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it was not a thought, it was like the punch of a fist inside his skull
February 28, 2012 11:20 PM   Subscribe

Adam Roberts reviews Atlas Shrugged.

"One of the things that surprised me was how very redolent of a particular era of American science fiction the novel is: in tone it reminded me of Robert Heinlein – the long declarative sections in which characters debate the best way to get a misfiring country working again, the stress on engineering competence as the touchstone of human value, the vigorous simplification. There’s also something of Philip K Dick, in the first half at least, in the sense of a flattened, rather greying representation of social disintegration; although Dick was too canny to invest his hopes in the Wellsian utopian idealism of a society planned and run by geniuses in the way Rand does."
posted by MartinWisse (75 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
But, wait, what am I saying? Objectivism not catching on? Objectivism has become, via indirect routes, the dominant ethos of the world today... The paradise-on-earth Rand prophesied: we’re pretty much living in it. Atlas Shrugged is about as timely a book as is imaginable.

Thoughtful read, thanks.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:29 PM on February 28, 2012


As someone who agrees with much of Rand's philosophy, allow me to be blunt. Her prose sucks elephant turds.
posted by Ardiril at 11:37 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I once tried to watch the Mike Wallace interview. I don't care what your philosophy is - if your eyes are doing this through the entire interview, I can't pay attention. I admit it makes me an incredibly shallow person.
posted by vanar sena at 11:48 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


One litmus test for taking seriously or not an author witting about Rand is how the writer handles Alan Greenspan:
Alan Greenspan may not individually have been the world’s most powerful figure, but his long period of prominence and influence reflected a half century in which the principles of profit, individualism, greed and selfishness achieved unchallenged dominance across most of the Western world.
Admittedly, there is artistic licence in this, as the Greenspan --> notorious fictional (but still "true") "idols" to him on Wall Street --> global financial capitalism of the super-wealthy is a pretty accurate picture of things.

Still, the funny thing about this is that a) there's probably fewer things more heretical for an Objectivist than to be than the Chairman of the Fed, and b) Rand and Greenspan had a falling out in particular because of a conflict of beliefs about economics and Rand basically excommunicated him (as she was wont to do to, well, all of her followers, sooner or later).

So, in that respect, treating Greenspan as some ultimate realization of Rand's worldview is, well, damn ironic. And most often it's entirely out of ignorance. Lots of people know that Greenspan was one of Rand's followers. Few know any more than that. Or, sadly, that the whole idea of a Fed Chair as a Rand follower is pretty rich, anyway. (Not to say that he didn't remain something of a randrioid; he is.)
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:03 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


lots of spear-carriers
Funny how so many people who adhere to a given body of thought never think they are one.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:16 AM on February 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Adam Roberts is a fantastic author. I'd recommend his books to anyone; I've rarely seen a writer's work improve so much from novel to novel.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 12:25 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I like Rand's prose style. For some reason, its overelaboratedness makes me think of Fritz Lang's Metropolis, which is similarly cheesy yet larger-than-life. Actually, a lot of her style reminds me of early cinema: all very stylized, all the dialogue amusingly blatant, all the emotion displayed in either over-descriptive blocks or else conveyed through characters' subtler reactions. Like many silent films, her technique is crude, but it gets the job done.

Also, while Atlas Shrugged is deeply flawed as a standalone novel, it works much more nicely as a companion piece to The Fountainhead, which still has the Objectivist-versus-leech simplicity but presents its villains in a more appealing light and allows its protagonists to feel doubt. The lack of a Gail Wynand character in Atlas is one of the book's chief narrative flaws; The Fountainhead worked because it acknowledged that talent or skill can lead to corrupt, despicable people, and that non-super-ambitious non-brilliant people can still ultimately be good. It's even got characters who redeem themselves, and characters who let themselves go to waste, and lots of the "good guys" are flawed or foolish or do stupid, desperate things.

The Fountainhead also works because it concerns itself largely with thought and artistic expression, and much less with the physical manifestation of all these ideals in the world. Rand's chief flaw, in my eyes, is that she was incapable of truly grasping nature's magnificence, and our species' own relative insignificance. She writes of mankind like we ought to be the center of the universe, and nature should just bow down before us and let us turn everything into our kingdom. It happens on the second page as Howard Roark looks at the wilderness and imagines leveling the forests and turning mountains into strip mines, but then it largely disappears, only to re-emerge in Atlas Shrugged with gusto.

The thing is, I think that Objectivism holds some truth w/r/t the way we ought to see ourselves: that is, we should be honest about our wants and thoughts and beliefs, we should try and hold ourselves with integrity, we should contribute to causes which we think will make the world a better place. The Fountainhead is at its best when it's describing Roark's office and how he gets along with his coworkers, and when it's detailing Roark's thoughts on how to build things. (It's not right about architecture, I'm assuming, but it's a lot of magnificent fun.)

