Thursday, July 06, 2006

Fountains Are Unnecessarily Decorative Anyway

I am an outcast among outcasts. Being a libertarian is marginalizing enough these days, but even among libertarians I don’t fit in because — well, because I just don’t like Ayn Rand. I'm sorry.

I mean, she made some brilliantly wonderful points. That bit about the factory that decided to run itself according to Communist principles was genius. But I don’t have time right now for a balanced and objective look at her strengths and weaknesses, so I figured instead I’d post my old high-school class notes from The Fountainhead:

1. People who design or live in buildings with decorative flourishes like Greek columns or Victorian moldings are evil freedom-hating statists.

2. A rich babe who inherits all her money from her father is the best person in the world to criticize people who are poor because they never do anything to earn money.

3. Lots of women are poor because the dumb sluts keep having kids they can't afford. However, when babelicious heiresses have sex without contraceptives back in the days before abortion was legal they never get pregnant anyway so this doesn't apply to them.

4. If you can afford it, you should buy a beautiful, irreplaceable piece of art and then destroy it, because most of the people who would otherwise look at it don't deserve to look at it the way you do.

5. Although it has already been established that unnecessary decorations destroy freedom, when a wealthy heiress marries a sexy rapist architect with high principles and then visits her husband at work on the last page of the book, she should wear high-heeled shoes to the high-rise construction site. (In case you were wondering, wearing high heels on a makeshift board elevator going hundreds of feet up in the sky is perfectly safe so long as you "plant your high heels firmly on the board," as the book describes.)

This is no way contradicts the "form over function" meme of the rest of the book.

6. Here is how to have a healthy, rational sex life. First, get yourself raped by the guy you eventually marry. (Your role models here are Luke and Laura on ancient General Hospital reruns.) Later, agree to have sex with a newspaper magnate, but tell him that you will not enjoy it one bit. This will challenge him to try things that will actually arouse you.

By the way, while you read this you must not think “Hmm, I’m detecting a theme here. The woman never has to know how to actually do anything, bedsportwise. Think about it: lying there like a corpse, beating a guy with your fists—neither one requires much in the way of sophistication, though under the right circumstances they can be portrayed as such."

Corollary: even if God forbid you’re depraved enough to notice such themes, and detect a clash with what you know of Rand’s personal life, do not allow yourself to envision somebody with a Natasha Fatale accent saying to her husband: “"Listen, you altruistic marry-me-so-I'm-not-deported vool, I vant you to dominate and subdue me like a real man. Right now! If you don’t vorce me to surrender to your superior male vill in ten minutes I'll vucking emasculate you. Stop cowering!"

Second corollary: at least don’t picture her husband looking like Boris Badenov.

7. Never say anything in one page if you can stretch it out to seventy. No, wait, that's from Atlas Shrugged.

Speaking of which, here is something my friend Dr. Thoreau (one of the bloggers at Unqualified Offerings) had to say once about Atlas Shrugged:

is it just me, or is Galt's project a microcosm of the LP?
-There's a guy whose job involves guns and secret raids and evading law enforcement. (That pirate guy)
-There's some guy who insists that he can solve all of the world's energy problems with his secret invention, but that would mean he'd have to pay taxes on his profits, so to remain pure he's devoting his time to some strange ideological project. (Galt)
-There's a guy who insists that he became fabulously wealthy in his spare time during college, but he's most famous for a spectacular business failure. (the copper magnate)
-Their guru claims to be a great philosopher, but he won't work in academia because the world just doesn't appreciate his genius.
-*There's a woman with interesting sexual tastes and a serious attitude problem.*
-There's a genuine self-made innovator, yet for some reason he hangs out with these freaks.

*As one of libertarianism’s token females, I just want to say that I, Jennifer, have no idea what Thoreau is talking about here. Clearly he’s been misinformed. That bothers me greatly, but otherwise the piece is spot-on.

Now I really do have to get back to work. And then I’ll check my premises. I promise.


Anonymous NoStar said...

If Dominique had checked her premises, she might have spotted the Roark before he entered her house.

But as anyone who has read the book knows, it wasn't really rape. She was asking for it.

4:19 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

But as anyone who has read the book knows, it wasn't really rape. She was asking for it.

But it's not as funny that way.

4:22 PM  
Blogger Jadagul said...

