Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Rand and Aesthetics 3

Rand's "Sense of Life" as an argument ad hominem. All ethical arguments, according to the philosopher George Santayana, ultimately resolve into an argument ad hominem. "There can be no other kind of argument in ethics," Santayana warns us. Aesthetic arguments often suffer from the same problem, particularly when they are either used as the pretence for baseless psychological speculation or moral condemnation. In Rand, we find evidence of both. She could not accept that people had different aesthetic tastes than her own. Her tastes were not only "objectively" better, but those with contrary tastes were lesser people. Worse, in her public philosophy, Rand tended to be rather coy and ambigious about all of this, as if to give herself plenty of wiggle room so that she could deny that she meant any offense. But her scorn for contrary tastes is palpable, even if it isn't always explicit. And in her private life, she didn't always hold back her scorn. People, she declared, who did not share her sense of life were psychologically incompatible with herself.

Her favorite argument ad hominem on behalf of her aesthetic tastes (and against those contrary to her own) involves her idea of the "sense of life." When Rand sought to rationalize her her various like and dislikes in the aesthetic realm, she most often reached for her sense of life construct. She had a mania for using it in a rather sweeping way against entire the aesthetic productions of specific composers, artistics, and writers. For example, in one of her more infamous ex cathedra declarations, she claimed that Beethoven's music was "malevolent." Not, mind you, for any specific works, but (at least by implication) for Beethoven's entire ouvre, including the "Ode to Joy" setting in the 9th symphony. To be sure, it's absurd to regard any of Beethoven's ouvre as "malevolent," and Rand's sweeping assessment demonstrates, if anything, the Dunning–Kruger effect, a cognitive bias in which clueless people adopt conclusions about things they are incapable of understanding. The bottom line is that Rand didn't like Beethoven because she didn't understand Beethoven, and she resented that those who appreciated what was beyond her ken. Hence the canard about "malevolence."

But Rand was not content to disparage artists and composers she did not care for or understand as malevolent, she also had to go after those who dared to understand and appreciate what she could not. Here's how she rationalized it:

It is the artist’s sense of life that controls and integrates his work, directing the innumerable choices he has to make, from the choice of subject to the subtlest details of style. It is the viewer’s or reader’s sense of life that responds to a work of art by a complex, yet automatic reaction of acceptance and approval, or rejection and condemnation.

This does not mean that a sense of life is a valid criterion of esthetic merit, either for the artist or the viewer. A sense of life is not infallible. But a sense of life is the source of art, the psychological mechanism which enables man to create a realm such as art.

The emotion involved in art is not an emotion in the ordinary meaning of the term. It is experienced more as a “sense” or a “feel,” but it has two characteristics pertaining to emotions: it is automatically immediate and it has an intense, profoundly personal (yet undefined) value-meaning to the individual experiencing it. The value involved is life, and the words naming the emotion are: “This is what life means to me.”

Regardless of the nature or content of an artist’s metaphysical views, what an art work expresses, fundamentally, under all of its lesser aspects is: “This is life as I see it.” The essential meaning of a viewer’s or reader’s response, under all of its lesser elements, is: “This is (or is not) life as I see it.”

Although Rand denies that a sense of life can be used as a "valid" criterion of aesthetic merit, this does not prevent her from using it in ad hominem attacks against art she regarded with contempt. It was not on aesthetic grounds that Rand disliked Beethoven's music, but for purely emotional reasons. Now it is important to understand that, while Rand may have regarded emotions in general with a suspicion that sometimes borders on paranoia, she did not experience that same level of distrust in regards her own emotions. Since her emotions were based on "correct" premises, they were regarded as always being entirely appropriate. And so, if Rand failed to respond emotionally to a work of art (or even worse, responded negatively), then there had to be something wrong with that work of art, irrespective of its aesthetic merits. And if someone experienced a different emotional assessment to a work of art, that demonstrated, by implication at least, that this individual's emotions were not based on "correct" premises -- that there was, in short, something seriously wrong with that person.

If a person enjoys so-called "malevolent" art, this implies they have a "malevolent" sense of life. What might that be? In my next post, I'll examine that strange conception.

96 comments:

Xtra Laj said...

Greg,

Your sense of life is malevolent.

Laj

kishnevi said...

I think her terminology is confusing you a bit in regards to malevolent/benevolent.

Her full phrase was "malevolent/benevolent universe premise"--she claimed that people viewed the universe as a setting in which they were doomed to failure or one in which they could succeed at anything they wanted, as long as they put in the necessary effort. That there waa a third possibility, which perhaps we can call the ambivalent universe premise, in which one can recognize that neither is true and that sometimes circusmtances aid you and sometimes they become obstacles, never seems to have occurred to her.

But I think it would be better to toss out her terminology and just use the normal owrds that refer to what she was talking about--pessimism (of which nihilism might be viewed as a pathological extreme) and optimism (of which no doubt there is also a patholotical extreme, although at the moment the word for that extreme escapes me).

She never said that Beethoven was malevolent, but she did say that his music, despite some various works that ran counter to the general trend (and that applies to almost every artist), expressed the sort of pessimism she was talking about here--and there is more than a little support for that idea. She just made herself sound wacky because of her refusal to use a normal word when a Randian term was available. But the underlying idea, once you reform it into a three pronged concept (malevolent, benevolent, ambivalent), probably applies to everyone.

Of course, if she didn't like Beethoven, one wonders what she would have done if ever exposed to Mahler--the Sixth Symphony, for example. Run screaming from the room, perhaps?

kishnevi said...

owrds -- words

patholotical--pathological

Did I ever mention I had to take remedial proofreading.

gregnyquist said...

"She never said that Beethoven was malevolent, but she did say that his music, despite some various works that ran counter to the general trend (and that applies to almost every artist), expressed the sort of pessimism she was talking about here--and there is more than a little support for that idea."

Since her remarks about Beethoven have been relayed by others, we don't know exactly how she phrased it. She may have said "Beethoven is malevolent," but of course she meant (as I do) that Beethoven's music is malevolent. As for whether this statement is to be regarded as a generalization, applicable to most, but not all of Beethoven's music, is not known. However, it hardly matters, it is unlikely that Rand had heard more than handful of Beethoven's works. How then would she know most of his music is "malevolent." Further, there is absolutely no support for the notion that any of Beethoven's music is "malevolent" (or even "pessimistic," if you will). Nor is there any evidence demonstrating that people who like Beethoven's music tend to believe that they are doomed to failure.

Xtra Laj said...

Here is a link (I was directed there from the Objectivist Reference Center) to a Peikoff quote from Betsy Speicher that points out that Peikoff was a fan of the malevolent music of Beethoven with Rand's knowledge.

http://groups.google.com/group/humanities.philosophy.objectivism/msg/dc88c22fe8c76d64?pli=1

Whatever the "little support" is for the "pessimism" expressed by Beethoven's music, I'm sure it can be found by anyone who is looking for it. Art is that way - you often find what you look for if you look hard enough, once you refuse to stop at the gut reactions.

Xtra Laj said...

By the way, just as a side comment, anyone who remembers or recognizes "Ode to Joy", even if it was the ONLY uplifting work that Beethoven ever did (and I think any such claim is rank nonsense - Beethoven is almost easily the greatest classical musician of all time and it's not because he depresses people) could not understand how on earth such a composer could be called malevolent by any human being. Isn't that probably the most spiritually uplifting composition in all of classical music, suitable for all speeds and occasions?

Jonathan said...

I've tried a few times to post a message here, but it keeps disappearing. Perhaps it was too long, so I'll trim it down to just the relevant quote from Rand and skip my additional commentary:

During the Q&A session at the Ford Hall Forum in 1981, Rand was asked "What do you think of the work of Beethoven?"

She answered, "He is a great composer, but I can't stand him. Music expresses a sense of life – an emotional response to metaphysical issues. Beethoven is great because he makes his message so clear by means of music; but his message is malevolent universe: man's heroic fight against destiny, and man's defeat. That's the opposite of my sense of life."

J

Michael Prescott said...

"Now it is important to understand that, while Rand may have regarded emotions in general with a suspicion that sometimes borders on paranoia, she did experience that same level of distrust in regards her own emotions."

It should read "she did not experience that same level ..."

"optimism (of which no doubt there is also a patholotical extreme, although at the moment the word for that extreme escapes me)"

Pollyanism? Panglossianism?

Rand also regarded Shakespeare's works as having a malevolent universe premise, apparently because some of them are tragedies. How she shoehorned the comedies and late romances into the "malevolent" category is not known. My guess is that she was far more familiar with the Mickey Spillane's oeuvre than with Shakespeare's.

gregnyquist said...

"Of course, if she didn't like Beethoven, one wonders what she would have done if ever exposed to Mahler--the Sixth Symphony, for example. Run screaming from the room, perhaps?"

Although we can pretty confident she wouldn't have liked it (she liked very little serious classical music), I'm not sure she would be capable of distinguishing Mahler's emotional content from that of a Beethoven symphony. The Mahler 6th doesn't express any one sense of life, but a whole gamut of emotions. The first movement begins with a grim funeral march, but ends in a blaze of glory. The second movement is a bit spooky and spectral, as Mahler works through fears that death might come to one of his children (BTW, it did). The third movement caresses and consoles, while the fourth runs the gamut from the grimmest despair to the most giddy triumph, only to end ominously, in a series of whimpers followed by a thud. I doubt that most of the people who enjoy listening to Mahler's symphony care about it's supposed message. They listen to it for the drama and the sonic splendor (it may be the loudest symphony in the repertoire).

A long work of classical music (the Mahler 6th can run almost an hour and a half) doesn't express any single "sense of life," but all kinds of emotions and moods. Rand somehow didn't understand this.

gregnyquist said...

"Whatever the 'little support' is for the 'pessimism' expressed by Beethoven's music, I'm sure it can be found by anyone who is looking for it."

Generally speaking, this is true. Except in extreme examples (e.g., Alban Berg's operas), most art, no matter how "tragic," is not necessarily malevolent unless the viewer insists on seeing it that way. After all, Rand's own "We the Living" ends tragically: is it therefore a "malevolent" novel?

stuart said...