Rand is good at conveying the joy to be had on working at really difficult things, but ultimately coming up with something great; she also does a good job, I think, of making her enemies the characters who care more about image than about what's actually there, and who turn themselves into contradictory messes around some stupid belief or another; her heroes are the ones who look at the world levelheadedly. Ironically, this is almost invariably what turns people off of Rand and Objectivism; it's a philosophy foiled by its stupid, contradictory beliefs, which I think revolve around the whole doesn't-respect-nature thing.

Once you accept that bad things happen to good people, and we're a product of the environment we were born into, then suddenly it makes sense that government is a good thing and people ought to be sheltered from the harsh, uncaring universe. Man ought to look out for man. And Rand shows, in The Fountainhead, exactly this – friends who are always there for each other, lovers who connect through their deeper beliefs (and rough sex), artists and architects who make the world better not for themselves but for everybody, by looking at the world in part as a problem to be solved, and finding joy in making it work better for other people.

I don't know why she moved from that view of people who value honesty, hard work, and avoiding contradictory bullshit to the world of Atlas Shrugged with its bogeymen and straw figures; I've heard the theory that she never overcame the fear of Communism and government as she'd known it as a young child in Russia, and that makes a lot of sense to me. Because it doesn't logically follow that government is necessarily evil, or that the contradictory people are so encased in their villainy that the good guys will have to slay them all. In The Fountainhead you've got, with only the exception of Toohey, a lot of people who are contradictory and foolish because it's how they were raised, but it's implied that these are mostly people who, given enough of a chance, could redeem themselves; it's a blatant endorsement of rehabilitation over punishment! The logical successor isn't Atlas, it's a book wherein exceptionally kindhearted people come up with ways of healing people who have been wounded by society, and it ends with everybody being John Galt, not just the lucky, gifted few.

Anyway, those two Rand novels were what introduced me to a lot of things, and for a while I called myself an Objectivist, even as I grew more and more liberal. Now I think Objectivism and libertarianism are too deluded for me to go by their labels, but I think that there are seeds of really, really good ideas in them, which are unfortunately deformed by Rand's delusion and paranoia. Her inability to see those traits in herself are really tragic.

I'd like to write a book one day about Ayn Rand that depicts her as a Randian superhero, only with the flaws that she never saw in herself. Despite her inexact mastery of the English language, she writes books which captivate millions and champion goodness and intelligence and even kindness; yet her own fears warp her philosophy, and render it something ultimately harmful and damaging to society, in exactly the ways she warned against. She dies a contradictory figure who strove all her life to be simple and good. I can't decide what would be more tragic, if she died without ever realizing the contradiction, or if, like Peter Keating in The Fountainhead, she realizes it, but it's too late for her to become what she wanted to be.
posted by Rory Marinich at 12:28 AM on February 29, 2012 [37 favorites]


One litmus test for taking seriously or not an author witting about Rand is how the writer handles Alan Greenspan:

yes, how very antigonal that is :)
posted by alex_skazat at 12:43 AM on February 29, 2012


and for a while I called myself an Objectivist, even as I grew more and more liberal. Now I think Objectivism and libertarianism are too deluded for me to go by their labels, but I think that there are seeds of really, really good ideas in them,

I was sort of into Ayn Rand (briefly) as a younger man, though I never got so far as thinking of myself as an Objectivist. What killed it for me was two things:

A. the singular lack of humor in her stuff.
B. my realization (as I matured) of my own profound imperfection

That is, as great as my ideas may have seemed to me, and as loaded with integrity my intentions, I had this bad habit of being wrong, of fucking up (of being a typical human). So at some point to live with myself, I had to learn to laugh at myself, which was a way of forgiving myself for not being perfect, and of acknowledging I had no hope of ever getting there.

This just didn't sit with Objectivism.
posted by philip-random at 12:53 AM on February 29, 2012 [15 favorites]


I decided, on the principle that one should not condemn an enemy from a position of ignorance of their work, actually to read Ayn Rand’s sumo-size Objectivist novel Atlas Shrugged (1957).

Props. Whilst this is not the same thing going into the subject with an open mind, it's the best one can do.

The back of my Penguin edition of the novel carries this endorsement, presumably from a 1957 review: “she writes brilliantly, beautifully, bitterly. The New York Times”. The bitterness comes through on every page that isn’t given over to improbable ecstasy,....

philip-random's observation about the singular lack of humor being one of the two head shots into Objectivism is really spot on. That one word sums it up: bitterness.

When Newt Gingrich described himself as "cheerful" in one of the recent Republican debates, it wasn't meant to be self-deprecating, but the fact that he presents as anything but cheerful made that comment well-deserving of the applause and laughter it received. It was a terrific, if entirely unintentional, punchline.

Of course, Gingrich is no comedian. By describing himself as "cheerful" he was just energizing his Reagan cloaking device as a means of escape.

