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Post 160

Tuesday, November 1, 2005 - 5:56amSanction this postReply
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I need to preface this post with a personal note.  I want to thank the participants here for dragging me out of my doldrums, and inspiring me with "twisted balls" as we say here in Brooklyn, to jump into the fray.  It has been difficult to do much of anything as I've been nursed back to my "normal" level of ill-health, coming out of a severe medical setback.  I extended an official "thank you" at Notablog to all my well-wishers, but I wanted to extend it here as well.

Because of these recent medical woes, and because of some circumstances that are beyond my control, I am needing to "pull the reins" back a bit.  I am behind in my normal work responsibilities by about a month, and I am poised to begin (again) a major research project on Aleksandr Blok, the Nietzschean Russian Symbolist writer whom Rand named as her "favorite poet."

More importantly, I am spending a lot of time on responsibilities connected to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, of which I am a founding co-editor.  One of the journal's co-founders, Bill Bradford, is suffering from severe health problems himself (see here).

And, I'm sorry to report today that I received word the other night that my Associate Editor, and prolific SOLO contributor, Robert Campbell, was involved in a serious bike accident in which he broke both his wrists.  He underwent surgery and is currently in the hospital.  He is scheduled to be released soon, but will be unable to use his hands much in the coming month or two.  [Added:  Well-wishers may want to leave their "get well" thoughts here at SOLO.]

All this means that I have an enormous amount of work to do, more than usual, in readying the next issue of JARS. 

I'm sure I'll get my "balls twisted" on occasion to post at SOLO again at some point and I will continue my daily blogging at Notablog.  But I do need to adjust my work responsibilities accordingly in the face of these current difficulties.

All of this said, I do wish to respond at length to Casey and James.  You've both been indefatigable interlocutors and I think that something should be said in response to your latest posts.

***

In response to Casey here:  I am not going to speculate as to why Nathaniel Branden characterized his cut of a footnote (among other cuts) crediting Peikoff as a "superfluous" cut.  I don't think one has to be a rocket scientist to know that these two men are not exactly affectionate toward one another.  The point I was making, however, is that Branden at least told us that he cut something.  Of course, most Rand scholars do have access to Who is Ayn Rand?, which, even though it is no longer in print, remains an important historical document in the evolution of Objectivism.  (It is certainly in the hands of far more people than the TOC reprint.)

In any event, you won't find anything approaching an acknowledgment of editing in any current publications emanating from ARI-affiliated sources.

My comment that reputable scholars view "the Branden books in their proper context as 'first words' from witnesses who had a very personal stake in the events they described" is also not a new one.  Most recently, I made virtually the same comment in my review of James Valliant's book (see the section on "Historical Methodology" in that review here).

As far as scholars go, I have never been to a conference at either The Objectivist Center or the Ayn Rand Institute.  I have attended several "day" lectures through the years sponsored by TOC in New York City.  At those conferences, the attention was on ethics, politics, or aesthetics.  Nary a word was ever said about Ayn Rand's personal life.

My comments about the marginal character of the Affair in genuine Rand scholarship are based on years of contributing to, editing, and reading in the Rand scholarly literature.

For example:  JARS is now entering its seventh year of publication.  We have 13 issues to our credit since the Fall of 1999.  I count a total of 152 articles published over this time period.  Of these articles only a very few mention Rand's personal life, and only a very few of these mention Rand's "moral shortcomings."  In these limited number of cases, the authors' judgments of Rand are based on their reading of the Branden works for sure.  You will find a comment about Rand's "moral shortcomings" in Lisa Dolling's Spring 2000 review of Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand (a book that includes an essay by Barbara Branden); Joseph Maurone's Spring 2002 essay, "The Trickster Icon and Objectivism" (which deals with much more than Rand's "personal life," focusing on important Romantic themes in Rand's novels); and the James Arnt Aune Fall 2002 essay referenced in Valliant's book (an essay that was met with devastating critique by Leland Yeager in our pages).  Other essays that mention Rand's personal life:  Dean Brooks's review of the Sures memoir; and a 3-article exchange between Karen Michalson and Sky Gilbert on Gilbert's Branden-inspired play, The Emotionalists.