Laj, you are so limited! Beethoven was not the greatest composer anymore than Rand was the greatest novelist- there is a realm where there is no greatest, only greats, but this realm is collectively historically subjective.

Aporchryphal 19th cebtury music critics were sitting around debating "Who is the greatest composer? Beethoven, Brahms, Bach?"

They each cast their vote and then someone pipes up, "But what about Mozart?"

"Ah Mozart" say the critics, as one. "Mozart is not the greatest. He is the only."

caroljane

Dragonfly said...

I think Rand knew practically nothing by Beethoven. If there would be any merit in such a general description by malevolent/benevolent universe, Beethoven would belong definitely in the benevolent category, while her favorites, the gloomy Russians Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky would represent the malevolent side.

Perhaps she'd just heard that story about the 5th symphony that the motive in the first movement (and in the scherzo) meant that "fate was knocking at the door", and she concluded that Beethoven was a fatalist, not knowing that the 5th symphony can be regarded as depicting a struggle with a triumphant ending (I think she'd no idea what the main theme of the last movement was).

Just limiting ourselves for the moment to Beethoven symphonies, this could be also said of nrs. 3 and 9, while the other ones are in general joyful and "optimistic" (nr. 7 is for example called the "apotheosis of the dance"). Compare that for example with Tchaikovsky's symphony nr. 6!

Xtra Laj said...

stuart,

I used the word "almost" for a reason - there are two names in classical music that stand apart from everyone else: Beethoven and Mozart. Charles Murray documented in his *Human Accomplisment* that they are the most highly regarded musicians amongst experts (if I remember rightly, all the names you mentioned are in the top 10, with Bach at #3). But I agree that one cannot be too myopic about these things - they are still to some degree ultimately opinions, even if informed.

Laj

Xtra Laj said...

I think Rand knew practically nothing by Beethoven. If there would be any merit in such a general description by malevolent/benevolent universe, Beethoven would belong definitely in the benevolent category, while her favorites, the gloomy Russians Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky would represent the malevolent side.

I honestly believe, and others have said this too, that the key word is Russian. Taking the music that you liked in your childhood and rationalizing it as the best thing ever was Rand's MO.

gregnyquist said...

"Perhaps she'd just heard that story about the 5th symphony that the motive in the first movement (and in the scherzo) meant that "fate was knocking at the door", and she concluded that Beethoven was a fatalist, not knowing that the 5th symphony can be regarded as depicting a struggle with a triumphant ending (I think she'd no idea what the main theme of the last movement was)."

Curiously, Leonard Peikoff, on his mid-90s radio show, once played the opening measures of Beethoven's 5th as an example of the malevolent universe principle. So it is possible Rand had heard the story about that movement. It's also possible that she had never heard the symphony all the way through, and did not know that, however stern and dramatic the first movement is, the last blazes with triumph. Perhaps the first movement does represent fate knocking at the door, but hadn't she heard that Beethoven had seized fate by the throat? Again, it's all mere prejudice. She didn't care for Beethoven (which is fine: Beethoven is not for everyone). So why go out of your way to insult people who do like Beethoven?

gregnyquist said...

"Taking the music that you liked in your childhood and rationalizing it as the best thing ever was Rand's MO."

It's not even clear she knew much about the Russian music she claimed to prefer. In the Fountainhead, she cites the opening bars of Tchiakovsky and the last movement of Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto as music that inspired the boy who runs into Howard Roark in the opening scene of the 4th part of the book. One wonders how much she knew of the other works of these composers, supposedly her favorites, or of the composers themselves. Tchiakovsky, it is thought, may have committed suicide. We know in any case that at one point he did try to kill himself but didn't succeed. Rachmaninoff was legendary for his melancholy. He was a man who never smiled. Of course, their music, like the most of all major composers, runs the entire gamut of human emotions, from the melancholy and the tragic to the joyful and affirmative. There is no specific sense of life, whether of the benevolent or malevolent variety, manifested in their music, but rather a series of alternating moods. Rachmaninoff's music is easily the more melancholy than Tchiakovksy's, as most of Tchiakovsky's stuff is fairly upbeat; yet Rand regarded Rachmaninoff as "objectively" the greatest of composers!

stuart said...

laj, I take your point. It is interesting that in the realm of greatness, the opinions of critics however informed, can really do nothing more than try to express the reactions of those who listen to that music. The critics can explain how skilfully the composers achieve their effects, and the techniques they used, and so on. But they can never explain how it arose within them to achieve that beauty, or how given the same skills and musical traditions, they achieved such disparate beauty.

We are just so lucky to be the inheritors of all.

Rand's fit-everything-into-the -jigsaw grandiosity in aesthetics weakens the more credible parts of her philosophy.

My alternate-history wish is that she had never become personally involved with any of her fans, and had to keep writing novels and take the advice of her editors and do the philosophy in her spare time.

Ellen Stuttle said...

Part 1 of 2-part post:

Guys,

I think there's some getting carried away with the idea that Rand classified Beethoven as "malevolent" mostly sound unheard -- especially Dragonfly's thesis about Rand's rendering the "malevolent" verdict on the basis of nothing more than the legend about "Fate knocking at the door" re the opening motif of Beethoven's 5th symphony.

For starters, consider that Rand came from a cultured St. Petersburg family and, according to The Passion of Ayn Rand, was taken to concerts in her early years. Though Barbara reports that the young Rand wasn't interested in classical music, is it plausible that she'd have heard no complete Beethoven work performed in concert?

Further, one of Rand's sisters was studying to be a concert pianist and surely must have been assigned Beethoven piano compositions to practice.

Rand herself was a student at the Stouinin, where music was among the courses on the curriculum. Again, is it plausible that she'd wouldn't have had some exposure to Beethoven works in a course on music at a prestigious school of the era?

As evidence from Rand's post-Atlas years, it could be confirmed by anyone who has the tapes that Allan Blumenthal played selections from several -- I think it was three -- Beethoven works in a Fall 1974 lecture course every lecture of which Rand attended. I don't have the tapes, but I attended the course live and I recall for sure that Allan played the first movement of the "Waldstein" and part of the 8th symphony. I think he also played the first movement of the 4th symphony -- he played something else of Beethoven's, but I'm not sure if that was it.

Plus, there's the story of the "young lady," Judge Lurie's description, who asked the Beethoven question in 1974 at the Ford Hall Forum. (The answer given in the Q&A book is from 1981 and I think isn't as good, either stylistically or informatively, as the 1974 answer, which can be found on OL in Robert Campbell's "The Rewrite Squad" thread, post #203.)

I've told on OL that Julie subsequently, in the autograph line, asked if Rand had heard several compositions which Julie named. Again, the story can be found on OL. Rand said she didn't know by name if she'd heard those and Julie asked if she could send Rand recordings. Rand said yes. According to second-hand reports of the result, Rand felt confirmed in her "malevolent" judgment.

(con, next post)

Ellen Stuttle said...

Part 2 of 2-part post.

Further, John Hospers told in his 1990 Liberty "Memoir" that he tried to broaden Rand's musical horizons during the two and a half years he knew her (spring 1960 - fall 1962). Although Hospers didn't mention any Beethoven works by name among the records he says he played for her, he did mention being "astounded that she didn't care for Beethoven or Brahms, and that she didn't like Bach at all."

Allan Blumenthal, I can report from private conversations with him, had played Beethoven records for her before I ever met Allan (in 1970) and had attempted to lessen her negative opinion of Beethoven, though Beethoven wasn't a favorite of his either. I specifically asked Allan about her reaction to the 5th symphony -- the last movement of which I'd once thought must have been the basis for Rand's description of Halley's 5th Concerto. She found that last movement, just as she found Beethoven in general, strident and unpleasant.

My belief is that there is plausibility to the idea that Russian music, amongst classical music, sounded unjarringly congenial to her ear. But recall that Chopin was a big favorite of hers also -- at one stage she said that Chopin was her favorite. She seems to have disliked the structural characteristics of Germanic style pretty much universally. Mozart she went so far as to call "pre-music." According to what Allan Blumenthal told me, she liked a few things by Wagner, a piece or two by Brahms, likewise by Schumann and by Mendlessohn, but that was close to it by Germanic composers except for Viennese-style light opera works.

She was pretty much just "deaf" to the allure of the classical repertoire as a category. What she liked from that repertoire was a few composers and otherwise particular exceptions to her prevailing disinterest. As a category, she liked her "Tiddlywinks" music best of all.

Jonathan said...

I think that Rand often appears to have not exposed herself to much art, and to have had very little knowledge of it, because many of her opinions are so bizarre, and her judgments can come across as so irrational and angry, that many people find it hard to believe that she was actually talking about the same works of art that they're talking about.

J

gregnyquist said...

Great work, Ellen. It seems that the conjecture that Rand just didn't know Beethoven and other classical music has been decisively falsified. We must assume that her ascriptions of malevolence to Beethoven and other composers was merely her way of saying she didn't like that kind of music. Rand suffered from an unfortunate tendency of confusing her personal tastes with objective truth, as if she could never bring herself to admit that any of her preferences was merely "subjective" and personal.

Dragonfly said...

No doubt Rand had heard complete works by Beethoven, but it would probably have meant little to her. She must have been almost totally unmusical. Not totally unmusical, as there also exist people for whom all music is but a cacophony of unpleasant sounds (I can sympathize with them, as that is exactly what I experience when I hear rock music or pop music).

About Chopin: what is always mentioned is that she liked his "Butterfly Etude". But I think this is more because of the nickname that someone once attached to that piece (which in fact isn't very butterflyish, in contrast to for example Grieg's Sommerfugl), than for the music itself. I suspect that if you'd asked her opinion about other Chopin Etudes without a nickname, you'd be met with a blank stare.

I think that's also the case with her judgment about Beethoven. She didn't like the music, and grasping the literary association "Fate symphony, fate is knocking at the door" she rationalized her distaste by claiming that he represented "man's heroic fight against destiny, and man's defeat."

I also dislike the last movement of Beethoven's 5th symphony, because of its banality, but it is the banality of a triumphant march. Rand however translated her dislike in "man's defeat". If she didn't like it, it must have been malevolent.

Dragonfly said...

