Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Posts Tagged ‘50th Anniversary’

Undercurrents

Posted by Jerry on November 7, 2007

I really like this beautiful opinion piece written by Maggie Gallagher on the 50th anniversary of Atlas Shrugged. Since it is on Yahoo! News, I’m afraid the link might become inactive in a few days when the page will be moved. So, I’m including the entire article here.

THREE CHEERS FOR AYN RAND

“Atlas Shrugged,” Ayn Rand‘s monumental 1,000-plus-page valentine to the America of her dreams, turns 50 this year.

The occasion has been marked by nerdy paeans to her philosophy, and grudging acknowledgements by sophisticates that Rand’s novels may not be so very bad, after all. For the latter ersatz tribute, see, for example, the famous art critic (and my friend) Terry Teachout’s essay on Rand at 50 in the current issue of National Review.

Ayn Rand deserves better.

Fifty years after it was published, “Atlas Shrugged” lives on like no other book outside of, well, the Bible. Eight percent of Americans have read it, according to a 2007 Zogby poll. Yet a 1991 Library of Congress and Book of the Month Club poll found that, next to the Bible, it is the book that had most frequently “made a difference” in people’s lives. I just checked on Amazon.com: “Atlas Shrugged” was the No. 1-selling book in the category of “literature and fiction-classics” and No. 310 on the overall Amazon list.

Most novelists would kill for an audience this big on the day they appear on the “Today” show, much less more than 25 years after they’re dead. Among reading Americans, no other novel has ever generated any response remotely like this.

And “Atlas Shrugged” became a genuine American classic without ever making it into the official “canon” of great, near-great or even so-so novels — all of which guarantees a certain number of mandatory sales and reads among bored high school students and eager undergraduates.

Why? Teachout concludes that Rand writes a pretty good potboiler, a plot “complete with sex scenes and a shoot-‘em-up finale. No wonder that it has sold like soap for half a century.”

Really? Let’s consider sales among three popular authors with whom Teachout compares Rand: John Grisham’s “The Firm” is No. 71,739, Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary” is currently No. 148,043 and Zane Grey’s “Ranger of the Lone Star” is No. 28,965 on the Amazon list.

Novels, even page-turning potboilers with lots of sex and gunplay, do not typically sell like soap, year-in and year-out, for half a century.

Like Terry, I first read and fell in love with “Atlas Shrugged” when I was 16. At 47, I see her as a great artist in somewhat the same way that I so acknowledge Theodore Dreiser: Despite the obvious flaws in the prose, the whole adds up to a genuinely unique achievement.

The key to Ayn Rand is that she pictured America largely from early films from Hollywood. As a young girl growing up in the grim world of communist Russia, she saw America as we dreamed ourselves to be, and she longed her whole life with a child’s intensity to make this vision real, to live in it. We respond to her novels because they offer us one deep strand of American self-identity — as individualists, yes, but individualists who together dream big dreams, conquer wild frontiers, invent the future, remake our very selves.

She understood, the way so many pampered Hollywood artists don’t, that much of the romance of America is in business — in our dreams of making it, by making big new things, things no man has ever made before. Rand is virtually alone in seeing businessmen as fellow artists: makers, creators, inventors. In her novels, the greatness of the artist was matched by the greatness of the architect, the scientist, the entrepreneur and the railroad executive. The Homer of our era, she sang the song by which so many Americans live our lives.

I gave up being a Randian (as I called it) at 22, when I had my first baby.

For the first time, I saw the limits of the grand myth of the self-made man. I saw how completely life itself depends on a love that cannot be rationalized, but is pure gift.

Grace entered my life, and I submitted to the necessity of gratitude — including gratitude for the stubborn, peculiar, determined, brilliant little Russian girl who, virtually unassisted, remade herself into one of the best-selling American novelists of all time.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Culture, Objectivism, Philosophy, Philosophy of Art, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Atlas Anniversary Pictures

Posted by Jerry on October 24, 2007

I’ve finally taken the time to upload the pictures from the Atlas Shrugged Anniversary event in Mumbai. Check ‘em out!

Also, Taylor–one of my blog readers–visited Guatemala, where the Universidad Francisco Marroquín (UFM) unveiled the new Atlas high-relief sculpture in conjunction with anniversary celebration events. Taylor has some lovely close-up pictures of the sculpture and of the book release of the 50th Anniversary Edition of Atlas Shrugged. Thanks, Taylor! :)

Read my post on this Latin American university’s celebrations here.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Culture, General Work/Life, Mumbai, Objectivism, Philosophy, Philosophy of Art, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Telegraph on Ayn Rand

Posted by Jerry on October 22, 2007

The Atlas celebrations in India is covered by The Telegraph. Since I organized the one in Mumbai, I am mentioned several times in the article.