But a book review of David Kelley's Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand focuses almost no attention on Rand's personal life or the "movement" schisms; Jonathan Jacobs, the reviewer, is much more interested in philosophical issues and actually yearns for a "more purely philosoph[ical] book."

It is true that some left-wing critics, like Gene Bell-Villada, mention Barbara Branden's biography---but he sees Barbara as Rand's "frank yet devoted biographer" ("Nabokov and Rand," Fall 2001 JARS). 

Other left-wingers, like Slavoj Zizek ("The Actuality of Ayn Rand," Spring 2002 JARS) go so far as to praise Rand for the way she handled The Affair.  Writes Zizek:  "There is a well-known story about Rand whose superficially scandalous aspect often eclipses its extraordinary ethical significance." That "ethical significance," for Zizek, is not located in Rand-as-Moral Monster, but in the fact that "Rand did not cheat" (Zizek's emphasis).  He concludes:"To show such firmness in the most intimate domain bears witness to an ethical stance of extraordinary strength: while Rand was here arguably 'immoral' [in the conventional sense, a reference to the extramarital affair], she was ethical in the most profound meaning of the word.  It is this ethical stance of inner freedom that accounts for the authenticity clearly discernible in Rand's description of ... Howard Roark."  And Zizek then goes on to praise Roark as one of the most authentic and benevolent of fictional characters.

So, all in all, in seven years of publishing JARS, I count a total of 10 articles out of 152 that mention Rand's personal life, and not all of these references are unflattering, as we have seen from the Zizek article.

Zizek didn't need to read Valliant's book (this was Spring 2002 after all) in order to come to this conclusion, and he had every reason, as a left-wing pomo, to make lots of snide comments about Rand.  Instead, he formed his own positive conclusions from his own reading of the Branden books.

So, clearly, not everybody, including the critics, walks away from the Branden books with a view of Rand-as-Moral-Monster.

Remember, btw, that JARS is being "boycotted" by the likes of ARI-scholar Andrew Bernstein because of the "people" we publish. Bernstein called for that boycott of the journal and of all my works (which he admits to never having read), in the Spring of 2002, after we'd published a single paragraph reply Bernstein had written for the journal to a Kirsti Minsaas review of his Cliffsnotes (see here and here).  I'll leave it to others to speculate on the character of Bernstein's denunciation.  Clearly, from where I sit, it has nothing to do with the fact that we publish "the Brandens" (ooops, we have published an essay or two by the Great Mini-Satan, David Kelley!!!) or that we are some kind of Branden "front organization."  That JARS is a "nonpartisan" publication has done nothing to ease the tension (see here and here).

Now, if I extend my inquiry to include the larger Rand scholarly literature, I can tell you that one finds very few references to Rand's personal life.  ARI-affiliated scholars who have published fine books (I count the writing and editing work of Robert Mayhew, the work of Tara Smith, and others) never say a negative word about Rand's personal life.  No surprise there.  But non-ARI-affiliated scholars have a similar track record.  Take a look at the countless volumes of essays and books on Ayn Rand, by Douglas Den Uyl (The Fountainhead: An American Novel); Douglas Rasmussen (with Den Uyl, The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand; ); Mimi Gladstein (Atlas Shrugged: A Manifesto of the Mind; The Ayn Rand Companion); Tibor Machan (Ayn Rand, and hundreds of other articles), and you'll find almost an exclusive focus on Rand's philosophy or literary legacy.  And that's where the focus should be.

(As an aside, I should mention that none of these non-ARI-affiliated writers is ever referenced in the works of any ARI-affiliated scholars.  I can think of a single exception:  Tara Smith, who has referenced Rasmussen in her work.  But the overwhelming number of publications coming from ARI-affiliated scholars is marked by citational partisanship; non-ARI-affiliated scholars freely reference ARI-affiliated scholars, but not the other way around.  On this peculiar phenomenon, see here.)

