Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Project

aThe Ayn Rand Institute directs us to a delightful tale of ordinary folks:

"Facets of Ayn Rand"

The offical Ayn Rand Idolatory Project is clearly proceeding apace. With James Valliant having wiped the Brandens from the page of Objective time by declaring them an "aribitrary" zone, this new phase of The Project, a book of interviews with Charles and Mary Ann Sures about Rand, seems to aim at secondary issues such as the structural justification of Great Leader's Official Humanising Character Flaw, her occasional anger. Bonus for enthusiasts of this particular brand of Kremlinology is also the vigorous en passant fluffing of Dear Leader Leonard Peikoff's own outstanding genius. Some offhand gems Neil Parille and I have spotted already (our emphases):

A.R.I:
Did she ever get angry during philosophical
discussions when people were slow to get her point?

MARY ANN:
I wouldn’t call the response “anger” — it was more
exasperation bordering on impatience. The best example
of this I can remember was a group discussion, before
Atlas was published. Some of the Collective, myself
included, were having difficulty demonstrating that
life is the standard of morality. So, the issue was
explained again, and we were asked to write an essay
on the subject and bring it back the following
Saturday night. A few of us did, and she was surprised
to learn that only Leonard was able to do it
correctly. The rest of us made errors or left out
steps in the argument. I remember her looking puzzled
by it, for the issue had been discussed in detail and
we had all read that section of Galt’s speech over
and over. But she did get very annoyed when some one,
I think Nathan, suggested that maybe that section
needed more explication....



or:
CHARLES
That's part of it. What we, and many, many others,
owe to her is incalculable. But, in addition to that,
we have read things about her that give a distorted
picture of what she was like. We want to correct the
record. It should be said here that we are not
referring to Leonard Peikoff's essay, "My Thirty Years
with Ayn Rand: An Intellectual Memoir." That is a
brilliant analysis of her thinking methods, and it
captures the spirit of Ayn Rand the philosopher and
person."
or:
MARY ANN:
Frank painted in a style which Ayn personally liked —
a style of clarity and precision, but not one of dry
details. She would say things like “Make that edge a
little sharper, darling,” or “The colors are running
together,” or “It’s a little blurry in this part.”
Now, Ayn was very enthusiastic about what Frank was
doing, and I don’t think she made these comments as
criticisms. She was calling things to his attention,
things she thought he would want to be aware of. He
listened, but didn’t say anything. She would return
to her desk, and he would resume painting. Once he
said to me, “If she wants to paint, let her get her
own canvas and paints and do it her way.” This was
followed by some of Frank’s good-natured laughter...


22 comments:

Neil Parille said...

Here is something I found interesting:

ARI

Let’s turn to Ayn Rand the celebrity and her attitude toward fans.

MARY ANN

She was a celebrity, but she didn’t act like one.

ARI

How do you mean?

MARY ANN

She didn’t want or need an adoring, protective entourage around her, going with her everywhere she went, fawning over her, flattering her. She frowned on that practice. She had seen a lot of that in Hollywood and considered it phony.

However, Bennet Cerf in his memoir At Random (pp. 250-51) says:

"Ayn Rand was a remarkable woman, but in my opinion she was not helped by her sycophants. She’s like a movie queen with her retinue, or a prize-fight champion who’s followed by a bunch of hangers-on, or a big crooner and his worshipers. They all come to need this adulation. These people tell her she’s a genius and agree with everything she says and she grows more opinionated as she goes along."

Meg's Marginalia said...

Diana Hsieh's Objectivist huddle has come up with a game plan at last!

Jonathan said...

MARY ANN:
"But she did get very annoyed when someone, I think Nathan, suggested that maybe that section needed more explication..."

What annoyed the goose apparently wasn't too much of a concern when it came to advising the gander:

http://www.facetsofaynrand.com/book/chap6.html

MARY ANN:
"Frank painted in a style which Ayn personally liked — a style of clarity and precision, but not one of dry details. She would say things like “Make that edge a little sharper, darling,” or “The colors are runn­ing to gether,” or “It’s a little blurry in this part.” Now, Ayn was very enthusiastic about what Frank was do­ing, and I don’t think she made these comments as criticisms. She was calling things to his attention, things she thought he would want to be aware of. He listened, but didn’t say anything. She would return to her desk, and he would resume painting. Once he said to me, “If she wants to paint, let her get her own canvas and paints and do it her way.” This was followed by some of Frank’s good-natured laughter. The point is that Frank was as independent about his painting as he was about everything else."