And that's the thing. There are some, I wouldn't say, really, really good ideas in Atlas Shrugged, but there are some ideas worthy of thoughtful consideration. But it's like the people holding those thoughts wait until they are so completely pissed-off at things - and they are so full of bile and bitterness - that their "good" ideas are served on the point of a spear. And that just looses me. I made it through about 200 pages of Atlas Shrugged and concluded that there are just too many other good novels I will never have to time to read to slog through though the rest of that mire.

Reagan was successful in the GOP in large part because he was simply cheerful. Mr. Hollywood actor was the only one who could express conservative ideas in a way that didn't always sound bitter and aggrieved. A sense of humor goes a long way towards getting your point across.

Ayn Rand's characters, and perhaps Ms Rand herself, could have used a double dose of that.
posted by three blind mice at 2:10 AM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


Rand's chief flaw, in my eyes, is that she was incapable of truly grasping nature's magnificence, and our species' own relative insignificance.

I really like the idea of Rand as being kind of the opposite of H.P. Lovecraft.
posted by JHarris at 2:14 AM on February 29, 2012 [20 favorites]


Last time I saw a copy of this book, it was in a Halloween Horror display.
posted by The River Ivel at 2:31 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Was just thinking that, eventually, a lot of the comments around her work end up being either conversion or deconversion narratives. I suppose one can't say she's not transformative.
posted by adoarns at 3:47 AM on February 29, 2012


Rory Marinich,

Excellent thoughts. I always preferred The Fountainhead for one reason above all -- Ellsworth Toohey. I can only imagine that Ayn Rand patterned him after some real-life gad-about socialist semi-celebrity... how else could she create a character who is so much more colorful than all her others? Ellsworth is like Nolan's Joker -- he's a rat bastard, but he has so much fun and has so much style that he steals every scene that he's in. The villains in Atlas Shrugged are pitiful in comparison.

Apart from needing a real villain, Atlas would be infinitely better if Galt was the brilliant scientist, Ragnar was the organizer of the strike, and Francisco was the handsome and roguish boy-toy. But no, Ayn had to make them all genius-supermen. And that's boring.
posted by ELF Radio at 4:02 AM on February 29, 2012


I've said it before, I'll say it again: Forget the philosophical gaucherie, Atlas Shrugged is still the bestest Harlequin romance novel ever written!
posted by fairmettle at 4:05 AM on February 29, 2012


I am not a huge fan of Adam Roberts. I read Yellow Blue Tibia because it sounded like it was right up my street. Instead I cringed throughout - especially at the very ill-conceived Asperger joke, but the whole book was a waste of a really good idea. Then I read Swiftly which was even less worth my time. When I realised Roberts is the author of those terrible literary parodies - The Soddit, The Va Dinci Cod etc. - I just lost all interest. It's come to the point when I see him reviewing books in newspapers, I always seek out whatever he derides. It usually works out well.

In short: he's not really one to write: "Often the writing is really heroically bad" and I worry that I will now have to read Ayn Rand just to prove my point that Roberts & I really do not gel.
posted by kariebookish at 4:10 AM on February 29, 2012


I will have to break down and read that thing one of these days. If only so that I can more honestly make fun of people who think that it's the best book ever.
posted by octothorpe at 4:14 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Objectivists blame their shortcomings on the tethers of society. From the basements of their parents' houses.
posted by blueberry sushi at 4:16 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


One of the things that surprised me was how very redolent of a particular era of American science fiction the novel is: in tone it reminded me of Robert Heinlein

This. When I first read Atlas Shrugged somewhere between high school and college I basically read it as a kind of middle-of-the-road science fiction novel, enjoyed it well enough at the time, and never thought that much more about it. I was totally shocked when I got to college and learned that people were promoting it as the basis of their philosophy. I thought they were kidding me.
posted by lordrunningclam at 4:26 AM on February 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


the stress on engineering competence as the touchstone of human value

While this is similar to Heinlein, I don't think that's really a good basis for comparing the two. It's a product of the era. 40s/50s SF is all like that, because engineers were the hots then. We associate this trend with Heinlein because Heinlein's works are some of the more prominent of that time period, plus his engineering is especially realistic due to his actually being an engineer.
posted by DU at 4:35 AM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


While this is indeed implicit in a lot of (genre) fiction of the theme, with Heinlein (and Clarke, and Asimov and various other "lesser lights") it's also explicit.

Another writer of the same period who fits that mold is Nevil Shute and it's no surprise a lot of fans of that era's science fiction like Shute too.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:01 AM on February 29, 2012


Metafilter: The result is not what literary critics call "good."
posted by jonp72 at 5:05 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


From Counterpunch: Ayn Rand - The Tea Party's Miscast Matriach

I don't know much about Rand, beyond watching Adam Curtis's film, but it struck me reading the Counterpunch article that a philosophy of selfishness is something a five year old, or more particularly someone trying to bring up a five year old, would see through pretty quickly
posted by criticalbill at 5:14 AM on February 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Looking back, I definitely swapped in Heinlein for my Rand phase.
posted by whuppy at 5:29 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


So what does he think of the one that features Orcs?
posted by localroger at 5:32 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I will have to break down and read that thing one of these days.