The writer of the article e-mailed me to express her regret that her original piece was “severely truncated” for space issues. I can see that the intent of the article is very positive towards Ayn Rand. However, as with all such cases of articles on Ayn Rand’s philosophy written and edited by people who are not properly familiar with it, this article contains at least three major factual errors. It is highly unfortunate. I immediately e-mailed the writer and pointed out the inaccuracies, asking that she either revoke the article or rectify the errors quickly. I offered some suggestions on how those errors may be rectified. I’m not sure what will come out of it.

:(

P.S. For copyright issues, I was told not to post the article on my site. So visit the link to read it in full.

UPDATE: I was just informed that prominent Indian actor Shammi Kapoor’s quote in the article (about AS’s thesis that money is the root of all evil) is verbatim. This means either the entire book went right above the man’s head, he has an incredibly weak memory of what he read, or Kapoor was just very sloppy in talking with the reporter. In any case, all of this merely underscores the case that he shouldn’t even be mentioned in the article.

I encourage all of you to send Letters to the Editor (ttedit@abpmail.com) pointing out this error and raising more points to get a discussion going. I’ll be writing one myself. Feel free to post your LTE’s here in the comments.

UPDATE: My entire interview with the reporter, which was excluded from the article for space reasons, is posted here.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Culture, General Work/Life, India, Mumbai, Objectivism, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

The Golden Anniversary Evening

Posted by Jerry on October 16, 2007

There is some debate on the exact date of the Atlas Shrugged 50th Anniversary; some argue it’s on October 10. We in Mumbai celebrated the event on October 12, 2007. Given that I had only 10 days to prepare and organize the event from scratch–all by myself–I am extremely proud of what I managed to accomplish and of the experience I was able to give the 22 to 25 Ayn Rand fans who attended.

We watched the 1974 interview of Ayn Rand by James Day; during the interview, Rand was at her characteristic wit and precision–repeatedly insisting on Day to clarify his terms: “concern is such a loose term, what do you mean by it?” “I will begin with romantic love because I don’t know what other love you mean”, “the perpetrators of [abstract art] say that they don’t know what they’re doing, and neither do we, and I’m inclined to take their word for it.”

The discussion following the video wasn’t up to the expectations I had; at one point, someone floated a confused interpretation of acting on self-interest. I took pains to clarify that the sanction of your actions is not egoism but reason; egoism is the nature of your actions–and there’s a difference.

Thankfully, this open-floor discussion didn’t last very long. I decided to have everyone come up to the table and join me in cutting the anniversary cake: a chocolate truffle. While I cut the cake to a round of applause, filmmaker Mukarram Khan graciously offered me the first slice. From then on, everyone was free to mingle and congregate in groups to have their own private discussions.

There was a high school boy who said that Atlas Shrugged was required reading in his class. He said that after having read the novel, he couldn’t wait to get his hands on The Fountainhead, which also he read soon enough. This was a young man just discovering the philosophical premises underlying the sense of youth, aspiration, possibilities, and greatness. I felt a strong sense of concern for him, hoping that his discovery of such a radiantly youthful philosophy would not be dimmed by the fog over contemporary adulthood and the greyness of what passess today as “sophisticated nuance.” I expressed this concern to him; I told him that hopefully he would continue to educate himself on the philosophy and rely only on his best judgment of its premises.

Many who attended were eager to have Rand’s ideas spread quickly in the Indian culture. Concerns were raised that not enough is being done–that Objectivism has been around for 25 to 30 years now and there is very little to show in terms of cultural change. I pointed out that for a philosophy, Objectivism is relatively young and it is unreasonable to expect dramatic changes in such a short amount of time. Despite that, I do believe that the efforts of the Ayn Rand Institute is bearing visible results in the American intellectual scene. Speakers and writers from the ARI are gaining increasing prominence in the mainstream media: Dr. Yaron Brook has regular speaking engagements and television appearances. With the introduction of The Objective Standard (the inauguration of which I attended in Washington D.C.), Craig Biddle is actively engaging the political and economic thought-leaders of America with a rational alternative. ARI writers are constantly featured in guest columns and editorials of prestigious media channels across the nation. The ARI’s Objectivist Academic Center is preparing a new generation of Objectivist intellectuals to enter mainstream academia and produce serious Ayn Rand scholarship. The Anthem Foundation is funding much of these ventures into philosophy departments. Departments in 30 universities are already taking Ayn Rand’s ideas seriously and studying Objectivism as part of its curriculum. The Ayn Rand Society is doing its laudatory share of organizing symposia and conferences with Objectivist and non-Objectivist philosophers, which are often covered by the media.