Greg: "It seems that the conjecture that Rand just didn't know Beethoven and other classical music has been decisively falsified."

Not so. There is a big difference between hearing music and knowing music. For example, my mother was rather unmusical. The greatest part of her life she lived with at first one, and later three fanatical amateur musicians. She must have heard a great deal of classical music. Nevertheless she couldn't distinguish a Beethoven Sonata from a Chopin Ballade.

Xtra Laj said...

Again, I go back to the point of taking music that you formed an attachment to in your childhood and rationalizing it as the best thing ever.

I grew up with lots of African music that would likely be noise to most listeners who didn't grow up in such a culture. My father finds plenty of contemporary Western popular music to be mostly noisy percussion, since he grew up in an era where most music was melody oriented (compare say, Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole to Bruce Springsteen and Michael Jackson).

But that was his personal taste, and he would be laughed out of town if he said it was objectively true. But for some reason, when Rand says it, arrant nonsense becomes credible in the mind of Objectivists.

Daniel Barnes said...

Great writers sometimes have tin ears, or just don't "get" music. My favourite, Nabokov, frinstance.

stuart said...

Dragonfly and laj, I think you are both half right. Rand wasn't very musical, it wasn't very important in her aesthetic life, and her preferences were for the nostalgic, evocative music we all respond to at the 20th high school reunion.

Rationalizing this into a philosophical principle must have been a Tylenol headache for her.

Anonymous said...

Michael Prescott: "Rand also regarded Shakespeare's works as having a malevolent universe premise, apparently because some of them are tragedies. How she shoehorned the comedies and late romances into the "malevolent" category is not known."

Perhaps the principle is that a single instance of malevolence taints the entire body of an author's work, and thus the author's own philosophy and sense of life. If that is the case, the question for me is then, "Does the train tunnel scene demonstrate that Rand herself had a malevolent sense of life?"

It certainly seems that way to me, in that it depicts a tragedy. One might argue that Rand did not intend that it be a tragedy - after all, she goes to excessive lengths to demonstrate that all those killed deserved it. I do not find that a persuasive argument, in that similar revenge fantasies were produced by, e.g., Ted Kaczynski, Eric Harris, and Dylan Klebold; and those persons all clearly suffered from a malevolent sense of life.

Michael Prescott said...

"there also exist people for whom all music is but a cacophony of unpleasant sounds" - Dragonfly

I don't quite fall into that category, but I can definitely relate that comment to my personal experience of opera. To my untrained ear, opera sounds like a lot of yelling and screeching. I just watched "Amadeus," and during the opera scenes (which are pretty lengthy) all I could think was, "Do people really like this $&!#?" (I feel the same way when I watch NASCAR races or Margaret Cho's comedy routines.)

The difference between me and Rand is that I wouldn't assume my negative reaction to opera proves anything except a lack of taste and a tin ear.

Ellen Stuttle said...

DF: "No doubt Rand had heard complete works by Beethoven [...]."

You're the one who hypothesized that she hadn't. ;-)

DF: "About Chopin: what is always mentioned is that she liked his "Butterfly Etude". [....] I suspect that if you'd asked her opinion about other Chopin Etudes without a nickname, you'd be met with a blank stare."

Sorry. She liked a number of the Chopin Etudes, and Allan Blumenthal would play ones she particularly liked in his recitals. I recall hearing her say, "That's one of my favorites" when he played a recording of one of them in his music course -- I don't remember myself which one it was except that it wasn't the "Butterfly."

More people than Rand hear a lot of struggle in Beethoven.

On the other hand...

I once met a biochemist who was a classical music aficionado and who opined that there was more emotion in one measure by Debussy than in all of Beethoven. The conversation occurred during a break at a meeting, and I didn't have time to pursue the subject. I was astonished by the comment.

People do differ in the way they hear music.

I wouldn't go quite as far as to describe Rand as "almost totally unmusical," but I'd go nearly that far.

Ellen Stuttle said...

Regarding Rand's classifying art works as "malevolent" on the basis of her not liking them, that's oversimplifying.

Her Ford Hall Forum answers about Beethoven, both the 1974 and the 1981 answers, do have the implication that her dislike was *because* of "malevolence."

Jonathan's already quoted the 1981 answer. Here's the one from 1974, as transcribed by Robert Campbell on the OL thread "The Rewrite Squad" (post #203):

~~~QUOTE

Ford Hall Forum 1974

Q&A, Track 3, 4:43 through 5:40

JL: This young lady says that she has not noticed any mention of Beethoven's music in your writings and she wonders whether you will comment as to your reaction to Beethoven's compositions.

A: Well, the only time I ever mentioned composers by name was in The Fountainhead, where I mentioned Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky, who they happen to be my favorites, and that leaves an awful lot of composers whom I have not mentioned. [Laughter from audience] There is no reason for me to, but I'll be glad to tell you.

I do not like Beethoven. I can recognize that he's a great musician, but if you have read my theory of aeshetics, his sense of life is the exact opposite of mine. He is a giant representing the malevolent universe, the Byronic or hopeless or doomed view of life; that's the exact opposite of what I stand for.

~~~END QUOTE

However, there are other contexts in which she differentiated between her liking and the "malevolent" judgment.

For instance, she was keen on Dostoevsky. She liked the romanticism of Byron's poetry, though "Byronic" was one of her classifications of "malevolent" -- the classification for artists who showed heroic struggle, but with the hero being doomed. This was her "best kind" of "malevolence" category. (Notice, it's the classification in which she placed Beethoven.)

Another example of her praising a writer though disliking what she considered the writer's sense of life was Isak Dinesen.

Here's a passage from Hospers' 1990 Liberty Memoir re Dinesen:

~~~QUOTE

I found it incomprehensible that she didn't much like Shakespeare. But I could not disagree with her judgment when I asked her who she thought was the greatest prose artist of the twentieth century. She said "Isak Dinesen." She didn't like Dinesen's sense of life, but thought her a superlative stylist--a judgment in which I concurred. On a subsequent occasion when I brought a copy of Out of Africa and read her a page from it, she was positively glowing. She disliked Dinesen's pessimism, but loved the economy of means and the always-just-right word selection. When Ayn and I both admired the same work, and compared our reactions to it and the reasons for our admiration--that was a high point of our friendship.

~~~END QUOTE

Dragonfly said...

Ellen: DF: "No doubt Rand had heard complete works by Beethoven [...]."

You're the one who hypothesized that she hadn't. ;-)"


Nope... I wrote "I think Rand knew practically nothing by Beethoven" and I think I'd explained the difference between hearing and knowing music...

More people than Rand hear a lot of struggle in Beethoven.

I can't remember ever denying a lot of struggle in Beethoven. The point is of course not the struggling, but Rand's claim that "his message is malevolent universe: man's heroic fight against destiny, and man's defeat. If you think that that is Beethoven's message you're really clueless about his music.

Her Ford Hall Forum answers about Beethoven, both the 1974 and the 1981 answers, do have the implication that her dislike was *because* of "malevolence."

Sure, she could rationalize like the best of them...

This is in fact the core of her fallacy, that she could rationally explain every emotion she had (did't she claim that somewhere?). If she dislikes some music, there must be a rational explanation, and voilà, there is your malevolent universe, which transforms the triumph everyone else hears into a defeat.

Xtra Laj said...

Anyone want to take a stab at how Rand could have rationalized what she wrote about Beethoven given the existence of "Ode to Joy"?

Daniel Barnes said...

@Laj,
Not really, because "malevolent" or "benevolent" universe "premises", and their concomitant "sense of life" are basically worthless in any kind of explanatory or diagnostic way - about as good as opium's famous "dormitive virtue". Gee, Soviet-approved opera had more happy endings than a Shanghai brothel, does that mean the Soviet system was founded on a "benevolent universe" premise? That Stalin had a fundamentally benevolent sense of life?

There are times when I think Randian aesthetic theory really *is* more nonsensical than her epistemology, and that's saying something...

Daniel Barnes said...

Incidentally, I am always impressed by how deeply negative most Objectivists of my acquaintance are about life. The world is all wrong, they are surrounded by evil governments, Islamo-fascists, fiat money, postmodern art, Sorosian conspiracy, corrupt science, hordes of collectivist sheeple etc. These factors are usually held responsible for their own personal misfortunes, which are logged the price of being "rational" in an "irrational" world. The only thing that keeps them going is that distant Shambala of Galt's Gulch. Sure, there's always a superficial, brittle layer of optimism, but so there is in a chorus singing before Stalin too.

Of course there are exceptions but AFAICS Objectivism does not do much to evoke a benevolent universe premise in its adherents.

Xtra Laj said...

Dan,

Sometimes, I find the Objectivist eschatology both the most silly and fascinating thing about it.

We live in a benevolent world that has been ruined by man because bad philosophy denies us true greatness, but one day, we shall all live in Galt's Gulch! Thanks to Objectivism!

Hearing Objectivists, you would think that people who live in countries with bad economies are subhuman, rather than struggling and impoverished. After all, if America collapses and the Objectivist predictions come true, is it going to be anything more than a lower standard of living, something that most of the world experiences today?

Laj

Ellen Stuttle said...

Specifically for comment on the "Ode to Joy," see here and here.

The second entry linked also includes Roger Bissell's transcription of part of Allan Blumenthal's comments on Beethoven from Allan's revised music course. (That course was sold on tapes for awhile, but I think it isn't still be available.)

The ellipses in the quote are Roger's.

~~~QUOTE

[Allan B., music course]...Historians have compared him with the other titan, Michelangelo Bonaratti, because of the scope and the profundity of their creations and because of their extraordinary ability to express, in powerful, complex terms, the struggle against what each saw as the tragedies within human existence. Like Michelangelo, Beethoven pushed the boundaries of the expression of ill-fated aspiration, tension, and drama beyond anything that had been attempted before; and it was Beethoven who created the bridge between Classicism and the glorious music of the Romantic era.....[T]he works of the Second Period mark the emergence of the full Beethoven style. The symphonies are monumental and powerful....The late music of Beethoven reflects his family difficulties, his increasing pessimism, and the thoroughly understandable distress caused by his deafness. The music is generally more introspective and contemplative. It is also freer in structure. Beethoven’s works bear the marks of a strong personality. One is not likely to mistake his style for any other. So great is their power that his compositions arouse in the listener every emotion except indifference. One either likes them or dislikes them, usually in the extreme.