Good lord, don't do that to yourself. You'll get a much more fun soap opera experience by reading Jeff Walker's The Ayn Rand Cult, which documents in detail the bizarre intrigues and hateful machinations of Rand's inner circle. It makes no pretense at being fair but there's enough well-documented horror - absurd Stalinist purges of her followers, etc. - to keep you plenty entertained:

According to this devastating and often heavy-handed critique, Ayn Rand...was an oppressive personality whose Objectivist movement demonstrated all the classic elements of a destructive cult (its messianic leader and its separation of group members from family and friends). Walker presents his subject as an arrogant, dogmatic bully who brooked no criticism and as a repressed narcissist who feared her own emotions and hid behind a glorification of reason. He concludes that Rand was no more than a third-rate pop-novelist of propaganda fiction and that her "vulgar Nietzschean" philosophy's obsessive concern with the overachiever - who requires protection via absolutized individual rights - contributed to the movement's cultish aspects.
posted by mediareport at 5:32 AM on February 29, 2012


My favorite Rand trivia is that, apparently, Alan Greenspan's crush on her likely contributed in no small part to a worldwide economic collapse.

OK, favorite is the wrong word.
posted by odinsdream at 5:34 AM on February 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


Most of this was the typical sneer-fest Rand gets, but this was on target:

It’s not that her authorial thumb is in the balance; it’s that she has jammed her whole arm in there – that she’s clambered her entire body into the balance and is jumping up and down to get it to register the quantity she wants.

Rand wrote that the purpose of her novels was to portray her heroes. The cartoonishly simplified world Galt inhabits is made thus for the purpose of giving him an arena in which to manifest his perfection.

Needless to say, our world doesn't work that way. Which is why attempts to govern the world on Randian principles is meshuggeneh.
posted by Trurl at 5:46 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


That Counterpunch article linked above is worth a read; there's a new book due out this week: Ayn Rand Nation: The Hidden Struggle for America’s Soul. I could do without turning to Harold Bloom as the "expert" arbiter of all things literary (even if his assessment of Rand is savage), but the exploration of the wealthy money behind the ongoing "revival" of Rand's work is good stuff, as are the Greenspan bits:

Weiss produces a gem from The New York Times Book Review from 1957. Greenspan was defending his idol after her most famous work, Atlas Shrugged, had been thrashed in multiple reviews. Greenspan dutifully makes his case in Randian-speak: “Atlas Shrugged is a celebration of life and happiness,” he wrote. “Justice is unrelenting. Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should.”

If only.
posted by mediareport at 6:05 AM on February 29, 2012


Roberts writes:

"I was surprised, for one thing, how readable the book was."

I'm always surprised at how surprised people are that the book is entertaining. How do they think the book keeps ensnaring the young and credulous?
posted by jscalzi at 6:11 AM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


I started writing a list of all the other things I believed, when I was seventeen and unpopular and brilliant and deeply, deeply misunderstood, and took Ayn Rand seriously.

It's too embarrassing to post.
posted by gauche at 6:23 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I'm always surprised at how surprised people are that the book is entertaining. How do they think the book keeps ensnaring the young and credulous?"

Well...I'm not entirely sure that being entertaining is a necessary conditions for being able to ensnare the young and credulous. It's certainly a great help, though.

I never read Atlas Shrugged and have no intention of doing so. I did read Fountainhead twenty-two years ago out of curiosity (I thank the gods that somehow I never even heard of Rand as a teenager and by the time I did, I was no longer vulnerable) and given all the sneering I'd heard about it, I was also surprised that it was a moderately good book. A mid-level genre book, really. I am utterly flabbergasted that some people rate it as great literature, but then, well...

I didn't even feel that all the ideology in the book was as cartoonish as I expected it to be. I did find Toohey to be very cartoonish, of course. That was annoying. And there was that whole adolescent vibe of "everyone hates me because I'm better than they are" which it's sort of hard to believe that anyone makes it past eighteen or so still thinking that way. But, even so, I guess I'm a bit of a sucker for novels of ideas, even when they're as hanckneyed as these are. I suppose I'd rather people be thinking about these things than not. I finished the book feeling that it was worth engaging with and that its critics had oversold its faults and likely did so out of some bias.

This was before the web and before I had actually encountered very many of these people and, in these twenty-two years to come, I would end up encountering far, far more than I wish I had. I'm not sure that I could have read that book today and given it as fair a read as I did then; these days, I can hardly encounter a randroid anywhere without feeling the impulse to point and laugh. Part of it is that in the interim I actually gained an education in philosophy and so objectivism particularly annoys the living shit out of me. Please forgive me, because I'm still not seeing this all over the internet like it deserves, but my aphorism about objectivism is that it is the cargo cult of philosophy. It's like a group of stoned college sophomores decided to create an naive realist epistemology from scratch and in full ignorance of, well, everything everyone had ever previously written about the subject. Pointing and laughing is called for.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:26 AM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Please forgive me, because I'm still not seeing this all over the internet like it deserves, but my aphorism about objectivism is that it is the cargo cult of philosophy.