So, we're back to Square One:  The smears of Ayn Rand are coming mostly from people who despise Ayn Rand's philosophy, and whose comments on her personal life are the icing on a cake baked in the oven of a primarily ideological opposition (the Commentary article that James references is a case in point; see here).

Folks, I think we're just going to have to agree to disagree about our different views of the nature of the Branden books.  From where I sit, scholars and other readers have been aware for nearly two decades of the central deceptions that the Brandens perpetuated toward the end of their relationship with Ayn Rand. 

Where we are at odds is that I do not believe the Brandens are the focus of evil in the modern world; I do not ascribe every action and reaction of the Brandens to lying, deception, and manipulation; and I do not see conflict between or within the books as symptomatic of that evil.  This was a complex tragedy that involved the poor choices and lives of four people directly and, apparently, countless numbers of people indirectly. 

I suspect that this entire generation is going to have to die out before we relegate this whole mess to a footnote in the larger text that is Ayn Rand's profoundly important philosophical legacy.

(Edited by sciabarra on 11/01, 6:34am)




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Post 161

Tuesday, November 1, 2005 - 6:29amSanction this postReply
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Shut the fuck up?

Well that certainly was a fine argument.

Wonderful example of intellectual rhetoric.

Michael


Edit - Are easier people with weaker arguments needed around here to keep the focus on discussing ideas? Aren't good ideas needed any longer on Solo for discussion?
(Edited by Michael Stuart Kelly on 11/01, 6:34am)




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Post 162

Tuesday, November 1, 2005 - 6:56amSanction this postReply
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No one should confuse throwing an old shoe at a dog barking in street at 3:00 a.m. with an argument. They serve two very different functions.



Post 163

Tuesday, November 1, 2005 - 6:58amSanction this postReply
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Michael, Linz doesn't speak for me. I wish you would approach your partisanship from a fresh perspective. I mean, for instance, is PARC primarily an attack on Barbara and Nathaniel Branden or a defense of Ayn Rand? If it's the latter, partisanship is ineffective for it is Valliant who is operating out of a context of objectivity. That doesn't make him right. I appreciate your fighting the good fight, but you may have a phantom by the leg. I don't think your great intelligence is being well used here.

"Out of a heavy heart" could refer to Ayn Rand herself, not necessarily the Brandens.

--Brant




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Post 164

Tuesday, November 1, 2005 - 7:02amSanction this postReply
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Magenta Hornet,  just for once, shut the fuck up & leave someone alone to reach his own conclusions. Yours are already formed. We know that. We know what they are. We don't need a zillion reminders. Put a sock in it.

Ethan


P.S. This is humor. Any offense taken isn't intended.

(Edited by Ethan Dawe on 11/01, 7:33am)




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Post 165

Tuesday, November 1, 2005 - 7:05amSanction this postReply
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Yes, Chris - agree with you there... most in this generation, to say nothing of the preceeding one, are simply too close to it all to step back and see the forest for the trees...  it is in the lack of learning to see the long view, and of being able or knowing how to really integrate into a non-contradictory whole...



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Post 166

Tuesday, November 1, 2005 - 7:10amSanction this postReply
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Brant,

Once again, my partisanship always pales in the light of my commitment to the truth.

It is the truth that interests me above all. I have constantly asked for more information and agreed with both James and Casey when they have suggested that more information be given the light of day (like Nathaniel's letters to Ayn Rand being published, for instance).

On a superficial level the dichotomy is: the ARI/Valliant side against the Brandens.

On a deeper level this is a false dichotomy. The real dichotomy is partisanship versus objective truth. That is what I keep trying to keep into the arguments.

Lots of rhetorical devices are used to maintain the false dichotomy and throw a smoke screen around the deeper one - and I focus on the devices. That is precisely what makes partisans so uncomfortable.

Michael




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Post 167

Tuesday, November 1, 2005 - 7:25amSanction this postReply
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I suspect that this entire generation is going to have to die out before we relegate this whole mess to a footnote in the larger text that is Ayn Rand's profoundly important philosophical legacy.