Nostar, I got in so much trouble one time by pointing that out to a few people. I was talking to one guy I kind of knew, and a few people I didn't really (at a debate tournament), and I tried to point out that calling it 'rape' is a bit dubious because she really wanted it to happen. Unfortunately, the one guy is a guy who has a troublesome talent for making anything I say come out in precisely the wrong way, so it came out sounding like I was making the "she was askin' for it" defense of rape in general.

Spectacularly awful pun, by the way :)

4:30 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I agree with the interpretation that the Dominique-Howard scene is 'rough sex' rather than rape (that's the point of the whole "Dominate me, loser" bit), but the thing is--no one sex scene in the two novels is particularly bad, but when you take them all together it becmes "Christ, can't a Randian heroine have normal, non-dark sex at least once?"

I mean, a little spice might be nice but Randian sex is like drinking a whole goddamned Tabasco bottle.

6:47 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

By the way, this "avatar" business where I have my own eyes boring into me every time I post is creeping me out. Is it possible to have your photo on your page without having it in your comment boxes?

6:50 PM  
Anonymous Sandy said...

I'm not gonna argue on the Rand front, because I agree. In high school, it was fine, a needed tonic to the relentless pressure to conform and submit to altruistic second-handers,, reading about her personal life belies her claim that Objectivism is a "Philosophy for Living". Only if you are a dominatrix. And maybe not even then.

But is it that weird anymore to be a libertarian who doesn't like Rand? Weird to me would be a libertarian who thought Hayek was full of it.

9:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Given the novel-centric sex-obsessed feces-fest that spontaneously erupts every time Rand's name is mentioned, I'm hard pressed to think of a single H&R regular or Grylliader that does like her.

4:57 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Given the novel-centric sex-obsessed feces-fest that spontaneously erupts every time Rand's name is mentioned, I'm hard pressed to think of a single H&R regular or Grylliader that does like her.

I see Hit and Run started a Friedman/public schools thread, and Ayn Rand came up in he comments. So far Ayn Randian and Ed like her enough to get pretty pissed at Herrick and/or his balls for saying something heretical.

I don't think either one of them ever comes here, though, so I should be spared accusations of "social metaphysician" and the like.

7:02 AM  
Anonymous pigwiggle said...

Well, I don’t think it’s so strange to not like Rand and be libertarian. I don’t particularly like her writing. Rand is weird, weird and preachy.

9:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rand is good to shake people out of their slumber, but to those who don't need it I can understand not liking her.

Jennifer-You're beautiful, start a war among some ancient greek types beautiful, but I agree, your eyes are freaking me out too ;)

10:17 AM  
Anonymous Warren said...

Rand had her sexual hang-ups, over which too much ink has already been spilt. It's too bad because they get in the way of more sound reasoning.

Rand is a hero of mine. But It was her non-fiction (Virtue of selfishness, Capitalism: the unknown ideal) that converted me.

I think Fountainhead is a fine novel (in spite of the dysfunctional sex). Atlas is too verbose, it just beats it into the ground. But still, I enjoyed the plot and characters, just wish she didn't say it ten times over.

11:15 AM  
Anonymous Jay P. said...

I agree with several others that liking Ayn Rand or her work does not seem to be expected of libertarians these days (if it ever was). On libertarian-leaning boards, commenters seem to bash her as readily as on other sites; they just focus on different characteristics.

Rand was a fascinating moral entrepreneur, trying to push the envelope of Western morality in the direction of atheism, individualism, freedom, enterprise, privacy, and private property. Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged have a certain lunatic brilliance that makes them hard to brush off, for all their misshapenness. And her non-fiction (such as "Conservatism: An Obituary," in Capitalism) can at times be shockingly insightful.

2:58 PM  
Anonymous fountainhead said...

I second and third Warren's comment.

BTW - I've lurked for years at H&R, posted only two or three times. But having read the feral genius' comments for so long, I was curious enough to come for a visit. Now I'll shut back up again and lurk here as well...

8:46 PM  
Anonymous Wild Pegasus said...

I'm a radical libertarian, and I've never read a word of Ayn Rand, fiction or non. From the short excerpts people have posted in various fora, the fiction works look dreadful.

"In matters of style, flow with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock." - Thomas Jefferson

- Josh

1:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have this shameless love of Ayn Rand's fiction. I loved Atlas Shrugged, but solely for the fictional story stuff not for the Important Philosophical Points.

And I believe everyone should read "We the Living" if only because it takes place in Russia during the 1920s and is an incredibly depressing portrait of how dreadful life under communism was.

Either way, I like the Ayn Rand notes. Even from a Ayn Rand fan I'll admit they're pretty accurate and amusing

-ATR, mostly lurker on HIt & Run/Grylliade

8:13 PM  
Blogger Kitty said...

