. Many an 'old fool' has found him or herself ruefully reflecting on its truth.

Daniel Barnes said...

Dragonfly:
>Is point 3 really an authentic quote from V's book?

The photo is from PARC, but the comment is mine. Valliant tries to debunk Rand's personal humourlessness early on in the book, and I assume the strange inclusion of such an inaneb photograph is an attempt to show her in an Objectively Humorous Situation.

Michael Hardesty said...

Dan, you are spouting nonsense again. I read PARC and nothing Rand wrote about Patrecia indicates jealousy, only contempt.
No, I thought Valliant could only speculate on Frank's qualities because he had no firsthand knowledge even of my limited experience to draw on.
Adultery is not the issue here since it was out in the open with the consent of all parties.
Rand was an extremely rare person, so a mere statistical averaging out
tells us nothing here, it's like Greg's absurd argument that a Randian person was rare so it couldn't be an ideal or possible.
Rand gives very good reasons for Branden's odd behavioral changes,
you call it psychobabble because
YOU can't deal with it. Ok but that's a personal problem, not a philosophical issue.
Rand was quite self-aware without being paralyzed by self-consciousness.
I seriously doubt it was for strictly physical reasons that Nathan fell out of love with her
even despite the age difference.
In real life it rarely is.
You want to hang onto the cheapest,
easiest way to bash her because her
orignality and greatness is an affront to you. Understood. It should be an affront to you.
But that's no condemnation of Ayn.
Now, you stoop to ageism yet you are a fool without that excuse.
Poor show, Dan.
Nathan's change of behavior was not that blindingly obvious to a
person of Ayn's great benevolence.
She gave him the benefit of the doubt for much too long, a mistake
I will not repeat with you.

Daniel Barnes said...

MH:
>you call it psychobabble because YOU can't deal with it.

Tsk, tsk MH, surely you can do better than that? Why don't you take some samples of what I'm calling 'psychobabble' and defend it - perhaps relate it to some objective empirical psychological research to show how sound her psych theorising about Branden has turned out to be? There's little point blaming me personally for how ridiculous her notes seem. Plenty of people find them preposterous.

>I seriously doubt it was for strictly physical reasons that Nathan fell out of love with her

Now there I tend to agree with you. There's always more to it. And no-one ever knows exactly what goes on between two people. But that does not change the fact that hers and Nathaniel's relationship follows a classic spring/autumn groupie/guru sexual template, with the extra complicaton of it being adulterous. As I said, that it would end in tears was entirely predictable to everyone else except Rand!. How this can be an example of her supreme moral integrity and penetrating insight into human psychology is something I confess I cannot understand.

>You want to hang onto the cheapest, easiest way to bash her because her orignality and greatness is an affront to you...

No I think her philosophy is seriously mistaken and PARC is a hilariously transparent piece of groupiedom.

Michael Hardesty said...

Their relationship went on for several years so your spring-fall etc., is nonsense.
You haven't made any good arguments against either Objectivism or PARC.
If you want examples of psychobabble READ YOUR POSTS THAT I
WAS CRITICIZING. Why do I always have to baby you explaining the self-evident ?
Since there HAVE been many relationships with vast age differences and in some cases open
affairs that have worked your ASSERTION that it was self-evident to everyone but Rand is false.
Another meaningless assertion again by you.
By the way, what "objective empirical research" has been done here ? Another one of your Greg inspired statisticalmean averages
NONarguments. Ah, those Silents Of The Laughs again......like MP you
too are tormented by them.

Daniel Barnes said...

MH:
>Since there HAVE been many relationships with vast age differences and in some cases open
affairs that have worked your ASSERTION that it was self-evident to everyone but Rand is false.

Errr... Michael...you seem to be missing the slight point that it ultimately DIDN'T work...just like the vast majority of such cases. Thus Rand wasn't exceptional in the least. It was, as I said, the cliche, the rule, highly predictable.


>By the way, what "objective empirical research" has been done here ?