That's perfect. Mine is that Ayn Rand is the L. Ron Hubbard of philosophy.
posted by gauche at 6:31 AM on February 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


it's no surprise a lot of fans of that era's science fiction like Shute too

Oh yeah, I kept hearing his name so I tried a book. It was pretty good, despite the plot hinging on a rich couple smuggling their money out of the country to avoid taxes (these were the GOOD guys, you understand), so I tried another. It was far less interesting and had much more of the "gubmint crazy, me gonna cheat" nonsense so I junked it.
posted by DU at 6:37 AM on February 29, 2012


Please forgive me, because I'm still not seeing this all over the internet like it deserves, but my aphorism about objectivism is that it is the cargo cult of philosophy.

That's perfect. Mine is that Ayn Rand is the L. Ron Hubbard of philosophy.
Mine is that Internet aphorisms are the hemorrhoid of the worldwide thought-ass.
posted by waxbanks at 7:14 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]



I really like the idea of Rand as being kind of the opposite of H.P. Lovecraft.


Now I want to write John Galt/Rudolph Carter slashfic.
posted by KingEdRa at 7:22 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


John Galt promised to stop the amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity of the world. Do let's.
posted by Drastic at 7:35 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't know much about Rand, beyond watching Adam Curtis's film, but it struck me reading the Counterpunch article that a philosophy of selfishness is something a five year old, or more particularly someone trying to bring up a five year old, would see through pretty quickly

This is one of David Brin's main objections to Rand's fiction, there's no children in it & no parents of children. If there were it'd be obvious whenever they appear that the whole of Objectivism is rubbish, that it's utterly incompatible with caring for & preparing the next generation to care for themselves.
posted by scalefree at 7:37 AM on February 29, 2012 [14 favorites]


There actually are some children in Atlas Shrugged. They choke to death in a train trapped in a tunnel by collectivist incompetence, and it's good and right that they do, because their parasite parents made them share their toys and the damage had already been done.

I'm fond of that scene because even in my common shared experience of briefly flirting with Objectivism at the usual late-adolescent phase, it was one of those scenes that made me stop and think, roughly paraphrased, "Um...well, that happened." (The other similar scene for me was the oh-so-romantic rough-sex bonding between whatsherface and Roark in Fountainhead, where my 17 year old self stopped and thought, "Well...that was pretty rapey. What the hell, Ayn?"
posted by Drastic at 7:43 AM on February 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


I will have to break down and read that thing one of these days. If only so that I can more honestly make fun of people who think that it's the best book ever.

If I had endless amounts of time, I might do this, otherwise, when I need more literary teenage kicks in my life I'll re-read On The Road or Look Homeward Angel.

That's an insightful piece, though; and a blog I was unaware of. Thanks for pointing it out. It's very true, I think, that Atlas Shrugged could only have been improved if, somehow, Joan Collins and Linda Evans had starred in it. Regarding Rand's over-emphatic prose, I recall that she was a big fan of Mickey Spillane. I suspect that he was a big influence behind lines like "it was not a thought, it was like the punch of a fist inside his skull." 1100 pages of this are enough to produce a camp classic, true, but it's like writing 1100 pages in comic-sans or something.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:44 AM on February 29, 2012


So a few years ago on xmas, someone got my then-girlfriend some sort of Ayn Rand anthology. The instant I saw what it was I blurted out "WHO THE ***HELL*** GAVE HER *THAT* SHIT???"

Yeah. It was highly inappropriate.

The gift I mean.
posted by symbioid at 7:54 AM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Mine is that Internet aphorisms are the hemorrhoid of the worldwide thought-ass.

It's true. If only those collectivist assholes hadn't built the internet...
posted by deanklear at 7:56 AM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think that Objectivism holds some truth w/r/t the way we ought to see ourselves

Yes, much as a stopped clock will happen to display the correct time twice a day, it must be admitted that a thousand page long doorstop full of declarative sentences is bound to include one or two assertions that happen to be true.
 
posted by Herodios at 8:09 AM on February 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


What’s wrong with this picture? Well, there’s an obvious answer and a less obvious one. The obvious one is that Atlas Shrugged is a polemical Objectivist novel, designed on every page to advance Ayn Rand’s philosophical world-view. It’s not that her authorial thumb is in the balance; it’s that she has jammed her whole arm in there – that she’s clambered her entire body into the balance and is jumping up and down to get it to register the quantity she wants.