Your notes on "Fountainhead" are spot-on. I never could get past the argument in the beginning with the architecture professor in which Roark, well, sort of sits there and gets insulted but in a Manly And Important manner.

It's my personal opinion that one of the reasons there are so few women who call themselves "libertarian" is because we all had one or two dates in college with some guy who ADORED "Fountainhead" and suggested that we had the same ideas about sex as Dominique. After that, he'd give a two-hour exposition on how much he loved "Atlas Shrugged." Anytime someone mentions Rand, I immediately think of That Date.

I'll have to read "We the Living" sometime, though. It's likely to be better than "A Day in the Life of Ivan Ivanovitch," and for all of her eccentricities, Rand had a better idea on human nature than Solzenitsyn.

5:56 PM  
Blogger Billy Beck said...

It shouldn't matter whether anyone likes her. I'm a rational anarchist: I would not have survived five minutes in her company. What's important is whether, how, and when she was right.

This whole subject and how it gets treated reminds me of Will Durant's note (somewhere in Vol. VII of his "Story of Civilization") on some sixteenth century personage's "feminine occupation with personalities instead of ideas".

That is the real story in all this. It's as petty as it gets, and too damned bad.

10:04 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

What's important is whether, how, and when she was right.

And I would say she was not. Or rather: she was very good at pointing out problems (I won't disagree with any of the points she made about the evils of collectivism); unfortunately, she stank at offering solutions.

The ideal Randian society would work well if we were Vulcans ruled exclusively by logic and rationality, with no emotions at all (except lust, but that only for the proper Randian partner).

I really wish she'd written a sequel to Atlas Shrugged, just to see how long Galt's Gulch remained Rationalist Utopia with its 40:1 male-female ratio.

10:17 AM  
Blogger Billy Beck said...

" emotions at all."

Did you ever read any of the nonfiction, Jennifer?

I believe that you really don't understand her at all.

10:26 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

No, Billy Beck, I'm only referring to her two best-known novels here. And in those novels, as I've mentioned before, she: does a great job of pointing out problems but a piss-poor job of recommending solutions; displays a consistently masochistic view of female sexuality; mistakes caricatures for well-rounded individuals; and contradicts herself more than once.

One of these days I'll read some of her non-fiction and do a serious piece about it. This, however, was a tongue-in-cheek look at her novels, and God knows she put a lot of unconscious humor into them. (Why her editor didn't say something about Dominique's high-heeled shoes at the construction site, I still don't know.)

In all seriousness, if she hadn't written those novels her ideas might be more accepted by the mainstream today; it is unfortunate that for all her good ideas she is best known today for such eminently mockable pieces of fiction. It is even more unfortunate that so many of her modern fans portray her in a humorless light, swelling up like a spiny puffer fish whenever anyone suggests that there just might be some laugh-worthy elements of her novels.

10:44 AM  
Blogger Billy Beck said...

Oh, well, I can laugh with the best of 'em. On the other hand, for over thirty-five years, I've been watching people cracking wise about something of which most of them are completely knowledgeless (compared with "humorless"). The former is a lot more serious matter to me, and I suspect that that has a lot to do with also watching the American cultural devolution over the same period. "Boring" wouldn't be the word for it.

No editor was going say a word to her about the high-heels thing. When she signed the deal for "Atlas" she got complete editorial control, a fifty thousand dollar advance, a fifteen percent royalty, and an initial print run of seventy-five thousand copies. That was an un-heard of deal in the 50's, but Bennett Cerf knew what sort of a property was coming his way, and he wrapped that deal in five minutes. He was right. There were editor types who later tried to cheez on the "control" part, and she was taking them to war over individual commas in a nearly twelve hundred page manuscript.

Her "Journals" (published in 1997) are full of good insights to her hows and whys underpinning the book.

Anyway, it drives the Shi'ite Objectivists crazy when anyone says this, but I always recommend Chris Matthew Sciabarra's "Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical" (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995) for a damned good one-stop shop on That Woman. Her own nonfiction is not the most effectively oganized corpus that I ever saw, and Chris does a pretty good job of integrating it. (For one thing, I use it as a sort of master index to her own works.)

Personally, I consider her theory of concepts to be the premier achievement in the whole of twentieth century philosophy, which is a very big deal.

It's part of the "solution".