Exactly. 'Psychobabble' usually means deep-sounding, but actually empirically unsupported, psychological theorising. To defend Rand against such accusations, it might be handy to have at least some form of empirical research which might support your case. (For example, it would be easy to find empirical studies that show adultery is very likely to lead to anger, jealousy etc) If not, purely speculative 'psychobabble' it probably is.

Anonymous said...

(I wrote this comment earlier today and didn't have time to post it. I see that the discussion has become heated since -- as discussions of Rand so often do become. Nevertheless, I'll go ahead and post what I wrote; it might be of interest to some of those reading this blog.)


I'll enter a cavil against describing Rand's emotional reaction to the thought of Nathaniel's being sexually attracted to Patrecia as one of "jealousy." I think that the description "jealousy" falls short of conveying the extent to which Rand believed her own theories of sex. "Jealousy" is a close synonym of "
envy." It connotes wishing that one had the characteristics (or it could be the possessions) of the person who's the focus of the feeling. If you want to see a scene which depicts what I think of as sexual "jealousy," there's an excellent such scene in "Callas." The scene shows Maria Callas eating her heart out, as they say, being what I'd describe as "jealous" of Jackie Kennedy, for whom Aristotle Onassis had left her.

But in Rand's case, I think the emotion was instead one of moral outrage, a sense of *insult* at Nathaniel's choosing a person who in Rand's view was a nothing -- an intellectual no-weight, a "shop-girl" type. I'm reminded in reading her journal entries about Patrecia of Rand's sense of outrage at *Of Human Bondage*, her disgust at that story. I think that she viewed Nathaniel's attraction to Patrecia as being of the type depicted in *Of Human Bondage*. Rand had believed that Nathaniel was capable of being a "giant" in her (unrealistic, IMO) terms. So I think that the emotional coloring wasn't so much one of her viewing Patrecia as a positive rival to her -- as someone with qualities (youth and beauty) which she, Rand, lacked -- but instead one of her viewing Patrecia as incomparably less in intellectual stature than she herself was.

The difference is a fine distinction; but I think that something is missed in understanding Rand -- and the whole set of circumstances -- if it isn't remembered that she really, really meant, and deeply so, her own theories of the sources of sexual response (and of what such response revealed about a person's character).

Ellen Stuttle

Daniel Barnes said...

Ellen:
>I think that the description "jealousy" falls short of conveying the extent to which Rand believed her own theories of sex...in Rand's case, I think the emotion was instead one of moral outrage, a sense of *insult* at Nathaniel's choosing a person who in Rand's view was a nothing...The difference is a fine distinction...

Hey Ellen,

Trust you to find the fine-yet-critical distinction. I like it, and would even take it perhaps one finer.

I would also hold that "insulted" is a good description of Rand's reaction. However I would add, contra Valliant, that insult, like jealousy, is an entirely typical female (and male) reaction to sexual betrayal. "How COULD he with that little so-and-so" etc. You can't help but be insulted when someone you care about chooses another over you. But is insult a rational reaction in Objectivism, to someone making a choice of their own free will? I can't see how it could be. There can after all be no conflict between rational men - and women, surely? If Nathaniel wants another woman, what business is it of Rand's? Shouldn't the rational reaction be: farewell and good premises? I put it this way: she forgot he was supposed to be free; she forgot who she was supposed to be.

This is overly simplistic, of course; the relationship between acolyte and guru is complex, with exploitation on both sides. However, what I'm really questioning is Valliant's insistence on Rand's superhuman immunity to emotion. I prefer yours (and incidentally Greg Nyquist's) take; that her rigid rational structure actually hummed and zapped with violent, hidden emotional charges; put your foot on the earth while still clinging to the structure and you can end up fried.

>I think that something is missed in understanding Rand -- and the whole set of circumstances -- if it isn't remembered that she really, really meant, and deeply so, her own theories...

I think this is right, and this intense belief can be blindingly so.

chief running bear said...

ellen, you make perceptive comments. only problem is that intelligence is wasted on danny boy because he is so fixated on hating rand because she achieved greatness and he's a total zero.
one of these maybe an intelligent critique will be made of rand but half a century after atlas shrugged it still hasn't appeared. these people here need to get a life but then they wouldn't know what to do with one if they had one.