And that's all you need to know.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:51 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


A criticism of a Objectivist ideals accounting for the literary weakness in the book makes sense now, but when I first encountered the book it just seemed old. Reading about trains, metal, and industry seemed rather old fashioned in a time when my family had a personal computer, NASA was sending shuttles into space, and TV specials about nuclear annihilation were on primetime.
posted by jade east at 9:21 AM on February 29, 2012


it must be admitted that a thousand page long doorstop full of declarative sentences is bound to include one or two assertions that happen to be true.

Yeah, it takes a genius on the level of Thomas Friedman to be wrong every single time.
posted by straight at 9:29 AM on February 29, 2012


"WHO THE ***HELL*** GAVE HER *THAT* SHIT???"

Yeah. It was highly inappropriate.

The gift I mean.


To this day, I'm amazed and appalled at how many people actually have ATLAS SHRUGGED on their bookshelf, prominently displayed (I guess it's hard for something that thick not to be prominent). It's definitely one of those "uh-oh" signifiers, right up there with having Cheez Whiz in the fridge.
posted by philip-random at 9:31 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


prominently displayed

I seem to recall having a copy wedged between Marx & Popper for a while before I eventually fed it to the rabbit; just for a bit of double take/WTF fun. It would have been great if anyone had ever visited who knew who she was.
posted by titus-g at 9:41 AM on February 29, 2012


Yeah, it takes a genius on the level of Thomas Friedman to be wrong every single time.

Damn, straight, I may have to grant you that one. Friedman is le pétomane des sciences sociales. But surely there must be a few statements scattered throughout his books and articles of the kind, "I was talking. . . " or "It was late afternoon. . . " or "I was playing golf with some rich cat. . . " that have a non-zero truth value.
 
posted by Herodios at 9:44 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


philip-random: " To this day, I'm amazed and appalled at how many people actually have ATLAS SHRUGGED on their bookshelf, prominently displayed (I guess it's hard for something that thick not to be prominent). It's definitely one of those "uh-oh" signifiers, right up there with having Cheez Whiz in the fridge."

I have at least one of her books in my library -- although for the life of me I can't remember if it's The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged. Haven't cracked it open in years. I also have a copy of Mein Kampf, at least part of Das Kapital and also Ender's Game. None of those books represent my political philosophies.

Sincerely, no offense intended, but I've always thought folks who think one's library should only represent what one believes in are being a bit silly and shallow. I have a copy of the New Testament on my shelf too. It's not as if that automatically makes me Christian.
posted by zarq at 9:53 AM on February 29, 2012 [9 favorites]


Yeah I am an atheist but have about a hundred bibles at this point. Not really sure why....
posted by zoinks at 10:00 AM on February 29, 2012


Roberts writes:

"I was surprised, for one thing, how readable the book was."

I'm always surprised at how surprised people are that the book is entertaining. How do they think the book keeps ensnaring the young and credulous?


I was surprised that he could consider the book readable and then present as examples some of the most eye-crossingly terrible writing I've seen in some time.

It was also recently pointed out as another hilarious brain-fail of this entire novel that the entire plot hinges on a combination of driving self-sufficiency and brilliance and wealth and independence and shunning collectivist government interference and the rail industry. The rail industry - an industry made possible only through massive government subsidies, tax breaks and land seizures. Basically the exact opposite of an independent, government-free endeavor.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:02 AM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter: The hemorrhoid of the worldwide thought-ass
posted by Billiken at 10:20 AM on February 29, 2012


Sincerely, no offense intended, but I've always thought folks who think one's library should only represent what one believes in are being a bit silly and shallow.

zarq, point taken. But first impressions gotta start somewhere. Also, please note my earlier comment about how WRONG I sometimes am.
posted by philip-random at 10:23 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


It was also recently pointed out as another hilarious brain-fail of this entire novel that the entire plot hinges on a combination of driving self-sufficiency and brilliance and wealth and independence and shunning collectivist government interference and the rail industry. The rail industry - an industry made possible only through massive government subsidies, tax breaks and land seizures. Basically the exact opposite of an independent, government-free endeavor.

Objectivists don't mind when the government gives. They only object when the government expects people to give something in return. Pure fucking selfishness.
posted by Edison Carter at 10:33 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have a copy of the New Testament on my shelf too.

Somewhere around I have a small red Gideons' copy that got me through some tough times in my early twenties. Namely by having pages thin enough to substitute for rolling papers in emergencies (generally combined with tobacco from douts scavenged from around the house: didn't so much put hair on your chest as burn it off, from the inside).

Which just goes to show, A isn't A, A is A + Context.
posted by titus-g at 10:34 AM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


I thought this part in the counterpunch article (cut and pasted off the ayn rand institute web site) was fascinating:

“Through ARI’s assistance, Ayn Rand’s ideas are taught and studied at more than 50 of America’s most influential institutions of higher education, including: Clemson University, Duke University, University of Virginia, University of Texas at Austin, University of Pittsburgh, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brown University, University of Kentucky, University of South Carolina, University of Florida, University of West Virginia and Wake Forest University.”