~~~ END QUOTE

Ellen Stuttle said...

I'd like to add that I don't "buy" Rand's theory of aesthetics. I've described it as being in the general ballpark of a theory which in my opinion is better, Susanne Langer's theory.

Here's a direct link to a post of mine which provides indications of where I depart from Rand (the post also comes up with the search method described above).

Ellen Stuttle said...

Oops. The two posts above were meant to be the last two in a series. I guess the others were too long, so I'll retry those in shorter chunks.

Ellen Stuttle said...

DF: I can't remember ever denying a lot of struggle in Beethoven. The point is of course not the struggling, but Rand's claim that "his message is malevolent universe: man's heroic fight against destiny, and man's defeat.["] If you think that that is Beethoven's message you're really clueless about his music.

Xtra Laj: Anyone want to take a stab at how Rand could have rationalized what she wrote about Beethoven given the existence of "Ode to Joy"?


I think the word "message" was poorly chosen. As I've said, I think Rand did a better job of describing her view in the 1974 FHF answer than she did in the 1981 answer. (Incidentally, Laj, Rand didn't *write* anything about Beethoven. Possibly you meant "said." Both the quoted comments were verbal answers given in the Q&A period which followed her Ford Hall Forum speeches.)

"Message" implies that Beethoven set out to project ultimate defeat. It's talking of music as if music were literature aimed at making a point.

But did Beethoven really *win*, would you say, in his Titanic struggle with the gods?

As I hear it, he achieved sublimely serene resignation ("Must it be?" "It must be.") after some last mighty outbursts of protest -- the "Hammerklavier" and the "Grossa Fuga."

Unlike Allan Blumenthal -- a quote from whose revised music course I'll include in a subsequent post -- I don't hear the outcome as "pessimistic," but neither do I hear it as what I might call "existentially victorious." Instead, spiritually victorious through acceptance.

Material about the "Ode to Joy" can be found in links I'll provide. [See the post 3 above.]

Ellen Stuttle said...

Me: Her Ford Hall Forum answers about Beethoven, both the 1974 and the 1981 answers, do have the implication that her dislike was *because* of "malevolence."

DF: Sure, she could rationalize like the best of them...

This is in fact the core of her fallacy, that she could rationally explain every emotion she had (did't she claim that somewhere?). If she dislikes some music, there must be a rational explanation, and voilà, there is your malevolent universe, which transforms the triumph everyone else hears into a defeat.


Well, not "everyone else" does hear triumph, for starters. Second, you reversed my comment, which was that Rand's answers implied that she disliked the music because of its being "malevolent." You're seeing the direction as, she disliked it and therefore called it "malevolent." But if this were all there were to it, why didn't she call the music of all the other composers whose music she didn't like "malevolent"?

Ellen Stuttle said...

Continuing a bit on the issue of why Rand heard Beethoven as "malevolent"...

Those interested can find lots of material in posts on OL. So much material as to make searching a nuisance. I came by trial and error upon a search method which quickly produces a good sampling of directly pertinent posts, while also providing, in those posts, links to further discussion.

I was trying to find some discussion which I remembered pertaining to Allan Blumenthal's distaste for the "Ode to Joy" part of the Beethoven Ninth symphony. "Ode" doesn't work as a search term. Neither does "Joy." The search machinery doesn't accept many small words or words such as "ode," the letters of which can be found as a part of lots and lots of words (e.g., "bode," "node," "rode," "strode," "nematode," "electrode,"...). Then, remembering that Roger Bissell had expressed similar sentiments to AB's, I tried as search terms -- without the quote marks -- "Beethoven Roger."

That search paid off well. It produced 33 posts, about half of which have bearing on Rand's reaction to Beethoven.

The OL software won't cough up search results with a direct link, so interested people will have to perform the search. Instructions in the next post.

Xtra Laj said...

Ellen,


I think the word "message" was poorly chosen. As I've said, I think Rand did a better job of describing her view in the 1974 FHF answer than she did in the 1981 answer. (Incidentally, Laj, Rand didn't *write* anything about Beethoven. Possibly you meant "said." Both the quoted comments were verbal answers given in the Q&A period which followed her Ford Hall Forum speeches.)


Thanks for the correction, but I don't think it's substantive, especially in the Internet and Blog Era. Moreover, the way Rand gets deified, there shouldn't be a serious distinction between the two and there often isn't. It's not like I'm attributing comments made by Peikoff to her.

Specifically for comment on the "Ode to Joy," see here and here.

The second entry linked also includes Roger Bissell's transcription of part of Allan Blumenthal's comments on Beethoven from Allan's revised music course. (That course was sold on tapes for awhile, but I think it isn't still be available.)

The ellipses in the quote are Roger's.


I think there is a difference between disliking someone's music, failing to respond to that music and misreading the music's intent. Rand didn't like Beethoven and some people don't - that's life. My point is not that you have to like "Ode to Joy" - my point is that how does the existence of that piece square with her? Or is the "benevolent universe premise" a form of childishness?

Daniel Barnes said...

It is a measure of just how wildly overrated Rand is that her "malevolent" comment about Beethoven is considered even being worthy of further analysis. It's just a crude, intemperate judgement from someone who seems to have had a tin ear for music anyway. She uses her aesthetic theory like a drunk uses a lampost: for support, not illumination. Rand also always loved saying things for their shock value; this is just another example of her standard epater le bourgeois schtick. And by this stage she's fully in her Rand The Oracular phase, where any sense of modesty in her own capacity to pronounce final judgement in such matters is pretty much gone. Her halls of adoring fans lapping this sort of thing up - misreading it as profound when it is in fact laughable - only reinforces the problem.

Making moral judgements about aesthetic works is as old as time, and perfectly reasonable. However as in any other field, when someone takes a shocking and original stand against canonical wisdom we expect a suitably powerful, subtle, and fruitful argument behind it. Of course Rand has no such thing, only some insouciant opinions and something called a "sense of life", an aesthetic compass as inscrutable as a soul. There is no there there.

gregnyquist said...

"But did Beethoven really *win*, would you say, in his Titanic struggle with the gods?"

I don't think it's helpful to talk about winning or losing in the context of the entire works of a composer like Beethoven. Music is abstract: it's not about anything specific. The emotions it portrays will run the entire gamut. The very structure of music depends on contrasting elements. In the sonata form, you have two main thematic groups, purposely made to contrast with one another, often with one in a major key, the other in the minor. There rarely is unity of emotion in a single work, and virtually never in the entire body of work of a specific composer.

"As I hear it, he achieved sublimely serene resignation ("Must it be?" "It must be.") "

The "Must it be" comes from the last movement of Beethoven's last quartet. The music imitates the cadences of the words in anguished strains, after which the music breaks out into most joyous strains in all of the late quartets. Now music being abstract, if you want to find resignation, that's fine. But others may find something else. And most people, when listening Beethoven, find lots of drama and triumph. It's certainly there in the "Ode to Joy." But it's also there in the symphonies, in Fidelio, in many of the sonatas and chamber pieces. I don't see any "malevolence" in any note of Beethoven's, or, for that matter, in the music of any repertoire composer, with the possible exception of Alban Berg.

gregnyquist said...

"I was trying to find some discussion which I remembered pertaining to Allan Blumenthal's distaste for the 'Ode to Joy'"

I have no idea what Blumenthal's distaste may have stemmed from, but there is a faction of musically literate people who regard the "Ode to Joy" movement as musically inferior to the instrumental parts of the Ninth Symphony. Verdi, for example, considered the choral music in the Ninth to be rather mediocre, though he greatly admired the first three movements of that work.—Objections could also be raised as to the quality of the verse Beethoven to set, as Schiller was a far better dramatist than he was a poet (Coleridge's translation of Wallenstein is generally regarded as superior to the original, something that hardly ever happens in translations of verse).

The point of those of us who bring up the "Ode to Joy" is merely to bring in sharp relief the implausibility of Rand's claim about Beethoven's music expressing a "malevolent" sense of life. But it's hardly meant to be chief argument against Rand's aesthetic criterion. I object to the entire category of "malevolent sense of life" for reasons that go well beyond Rand's use of that category against Beethoven. It involves Rand judging not only art she didn't understand, but the aesthetic reactions of people she didn't know. It's sheer egotistic pretension in which Rand regards her own emotions as omniscient guides to objective truth. The only malevolence in Rand's aesthetic category is Rand's own, which is projected on the psyche's of those who dare to have different aesthetic tastes from her own.

Michael Prescott said...

In one of her essays in The Romantic Manifesto, Rand says, "An artist reveals his naked soul in his work - and so, gentle reader, do you when you respond to it."

This is a pretty obvious intimidation tactic, and I think it's the real reason she championed the idea of "sense of life." It allowed her to bludgeon her readers (and associates) with moral condemnation whenever they disagreed with her aesthetic tastes.

The reality is that one's reaction to an artwork can involve many factors, including purely intellectual appreciation divorced from any emotional affinity. Or one can enjoy an artwork on an emotional level even while being aware of its deficiencies on other levels. There is little that anyone can deduce about one's "naked soul" on the basis of such complex responses.

Daniel Barnes said...

MP:
>"An artist reveals his naked soul in his work - and so, gentle reader, do you when you respond to it."

She's hoist by her own petard on that one!

Dragonfly said...

Ellen: "..why didn't she call the music of all the other composers whose music she didn't like "malevolent"?"

There are just not many official statements by Rand about other composers known. We know her opinion about Beethoven because she was asked about it in de Ford Hall Forum. From another source we know that she considered Mozart's music to be "pre-music". One cannot help wondering what she'd said of Bach's music - pre-pre-music? The point is that she apparently had to invent always some "objective" reason for her dislike. As she probably felt that she couldn't just dismiss also Beethoven as "pre-music", she had to invent the idea of Beethoven depicting man's defeat, representing a malevolent universe.