---

Interesting contrast, eh? Rand became ~very annoyed~ when someone suggested that a section of her art might need more explication based on the fact that even those already very familiar with her ideas were having difficulty with it, where Frank would ~laugh~ about Rand's unsolicited comments and commands based on her personal tastes regarding his art.

J

Anonymous said...

This probably isn't the appropriate place to post this comment (and for that, I am sorry), but I couldn't find any relevant topics, so that being said:

I am doing research for a paper on how Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand viewed man's relation to the natural environment. Many times in Atlas Shrugged, Dagny is seen lamenting the loss of a road or factory to weeds, and once or twice during Galt's speech, he quickly bashes environmentalism. However, I am unable to find anything concrete, and I am only to infer her views about man in relation to the environment. Could anyone point me to anything concrete on the internet, or in Atlas Shrugged, that could lead me to an explicit statement which has lead all of her lackeys to be so illogically critical of environmentalism?

Thanks,

Skinny

Daniel Barnes said...

Good point, Jonathan.

Daniel Barnes said...

Hi Skinny

Like everything else, Rand romanticised industrialism. The reality of it is hardly as she suggests; in fact her imagery is frequently and ironically compared to the old Constructivist propaganda visions of Ivan and his Happy Tractor so beloved of the Soviet Union. If I were you I'd look at how she distances her vision from reality via romantic imagery.

Another good place to look is maybe this collection of essays: The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution

Neil Parille said...

Skinny --

You might want to read Ayn Rand and the Mastery of Nature in the vol 2, no 1 issue of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.

Ellen Stuttle said...

Skinny:

The start of The Fountainhead, Roark's looking at the scene and thinking rocks to be cut, etc.

A passage in We the Living where Kira's sister, Irina (?), says admiringly of a scene that it looks almost natural and Kira says admiringly of another that it looks almost artificial.

Something she says in one of her essays about how we should gratefully kiss the grimiest smokestack in New Jersey -- sorry I'm forgetting which essay.

Details of the segment in Atlas where Dagny and Hank go on a motorcar excursion, e.g., Hank's comment about being bothered that there aren't any billboards

There's a passage in John Hospers' memoir about the difference in his and her attitudes toward nature. I'll type that in for you later.

Ellen

Ellen Stuttle said...

Neil quotes Bennet Cerf from his memoir At Random (pp. 250-51):

"Ayn Rand was a remarkable woman, but in my opinion she was not helped by her sycophants. She’s like a movie queen with her retinue, or a prize-fight champion who’s followed by a bunch of hangers-on, or a big crooner and his worshipers. They all come to need this adulation. These people tell her she’s a genius and agree with everything she says and she grows more opinionated as she goes along."

With all due ex-editor's respect for wily old fox Bennet Cerf's opinions, in my opinion his description is wrong. Her circle was not like a movie queen's with her retinue, etc. Nor would I say that AR "[grew] more opinionted" as she went along. She started out thoroughly convinced of her own rectitude.

I do think that toward the end, Joan and Allan's sticking to their guns in regard to the visual arts and music was bothering Ayn and raising some doubts, which is why Ayn became so insistent in trying to convince them.

Ellen

Neil Parille said...

Ellen,

That's an interesting point. Maybe Cerf was talking about Rand's "virtual" retinue of fans and followers.

I do wonder if in her earlier days Rand was so certain about her psychological speculations and things like that which were out of her area of expertise. It's one thing to be convinced of your own rectitude, and other to be convinced that you are so right about everything.

Anonymous said...

Everyone,

Excellent instruction, everyone! You've given me some really good starting points for the essay. I've only read The Fountain Head and Atlas Shrugged, so it'll be exciting to pick up some more of her books. No matter how much I dissent from her philosophy, I've always enjoyed the theatrical value they usually impart.

I think I'll start with her quote about kissing a smokestack, and move from there...

Skinny

Ellen Stuttle said...

Skinny wrote:

I think I'll start with her quote about kissing a smokestack, and move from there...

Unfortunately for that plan, I misremembered the details: she said to thank the smokestack(s), not to kiss it (them).

Here is the passage. I'm copying it from the entry "Ecology/Environmental Movement" in the Lexicon:

"In Western Europe, in the preindustrial Middle Ages, man's life expetancy was 30 years. In the nineteenth century, Europe's population grew by 300 percent--which is the best proof of the fact that for the first time in human history, industry gave the great masses of people a chance to survive.