That article was dated the 27th. They said there is a part 2 scheduled for the 28th which would highlight details of the Koch Brothers doing their political advocacy inside public "influential institutions of higher education". Harold Bloom's criticism is a non-sequiter, but Leiter is worth looking at closely.
posted by bukvich at 10:43 AM on February 29, 2012


philip-random: "But first impressions gotta start somewhere.

True! :)

Also, please note my earlier comment about how WRONG I sometimes am."

LOL. Point taken! Loved that comment, btw. Fit me to a "t" too.
posted by zarq at 10:44 AM on February 29, 2012


Adam Roberts is a fantastic author. I'd recommend his books to anyone; I've rarely seen a writer's work improve so much from novel to novel.

As would I. He's an often sly and tricky writer, particularly as his career has advanced, whose books have tended to take some big idea (one day it starts snowing and doesn't stop for decades; some big experiment goes haywire and turns gravity sideways; someone invents tech that lets the average person get to Earth orbit in a vehicle the size of a car) and turn it on its ear to interesting effect with surprisingly moving characters and plots -- though I suspect he loses some sci-fi readers who are just after a quick adventure-plot read and miss -- or even actively dislike -- the subtleties.

In any case, it's no surprise when he writes a smart and entertaining essay like this, given that he's a literature professor as well as a prolific science fiction novelist. (The only works of his I haven't read are the silly-sounding parodies of Tolkien, Dan Brown, Star Wars, and Stig Larsson, but then I've never been keen on parody or genre books that rely on humor in general.)

I was surprised that he could consider the book readable and then present as examples some of the most eye-crossingly terrible writing I've seen in some time.

I wonder if there aren't just competing sense of the word "readable" here -- you know, differentiating between readable as in paperback bestsellers that vacationers comsume quickly while sunning on the beach versus the sort of brilliant literary prose that rewards close reading and re-reading.
posted by aught at 10:46 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


To this day, I'm amazed and appalled at how many people actually have ATLAS SHRUGGED on their bookshelf,

I guess this has already been covered, but I might have all of her books, and have never read any of them. I didn’t really know what they were until the last couple of years. As a straight couple we also have a fair amount of gay erotica, lots of religious texts of all kinds even though we are not strong believers in any faith, etc.

I do understand your point if you walk into someone’s house and they have a dozen books, and 3 of them are Ayn Rand.
posted by bongo_x at 11:47 AM on February 29, 2012


It's very true, I think, that Atlas Shrugged could only have been improved if, somehow, Joan Collins and Linda Evans had starred in it.

Shrugging always looks better with oversized shoulder pads.
posted by La Cieca at 12:11 PM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's very true, I think, that Atlas Shrugged could only have been improved if, somehow, Joan Collins and Linda Evans had starred in it.

If only we knew an author adept at slapstick parodies and an in-depth knowledge of AS.
posted by titus-g at 12:22 PM on February 29, 2012


For the same reason this dude is reading Atlas Shrugged, I am currently reading Flowers in the Attic. I think my project is way better.
posted by ErikaB at 12:22 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


If only we knew an author adept at slapstick parodies and an in-depth knowledge of AS.

Oh, had only fate (plus NBC or Warner Brothers) worked just a little differently!
So taken was Rand with [Farrah] Fawcett that she hoped the actress (or if not her, Raquel Welch) would play the part of Dagny Taggart in a TV version of Atlas Shrugged on NBC. Unfortunately, network head Fred Silverman killed the project in 1978. "I'll always think of 'Dagny Taggart' as the best role I was supposed to play but never did," Fawcett said.

Rand's following in Hollywood has always been strong. Barbara Stanwyck and Veronica Lake fought to play the part of Dominique Francon in the movie version of The Fountainhead. Never to be outdone in that department, Joan Crawford threw a dinner party for Rand in which she dressed as Francon, wearing a streaming white gown dotted with aquamarine gemstones. [The Nation]
A feature introducing the Fountainhead film on TCM recently noted that Warners' first casting choice for Dominique was Lauren Bacall, which might have worked brilliantly: she always projects intelligence, and her cool, unemotional affect would have made the character's eternal posturing not quite so ridiculous.
posted by La Cieca at 12:36 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Day 2 of the counterpunch article was a little bit of a letdown. Apparently the biggest three names on the corrupted public university list were: Florida Gulf Coast University, College of Charleston, and Troy University (in Alabama). They did manage to slip in the name of a Goldman Sachs director as an Ayn Rand Institute director.
posted by bukvich at 12:47 PM on February 29, 2012


That's perfect. Mine is that Ayn Rand is the L. Ron Hubbard of philosophy.