Sad, sad truth! I am so goddam bored with multiple threads breaking down into this PASSIONS and CRITICS bullshit. I feel like many people need Ayn Rand to be a messiah in order to recognize her contribution. I read the Branden bio and it didn't change me one bit. If in reality there was and affair, and there is no reason to think there was not, I judge that poor judgement was being used. It doesn't affect me (except, I will take any excuse to see Helen Mirren topless).
What the hell do I care. Ayn Rand was capable of bad judgement. That is probably the reason SOLO exists. If we believed in Jesus Rand we could find homes on other boards where the members express there individuality as Randroids unable to think outside of a Peikoff realm.
Her contributions exist outside of her now.
If this keeps up, I gonna have to go back to surfing porn.

Bill Sipes




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Post 168

Tuesday, November 1, 2005 - 7:36amSanction this postReply
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"I suspect that this entire generation is going to have to die out before we relegate this whole mess to a footnote in the larger text that is Ayn Rand's profoundly important philosophical legacy." - Chris Sciabarra

Almost certainly true, I've long been convinced.

Jeff





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Post 169

Tuesday, November 1, 2005 - 7:49amSanction this postReply
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Ethan,

LOLOLOLOLOL...

That was funny as all get out. I was going to make a suggestion, but since you already edited your post, I don't need to.

 
The owner of this site uses that level of rhetoric you lampooned in place of arguments at times, but he does not like it when others who disagree with him engage in it. Your point is made and well taken. So editing your post to raise the level back to your normal high standards of discussion was something I was going to suggest. I'm glad to see that the suggestion was not necessary.

Michael





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Post 170

Tuesday, November 1, 2005 - 8:16amSanction this postReply
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"Once again my partisanship always pales in the light of my commitment to the truth."

I appreciate your passion, Michael, but might it get in the way of finding the truth even as it moves you closer?

--Brant

(Edited by Brant Gaede on 11/01, 10:50am)

(Edited by Brant Gaede on 11/01, 5:44pm)




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Post 171

Tuesday, November 1, 2005 - 11:26amSanction this postReply
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Chris,

So much of what you say has absolutely nothing to do with my book. It seems in fact to be a giant and irrelevant distraction from the book or its goals.

Zizek's work is interesting, but not mine, as you know, and his work (which does appear wholly independent of my own) was published just after the original version of Part I of my book was made available on the Net.

But this is hardly the scholarly qualification about which I was inquiring. JARS may avoid Rand's life for some reason, but, alas, folks like the Commentary author do not. I agree with you as to the motive of Rand's critics, but identifying the motive does not effectively counter any particular technique of ad hominem evasion. Nor is such evasion even a valid approach to Rand criticism.

What Kelley had written about the Objectivists' reaction to Ms. Branden's work remains entirely un-addressed in your comments. He insisted upon the need to debate the very issues in her book I discuss (e.g., Rand's moralism, her alleged demand for statements of loyalty, etc.), and his own shock and outrage at the failure of Objectivists to do so. (Oh, sure, his book was about other stuff, too, but...?)

You write: "Where we are at odds is that I do not believe the Brandens are the focus of evil in the modern world.."

Then, quite obviously, we are not at odds. And what a fair summary of my position!

You continue: "I do not ascribe every action and reaction of the Brandens to lying, deception, and manipulation; and I do not see conflict between or within the books as symptomatic of that evil."

And, of course, neither do I.


(Edited by James S. Valliant on 11/01, 11:29am)




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Post 172

Tuesday, November 1, 2005 - 12:19pmSanction this postReply
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Well, I've read the entire thread, up to this point. Jeff Perren, Chris Sciabarra, Robert Bidinotto, Ethan Dawes, Michael Stuart Kelly, nice posts, and some of them are really brilliant.

Linz, Mssrs. Fahy and Valliant, it happens to be my opinion that the Brandens are not trustworthy. Opportunitstic parasites might be a good desciption of the impression I have of them, despite having never met them personally. I say this as a preface.