Michael Prescott said...

This is the standard argument (actually pseudo-argument) offered by Rand fans: that she "achieved greatness," while her detractors are mere nonentities. Perhaps the best reply to this debating tactic was offered by Scott Ryan in
this short fable.

Neil Parille said...

Michael,

I would also mention that Rand's detractors also point out her achievements. Many acknowledge that We The Living and The Fountainhead are excellent works of literature or that she helped advance the cause of free enterprise.

The problem is that they don't lap up her more philosophical works uncritically.

Michael Prescott said...

That's true. Most Rand critics will give her considerable credit in certain areas. I regard The Fountainhead as an American classic. Some of her essays on current events are still quite powerful, like her moving report on the Apollo 11 launch.

With regard to the "greatness" argument, I wonder how many Objectivists would apply it consistently. "You can't criticize President Bush unless you yourself have been elected president." "You can't criticize Stephen King unless you've sold as many books as he has." "You can't criticize Plato unless you've written works that will last for 2500 years." (Objectivists may believe that Rand's works will last that long, but I assume few of them believe that their own writings, if any, will meet that test.)

Truth is, we criticize people who have accomplished big things all the time. It's precisely because their accomplishments are big, or at least are perceived as big by some people, that they attract our attention in the first place. But just accomplishing something, or seeming to, doesn't put a person above criticism. Actually, it makes serious criticism all the more necessary.

Michael Hardesty said...

Scott Ryan is a nut who actually believes in god !!!!!
His book on Rand's epistemology can
be demolished by any village idiot. His version of idealism bears no relation to Blanshard's
critical one and he actually states
that Rand "hates" god ! His fable is as feeble as the rest of his work. Praising for Fountainhead and
denigrating Atlas is like praising
Einstein EXCEPT for the relativity
theory. Who are you people kidding ? This board reeks of hatred for Rand. The analogy with
Bush is off the wall, he has never
pretended to have accomplished anything intellectually and is by
far the worst President in US history, particularly from a conservative viewpoint. The Apollo
essay was one of her weaker ones, so much for your judgment. And no
one ever said here that she was above criticism, that is a nonsequitur on your part.
If people want to read an intelligent review of her philosophy see The Russian Radical
by Chris Matthew Sciabarra. It is
the SOLE intelligent work on Rand
to date. The rest are versions of
Ellis or Walker.

ken stauffer said...

I have a hunch that Ayn Rand felt the same kind of jealousy toward the libertarian movement. She nearly admits as much when she says that they steal her ideas without any credit.

I wonder if secretly she felt the libertarian movement was stealing the wind from her sails (or taking the attention away from her ideology). Got jealeous, and came to this brilliant conclusion:

"I want to stress this: libertarians suck. This is my full conviction, reached with the full power, logic, clarity and context of my mind..."

Neil Parille said...

Ken,

Rand said that libertarians "steal" her ideas. But she also said their ideas have nothing in common with hers. Which is it?

Jay said...

I'm about as Objectivist as they come but her sex scenes puzzle me. I would NOT like knowing that the girl I loved was getting it on with someone else. I don't care if it was John Galt himself.

roGER said...

Jay: I wouldn't trouble yourself too much about the sex scenes, or indeed any of the face-to-face relationships in the novels.

Rand admitted that she knew "nothing of psychology" which is a rather serious handicap for a novelist!

Personally, I view the novels as two dimensional "cartoons" or polemics, maybe even parables. They are peopled with idealised heroes and villians who are meant to be archetypes.

My major problem with all this is that some unlucky people discover Ayn Rand as adolescents, and then spend the next decade of their lives trying to be a super hero like Galt or Dagney or whomever.

They don't seem to realise these characters are as realistic as Peter Parker or Bruce Wayne and Rand's philiosophy as realistic as the world of Gotham City.

KingBushwicktheToityToid said...

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Cool Down Papa Don'tcha Blow
Your Top.

Ain't No Use in Jivin'
What's The Use of Divin?
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Cool Down Papa Don't You
Blow Your Top."
-Nat'King'Cole:"Straighten Up and Fly Right".