She gave Rembrandt a similar treatment, focussing on his painting of a beef carcass, scornful that he was wasting his "great artistic skill" on such a revolting subject, as if Rembrandt only painted carcasses (and apparently thinking that 20th century squeamishness would be the same in the 17th century). On the other hand, when her favorite painter Capuletti paints an old and crumbling wall, which goes straight against her own theories, she enthusiastically calls it a "tour de force". So much for her emphasis on choosing the "right subject". Of course when Rembrandt uses his great artistic skill to paint something she doesn't like it's no tour de force.

About Rembrandt's painting she also wrote: "That particular painting may be taken as a symbol of everything I am opposed to in art and in literature", and "In art, and in literature, the end and the means, or the subject and the style, must be worthy of each other" [my emphasis]. And of course Rand could always tell us when subject and style are "worthy of each other".

Jonathan said...

Regarding Rembrandt's Carcass of Beef, Rand wrote:

"There is no dichotomy, no necessary conflict between ends and means. The end does not justify the means—neither in ethics nor in esthetics. And neither do the means justify the end: there is no esthetic justification for the spectacle of Rembrandt’s great artistic skill employed to portray a side of beef."

Sometimes the old gal was just way too ignorant, subjective and angry for her own good. There are plenty of "aesthetic justifications" for painting a side of beef, including ones that are consistent with Rand's Objectivist Esthetics and with valuing life and existence, and there are plenty of people, including art historians (who don't refused to expose themselves to "outside considerations" when contemplating paintings from past or foreign cultures) who find positive meanings in the painting. Unlike Rand, they recognize that the image may have certain biblical, historic and symbolic meanings.

Was there really nothing about an image of a butchered animal -- A FOOD SOURCE -- that suggested even a hint of a possibility of a positive meaning to Rand? Jesus H.

She continued:
"That particular painting may be taken as a symbol of everything I am opposed to in art and in literature. At the age of seven, I could not understand why anyone would wish to paint or to admire pictures of dead fish, garbage cans or fat peasant women with triple chins. Today, I understand the psychological causes of such esthetic phenomena—and the more I understand, the more I oppose them."

I think she went to her grave still not understanding why people could admire such paintings. I think that her belief that she had come to understand others' psychology was probably something more like an evasion from understanding her own -- I think she was probably enraged at the idea that others could experience something that she couldn't, and therefore she needed to vilify them.

J

Jonathan said...

Rand was asked (Ayn Rand Answers, 225) to clarify whether Rembrandt's painting was bad art, or good art with a bad sense of life. She answered:

"It's bad art, because he selected a bad subject. But it's bad art skillfully done. As for sense of life, you can't derive any from that painting, which is another reason it's bad art. It communicates nothing but the skill it took to present that beef realistically. Other Rembrandt paintings, however, have a malevolent sense of life."

The voice inside my head keeps shouting "To whom?" and "By what objective standard?" and "How do we know that your comments are nothing but evidence that you have the visual/spatial aptitudes of a mentally-challenged two-year-old?" when reading Rand's opinions on visual art.

J

Neil Parille said...

I think Dan s right - for Rand it's all about the shock value. Bach, Beethoven and Mozart are about the only three classical composers the average Joe can name - and guess what, Rand disliked all three.

Since Rand had such a hard time understanding non-fiction that was in front of her eyes (see her Marginalia) it's not surprising that she didn't understand music, which is more difficult to interpret.

People might want to watch Rothbard's Mozart was a Red if they haven't.

Ellen Stuttle said...

Laj (link):

Thanks for the correction, but I don't think it's substantive [...].

It wasn't meant to be, hence "incidentally."

However, re:

I think there is a difference between disliking someone's music, failing to respond to that music and misreading the music's intent. Rand didn't like Beethoven and some people don't - that's life. My point is not that you have to like "Ode to Joy" - my point is that how does the existence of that piece square with her? Or is the "benevolent universe premise" a form of childishness?

I'm not understanding your point. Is it that the sheer name (given by others, from the poem used) of the segment of the composition should somehow contradict the way Rand heard Beethoven? I see no problem squaring someone's, Rand's or anyone else's, hearing the music as not joyous with the title.

Ellen Stuttle said...

Greg (link):

I don't think it's helpful to talk about winning or losing in the context of the entire works of a composer like Beethoven.

I do, in "the context of the entire works" of Beethoven. Also in that of a couple other composers whose music you've featured in a way which leads me to think you're well familiar with those composers' total output: Mahler and Shostakovich. I think that all three -- Beethoven most of all -- left an autobiographical "record" (sorry for the pun) of their inner development in their music.

I book I think I still recommend specifically about Beethoven -- I read this book about 50 years ago and thought it was "right on" at the time but haven't re-read it since; I just ordered it from Amazon in paperback for about $7.00 - is Beethoven: His Spiritual Development by J. W. N. Sullivan (Amazon link).

Music is abstract: it's not about anything specific. The emotions it portrays will run the entire gamut. The very structure of music depends on contrasting elements. In the sonata form, you have two main thematic groups, purposely made to contrast with one another, often with one in a major key, the other in the minor. There rarely is unity of emotion in a single work, and virtually never in the entire body of work of a specific composer.

No quarrel with the remarks up to the last sentence, and there a partial quarrel, as stated above.

Re not finding any "malevolence" in any note of Beethoven's, ok, you don't. BUT are you keeping in mind what AR meant by the term instead of your hearing the term with connotations which equate what she didn't equate? She did not equate "malevolence" with she didn't like it, or with "naturalism," or with "evil."

Ellen Stuttle said...

DF, ignoring his own attribution of motives to Rand (link):

One cannot help wondering what she'd said of Bach's music - pre-pre-music?

I think she did one time mention Bach in print, but in a passage deleted from the published version of "Art and Moral Treason." Not sure. What I recall being told by Allan re Bach was that she thought of his music as just formal.

--

Note, she didn't describe the Rembrandt side of beef as "malevolent."

Question: DID she somewhere describe Shakespeare thus? "Naturalist," yes. Specifically "malevolent"? Does anyone have a quote?

Ellen Stuttle said...

Neil (link):

it's not surprising that she didn't understand music,

You mean, like you? As I recall, Muzak elevator-music "easy listening" is about the extent of your own familiarity.

Xtra Laj said...

I see no problem squaring someone's, Rand's or anyone else's, hearing the music as not joyous with the title.

It had nothing to do with the title. The tune of "Ode to Joy" is like the Wedding March - people know it without knowing the name, and many of those people for whatever reason respond to it favorably even when they don't listen to or particularly like classical music.

It would have been great if Rand had either collected some evidence that Beethoven's "malevolent sense of life" led to his compositions having a depressing or uninspiring effect on people. But if she had even looked at how most people felt after listen to that work (amongst many others), then I'm not sure how she could have characterized her personal evaluation of Beethoven as an objective one, which is the real problem here. If Rand's point is that "Ode to Joy" is an anomaly, then great - we have a form of childishness, where suffering is not a necessary experience for growth.

Xtra Laj said...

Re not finding any "malevolence" in any note of Beethoven's, ok, you don't. BUT are you keeping in mind what AR meant by the term instead of your hearing the term with connotations which equate what she didn't equate? She did not equate "malevolence" with she didn't like it, or with "naturalism," or with "evil.

Could you present some of the overlap between the "malevolent" sense of life and "romanticism" and the "benevolent" sense of life and "naturalism"?

Neil Parille said...

Ellen,

What is the point of your comment? I've never claimed to understand music.

gregnyquist said...

I think that all three [Beethoven, Mahler, Shostokovich] -- Beethoven most of all -- left an autobiographical "record" (sorry for the pun) of their inner development in their music.

I think it's a mistake to read into a composers work an autobiographical record. What one finds, at most, is record of various emotions that they composer experienced. Even then, one doesn't always find that the music matches what the composer was going through when he composed it. Beethoven wrote his 2nd Symphony, one of his most joyous works, during one of the darkest periods of his life. Mahler wrote his 6th symphony, his most pessimistic, during one of the happiest periods of his life. But even more to the point, the composers specific intentions are not important in judging or understanding the music, precisely because music is too abstract to convey anything so specific as an autobiographical record. If we knew nothing about Beethoven's life, if we didn't even know the order in which he composed his works, what could we learn about Beethoven through listening to his music? Very little.

gregnyquist said...

BUT are you keeping in mind what AR meant by the term instead of your hearing the term with connotations which equate what she didn't equate? She did not equate "malevolence" with she didn't like it

Yes, by malevolence, Rand means fatalism: the individual is doomed. And while Rand did not personally dislike every work of art she regarded as expressing a malevolent sense of life, she did dislike most such work; and, more to the point, she does give malevolence as her justification for disliking Beethoven.

Yet none of this is really the point at issue. I have no major problem with Rand disliking Beethoven's music, or feeling that such music expresses a malevolent sense of life. The problem is (1) that she regards her feeling as objectively true; (2) she assumes that people like Beethoven because they share his malevolent sense of life. Both of these assumptions are palpably false and are most likely based on an inability to understand Beethoven's music, rather than any great insight. Worse, they are insulting to people who enjoy Beethoven's music, since they suggest that people who enjoy Beethoven have psychological problems.

gregnyquist said...

"Is it that the sheer name (given by others, from the poem used) of the segment of the composition should somehow contradict the way Rand heard Beethoven?"

No. It's that it seems rather odd that a composer with a malevolent sense of life would compose an Ode to Joy. If Rand really wanted to demonstrate, "objectively," that Beethoven was malevolent, you would think that, at the very least, she should give some explanation of this anamoly. In short, the "Ode to Joy" is merely quick and convenient way of showing how baseless Rand's judgment is, and that her ascription of malevolence to Beethoven is probably a not very well thought out rationalization for her dislike of the music. Again, there's nothing wrong with Rand not liking Beethoven, or even with her feeling fatalism or malevolence in the music. But when she simply declares, ex cathedra, that the music expresses fatalism and malevolence, without giving any supporting arguments, or dealing squarely with the obvious counter-arguments, it suggests a kind of knee-jerk rationalization, rather than any deep or abiding insight into her own feelings and emotional responses, let alone those of anyone else.

Jonathan said...

Ellen wrote,
"Note, she didn't describe the Rembrandt side of beef as 'malevolent.'"

