|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)