A brief reflection on Ayn Rand's 'Atlas Shrugged'

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Reply Wed 28 May, 2008 06:26 pm
I am beginning to understand that Atlas Shrugged is not merely a deceptive mask for the right, an act of cunning intent on treading shallow water rather than taking the big plunge. After reading over half of the book, and to my surprise, Ayn Rand has committed most of her time to the topics of love, morality, and the human condition.

Rather unconventionally, Ayn Rand has disregarded the idea that love is about sacrifice. We have all read those gushy novels, or seen those melodramatic movies, where say, a man risks his life in the name of his family, or, a girl defies her father to run away with the boy she loves. But are these really the selfless acts of love we are made to believe? Is love about giving, and giving unconditionally?

No. It is like any contract, however intangible the stakes may be. The man risks his life because he owes it to the single woman who alone is capable of allowing him to feel life in the first place.One's lover represents an idea, a feeling, a feeling that is inside oneself and recreated before one's eyes in material form. When a woman gives you her body you are not giving in to a primitive desire, but experiencing that feeling of rapture in it's tangible form. It is the process of making an idea real, a virtue that the likes of Dagny Taggart, Francis D'Anconia and Hank Rearden understand better than any other.

It is here that this book has affected me greatest - the sheer reality of binding thought with action. For so long I have sneered at the greedy capitalist, a subhuman materialist governed by things rather than the other way around. How can a human calculator, having never shown any interest in the arts and whose sole purpose seems to be aimed at profit, possibly know anything about morality, profundity, or life? Having veiled myself behind ideas, having indulged in the emotions ideas are meant to provoke, it has betrayed me to think that anything as dry as business could possibly offer those ineffable, profound feelings I get from the arts - or better yet something even greater.

There is something compelling about bringing thought and action together into a united whole. And the more I look around at those who profess to be learned, or cultured, the more it strikes me that these are the people who are missing half of the equation. If it feels so good to sit here and read my books, to empathize with the author's ideas, how must it feel to take those ideas and assert them to the world around me? Am I to give the world meaning, or am I to merely reflect on what the world means to me?
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Wed 28 May, 2008 06:58 pm
@AmericanPop,
I really do not get all the fuss about her 'magnum opus'. Rand uses 200 pages to express what Nietzsche does in 2. Philosophy aside, Rand's characters are static and inhuman. The only change we see in Dagny (the best character in the book) is that she is more confident about what she already felt to be true in the first place.
 
AmericanPop
 
Reply Wed 28 May, 2008 07:12 pm
@Didymos Thomas,
I'm only half way through so no spoilers please Wink

But I can definitely relate with your statement, but I can also see it differently.
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Wed 28 May, 2008 07:19 pm
@AmericanPop,
I hope you enjoy the book.

Quote:
But I can definitely relate with your statement, but I can also see it differently.


Well, it's hard to determine how much a character changes until the book is finished. From a purely literary standpoint, philosophical disputes aside, I have to say the book is second rate at best. Again, very long book with inhuman characters. People change, and Atlas certainly provides them enough time to change, yet the characters are almost entirely static. What does Dagny learn that changes her from the beginning of the book? She learns to be more confident in her disregard for others. Makes me wonder what Rand thought of Raskolnikov in 'Crime and Punishment'.

To engage the philosophical disputes would be to refute Objectivism outright - and that's a topic for another thread Smile
 
Aristoddler
 
Reply Thu 29 May, 2008 02:52 pm
@Didymos Thomas,
My grade 10 History teacher gave me that book.
At the time it took me almost a year to read it, but I did finish it and I kept it so that my kids that I knew I would have later in life would have something to inspire them.

Not that it was a fantastic piece of literature, because it wasn't...it was a terribly written book in my opinion...but the philosophies behind human nature and social relations were something that she made very easy for me to relate to as a person, and not a philosophy student.
I think that's one of the best things I got from the book, was the fact that some things can be taught, and others simply shown.
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Fri 30 May, 2008 01:22 pm
@Aristoddler,
Yeah, but even then, the philosophy is Objectivism.

Nietzsche wrote a book to exemplify his philosophy - 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra'. Much better book, the philosophy behind it is far more mature.
 
Aristoddler
 
Reply Sat 31 May, 2008 11:42 am
@Didymos Thomas,
You're comparing Nietzsche to Ayn Rand...not a fair fight.

It's comparing Shakespeare to Dr Seuss and saying that good ol' Bill wrote more mature poetry.
 
de Silentio
 
Reply Sat 31 May, 2008 08:35 pm
@AmericanPop,
One thing I didn't like about the book is that there are only two kinds of people, dumb socialist and smart individualists. I think she does a good job of outlining her philosophy in a literary piece, but she sets the epitome of her philosophical lifestyle against unintelligent polemics who do nothing but ruin everything they touch.
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Sun 1 Jun, 2008 11:45 am
@de Silentio,
Quote:
You're comparing Nietzsche to Ayn Rand...not a fair fight.

It's comparing Shakespeare to Dr Seuss and saying that good ol' Bill wrote more mature poetry.


