Rebirth of Reason


Beauty, Goodness, Life
by Stephen Boydstun

Literary Arts

American Heritage Dictionary defines art as “the conscious production or arrangement of sounds, colors, forms, movements, or other elements in a manner that affects the sense of beauty; specifically, the production of the beautiful in a graphic or plastic medium.” The types after the semicolon are the specific types most typically meant when the term is used in the general sense of art preceding the semicolon. This dictionary has nine other senses in which art is used, but the one quoted here is what I shall be concerned with in this essay.

Under “other elements” in the dictionary definition, I shall include language so as to include the literary arts. Rand’s basic views on literary arts will be examined in the present section. Sections on visual arts will follow, where Rand’s Objectivist views will be situated with respect to a Scholastic objectivist view, to Kant’s, to Schopenhauer’s, and to views of some contemporary estheticians.

“Literature starts with concepts [expressed by the words] and integrates them to percepts—painting, sculpture and architecture start with percepts and integrate them to concepts” (Rand 1971, 1010). The art that is literature—literary fiction—deals in language and therefore concepts, but the skill required to write fiction is additional to the skills I had to acquire to be able to write this essay for you. The accomplished writer of drama, libretto, short story, or novel creates a story and its characters that illustrates, or concretizes, a theme, conveyed with a definite style (Rand 1968, 481). In the literary art, the concretization resides in imagination. Its concretes are told of and induced into the imagination of the audience.

The hoist swung like a pendulum above the city. It sped against the side of the building. It passed the line where the masonry ended behind her. There was nothing behind her now but steel ligaments and space. She felt the height pressing against her eardrums. The sun was in her eyes. The air beat against her raised chin.

Style is not told, but entered (cf. Peikoff 1991, 422–23; Rand 1958, 89–93, 123–25). A poem can have all the concretes, the imagined and the entered, as have the other genre of literature, but it need not. Its concretization of a theme may be attained without story or characterization (Rand 1968, 481). Poetry has style, of course, and it can utilize more focally than can the other literary forms the concrete sound and rhythm of language * (see also Branden c. 1968, 170, 466; Schopenhauer 1844, §37).

Not a whisper, not a thought,
Not a kiss nor look be lost.


The theme and style of a good poem must be worked together to unified result. In a good novel, the theme, plot, characterization, and style must likewise be worked together to “an individual sum” (Rand 1968, 481). The theme of the novel is about human existence. The theme serves as integrator of the novel, guiding the writer’s selections in plot, which is to express the theme in actions. Plot integrates the events of the story, making them entirely purposeful towards a resolving climax (but see Cox 2000, 323–24). The logic of the plot is the logic of final causation in human action. The cardinal principle of a good novel is that “the theme and the plot must be integrated—as thoroughly integrated as mind and body or thought and action in a rational view of man. . . . / . . . The integration of an important theme with a complex plot-structure is the most difficult achievement possible to a writer, and the rarest” (Rand 1968, 485).

A character in a work of fiction should “be an abstraction, yet look like a concrete” (Rand 1968, 486). The good writer unfolds, mainly in action and dialogue, the motivations of a character, showing the character’s nature and actions intelligible (see also Minsaas 2005*). Characters enact the plot, and the events of the plot contribute to characterizations; and theme is required for a plot. “This is the kind of integration required by the nature of a novel” (Rand 1968, 500; see also Boeckmann 2005, 2007a, 2007b; Bernstein 2009).

Literary style is a novelist’s distinctive or characteristic mode of execution. It includes what is selected to include in a passage as well as choice of words and sentences. In Rand’s view, a novel must tell a story, and style in a novel is only a means to that end. An accomplished style effecting moods is part of the craft of the novelist. But style and mood alone without a re-creation of reality by plot and characterization does not occasion for the reader existence and purpose as drivers of human consciousness.

Rand overextended those points by applying them beyond the art form that is the novel. She says that literary mood studies, “little pieces conveying nothing but a certain mood, . . . are not an art form” (1968, 503). Then, what about poetry without characterization or story? Rand took such poetry as literary art. On the face of it, she is in contradiction.

Rand conceived as art forms only elaborate, highly developed forms. Consider dance. To attain what Rand takes as an art form, dance must be a fully developed system, such as ballet, or at least it must have “the key elements on which a fully developed system could be built,” such being the case with tap dancing (Rand 1971, 1034; cf. Crowther 2007). The system test could be passed by some poetry that evidently would not also pass the test of Rand’s definition of art.

Rand was aiming for what has been called a “‘wrapper definition’ that attempts to cover the entire extension of a concept,” rather than only “an evaluative characterization of what the best forms of art aspire to be like” (Stroud 2011, 5). Rand took up the challenge of showing literary and nonliterary art-forms to be distinctive and explicable under a definition, her definition of art, which is: “a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments” (Rand 1965, 16; on this definition, see also Torres and Kamhi 2000; Hunt 2001, 261–62; Enright 2001, 353–56). In the course of her examinations of various art forms, we learn more about what she means by re-creation of reality in the way of art. For poetry without story or characterization—say, Rossetti’s Silent Noon—Rand does not take up the challenge of articulating how such poetry differs from so-called mood studies, thence, with that difference, how such poetry is art.

Silent Noon has a scene and an event.* (The idea microcosm comes quickly to mind; see Bissell 1997; 2004]) In this poem, existence and human act are told of. They are re-creations of reality and the basic draw of the consciousness aroused in the readers. Imagined perceptions and induced feelings are aroused by what is said in the poem and how it is said, all well integrated. I don’t have an example of what Rand was calling literary mood studies, so I don’t know how it might differ from this sort of poem. Do such mood studies concretize a theme, but without re-creation of reality, without any showing of existence and purpose driving consciousness?

This much is clear by Rand and satisfactory by me: an artistic selective re-creation is a re-integration, and for all art, not only literary, there will be a theme. For arts not literary, the theme will not be so fully expressed in words as in the medium, but it is there and is the large integrator.

(To be continued.)


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