I like to say that Atlas Shrugged is the Left Behind of capitalism.
posted by baf at 12:47 PM on February 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


To this day, I'm amazed and appalled at how many people actually have ATLAS SHRUGGED on their bookshelf,

DON'T JUDGE ME!!!
posted by P.o.B. at 1:54 PM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Mine is that Internet aphorisms are the hemorrhoid of the worldwide thought-ass.

I am entranced by your description. I assume that the worldwide thought-ass itself would logically be Objectivism.
posted by JHarris at 1:54 PM on February 29, 2012


Rand wrote that the purpose of her novels was to portray her heroes. The cartoonishly simplified world Galt inhabits is made thus for the purpose of giving him an arena in which to manifest his perfection.

This is an interesting point.

Nietzsche problematizes Kant's categorical imperative in two ways- first by removing it from the realm of ontology; and secondly by interrogating the historical emergence of concepts such as "morality." From this we get a number of more contemporary theories of the social construction of the self, including things like Foucault's "genealogies" and "archaeologies."

Rand, on the other hand, eschews social construction entirely. For her, knowledge is both internal and absolute. An objective understanding of the world and one's place in it is achievable through certain forms of intellectual and emotional self-discipline, and yet, at the same time, available only to certain people possessing a singular genius (who are also able to recognize that genius within themselves). It takes misreadings of both Hegel and Nietzsche and tries smoosh them together.

It may not be that Rand has shaped the settings of her novels in order to suit the idealized characters she has created, or at least not done so as a literary device for the purpose of a polemic disguised as a novel. Her settings may possibly reflect her own actual understanding of the world, which for her would be entirely unproblematic.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:23 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's definitely one of those "uh-oh" signifiers, right up there with having Cheez Whiz in the fridge.

Hey, man. Don't knock aerasol cheese. A can of cheese, some Vienna (properly pronouced "Vi-anner") sausages, and a box of Saltines, and you've got yourself a real American snack.
"So taken was Rand with [Farrah] Fawcett that she hoped the actress (or if not her, Raquel Welch) would play the part of Dagny Taggart in a TV version of Atlas Shrugged on NBC."
I can see this now: "My name is Galt. These are my Angels ..."

Rand's demands on her characters and followers to constitute a moral and intellectual elite always seemed to clash humorously with her own fairly middle-brow tastes. She probably wouldn't have been successful in Hollywood because she couldn't have worked collaboratively, but it's a shame she didn't try harder. It's not hard to imagine her as another Leigh Brackett or Gene Roddenberry.

I've always thought folks who think one's library should only represent what one believes in are being a bit silly and shallow.

I agree with you in the abstract, but when space is at a premium I can't blame anyone too much for sticking to books they feel some kind of kinship with.
posted by octobersurprise at 3:21 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I did read Fountainhead twenty-two years ago out of curiosity (...) I was also surprised that it was a moderately good book.

I read The Fountainhead when I was young, and I thought it was engaging (not boring), but ridiculous. Some form of empathy should be important in fiction, but every single character, either the heroes or the villains (?) always does exactly the opposite of what I would do if I were in the same situation. They all seemed to be constantly launching off on some weird moral crusade to completely destroy someone whom they had just briefly met. And the sex scenes were just plain daft.

By chance I read the Nathaniel Branden memoir a few years ago. He describes a vivid portrait of Ayn Rand as an emotionally complex person...
posted by ovvl at 4:13 PM on February 29, 2012


I find The Fountainhead to be pretty hilarious. I need to finish up my writeup of it one of these days.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:41 PM on February 29, 2012


gauche: "That's perfect. Mine is that Ayn Rand is the L. Ron Hubbard of philosophy."

Lot a parallels between the two if you think about it. Both mid-century writers of bad science fiction who have masses of religious followers thirty years after their deaths. I'm not sure who's followers scare me more although at least there aren't any Scientologists in congress (as far as I know).
posted by octothorpe at 4:27 AM on March 1, 2012



Sincerely, no offense intended, but I've always thought folks who think one's library should only represent what one believes in are being a bit silly and shallow



On the other hand, Ayn Rand is a total red flag for me when it comes to dating. For example: you tell me you love Ayn Rand and I can tell 1) you're going to stiff the waiter on tip and 2) we're not going to have a second date.
posted by thivaia at 9:20 AM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


thivaia: "On the other hand, Ayn Rand is a total red flag for me when it comes to dating. For example: you tell me you love Ayn Rand and I can tell 1) you're going to stiff the waiter on tip and 2) we're not going to have a second date."

My point was simply that there's a difference between liking a well-told story and adhering to an author's philosophies. (I'm not convinced Rand's a good storyteller, but that's another conversation.)

I mean, I personally really enjoy much of Robert Heinlein's writing yet I'm repulsed and horrified by incest -- a common theme in at least a couple of his more popular books. Having a well-worn copy of Time Enough For Love on one's shelf and professing general enjoyment for his work shouldn't be automatically stigmatic, either, yes?
posted by zarq at 9:36 AM on March 1, 2012


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