You're right that the comparison is not fair, but I think the analogy does not work here. Rand thought her philosophy, and literature for that matter, to be absolutely brilliant, and most certainly mature.

Dr Seuss was always for children.

I think de Silento is entirely right. The characters are entirely inhuman in this way.
 
boagie
 
Reply Mon 2 Jun, 2008 01:56 pm
@Didymos Thomas,
Hi Y'all!Smile

Ayn Rand, is she even considered in the same context as the great thinkers, what does the philosophical community, the intellectual community feel about her works. You realize that if she does not make the grade, she will be martyred, crown of thorns and all, the eternal sufferer of all womanhood-its a touch subject:p What's this, the oldboys club?:p
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Mon 2 Jun, 2008 02:09 pm
@boagie,
Quote:
Ayn Rand, is she even considered in the same context as the great thinkers, what does the philosophical community, the intellectual community feel about her works.
One can find varying opinions. If I recall, there is a UT philosophy professor who makes regular article contributions to aynrand.org

But for the most part, her work is laughable. Sure, Rand has been influential, but that's about all. The general consensus is that Rand is a sub-par author and hardly worth calling a philosopher.

Quote:
You realize that if she does not make the grade, she will be martyred, crown of thorns and all, the eternal sufferer of all womanhood-its a touch subject:p What's this, the oldboys club?:p
Simone de Beauvoir, Mary Wollstonecraft

These are significant names in philosophy, and women. Well respected and the subject of serious study.

*edit* As a bit of caution, and of sympathy for Rand, I'm in no position to criticize her status as a playwright. I've read her novels, and her philosophical works, but none of her plays. I don't expect much from her (3?) plays given my experience with the rest of her work, but you never know.
 
Crazeddemon
 
Reply Tue 3 Jun, 2008 08:32 pm
@Didymos Thomas,
She writes in such a plain way that i can understand why it is hard for some to read, but you must remember English is not her native language and the book is almost 2000 pages depending on what copy you get.

Anyway, i believe that the portrayals of characters in the book is pretty good considering that the idea and message she is trying to portray is black and white, good and evil, the book paints the picture pretty well. Of course you don't get some of the side arguments from people who vary on a couple of topics, but to her that was unnecessary and a waste of thought to even consider talking about. For they are the ones who believe they are good, but if they have conceded even just a part of what is right and just for what is for something else then they cannot be good. So the good is presented and everything else falls into line accordingly.
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Wed 4 Jun, 2008 10:16 am
@Crazeddemon,
Quote:
She writes in such a plain way that i can understand why it is hard for some to read, but you must remember English is not her native language and the book is almost 2000 pages depending on what copy you get.


I'm not sure the book is difficult to read, just long and written in such a way that you almost have to force yourself to finish the book. Same is true of The Fountain Head. Anthem wasn't bad at all.

I don't give Rand a pass because of the language. English is one of many languages Thich Nhat Hanh uses, and is certainly not his native tongue. His words are simple and eloquent. I'm sure his Vietnamese prose is superior to his English, but none the less....

Quote:
Anyway, i believe that the portrayals of characters in the book is pretty good considering that the idea and message she is trying to portray is black and white, good and evil, the book paints the picture pretty well.


That's the point, though, isn't it? Literature that uses the same old dualism isn't very good literature. That's kid stuff.

But Rand was certain of her artistic capacity - and was quick to remind everyone around her of how brilliant she thought herself to be. To be so convinced of one's literary genius and then to write such a childish book as Atlas Shrugged is shameful arrogance.
 
Crazeddemon
 
Reply Wed 4 Jun, 2008 01:10 pm
@Didymos Thomas,
Didymos Thomas wrote:
I'm not sure the book is difficult to read, just long and written in such a way that you almost have to force yourself to finish the book. Same is true of The Fountain Head. Anthem wasn't bad at all.


Well that is what i meant. And Anthem was less interesting to me so i felt it was a little harder to read after you figured out the basic premise.


Didymos Thomas wrote:
That's the point, though, isn't it? Literature that uses the same old dualism isn't very good literature. That's kid stuff.

But Rand was certain of her artistic capacity - and was quick to remind everyone around her of how brilliant she thought herself to be. To be so convinced of one's literary genius and then to write such a childish book as Atlas Shrugged is shameful arrogance.


Well, I'm not saying that you're necessarily wrong, but if you remember in The Fountainhead when the book club talks about all those terrible horrible novels that act like they mean a lot, but are really just a bunch of wishy washy words thrown together without a serious purpose. So her perception of good writing is much different from the masses.

Do you get what i'm talking about or does it seem rambly?
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Wed 4 Jun, 2008 08:40 pm
@Crazeddemon,
Quote:
Well that is what i meant. And Anthem was less interesting to me so i felt it was a little harder to read after you figured out the basic premise.


Then we've had a very similar experience with Atlas. Anthem should not win any awards, but at least Rand was concise. Because she kept the book short and to the point, her limits as a writer were not nearly as apparent, and the book was more powerful than her larger volumes.