Rand didn't specifically say the sentence "The Rembrandt painting is malevolent," but it's clear that that's what she meant when you read the rest of her comments on the subject (from the entry "Subject (in Art)" at the online Ayn Rand Lexicon):

"That particular painting may be taken as a symbol of everything I am opposed to in art and in literature. At the age of seven, I could not understand why anyone would wish to paint or to admire pictures of dead fish, garbage cans or fat peasant women with triple chins. Today, I understand the psychological causes of such esthetic phenomena—and the more I understand, the more I oppose them.

"In art, and in literature, the end and the means, or the subject and the style, must be worthy of each other.

"That which is not worth contemplating in life, is not worth re-creating in art.

"Misery, disease, disaster, evil, all the negatives of human existence, are proper subjects of study in life, for the purpose of understanding and correcting them—but are not proper subjects of contemplation for contemplation’s sake. In art, and in literature, these negatives are worth re-creating only in relation to some positive, as a foil, as a contrast, as a means of stressing the positive—but not as an end in themselves."

J

Ellen Stuttle said...

Neil: Ellen, What is the point of your comment? I've never claimed to understand music.

That you aren't in a position to assess the correctness of Rand's assessments of music, or to render such a judgment as that she was just trying to shock in her disliking some composers whom many others like.

Ellen Stuttle said...

Laj (link): Could you present some of the overlap between the "malevolent" sense of life and "romanticism" and the "benevolent" sense of life and "naturalism"?

On the second Vermeer, whose typical choices of subjects she considered naturalist and wished had been different.

On the first, Byron, whom she took as the archetypal representative of heroic-but-doomed striving (and recall, she described Beethoven as having the Byronic sense of life). Dostoevsky, who was a model for her conception of how to write a novel. She described him somewhere as presenting a chamber of horrors but with a skilled guide.

An example in her own work is the character Dominique, whose problem is malevolent-universe premises. According to Barbara Branden, Rand described Dominique as "[herself] in a bad mood." Contra the idea that Rand was necessarily condemning anyone who had malevolent-universe premises.

Ellen Stuttle said...

Post by Laj (link):

Me: I see no problem squaring someone's, Rand's or anyone else's, hearing the music as not joyous with the title.

Laj: It had nothing to do with the title. The tune of "Ode to Joy" is like the Wedding March - people know it without knowing the name, and many of those people for whatever reason respond to it favorably even when they don't listen to or particularly like classical music.

It would have been great if Rand had either collected some evidence that Beethoven's "malevolent sense of life" led to his compositions having a depressing or uninspiring effect on people.


But she made no claim of any such inherent result of "malevolent" art works.

But if she had even looked at how most people felt after listen to that work (amongst many others), then I'm not sure how she could have characterized her personal evaluation of Beethoven as an objective one, which is the real problem here.

She didn't characterize her personal evaluation as objective. I don't doubt that she assumed that when an objective way of judging music was developed, her judgments would be proved vindicated -- and according to Allan Blumenthal, she gave him and Joan hassles over their disagreements with her on senses of life of various artists (composers and painters) -- but though she sometimes talked as though she assumed the truth of her evaluations of music, other times she didn't. For instance, one of the interviewees in 100 Voices reports her telling Leonard Peikoff, a Beethoven fan, not to worry about it, just relax and enjoy it, we can't prove it anyway. (I think Fred Seddon said this was in Harry Binswanger's interview, but I didn't see it there, so Fred might have named the wrong interviewee -- or else I missed the remark reading the interview skipping around instead of in order.)

If Rand's point is that "Ode to Joy" is an anomaly, then great - we have a form of childishness, where suffering is not a necessary experience for growth.

I don't understand the comment.

Ellen Stuttle said...

Greg (link):

[...] while Rand did not personally dislike every work of art she regarded as expressing a malevolent sense of life, she did dislike most such work.

We don't actually know percentages. Reasonable assumption, since we know that she disliked a great deal of art and that she thought malevolent senses of life were common.

[...] more to the point, she does give malevolence as her justification for disliking Beethoven.

She wasn't providing a "justification." An explanation. She didn't need a justification.

Yet none of this is really the point at issue. I have no major problem with Rand disliking Beethoven's music, or feeling that such music expresses a malevolent sense of life. The problem is (1) that she regards her feeling as objectively true;

See the reply above to Laj.

2) she assumes that people like Beethoven because they share his malevolent sense of life.

What leads you to think she assumed that?

A subsequent comment might provide the connection:

[Her assumptions] are insulting to people who enjoy Beethoven's music, since they suggest that people who enjoy Beethoven have psychological problems.

Is it that you feel insulted and accused because you like Beethoven and thus you assume she was judging you via her reaction? I never felt that way, just puzzled and curious as to how she was hearing Beethoven.

Xtra Laj said...

Ellen,

Could you quote Rand in defense of your interpretation?

Laj

Ellen Stuttle said...

Greg (link): It's that it seems rather odd that a composer with a malevolent sense of life would compose an Ode to Joy.

Why? As if she wasn't aware that some works by artists might differ from the general trend of the artist. If she was aware of this with Chopin and with Rachmaninoff, why not with Beethoven?

And why might not someone title a work with a title which doesn't match its content? The "anomaly" (your description) doesn't provide, as you state, a "quick and convenient way of showing how baseless Rand's judgment is."

(I'm not arguing, maybe I'd best reiterate trying to prevent misunderstanding, that her judgment was correct. I don't even think the classification is useful or that the underlying theory holds up.)

Ellen Stuttle said...

Greg: (link): I think it's a mistake to read into a composers work an autobiographical record. What one finds, at most, is record of various emotions that they composer experienced.

Note: I said "of their inner development." I'm aware that specific compositions don't match particular existential circumstances, e.g., Beethoven's 2nd symphony. In the case of Beethoven I very much disagree with your depection of what "one" finds "at most." And I think that Shostakovich and Mahler, in that order, with diminishing degree from Beethoven, also show their inner development.

But even more to the point, the composers specific intentions are not important in judging or understanding the music[.]

I didn't say they were. I wasn't even speaking of "intentions" but of spiritual state and progression.

If we knew nothing about Beethoven's life, if we didn't even know the order in which he composed his works, what could we learn about Beethoven through listening to his music? Very little.

I think a person who knows the music would be under no doubt of the general sequence of composition. The compositional methods and mastery reveals that. And, again, the issue isn't what was happening in his life but types and course of spiritual state.

Xtra Laj said...

On the second Vermeer, whose typical choices of subjects she considered naturalist and wished had been different.

So you seem to think that "benevolent sense of life" is what Rand meant by "a brilliant clarity of style"? Or is there something else you got this from?

When Rand put forward people with a mixed sense of life, one could replace the word "Naturalist" with "malevolent sense of life" and still get very close to the same meaning. So she could just as well have described Vermeer as a painter whose subjects expressed the malevolent sense of life, but whose style (in your interpretation) expressed the benevolent sense of life or some other claptrap like that.

Xtra Laj said...

An example in her own work is the character Dominique, whose problem is malevolent-universe premises. According to Barbara Branden, Rand described Dominique as "[herself] in a bad mood." Contra the idea that Rand was necessarily condemning anyone who had malevolent-universe premises.

Rand was never consistent about holding mixed premises - Gail Wynand doesn't get to the same point as Dominique does, but since it's fiction, we should all just smile and enjoy the story. Human beings are not always consistent anyway so it's not a big deal unless you masquerade your personal preferences as being objective.


But she made no claim of any such inherent result of "malevolent" art works.


I disagree - she made all sorts of claims about how art affects human emotions in many essays and I don't think that my conclusion is out of place. If you want to read her narrowly because she doesn't have a specific quote, that is fine, but please be consistent on this and quote where she used "malevolent" and "Romanticism" to apply to the same individual, for example.

egould said...

Ellen,

Could you quote Rand in defense of your interpretation?

Laj


My interpretation of what?

You mean her remarks about Vermeer, Byron, Dostoevesky?

If so, yes, I can look those up when I have time.

If you mean your descriptions of things she said which she didn't, I can't look up what isn't there. ;-)

Xtra Laj said...

She didn't characterize her personal evaluation as objective. I don't doubt that she assumed that when an objective way of judging music was developed, her judgments would be proved vindicated -- and according to Allan Blumenthal, she gave him and Joan hassles over their disagreements with her on senses of life of various artists (composers and painters) -- but though she sometimes talked as though she assumed the truth of her evaluations of music, other times she didn't.

Could you point out such caveats in writings? Seems more that when she got along with someone, she was willing to overlook certain disagreements. Again, perfectly human. But that is not what she was writing in "The Romantic Manifesto".


I don't understand the comment.


Greg explained it better than I did. But let me point out one quote by Rand about how human beings interpret art:

"If one saw, in real life, a beautiful woman wearing an exquisite evening gown, with a cold sore on her lips, the blemish would mean nothing but a minor affliction and one would ignore it.

But a painting of such a woman would be a corrupt, vicious attack on man, on beauty and on all values - and one would experience a feeling of immense disgust and indignation at the artist. (There are also those who would feel something like moral approval and who would belong to the same moral category as the artist.)"

Now, that is one of many examples where Rand determines one's psychology by how she predicts one is responding to a piece of art. Now, I know that there are Rorschach tests out there, but Rand was not an experimental psychologist so what the heck is her evidence for claiming that if someone thinks about art a certain way or paints a certain subject, it reveals a deep insight into how they view the world and what lurks in their hearts?

Xtra Laj said...

If you mean your descriptions of things she said which she didn't, I can't look up what isn't there. ;-)

My point exactly. Find the quotes if you wish, and show that my point is meritless. Rand never made a serious distinction between the "malevolent sense of life" and "Naturalism". So why are you pretending she made it? The two terms were largely synonymous for her.

Anonymous said...

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trying to post a response to Jonathan; something's gone wrong with my sign on account

Ellen Stuttle said...

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Ellen Stuttle said...

Still can't get the reply to Jonathan to post.

I'll try without the links.

Rand didn't specifically say the sentence "The Rembrandt painting is malevolent," but it's clear that that's what she meant when you read the rest of her comments on the subject (from the entry "Subject (in Art)" at the online Ayn Rand Lexicon).

