Friday, March 09, 2007

JARS: "Essays on Ayn Rand's Fiction"

In this article, Susan L. Brown reviews two collections of essays from ARI, the first collecting essays about Rand's novel Anthem, the second collecting essays about We the Living. Although Ms. Brown's reviews are largely positive in tone, she does see fit to complain of "the failure of its authors to cite the work of other scholars who have dealt with some of the issues involved here, and their dogged persistence in conveying the notion that Ayn Rand ... never really change her mind about anything." I suspect that this latter charge goes to the heart of Rand's psychopathology. When Rand revised We the Living, she claimed that she only made "editorial-line changes." Well, that simply isn't the case. Changes were made in the views expressed in the novel. The 1936 version lacked the ideal-man view of her later novels; it has a somewhat ambivalent attitude toward capitalism; and it contained several passages expressing the Nietzschean view that "character is fate" and that people are born to be what they are.

Rand was clearly embarrassed by these views she held earlier in her development and went out of her way to deny that she had ever held them -- despite the evidence to the contrary. But why should it matter whether she held somewhat different views earlier in her career? There is nothing wrong about changing one's mind. Those of us who are critics of Rand might think she changed for the worse; but her admirers could easily embrace the opposite view. Why, then, should both Rand and her apologists shrink from admitting that she changed her mind? It appears that Rand felt there was something shameful in changing one's mind, as if it were immensely degrading and humiliating. Does this, then, explain her intemperate hostility to the notion that all knowledge is ultimately conjectural and that knowledge is largely the product of trial and error and ceaseless self-criticism? Does it explain her uncompromising dogmatism and her ill-fated, limping theory of "contextual certainty"?

9 comments:

Neil Parille said...

The problem for Rand supporters is that she made the "editorial line change" comment after Atlas Shrugged came out (when her philosophy became fixed) and denied making any major changes.

Even Barbara Branden, in the Passion of Ayn Rand, has a hard time saying explicitly that Rand lied.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know what changes were made to We The Living? Are they available online?

Kelly

Anonymous said...

Ah - the sickly sweet smell of evasion...

Bill said...

"The 1936 version lacked the ideal-man view of her later novels; it has a somewhat ambivalent attitude toward capitalism; and it contained several passages expressing the Nietzschean view that "character is fate" and that people are born to be what they are."

What? Are you saying that Ayn Rand actually wrote a good novel?

Michael Prescott said...

Jungian analyst James Hillman, in his book The Soul's Code, gives numerous examples of successful people who rewrote their life story to make it conform to their persona. Their memoirs are frequently tales of what should have happened, rather than what did happen. It's a very common phenomenon. Possibly as your persona starts to feel "more real" than the person you used to be, you unconsciously adapt your biography to make it fit your new self-image.

There is not necessarily anything intentionally dishonest about this; it's well known that memories tend to be reshaped to provide a logically consistent narrative. For instance, if you see a person fall and then hear a gunshot, you may remember hearing the gunshot first, followed by the fall. This sequence seems more logical and so it is unconsciously adopted, even though it is wrong.

Quite likely, Rand simply found her early ideas unworthy of the person she thought she'd become, and so they were blotted from memory or rationalized away as trivial ("editorial line changes"). She probably also "forgot" the debt she owed to her relatives, to the DeMilles, to the charitable boarding house where she stayed in Hollywood, etc. When she said in the postscript to Atlas Shrugged that no one had ever helped her, she undoubtedly meant it, even though it wasn't true. "Ayn Rand" (as opposed to "Alissa Rosenbaum") was not the sort of person who could ever need or accept help; therefore no help was ever provided. Q.E.D.

The mind is a tricky little monkey, ain't it?

gregnyquist said...

Bill: "What? Are you saying that Ayn Rand actually wrote a good novel?"

Absolutely. Despite the fact that we tend to be critical of Rand on this site, we are not uncritically critical. We the Living is a fine novel, even in its revised version.

Anon: "Does anyone know what changes were made to We The Living? Are they available online?"

As far as I know the changes, at least as far as they go beyond mere editorial-line changes, are not extensive. Rand's original motive for revising the novel stems from the fact that it had not only gone out of print, but that the original plates for the printing had been destroyed (at least the one's for the U.S. version). The book remained in print for some years in the original version in England and even Canada. Versions of original American version are said to be worth quite a bit of change.

David said...

A Question:

(I'm only posting it here b/c this is the most recent thread) ...

DOes anyone have any links of Rand's/Objectivist arguments that Mozart's music is "malevolent"?

Likewise for Shakespeare's drama?

Michael Prescott said...

Rand's attitude toward Shakespeare is quoted in Barbara Branden's The Passion of Ayn Rand, p. 45 (hardcover):

"I was indignant at the tragedy and malevolence, but the malevolence was secondary. I disliked most precisely what his virtues are supposed to be: that he is a detached Olympian, who takes no sides. When we were taught in classes that Shakespeare holds up a mirror to human nature, that set me even more against him. He is a determinist, a nonvaluer, and I had no admiration for any of his characters. Caesar and Mark Antony are stock, cardboard characters, they are official bromides, they are what you are historically supposed to admire, but they are not alive; there is nothing individual about them. I refused to believe that Lear and Macbeth represent what man really is."

This represents Rand's view of Shakespeare in her college days, but it is doubtful that she changed her mind.

In a review of a Rand Q-&-A book, I found this quote from Rand:

"Othello is presented as jealous, but we’re never told why he’s jealous."

Apparently she was making the point that Othello's jealousy is presented simply as an innate tragic flaw. As the reviewer makes clear, this interpretation of the material is highly doubtful.

(Incidentally the same review includes an interesting quote from Rand about the common law. Her anti-empirical bias comes through very clearly here.)

Regarding Mozart, as I understand it, Rand's criticism was not that he was malevolent but that he was "pre-music," whatever that means. It was Beethoven who was characterized as malevolent - maybe because of those dark, bushy eyebrows!

Neil Parille said...

Michael, Michael --

"When she said in the postscript to Atlas Shrugged that no one had ever helped her, she undoubtedly meant it, even though it wasn't true."

No, as James Valliant has told us, what Rand meant is that she didn't receive welfare --

http://objectiblog.blogspot.com/2007/06/james-valliant-on-rands-claim-that-no.html