I think that your treatment of Sciabarra (who has responded with brilliance and class, as usual), Bidinotto (who is one of the most intelligent and reasonable guys ever to post on SOLO) and MSK (active participant, smart, and excellent sense of life) really sucks. The Valliant/Fahy approach to Bidinotto is to essentially restate his posts, attributing statements to him which he never made, and then attack the never-stated. Bidinotto, to his credit, tries to clarify, but what is the point? He has made his point(s) to those who are listening and who are immune to postmodernist debate parlor tricks.

DDD gets the same treatment and posts extensively to clarify. Again, all-class, all the way.

In contrast, MSK, gets told to shut the fuck up. Brilliant. In about a thousand years, the only time I could imagine telling a guy with such a benevolent sense of life as Michael to shut the fuck up--EVEN IF HE IS DEAD FUCKING WRONG--is if I was drunk off my ass. What gives? I don't get it.

I've always enjoyed philosophy. But I am a man of action. Thanks for reminding me why I couldn't stomach this bullshit in college. You guys go on with your truth obscuring word and mind games, beating on each-other and on a dead genius' legacy. Have fun. If ever there were a group that deserve the appellation "clever dick pomo wankers"... What a turn off.



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Post 173

Tuesday, November 1, 2005 - 12:41pmSanction this postReply
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Scott,


DAAAAAAAAYAAAAAAAAAAAAMMMMMMM



(Hands quarter to MSK for use of catch phrase (tm))




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Post 174

Tuesday, November 1, 2005 - 12:48pmSanction this postReply
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Linz, Mssrs. Fahy and Valliant, it happens to be my opinion that the Brandens are not trustworthy. Opportunitstic parasites might be a good desciption of the impression I have of them, despite having never met them personally. I say this as a preface.

Scott- I have no (as in absolutely, positively no) vested interest in saying this, but I hope someday the opportunity arises for you to change your opinion.

I only correspond with BB off and on, but I find her to be straightforward, forthright, insightful, and full of life. With NB I was engaged primarily in business, and it was a thoroughly refreshing experience to work with someone so above-board, especially near the end of it when things got very difficult for both of us due to a third party- he maintained an incredibly even-keeled and professional demeanor. On the personal side, he went above and beyond his busy schedue a number of times to assist me (and my family) when we were dealing with some very difficult issues, and he did it in a way that I know no one else could have. I am forever in his debt for the support and guidance he provided. Attending his workshop and lecture in Toronto for a couple of days a few years back was an experience par none, and he put far more effort into what he was doing than the very modest price of admission. I don't know what else to say, but the man deserves that to be said about him. In my dealings with him I have never seen him do anything other than stand and deliver.

As to the rest of your post, I couldn't agree more.





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Post 175

Tuesday, November 1, 2005 - 1:00pmSanction this postReply
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Scott - I've no problem with the way Valliant/Fahy have treated Bidinotto or Sciabarra, or vice versa, apart from Bidinotto's calling Valliant a "parasite" without having read his book. As one who read the book & had to go through a rather painful process of reappraisal as a result, that kinda sticks in my craw. But these things happen in the cut-&-thrust, as well you know. You yourself have been known to call someone a "fucking moron" if I recall correctly, and that certainly wasn't the only time you'd been abusive. My telling MSK to "just for once, shut the fuck up" was a cry of exasperation apparently shared by many readers, given the number of sanctions it got. And contrary to your attempt to revive Brandbourne's smear campaign, I was not drunk when I posted it. And I don't resile from it. Sometimes I want to see what someone else has to say without having to wade through a swathe of MSK's reiterations that he's only interested in the truth, even though he's already made his mind up.

But feel free to keep pissing on one of your hosts.

Linz



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Post 176

Tuesday, November 1, 2005 - 1:07pmSanction this postReply
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Bill Snipes wrote, "If this keeps up, I gonna have to go back to surfing porn."

Oh, really? Is that what attracted you to this discussion? Sorry to disappoint. Of course, "porn" connotes a negative evaluation. Some would call it intellectual erotica! ;-)





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Post 177

Tuesday, November 1, 2005 - 1:19pmSanction this postReply
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James Valliant writes:
 
You [Chris Sciabarra] write: "Where we are at odds is that I do not believe the Brandens are the focus of evil in the modern world.."

