Rebirth of Reason


Another Ayn Rand thread at Reason.com
by Jim Henshaw

On yet another Ayn Rand thread over at Reason.com's Hit and Run (presumably to cross-promote the upcoming Ayn Rand series at Reason.TV), one of the Reason staffers (Tim Cavanaugh) who is reading the Fountainhead for the first time (!) posed two question about the book that I (posting as "prolefeed") and two other people responded to.

Did I get this right, or is there more to Roark's refusal to accept work that I could have mentioned? That is, is it Rand's point that we are lesser and possibly even evil people if we compromise with statists to earn a living, or is she holding up an almost impossible ideal in the hopes that her readers will be inspired to do at least somewhat better?

Or to rephrase: is it an evil, altruistic sacrifice to give up some artistic integrity to gain some goals you value? Is compromising and working with statists a sign that your values are flawed, even if you are under the impression that the net result in your eyes is that you are trading a lesser value for a higher value?


The article that precipitated the exchange:

Rand, Rand Everywhere, and Not a Drop to Drink

Katherine Mangu-Ward | October 29, 2009

Everybody is reviewing Anne Heller's Ayn Rand and the World She Made, and Jennifer Burns' Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right.

and you thought the Gandhi/Rand mashup was horrifying Capitalism magazine has a roundup of reviews, but leaves out GQ's purgative anti-Rand rant (sample line: "Fuck you for turning some of the most open and interesting people I ever met into utopian dickheads"). Quoted in the piece—along with Reason contributor Todd Seavey and BB&T chairman John Allison—is our very own Nick Gillespie, who may have swiped some of Momma Rand's amphetamines before he talked with the reporter:

"In terms of literary influence, only Kerouac compares," says Nick Gillespie, editor-in-chief of Reason.com and Reason.tv...Pointing out that Atlas Shrugged and On the Road were both published in 1957, he adds, "Kerouac has had a more diffuse influence on American culture. He created a broad-based conception of what was cool and hip. Rand hasn't brushed the culture as widely. She touches individuals—immensely and deeply. It's useful to think about her impact in terms of Catcher in the Rye, another novel of individuation. Everyone agrees it's beautifully written, but it's losing its grasp on the public imagination. Same with Catch-22. Yossarian was a perfect antihero for the '60s generation, but does anybody give a shit about him now? Or about Portnoy? A few days ago, I was watching an old clip of Andrew Dice Clay's stand-up act from 1987. He made a joke about jerking off into a liver, and no one in the audience knew what he was talking about. Think about that. You can still make Howard Roark jokes that play, but it's been at least twenty years since you could do that with Portnoy. Portnoy's dead. Philip Roth is a great writer, but his signature character has had far less purchase on the collective imagination than Galt or Roark. No matter what you think of Rand, there's no denying that the woman just swings a really big dick."

Next week is Rand week here at Reason, so go buy a T-shirt, and brace yourself for a whole lot more where that came from.


The exchange itself:

Tim Cavanaugh|10.29.09 @ 5:14PM|#

OK, so I'm reading The Fountainhead for the first time. Two questions: 1. Do you have to love Frank Lloyd Wright to love freedom? (Cuz I don't, and the type of architecture the book exalts at great length reminds me of nothing so much as housing projects in both the U.S. and U.S.S.R.) 2. If Rand is such a capitalist, how come the good guys are always like, "Fuck the customers! Why should I care what the customers want?"

Pro Libertate|10.29.09 @ 5:42PM|#

That's one of my biggest problems with the book. What's so damned moral about that particular school of modern art? I mean, come on--there's only one proper aesthetic for architecture? I suppose Greek-style statues are out, too? As are paintings, since we have photographs?

I also am dubious about her position on free markets. Note that her supermen never seem accountable to shareholders or anyone else. I'm not saying that she wasn't in favor of capitalism, etc.; I'm just saying that her message gets tangled up in other stuff in her novels.

There's also her desire to be raped and subjugated, which I think others have addressed elsewhere ☺

skr|10.29.09 @ 5:49PM|#

It's not so much, "fuck the customers". Roark basically says, "I make the architecture I make, and if you don't like it then find someone else." Another dynamic present is where you have a client that likes and wants Roark's work, but the small minds on the Board of Directors fight the Chairman and beat him into submission.

And no you don't have to like Wright to like freedom, but Wright made great work, and if you haven't seen it in person you're missing something. Except maybe Taliesin, I'm not a big fan of that. There wasn't really anyone that made work like Wright, and his work looks nothing like Block housing. That would be more comparable to Corbusier. The one thing I will say about the early modernists like Corbusier and van der Rohe is that there work looks plain and simple in photographs, but spatially it works really well and the materials are fantastic. I have been in the Soviet block housing and it doesn't really have much besides a superficial relationship.

prolefeed|10.29.09 @ 7:55PM|#

1. The point isn't that that style of architecture is objectively Teh Best Evah, but that the protagonist refuses to let a bunch of second-raters ruin his work -- and not only ruin it, but ruin it only because they can't stand anyone excelling at anything.

2. Being a free market capitalist doesn't mean you are obliged to sell to anyone who offers to hire you, or to create shoddy work you don't like. Ayn's point is that free and creative people can choose to refuse to do business with people they loathe, people who don't appreciate their work.
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