11:21 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

In all seriousness, Billy Beck, I think of this:

Sometimes, on a comment board like Hit and Run, I'll adopt a position unpopular with libertarians, like "America's high consumption of gasoline is causing or will cause big problems for us." And I list reasons why, and then someone else will chime in on my side.

The guy makes all these great, logical arguments for why we really should try to get by with less gasoline, and then suddenly he veers off into some sheer insanity, like "Eisenhower got the idea for our highway system from the NAZIS, you know!" and I cringe and think "Goddammit, you idiot, that one stupid comment of yours has just overshadowed every single intelligent thing you have to say about this, and furthermore it's polluted others' opinion of me, too."

And that's how I feel about Rand's novels: she says all this good and useful stuff and then veers off about the evils of Victorian architecture and the sexual joy of exalted degradation. Dammit.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Billy Beck said...

I recently watched, on some film channel or other, a documentary entitled "Tall: The American Skyscraper and Louis Sullivan". In fact, I captured a bit of the film to set up as a WMV file for a blog item about it, which I haven't gotten around to. There was a great passage that quoted Sullivan on how he "deplored the small white cloud that descended from the east and contaminated the nation's taste" in the wake of the Columbian Exhibition (1893, Chicago). It went on to describe how, "by 1922, thirty years after the Fair, indigenous American design was almost entirely eclipsed by historical leftovers". If you go look at the Chicago Tribune building, today, you can see flying buttresses straight out of an eight hundred year-old architectural playbook, and you don't even have to go to France.

There is an enormous theme here, which -- I can't help it -- I wonder if you understand. It's about an authentic American culture struggling to survive against all the wrong aspirations of a culture that had never really learned to stand on its own. "The Powers That Were", flushed with success (read: "money") at the peak of Industrial Age prominence, looked around the world and what they really wanted to be was European.

That general subject -- enormous, as I said -- is what Rand was hitting on in the concretes from her novels.

And you know what? That general theme of the fight for American culture is more important right now than it was fifty years ago.

11:56 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

That general theme of the fight for American culture is more important right now than it was fifty years ago.

What "authentic American" culture? We have (or had) an authentic American political worldview, I'd say; our emphasis on individual rights was fairly unique for its time and certainly worth defending. But American architecture? What--we should all build log cabins or tepees? The aspects of America worth defending aren't decorative frills like building styles, or apple pie vs. curried beef.

If American politics starts looking like the Arab world, I'll worry. If American buildings take on Arab flourishes, I don't care. To claim that architectural style was the one American thing worth getting passionate over is like those idiot feminists who completely gloss over things like women's rights in the Muslim world to focus instead on whether or not a liberated woman can wear cosmetics.

1:26 PM  
Blogger Billy Beck said...

"What "authentic American" culture?"

Well, that's a damned good question. Rand, herself, but the thing this way: "America has never had an original culture, i.e., a body of ideas derived from her philosophical (Aristotelian) base and expressing her prfound difference from all other countries in history."

Now, people might not agree with that, but at least nobody can complain that she doesn't define her terms. More to the point, however, when I survey the history of American thought, I have to agree with her.

"What--we should all build log cabins or tepees?"

Absolutely not. You're looking the wrong way in history. Sullivan, for instance, was arguing for a complete integration of Industrial Age technique and aesthetic. So was his student, Wright, who is about as far from log-cabins and teepees as one can get.

Here's the thing: you're the one who pointed out the thing about "Victorian architecture" and that's why I mentioned this. But architecture is only symptomatic of the larger problem. You're absolutely right about the American political world-view, but that, too, is only derivative of deeper philosophical premises. Rand's contention is that it was corrupt with European premises just about from the beginning, and I say she was right about that. It took about a hundred years for this stuff to start catching up with us, in terms of applied politics, and it's been going in a big way ever since.

Me? I'm not content to wait around until America starts looking like the Arab world. The decline of cultures begins far in advance of such explications of principles, and I think it's worth getting in the fight while there is still something to save.

BTW -- I posted that film clip at my place. Top item, right now.

1:50 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

But BillyBeck, mixing and confusing aesthetics with politics only works to the detriment of both. To go back to my "feminist" example, it's like someone insisting that since I tend toward long sleeves and long pants or skirts in public, I can't really care about women's rights; after all, my mode of dress has more in common with a Victorian lady of the 1860s than Gloria Steinem in the 1960s.

As if that's what actually matters.

2:13 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Other ways aesthetics and politics should not be confused:

1. Can an atheist appreciate the beauty of Gothic cathedrals and stained glass, and old Gregorian chants? I do.

2. Mozart and Bach--brilliant composers of beautiful music, or wicked white male oppressors of everyone else in the world?