Then, quite obviously, we are not at odds. And what a fair summary of my position!

You [Chris Sciabarra] continue: "I do not ascribe every action and reaction of the Brandens to lying, deception, and manipulation; and I do not see conflict between or within the books as symptomatic of that evil."

And, of course, neither do I.



 
I've only read about one-third of James Valliant's book -- and what a chore that was! -- but the impression I get so far is one of overwhelming partisanship and non-objectivity. The whole thing seems like one vast and terrible smear of Barbara Branden and Nathaniel Branden. Let's hope for Valliant's sake that no libel laws come into play here! 
 
His new book seems like just another one of those phone-it-in instances of ARIan intellectual dishonesty. These pitiful cult clowns are known for their hagiography and fraud regarding all things Ayn Rand, and this new book seems like just one more mercilessly tiresome example.
 
And despite the subject matter being one that I'm intensely and almost overwhelmingly interested in, the reading couldn't be more slow and tedious. Valliant's book is a remarkable and even unprecedented tour de force of ennui and time stoppage. 
 
In plowing thru it, I get the impression that Valliant has never heard of the concept of "let the evidence speak for itself." And it's a good thing too -- there seems to be little evidence to speak of. I keep waiting in vain for a relevant fact or Rand journal entry to pop up. In my whole life I never saw a book overpromise so much. Valliant keeps saying -- more accurately implying --  he's going to finally get around to proving some instance of BB or NB being Satan Himself, but the follow-up proofs couldn't be more lame. The unbacked insinuations are infinite. And the whole book reads like a parody of Randroid zombieism.
 
You really have to wonder about someone who dedicates so many years of his life to intellectual fraud. But I guess Valliant fancies himself a good little boy and faithful Randroid drone -- so he pats himself nicely on his pinhead and moves on comfortably. Still, reality, truth, and historical factuality are not his friends -- so he can't be resting that comfortably!
 
I'm truly amazed that Valliant dares to post here on SOLO or anywhere semi-honest and semi-open. This is immensely to his credit. Maybe the only thing he's actually done right.
 
Altho' having done so, I don't see how he can avoid being excommunicated by ARI sooner or later. Anything that resembles free and open discussion is not tolerated by those malevolent religious freaks and we all know it.  So I think Valliant is toast.  
 
But his Euclid-defying book of seemingly-infinite-length does merit a serious and sober answer from the people being wantonly, brutally, shamefully attacked. And if BB and NB refuse to respond properly and in depth to Valliant's lengthy hack job -- as currently seems to be the case -- this is immensely to their discredit. There has to be some decent reply here or we'll all have a good idea how to interpret it. 
 
Still -- what a book! I can only pray that my spent reading it so far is multiplied times one-hundred and then deducted from my upcoming period in Purgatory.  ;-)  Otherwise, it wasn't worth it.
 
I plan to slog on thru the final two-thirds -- deperately and pathetically hoping for some meat, sustenance, and substance somewhere! -- but I really don't have too much hope.
 
In the end, it seems Barbara and Nathaniel painted themselves in a positive light in their memoirs, and got in some nice score-settling in the process. Hey, James, tell me something I don't know!


(Edited by Andre Zantonavitch on 11/01, 2:44pm)




Post 178

Tuesday, November 1, 2005 - 1:47pmSanction this postReply
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Oh, come on, Linz. I'm just being hysterical again. Or an asshole, as usual. I do have a tendency for that. Really, probably overreaction. Sorry if I pissed on you, pal. You know I like you alot, and I apologize if I went over the line (again).



Post 179

Tuesday, November 1, 2005 - 1:51pmSanction this postReply
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And I just re-read this (must have missed it the first time):

"And contrary to your attempt to revive Brandbourne's smear campaign, I was not drunk when I posted it."

Dude, I was one of your staunchest defenders in all that garbage, and I REALLY regret my even mentioning drinking if you would conclude therefrom that I am such a contemptible slime that would throw a log on ~that~ thoroughly-doused fire. (Really, just your garden variety slime). Now I REALLY must apologize again, because reviving any such thing was absolutely NOT my goal.



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