I don't see how it could by clear "that that's what she meant," given the answer you quoted earlier --

(adding emphasis)

"It's bad art, because he selected a bad subject. But it's bad art skillfully done. As for sense of life, you can't derive any from that painting, which is another reason it's bad art. It communicates nothing but the skill it took to present that beef realistically. Other Rembrandt paintings, however, have a malevolent sense of life."

This says that that particular painting isn't conveying a "sense of life." I don't know whether the material in the original text from which the Lexicon entry comes contradicts the AR Answers comment. Haven't time to look it up now. Later (possibly not for several days -- taxes to tend to).

Daniel Barnes said...

I'll go a bit further than my view that Rand was just out to shock. I read her pronouncements simply: when she calls a great artist's world view "malevolent", she means it. Ellen, when you try to claim that Rand "did not equate 'malevolence'... with 'evil'" I think you just nuanced yourself off a cliff. Malevolence is just not a highly nuanced word! It means a form of evil intent or influence. End of story. Either Rand is incompetent in her use of the English language or she means this obvious implication to stand. (I'll take the latter, though I suppose by implication you are really proposing the former). And of course Rand said this sort of thing all the time, leaving her defenders a lifetime's work of rearranging pixels trying to walk it back.

Greg is right to say Rand equated this "malevolence" with artistic expressions of fatalism but over and above this by her choice of this particular word it's quite clear that she's adding a far stronger moral judgement. Of course it's perfectly reasonable to make extreme moral judgements of this sort; what makes Rand's so absurd is her making them about some of the greatest artists in the Western Canon.

This oddity then raises the interesting question of why. Was Rand stupid? Did she have a tin ear? Was she just a philistine, devoid of artistic sensitivity entirely? Actually, as she was very far from stupid, and does not appear to be entirely ignorant of the art she condemned (unlike the modern philosophy she condemned). Rand's philistinism I suspect stems from a different source; a combination of the desire to shock, and to be seen making world shaking pronouncements, yes; but also from her Nietzschean desire to "revaluate all values" - to turn the established cultural canon on its head and, with an entirely consistent egoism, place herself at the top. (She had, after all, claimed to have done almost the same thing in philosophy). I think her artistic instincts, while sometimes crude, were really quite acute in many respects; however, under this view, Shakespeare, Rembrandt and Beethoven become competitors for cultural supremacy. As their artistic genius is undeniable, even to her, she turns to slighting them morally as a way of dunning them down, and by implication elevating her own work. As someone once perceptively wrote about Atlas Shrugged, it is very difficult to evaluate a book that attempts to rewrite those very standards in its own image!

Of course this was all made much worse by her growing circle of sycophants, and a philosophy that touted egoistic introspection as a pathway to truth rather than a dangerous diversion from it. And Rand never did much actual work on her aesthetic theories anyway; the flair of her insouciant and often amusing opinions ( I always enjoyed the chutzpah and freshness of her near-postmodern demotion of Wolfe and promotion of Spillane) glosses up what is really a lazy, desperately impoverished intellectual manifesto. As the saying goes; you can't polish a turd, but you can roll it in glitter!

As I said from the start: by all means let us have strong, surprising opinions, but only if they lead us to equally startling, robust and fruitful theories. Rand postures with the former, but singularly fails to deliver the latter.

Neil Parille said...

Ellen,

With the exception of literature, which Rand appeared to appreciate even if she didn't like most authors' ideas, her general approach to a topic was to get talking points, either to shock her readers or to provide some justification for her theories.

I think she called Kant "the most evil man in mankind's history" in part because of its shock value. Ditto with her attacks on libertarians.

Michael Prescott said...

Excellent comment, Daniel. There may also have been an element of envious competitiveness, at least as far as other writers were concerned. Rand wanted to be seen as the greatest writer in history. This meant she felt she was in competition with Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and a few others. Not surprisingly, she found ways to denigrate all of them. She even subtly denigrated her hero, Hugo, by criticizing him for setting up monumental clashes of ideas but being unable to deliver.

Something similar was probably involved in Tolstoy's well-known dislike of Shakespeare. Tolstoy went out of his way to criticize Shakespeare as unrealistic and, in effect, overrated. In part this reflects Tolstoy's very different conception of art, but I think it also stems from his desire to be the world's greatest author, which required him to dispatch his leading rival.

The difference between Tolstoy and Rand is that Tolstoy actually is regarded as the world's greatest writer by many knowledgeable people, while Rand ... is not.

gregnyquist said...

An example in her own work is the character Dominique, whose problem is malevolent-universe premises. According to Barbara Branden, Rand described Dominique as "[herself] in a bad mood." Contra the idea that Rand was necessarily condemning anyone who had malevolent-universe premises.

This example helps, rather than detracts, from my case; for it shows that Rand regarded the MUP as problem to be overcome. Whether she regarded MUP as something worthy of morally condemning is a more complex issue. Generally speaking, she did not; however, did seem to think that the MUP could lead to belief in altruism. The MUP may not in itself be morally condemnable, but it could easily (though not necessarily) lead to views that were condemnable.

Xtra Laj said...

Whether she regarded MUP as something worthy of morally condemning is a more complex issue. Generally speaking, she did not; however, did seem to think that the MUP could lead to belief in altruism.

Greg, what leads you to this conclusion? Do you think the MUP is different from Naturalism analyzed on the metaphysical level?

gregnyquist said...

Ellen:

She wasn't providing a "justification." An explanation. She didn't need a justification.

No, she may not have "needed" a justification, but she wanted one nonetheless. Justification is a central tenet of her philosophy. It's why she thought her solution to the problem of universals was so important. For Rand, one could not "just" know; one had to explain (and therefore justify) what one knew.

On a deeper level, however, I think this issues touches upon the crux of the debate. I regard Rand's aesthetics (and most of her philosophy) as rationalization, and this leads me to draw conclusions that Ellen finds objectionable. Now rationalizations are partly explanations. Rand disliked Beethoven. She wished to know why. She had already developed the MUP to explain her dislike of tragic literature and art; she therefore decided, probably somewhat thoughtlessly, to use that same category to explain her dislike of Beethoven. In any case, that seems to me the most plausible explanation. (I doubt Rand devised the MUP with Beethoven specifically in mind.)

Justification does come into Rand's use of the MUP because she did judge people on that basis. While her judgments were not specifically moral, they did involve an evaluation that veered toward prejudice. Thus we find Rand remarking of an acquaintence who admitted to liking Richard Strauss' music: "Now I understand why he and I can never be real soul mates. The distances in our sense of life is too great."

While Rand may have had legitimate reasons for not being soul-mates with this person, his liking of Richard Strauss is not one of them. It's rationalization, through and through. Worse, given the influence she had on her admirers, her equating MUP (which she generally portrayed as something vaguely negative) with large swathes of art and music sets a poor example to her admirers and may even discourage some of them from developing a broad and deep reverence and appreciation for the arts.

gregnyquist said...

Laj:

Do you think the MUP is different from Naturalism analyzed on the metaphysical level?

It's similar in many respects, but different in a few. For Rand, the MUP is a pessimistic form of fatalism: it is the belief that defeat is inevitable. Naturalism, on the other hand, is meer determinism. Now while we might expect that all sufferrers of MUP would be determinists (and therefore sympathizers with Naturalist art), it's not true that all determinists must be pessimistic fatalists. One could be a determinist, and yet believe that one's life will inevitebly turn out for the best.

Furthermore, Rand did not always explore all (or even very many) of the implications of her principles. When applied to specific works of art, her categories tend to yield all sorts of paradoxes and anamolies. Dostoevsky is supposed to be a romantic (in that he believed in Free Will), yet he also, by implication at least, has a malevolent sense of life. Mickey Spillane and Joseph Conrad are two other examples of MUP existing side-by-side with romaticisism. Doesn't make a whole lot of sense, does it? Well, that's because Rand's aesthetic categories are not well thought out (which strongly suggests rationalization).

Incidentally, I'm inclined to disagree with Daniel that Rand's malevolence has implications of moral condemnation. I suspect Rand's predominant emotion toward those she diagnosed as suffering from MUP was pity (mixed, perhaps, with nascent annoyance). She wanted to help people get over their (alleged) fatalism. The problem with Rand is that she arrogantly assumed that vague aesthetic reactions were a reliable indicator of an individual's psyche. Worse, I think her benevolent (though also patronising) desire to help people was mixed up with the much less pure motive of wanting everyone to share her aesthetic tastes. What would begin as a sincere desire to cure misdiagnosed MUPs would degenerate into sheer manipulation and malevolent badgering.

Daniel Barnes said...

MP:
>There may also have been an element of envious competitiveness, at least as far as other writers were concerned.

Hi Mike,
Yes, I think it's far from implausible that Rand was trying to be the A No.1 - it's a reasonably common trait in great artists. Just offhand I can think of examples like Wagner, Shaw, Tolstoy as you say, Norman Mailer.

I was also thinking about this idea of Rand's art rejecting all prior values and setting its own standards for success. Now she got this from Nietzsche, but an unintended side effect is that it gives Rand's work an almost post-modern spin. The inimitable Slavoj Zizek has picked up on this vibe.

And probably why Ayn Rand reminds me, weirdly, of Ed Wood - another artist that entirely rejected, or was completely tone deaf to, the usual aesthetic standards. I mean, to remake Atlas Shrugged, maybe they really should have done it like this this. Just get Tim Burton -you need a great visual stylist - and Johnny Depp, give them $1m and let them go wild. This approach would also solve the Galt's speech problem too: JUST SHOOT ALL OF IT! Go like Warhol's "Empire State". As it will go on for hours, only play it in theaters where the sound is piped into the bathroom too, so you can't escape it, any more than you can escape REALITY! Maybe nearby trains too if you try to leave early, and in loudspeakers outside the cinema. Actually, there's a stunt the Atlas guys should do if they ever get to part 3: blow all their marketing budget taking over all the major radio networks to actually deliver Galt's speech. There must be a couple of Randian quazillionaires who would spring some cash to hear that.

Daniel Barnes said...

