Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Posts Tagged ‘literature’

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 »

Is Poetry Only That Which Rhymes?

Posted by Jerry on January 25, 2006

John has an essay that attempts to answer the question, “Is Poetry That Which Rhymes“. It is an interesting read, and I was surprised to discover his more “serious” works of poetry besides the funny couplets he has on each and every one of his posts.

Clearly, as evidenced from his blog, he has a bias towards rhyming verse. Hence, his essay invariably leads him to propose (though, he does it rather timidly) that writings that do not have a rhyming scheme is ” for most part… either an inferior species of poetry, or not poetry at all.”

Ofcourse, if my creative-writing blog is any indication, my position is in stark opposition to John’s. In his insistance that “poetry” should have rhyme that “stirs the soul”, and that it is only or mostly accomplished by words that have a certain rhythmic “sound effect”, John has, I believe, obfuscated the purpose and nature of what poetry is and can be.

Interestingly, Rand had once declared that free verse was on a level “lower than free lunches” (Ayn Rand Answers: Q&A)

So, Rand would presumbly have agreed with John’s requirement that poetry be necessarily constituted of rhyme and rhythm.

However, I believe that John’s argument that poetry as art should have rhyme reduces the expansive breadth of poetry-writing into a juvenile caricature. I think John is isolating one characteristic of poetry and holding it as its most essential constituent. In committing that fallacy, I think John opens the door to any self-professed “poet” to peddle any work of writing of substantial length with a catchy rhyme as poetry that is art. However, to give John his proper credit, he does expressly state that not all rhyming constructions can be considered poetry. And similarly, I argue that not any random collection of metaphors and alliterations can be accepted as poetry either. Note that the fallacy in accepting indiscriminately any construction of rhyme or any collection of metaphors is the fallacy of isolating a constituent from the context and whole that gives it its proper meaning.

What differentiates poetry from regular fiction is not only that poetry has a rhyme — though it is certainly one possible differentiating property — but also that poetry seeks to express values in a medium and method not typical in common parlance. Poetry deals heavily with metaphors, abstractions, and emotive tools. Other forms of writing — whether fiction or non-fiction — cannot so exclusively and heavily depend on metaphors and abstractions because by their very definition, they are seeking to convey reality as it is (in the case of non-fiction) or as imagined to be (as in the fabrications of fiction).

Novels, as an example, cannot be drenched with metaphors and abstractions or esoteric references that steal the objective purpose, theme, plot, and motive out of the story, such that the reader is honestly lost and cannot decipher those elements of the story.

On the other hand, poetry as art combines and integrates convincingly elements like rhythm, sound effects, rhyme, metaphors, personifications, abstractions, etc., without giving any of these constituents undue emphasis or priority over the other. Poems have the liberty of being esoteric, while still maintaining their unique expression of values — those values have the freedom to be expressed in rhythmic metaphors, unsual placement of words, unique construction of lines, etc.

The specific set of constituents that a poet chooses to use will dictate the kind of poetry that will be created. Poems that can be considered art should be the ones in which it is unequivocally clear that the poet has skillfully, deliberately, and creatively used a group of, or a set of, poetic tools that convey the predominant ethos in the piece of writing.

Rhyme, in of itself, cannot legitimize a piece of writing as poetry, just as a collection of metaphors in and of itself cannot. Similarly, requiring that every poem have rhyme is as vacant as requiring that every poem have metaphors. Reifying any one constituent exclusively or heavily while compromising others accomplishes only a feeble grasp of the vast landscape of expressiveness that the medium of poetry provides.

Posted in Ayn Rand, General Work/Life, My Theories and Ideas, Philosophy, Philosophy of Art, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

 
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