With regard to India, I pointed out that ARI neither has the obligation nor the resources to make it feasible to focus on influencing the Indian cultural scene. If one wishes to do something about this country here, one of us must make the intiative and do it–not point at the ARI and complain that they are ignoring this country. Yes, they are, and they are fully within their moral right in doing so; it is immoral of us to complain.

India is entrenched in irrationalism and mysticism. While the efforts in the United States is focused on *rescuing* the nation from the rise of Christian fundamentalism and re-aligning the culture to its founding premises of individual rights, liberty, and the selfish pursuit of happiness, the efforts in India would have to be more than Herculean–it requires a total upheaval of everything currently cherished as a value, a custom, a tradition, or the way things ought to be. If this upheaval is not from the root, then only Objectivism stands to lose: in any compromise in the principles of this philosophy with the mixed-bag premises of the Indian culture, only Objectivism will be adulterated, distorted, mutilated, and eventually, rendered impotent.

So what can be done? First, remember that as Objectivists, we are not out to change the world–nor must we pursue that goal as our primary purpose: we are out to selfishly pursue our own happiness. If this pursuit involves having to agitate in our society for a change in order that we can gain our desired values without hindrance during our lifetimes, then yes, acting to change our society is rational and consistent with our pursuit of happiness. However, if the change required is too daunting, overwhelming, almost impossible–or if there are other avenues to achieving one’s values without having to agitate for societal change–then properly, an Objectivist should ignore the society and pursue those alternative means to achieving one’s happiness: often, this means leaving your society or your country–if such an option is more attainable than hoping for a change to materialize.

You are not called to be martyrs to Objectivism or to an irrational society. This is a rational philosophy for living life on this earth, presently; it is not a religion demanding that you sacrifice the life you have for the realization of some principles in your society in the future after your death! Your concern is not the generations who will come after you or the country of an unknown billion who currently live with you. Properly, your only moral concern should be whether you can achieve and protect your values presently so long as you are alive: if the task seems possible, then agitate for change in your current circumstances; if the task seems almost impossible, then work diligently to get yourself out of that society and let it head to its own ruin.

A society that is inherently corrupt and irrational will collapse from within. You are in no obligation to struggle to rescue it from the inevitable: that would be immoral on your part.

It is ironic that this most central message of Atlas Shrugged was rather overlooked at the celebration of its 50th Anniversary. There is one other major issue that was asked of me during the event, about which I had grave concerns. I tried my best to persuade him to change his views, but I am not sure if I was able to convince him thoroughly. That will be the topic of my next post.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Culture, General Work/Life, India, Mumbai, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Religion, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

A Historic Achievement

Posted by Jerry on October 5, 2007

October 12, 2007 will be the 50th Anniversary of the publication of Atlas Shrugged. In commemoration, many have focused on the undeniable influence this book of unprecedented ideas has had on people across the globe. It marks the beginning of a whole new philosophic system that the world would encounter and have to confront.

Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is also a grand act of justice.

In our times, practically every group, class, species, object, or cause has a moral champion. For example, the Earth has its environmentalists, the animals have Peter Singer, the working class has the Marxists, the lazy have their welfare Socialists, the destitute have Teresa’s daughters of charity, the altruists have Jesus.

But the men whom mankind need the most–for employment, investments, inventions, medicines, technology, construction, food, entertainment, i.e., for human survival itself–were historically ignored, even reviled. They were rarely given the recognition they deserve; instead, they these men are often the targets of verbal attacks, legal restriction, irrational lawsuits, public protests, denunciations, moral condemnations, and philosophic indifference.

Atlas Shrugged is an homage to these men; to signal to them that their work is being recognized, appreciated, and understood as being incredibly significant to human civilization. Indeed, it is intended to make them accept and realize the moral superiority of their actions.

“Atlas Shrugged is a historic act of justice, because it is an act of homage. It is a bestowal on the world’s thinkers and creators of the recognition, the gratitude, the moral sanction, which they rarely received but abundantly earned. [They] are the men who support life. They are the men who struggle unremittingly, often heroically, to achieve values. They are the Atlases whom mankind needs desperately, and who in turn desperately need the recognition–specifically, the moral recognition–to which they are entitled. They need to feel, while carrying the world on their shoulders, that they are living in a human society and that the burden is worth carrying.” — Leonard Peikoff 

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Culture, Economics, General Work/Life, Objectivism, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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