"If it were true that a heavy concentration of industry is destructive to human life, one would find life expectancy declining in the more advanced countries. But it has been rising steadily. Here are the figures on life expectancy in the United States (from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company):

1900--47.3 years
1920--53 years
1940--60 years
1968--70.2 years (the latest figures compiled)

"Anyone over 30 years of age today, give a silent 'Thank you' to the nearest, grimiest, sootiest smokestacks you can find."

["The Anti-Industrial Revolution"]

Ellen

Ellen Stuttle said...

And here, as promised, is a little tidbit about Ayn Rand's attitude toward nature from John Hopsers' memoir article "Conversations With Ayn Rand," Liberty, Volume 3, Number 6, July 1990, pg. 33:

"Ayn and I had very different attitudes toward nature. I liked vacations in the mountains, swimming in lakes, tramping through the woods. She cared for none of these things. The city was man's triumphant achievement; it was not nature but man's changes on the face of nature in which she reveled. She had (I gathered) broken Frank's heart by insisting on the move to New York City from their estate in the San Fernando Valley, where Frank had been in his element. But she had had enough of nature. She spoke movingly to me of Russian villages in which anything manmade was treasured. She spoke of having to walk, as a child, with her parents, through the Russian countryside from Leningrad to Odessa, to live with their uncle and escape starvation (her father had been classified as a capitalist by the Bolsheviks, and left to starve with his family in Leningrad). 'Why should I help to pay for public beaches?' she once asked. 'I don't care about the beach.'

"I liked fresh fruit for dessert, and tried to avoid pastries. She, on the contrary, loved pastries; perhaps the fresh fruits reminded her too much of the wild nature of which she had had her fill in Russia. She tempted me with pastries when she and Frank took me to a restaurant, and I of course gave in and devoured as much pastry as she did."

Ellen

Ellen Stuttle said...

A further comment about Bennet Cerf's description of the "Collective" members as "sycophants."

Aside from Nathaniel and possibly Barbara (and of course Frank, but I wouldn't technically call him part of the "Collective"), I doubt that Bennet Cerf ever met the other members of the "Collective" except at the surprise party -- which was an awkward event, not one which likely showed the group in their best light.

Here are the people (in addition to Nathaniel and Barbara) who comprised the "Collective" as of the time Atlas was published (1957):

Alan Greenspan, financial whiz, who later became arguably the most powerful man in America as Head of the Fed;

Allan Blumenthal, medical degree, psychiatrist, helped pay for his medical training by performing as a concert pianist;

Joan Blumenthal, talented painter (you won't get much idea of her ability by looking at the works of hers sold in reproduction by NBI; those are semi-objectikitschy, but her general work is quality);

Elayne Kalberman, hospital nurse, who became the circulation manager of and generally ran the business aspects of the newsletter/magazine; a professionally competent woman;

Harry Kalberman, successful stock broker;

Leonard Peikoff, "intellectual heir" in the making;

Mary Ann Rukavina, later Sures, art-history student, at the time.

I consider the description "sycophant" ludicrous for most of these people and not fair even for the only two to whom I can see it as somewhat plausibly applying, Leonard and Mary Ann. But I think "disciple" is the correct description for Leonard -- and "student" for Mary Ann. Those are the two who remained devoted to Ayn; their devotion, I believe, is fully sincere, hard though it might be for some to imagine fully sincere devotion to Ayn Rand, They weren't sucking up to Ayn; they weren't plying her with false flattery. They were and remain honestly convinced that Ayn was a great genius, among the greatest of all time, and that Objectivism is true philosophy.

Also, another word in Cerf's description: "retinue." This makes it sound as if the "Collective" accompanied Ayn like a train of courtiers. Not so. The group met at her apartment -- for a number of years, once a week -- and talked philosophy (and, I assume, other subjects, too). It wasn't like a show-business entourage.

Ellen

Ellen Stuttle said...

Neil:

That's an interesting point. Maybe Cerf was talking about Rand's "virtual" retinue of fans and followers.

I don't think so, Neil. I think he meant the "Collective" from the details of what he said; he's talking about the sort of group which tends to surround show-business celebrities, not a fan club. And recall, Cerf and Rand parted company when JFK was killed; that was before the peak days of NBI, so I don't think he even meant her New York following.