Quote:
Well, I'm not saying that you're necessarily wrong, but if you remember in The Fountainhead when the book club talks about all those terrible horrible novels that act like they mean a lot, but are really just a bunch of wishy washy words thrown together without a serious purpose. So her perception of good writing is much different from the masses.


Right, Rand developed her own brand of aesthetic 'philosophy' which boils down to the rejection of anything that does not promote Rand-style virtues. Remember, she thought altruism to be immoral. To Rand, literature that treats compassion and selflessness in a positive light, or that criticizes self-absorption, is completely worthless and meaningless. In her "Problems of Philosophy" she writes about read through various ads for books. Those that one would expect to be contrary to Objectivism simply by reading the back cover Rand harshly criticized, and was not afraid, on these grounds alone, to call the author entirely irrational among other things.

I get her point. If you buy into Objectivism, such literature is nothing more than vile propaganda. But I have a hard time tossing the Shakespearean sonnets away as vile propaganda.

Quote:
Do you get what i'm talking about or does it seem rambly?


I think I understand you. If I appear to have missed the point, let me know Smile
 
Crazeddemon
 
Reply Wed 4 Jun, 2008 09:03 pm
@Didymos Thomas,
Well, I don't fully agree with Rand, though I feel she had a great amount to offer in the way of motivation for the productivity and progress of man (though her idea of women is less than flattering). I think there are some basic premises of her philosophy that can be applied to my own, it's just where you draw the line on how much you need to know before you can make a decision. And while making that decision you must always know that there may be more to know about the topic out there, but based on your gathered knowledge hopefully you can get the job done right. It may be hard to remain patient enough for this understanding of things can come about, but it is well worth it and it will be just and honorable.

Again I rambled, but use that to sum up my argument so far in defense hahaha.
 
AmericanPop
 
Reply Thu 5 Jun, 2008 03:23 pm
@Crazeddemon,
I am no English major but I do find literary value in the book. I find that she is particularly talented in her description of the human countenance. She somehow manages to blend two, three, or even four emotions into one facial expression, and to make it fit the moment. I can see how somebody incapable of reading between the lines would find her characters bland and inhuman. But it is up to the reader to grasp the indirect references and therefrom derive meaning. I am also impressed with her use of colour.
 
Crazeddemon
 
Reply Fri 6 Jun, 2008 07:43 am
@AmericanPop,
Agreed. Also, the point i would like to make to Didymos is that while you may not feel that Shakespeare is crap and his sonnets were beautiful, is there any reason you can back it up? Is he conveying an idea worth conveying? or did he just doll up the same theme that we've heard a thousand times before. If you agree with many other parts of objectivism, there is absolutely no reason not to agree with this part. If you say that you just don't like it or don't agree, you have no viable reason to back up your statement and you cannot agree with objectivism at all because one inconsistency tears down the whole philosophy.
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Fri 6 Jun, 2008 03:29 pm
@Crazeddemon,
AmericanPop- Given any writer, praise can be found for that author. Even among the worst. Describing a facial expression does not translate to human characters. As I said, they are flat. Dagny is the roundest character of the book, and the only change we see in her is that she is more confident in her disregard for her fellow man. Not exactly a brilliant expression of humanity.

You may find some literary value - so do I. Atlas is a great example of how not to write a book that is supposed to cover one's entire philosophy. If you want examples on how to write a magnum opus, see Dante's Divine Comedy.

Crazeddemon - I don't buy into Objectivism. I find her philosophy to be silly and childish - Rand's ethics are the playground ethics of a three year old. But as I said earlier, the discussion and critical examination of Objectivism is worth another thread.

Any yes, I would gladly defend Shakespeare's sonnets as well as his status as a playwright. My criticisms of Rand's literary work is more than 'I just don't like her work'. Again, I actually enjoyed Anthem. If you want to read my criticisms of Rand, which are certainly more than personal preference, I have presented some of those thoughts in this thread.

But I find no trouble taking on Rand's aesthetics here as we are talking about literature, art. Rand's aesthetics calls all works disagreeable to her philosophy to be absolute junk - worthless and depraved. The simple fact that her aesthetics would cast Shakespeare, Dante, Dostoevsky, and just about every other truly great writer into the flames is enough to justify abandoning Rand's aesthetics.
 
AmericanPop
 
Reply Sun 8 Jun, 2008 06:12 pm
@Didymos Thomas,
I am really enjoying Rand's views on love. What is it about the human condition that causes us to make a claim on it, and unconditionally? None of us would make the same claim on something like respect, or admiration, so why love? How true is that old aphorism, that states: Love is Blind? Is it really? Is it even possible to love somebody for what they are? What does that even mean? Is a human not defined but by their virtues and vices?

If there is anything to be said about the institution of the family, it is that it is burdened by time. A family is like that inescapable context from which most of us never leave. And with time, we tend to forget the reasons for which we once loved. We forget that as children our love for our parents blossomed alongside the care they delivered to us. As children we appreciate our parents because they are the guarantors of our self-interests; of our basic needs. A mother is loved by her son not because of some causeless, mystical bond that appeared out of no where, but because she is associated with feelings of security, comfort and self-worth that are the result of her virtues: integrity, compassion, responsibility etc.
 
 

 
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