3. Can I simultaneously abhor China's human-rights record and enjoy Chinese cooking and art?

4. Am I a terrorist sympathizer if I like hummus?

5. Can I think "Dixie" is a damned catchy tune while simultaneously despising the old South and all it stood for?

2:30 PM  
Blogger Billy Beck said...

There is no "mixing and confusing" about this, Jennifer. The point is that these matters have intellectual roots and that they (aesthetics and politics) are manifestations of deeper principles, and that's why they are useful as indications of the state of a culture. They certainly can be analyzed separately for other purposes and in other contexts, but that doesn't negate what I just stated as "the point" in this.

I didn't take up the matter of "feminist's" estimations of the conditions of life under Islam, but I will point out, at this point, that what women are permitted by the regime to wear really is very much a matter of "womens' rights". For instance: that's what that whole "chador" thing is all about. Of course, this too is only a manifestation of deeper principles. It's not the essence of the matter, itself.

Your questions, in order:

1) Of course. I do, too.

2) That's two different questions (aesthetic and political, although the latter is only made up out of thin-air by the commies).

3) See #2, above.

4) Why the absurdities, Jennifer?

5) Sure. I do.

3:01 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I will point out, at this point, that what women are permitted by the regime to wear really is very much a matter of "womens' rights".

I agree completely; what I was talking about was American feminists going batshit over the supposed political implications of lipstick and long skirts.

Why the absurdities, Jennifer?

Because I happen to like Victorian architecture and Greek columns, yet have no desire to suck away human freedom despite what Rand would have to say.

A thought occurs to me: based on what you said concerning Rand and architecture, it kind of reminds me of the Chinese in their Cultural Revolution. "Everything before today is the old way! The old way is evil! Anything remotely like the old way is also evil!"

3:11 PM  
Blogger Billy Beck said...

"Because I happen to like Victorian architecture and Greek columns, yet have no desire to suck away human freedom despite what Rand would have to say.

A thought occurs to me: based on what you said concerning Rand and architecture, it kind of reminds me of the Chinese in their Cultural Revolution. 'Everything before today is the old way! The old way is evil! Anything remotely like the old way is also evil!'

That is an appalling misapprehension of everything she was about, Jennifer. Really. It'll be regrettable if that offends you, but I can't help it.

Look: she had her aesthetic principles, and she was fierce about stating them, but to draw that sort of a political parallel (as it must necessarily be inferred with the example you cite, not to mention that "suck away human freedom" bit) is to demonstrate just about a complete nonexistent understanding of her.

She might have sneered at your taste in architecture (not to mention a lot of my taste in music -- although she did have a thing for Duane Eddy), but this is the truth:

She really did go to her grave defending your right to it.

You've got this all wrong.

4:27 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

she had her aesthetic principles, and she was fierce about stating them, but to draw that sort of a political parallel (as it must necessarily be inferred with the example you cite, not to mention that "suck away human freedom" bit) is to demonstrate just about a complete nonexistent understanding of her.

She certainly never stated anything so baldly, but when you've got an entire novel where all the good guys just happen to build modern architecture and the bad guys all just happen to like old-fashioned styles, it strikes me as more than just a metaphor.

(That said, let me add that I did like and to a large extent agree with Rand's portrayal of Lois Cook.)

4:56 PM  
Blogger Billy Beck said...

She was making a much larger and different point in the novels, and particularly in "The Fountainhead". This is why I think it might pay you to work through some of the nonfiction, although (again) Sciabarra might be a good start.

"Lois Cook" (hah!) "The Gallant Gallstone".

That was pretty good.

6:12 PM  
Anonymous Luke said...

Jennifer, Roark's style was his and everyone else bent to the judgment of those that came before them. That's the essential difference. Roark's is inherently modern for that reason, but I'm sure Rand saw plenty of examples of modern architecture that she didn't like. She of all people wouldn't like something just because it's different, and that opinion is concretized in the characters of other architects in that very book. I'm thinking of the man who added a dome to a building on a whim.

The bad-guys would have liked anything that anyone else said was great. They had no fondness for Victorian or anything else but relief from the responsibility of being men. It has nothing to do with columns or flying buttresses as such. It's not a metaphor and it's not more than a metaphor. It's an example--of independent judgment opposed to following.

9:08 AM  
Anonymous Kip W said...

A tenth generation scan of a lost original from 1979: The Man who Inspired "The Fountainhead".

9:16 AM  

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