I do wonder if in her earlier days Rand was so certain about her psychological speculations and things like that which were out of her area of expertise. It's one thing to be convinced of your own rectitude, and other to be convinced that you are so right about everything.

I think that she was like that from very young, that her thorough certainty of her own correctness is key to the sort of power she developed. Remember the tale of the school mate, a girl whom at first Ayn thought looked interesting and then gave up on in immediate sick disgust upon the girl's answer ("my mother") to Ayn's asking her what was most important to her. She came to a verdict, of which she was sure, about that girl and didn't think to question even years later when she was recounting the story to Barbara. Ayn was by then 55, but still didn't think to ask herself, maybe there might have been more to the situation than it occurred to her to consider as a child...??

Ellen

Anonymous said...

Ellen:

That was above and beyond anything I had expected. And quoting anything resembling hugging a smokestack is sure to shock a 2000 level environmental class. Thank you very much!

Skinny

Ellen Stuttle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ellen Stuttle said...

[Correcting a typo in the Jaffe quote.]


You're welcome, Skinny.

Speaking of how Ayn Rand affected people...

The other day I came across a quote from Marc Jaffe in Passion when I was trying to find the date when Ayn first spoke at the Ford Hall Forum. (Barbara doesn't give the exact year of the first appearance, only an indication that it was circa 1962 or 63.) Marc Jaffe was no one's fool, and not easily impressed, but he was quite taken by Ayn. This is on pp. 316-17:

"Marc Jaffe, now editorial director of Villard Books, commissioned Ayn to write an introduction to Victor Hugo's Ninety-three for Bantam Classics. He later spoke glowingly of his meetings with her, in terms relevant to the success of her lecture appearances. With a cheerful grin, he said, 'I've been telling my colleagues that I was the man who was in love with Ayn Rand...at least for ten minutes. What I most remember about our meetings was the almost magical impact she had on me. She was not a beautiful woman, but she had an inexpressible charm, that wonderful deep and resonant voice, the words poured out of her in a way that excited both my mind and my emotions. When we talked about her notions of the romantic novel, I was fascinated and educated; what she said was very important and convincing. I felt that she had such an extraordinary mind and presence. I had read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and I liked them both very much; apart from their wealth of ideas and characters, both have a compelling force that came in good part from the incredible energy of her personality.'"

He doesn't mention her eyes, but a lot of people have mentioned them in speaking of her rather mesmerizing effect in person.

Here's a youtube glimpse from the Mike Wallace 1959 interview, showing a quarter view which gives some indication of the size of her eyes. They were dark and luminous, like pools that went on and on in depth -- magnetic when she looked at you directly.

http://www.solopassion.com/node/4167

Ellen

Daniel Barnes said...

Meg:
>Diana Hsieh's Objectivist huddle has come up with a game plan at last!

Yo Meg, check out the latest post...;-)

Meg's Marginalia said...

Hi Skinny,
You probably have more than enough references already but I have one more to add. Robert Slade wrote a review of Atlas Shrugged and concluded she must have been so illogically anti-environment because of her own ignorance

Here's the book review: http://victoria.tc.ca/int-grps/books/techrev/bkatshrg.rvw

and I also wrote a post on my blog about it
http://megsmargin.blogspot.com/2008/01/book-review-of-atlas-shrugged-by-robert.html

Meg's Marginalia said...

oops, the links are
Original book review

My post

Some say her disdain for nature's beauty arose because of her years of privation in Russia where she might have had plenty of "nature" and not enough civilization, but I still think that's no excuse.

Also re the smokestacks, Jerome Tuccille wrote about his experiences as an Objectivist in It Usually Begins with Ayn Rand and the 2006 version The Gospel According to Ayn Rand, he describes her saying "All of you out there above the age of 29, whenever you zee and zmokeztack you should get down on your knees and worship it"

Kelly said...

“Here are the figures on life expectancy in the United States (from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company):

1900--47.3 years
1920--53 years
1940--60 years
1968--70.2 years (the latest figures compiled)

"Anyone over 30 years of age today, give a silent 'Thank you' to the nearest, grimiest, sootiest smokestacks you can find."”


Just a pet peeve of mine, but objectivists always seem to want to tie life expectancy to industry and objectivist principles, but always seem to leave out the fact that one of the main reason for the increase of life expectancy is the Polio vaccine and the discovery of penicillin. Both developed and/or discovered at public institutions. Luckily free market reforms hadn’t swept the world yet.