Rolling with this, they should actually make Dagny Taggart look like Ayn Rand, at the age she wrote Atlas. That way when she drives the train, it resonates with the shot of Rand playing train driver. And they should get Johnny Depp to play Rand in drag, which would give you both the Ed Wood reference and Mises quote about her being "the bravest man in America", which Rand loved. The full length Galt's speech would become a midnight movie cult classic for Objectivists, a bit like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where loyal fans bring props to act out various parts, like throwing confetti during the wedding. Or as a sheer feat of endurance it would weed out any waverers and backsliders from REALITY. Finally, I've also solved the problem of who to play John Galt. For there is only one man who could pull off that monologue; in fact I think he was born to do it.

gregnyquist said...

Ellen:

She didn't characterize her personal evaluation as objective. I don't doubt that she assumed that when an objective way of judging music was developed...

Actually, I believe it would be more apt to simply say that Rand was not consistent. According to Rand's official position, objective evaluations were not possible concerning music. In public, she tended to keep away from making such judgments. But in private, it's as if she couldn't help herself: she just had to make evaluations, and she could not bring himself to admit that she might be wrong (even if, according to her official philosophy, she might be). Now I believe that what person does gives us a far greater insight into what they really believe and who they really are than does any sort of abstract, philosophical commitments they might make. With Rand, this is particularly true, for the simple reason that she really did try to follow her philosophy (even when that was impossible). So the fact that she could not always keep herself from assuming that her aesthetic reactions were objective demonstrates the ultimate drift in her mind on this question. While she obviuosly had doubts strong enough to prevent her from admitting that her musical evaluations were in fact objective, there were times her mania for equating everything she thought and felt with the objective truth was simply too strong for her to resist. She had to give way to them.

gregnyquist said...

Is it that you feel insulted and accused because you like Beethoven and thus you assume she was judging you via her reaction? I never felt that way, just puzzled and curious as to how she was hearing Beethoven.

No, I'm not personally offended by Rand aesthetic. I object to Rand's theories and opinions largely on the ground that, to the extent that they have any influence at all, that influence is largely bad. We are living in a time, in a society where the best that has been done, thought, said, and expressed is greatly under-valued and under-appreciated, even by the minority of people capable of such appreciation. A rising tide of phillistinism threatens us from all sides, and Rand, despite all her fine talk about an artistic renaissance, for all practical intents (as opposed to stated objectives), sides with the phillistines! She and her orthodox followers constantly denigrate most of the best that has been thought and said in the philosophy and the social sciences; and Rand herself is constantly finding fault with the major writers, artists and composer who make up the Arts. I'm not aware, off hand, of any major writer or thinker who is so censorious and so narrow in her appreciations. Becoming cultured is a difficult and arduous task. It's not easy to learn to appreciate Proust or the late Beethoven quartets, or to reach any kind of profound and detailed understanding of Nietzsche or Max Weber. Rand's censoriousness and contempt for most of what passes for the great treasures of Western Civilization give those drawn to her philosophy a convenient pretext for eschewing the hard work required to become truly learned and cultured. Objectivism is a hindrance, rather than a help, for understanding and appreciating the best that has been thought and said; and for this reason, I regard Rand's philosophy (and the personality cult that grew out of it) as a force for phillistinism and intellectual darkness; and my opposition to it is largely motivated by this consideration, rather than for any political or ethical reasons (as is the case with most of Rand's critics).

stuart said...

"...a hindrance, rather than a help.."Greg, you have identified the essence. The effect on young, creative people of her rigid explicit and implicit strictures are still hindering them today from becoming fully a part of the glorious stream of culture. It is everyone's loss.

Neil Parille said...

Another example is Rand's claim that libertarians "plagiarized" her ideas, as if no one heard of laissez fair, etc. before her.

Ellen Stuttle said...

Apologies for the delay providing some requested documentation. OL goings-on have been occupying my available time for list discussions.

Laj expressed disbelief of my claim that Rand did not equate "naturalism" with the "malevolent universe premise" and asked for something in her writing where she describes art she classifies as romantic as exhibiting a "malevolent universe premise." Here's her depiction of Byron from the essay (first published May-July 1969 in The Objectivist) "What Is Romanticism?"

Recall, she described Beethoven's music as "Byronic" in her 1974 Ford Hall Forum answer.

She's talking about types of "Romanticism." (The literary specifics of the characteristics she lists of course wouldn't apply to Beethoven.)

Bold emphasis is mine.

~~Quote (Rand)

On the other side of the same dichotomy [splitting consciousness and existence], there are Romanticists whose basic premise, in effect, is that man possesses volition in regard to consciousness, but not to existence, i.e., in regard to his own character and choice of values, but not in regard to the possibility of achieving his goals in the physical world. The distinguishing characteristics of such writers are grand-scale themes and characters, no plots and an overwhelming sense of tragedy, the sense of a "malevolent universe." The chief exponents of this category were poets. The leading one is Byron, whose name has been attached to this particular, "Byronic," view of existence: its essence is the belief that man must lead a heroic life and fight for his values even though he is doomed to defeat by a malevolent fate over which he has no control.

~~End Quote

Ellen Stuttle said...

link

ES: She didn't characterize her personal evaluation as objective. I don't doubt that she assumed that when an objective way of judging music was developed...

Greg: Actually, I believe it would be more apt to simply say that Rand was not consistent. According to Rand's official position, objective evaluations were not possible concerning music.


Did you mean to write, "According to Rand's official position, objective evaluations were not possible now concerning music"? I.e., did you leave out the word "now"?

She thought objective evaluations would be possible when an explanation of music's physiological effects was developed.

I don't agree with her suggested theory pertaining to the explanation she thought was needed. I think we can be objective now about music in ways she didn't recognize, and I don't agree with the details of her suggested theory of how music works.

However, I see no inconsistency between her saying we don't have a demonstration now and her believing that when we do have it, her tastes would prove to be objective.

Where I see inconsistency is in her sometimes talking as if we already had the demonstration she considered necessary.

Ellen Stuttle said...

MP: Rand wanted to be seen as the greatest writer in history.

Where do you get that? (I'm reminded of a similar claim made about how Rand viewed herself in relation to Aristotle -- a claim over which Leonard Peikoff "had a cow" in a taped lecture of his I heard.)

This meant she felt she was in competition with Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and a few others. Not surprisingly, she found ways to denigrate all of them. She even subtly denigrated her hero, Hugo, by criticizing him for setting up monumental clashes of ideas but being unable to deliver.

Where you get any subtle denigration of Hugo, I don't know. What I see in her writings about Hugo is her fulsome praise despite features she might criticize in another writer.

Nor do I see her as denigrating Dostoevsky. She called him, with Hugo, one of the two "pure, consistent Romanticists of the top rank."

Tolstoy she said she detested (though she ranked him as a great writer) from the time she was assigned his work to read as a girl in school.

I suspect that part of her dislike of Shakespeare might have been because of her not "hearing" the glory of the language.

She read Hugo in French, at which she became fluent as a schoolgirl, but English she learned later, and Shakespeare's English needs some translating even for native English speakers.

Michael Prescott said...

"Where do you get that?"

It's obvious from her writings on literature, where she consistently argues that great literature must fit a certain description. Not surprisingly, this description exactly matches her own work! Besides, the Brandens explicitly make the claim that AS is the greatest novel in world literature in their book Who Is Ayn Rand?, which Rand oversaw and approved. Not to mention all the other references to AS as the world's greatest novel that are scattered throughout Objectivist writings and in Peikoff's courses, etc., etc. ...

"I'm reminded of a similar claim made about how Rand viewed herself in relation to Aristotle -- a claim over which Leonard Peikoff 'had a cow' in a taped lecture of his I heard."

Well, in the Q&A session of a taped lecture that I heard, Rand was asked who were the greatest philosophers in history. She replied (after briefly stating that she would have preferred not to have to say it herself) that they were "the three A's: Aristotle, Aquinas, and Ayn Rand." Ipse dixit, no matter how many cows Peikoff has.

"Where you get any subtle denigration of Hugo, I don't know."

Somewhere in The Romantic Manifesto she talks about Hugo's inability to pay off the intellectual conflicts raised by his themes. She points to, I think, the novel '93, where he sets up a confrontation between two characters who represent opposing sides, but is unable to render their arguments as anything more than empty generalities.

Re Doestoevsky, she clearly thought he was a great writer, but overly dark and malevolent.

I don't think she said Tolstoy was a "great writer." IIRC, in The Romantic Manifesto she is only willing to call him a "good writer," and only after describing him as "evil" and calling Anna Karenina the most boring book she'd ever read.

gregnyquist said...

Did you mean to write, "According to Rand's official position, objective evaluations were not possible now concerning music"? I.e., did you leave out the word "now"?

In a sense, yes. I meant merely that such judgments were not possible when Rand made them (since even she admitted that they could not be proven). But I don't think I had sufficently attended to the fact that Rand assumed they would be possible in the future (just as she assumed that induction would be validated) and that her tastes would be vindicated. Rand's position amounts to: Although I can't prove I'm right at the present time, in the future, objective judgments about music will be possible, and such judgments will demonstrate I am right. In the light of this, perhaps it's not inconsitency that is Rand's problem, but pretense and arrogance. Such "pretense of knowledge" is a major problem with Rand, and plagues many areas of her philosophy (via the Dunning-Kruger effect). Yet at least she had some knowledge of such things as politics, ethics, epistemology, etc. (In any case, she had more knowledge than most non-scholars.) But her knowledge and understanding of art music was clearly rather feeble. So the fact that she not only felt herself competent to expound on such matters, but even to indulge in psychological speculations about the aesthetic tastes of those who knew far more about art music than herself, demonstrates the extent of her arrogance.

I'm beginning to suspect that so much that is wrong with orthodox Objectivism and the movement it spawned can be traced to Rand's arrogance about the cognitive powers of her own mind.

Neil Parille said...

Ellen,

What did Peikoff say?

Gotthelf said (from memory) that he told Rand "you've done for consciousness what Aristotle did for reality." Rand replied "that's true."

Remember Peikoff on why Rand quit smoking? I doubt he's ignorant about the rewriting of Rand's papers either. I don't think he's reliable on these types of things.

-NP