Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

An Evening with We The Living

Posted by Jerry on July 16, 2007

Over the weekend, my friend and I managed to spare an hour before it would be time to watch Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix. As I am accustomed to spending time with friends over glasses of Vodka Cranberry (not quite Cosmo), we went to one of my favorite hangs called Alfredo’s–a small and charming little Italian restobar–to indulge in the usual.

Only last year, I introduced him to Atlas Shrugged, which he read and immensely enjoyed. He had the kind of reaction that I’m coming to regard as rather typical of first-time readers of the book: deeply challenging, life-changing, dense, and an intensely thrilling experience.

We the Living, Centennial edition.Well, now he told me that he just finished reading We The Living, the more ignored of Ayn Rand’s works, and my personal all-time favorite novel. I asked him what he thought of the book. He remained silent for a really long while, not as if searching for something to say but as if saying anything would necessarily be describing it in some incorrect or inaccurate manner. He was reluctant to say anything. I goaded him on to throw some words that simply came to mind–to introspect his emotional reaction and identify them with words that at least come close to describing his reaction.

Indeed, my own experience after having read We The Living was fairly similar. In my blogpost after reading the novel, I was simply unable to coherently formulate sentences and describe my emotional reaction; therefore, I merely picked certain words and phrases that came to mind. Raw words completely stripped off of fillers:

Poignant, tragic, grand, vivid, sad, inspiring, passionate, moving, shocking, benevolent, desire, romantic, love captured and described like how love should be, strength, worship, weakness, anger, hate, purposeful, beautiful…

Finally, he said he found the book troubling: He was troubled by the reality painted in the novel–a dark reality under Communism. He said he loved the character of Andrei Taganov and was troubled by his tragic failure; he deeply connected with Kira and admired her to the end; he viewed Leo’s character as the greatest tragedy because he felt he wanted so badly to love the man for all he could be but was not.

He also found the vivid descriptive clarity of We The Living very powerful because it helped him actually visualize the life, environment, and the fate of the major characters.

I think that these new ideas he has just discovered might be sowing the seeds of an ideological conflict in his mind, given his strong upbringing as a Christian. Nonetheless, he claims to maintain his belief in the Christian version of a deity. Further, despite his Master’s level training in Economics, I suspect that he has hardly been exposed to the kind of consistent and pure moral defense of Capitalism and free market like that presented in Atlas Shrugged. Nor, I believe, has he ever encountered a study into the concrete and horrific consequences of Communism in his economic textbooks as that presented in We The Living. The clue to this was his admission that he had never heard of Milton Friedman, F. A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, or Isabel Patterson, although he might have studied their theories at some point over the years.

In academia, skepticism is the religion and the “unknown” is God. In their faithful commitment to intellectual modesty, uncertainty, and skepticism in knowledge, most intellectuals outrightly shun claims to objective rights or wrongs and clarity in moral issues. It is no surprise then that some of the principles of Objectivism and capitalism appear to these intellectuals as alarmingly absolutist, dogmatic, presumptuous, and shrill. The thought revolution that is needed goes right to the core of everything that is currently held as axiomatic–a complete upheavel of what is currently cherished as dear beliefs, everything from what is knowledge to how can we gain true knowledge.

In any case, my friend and I had a nice thought-provoking discussion over some good food and Vodka. Oh, and incidentally, in previous times that I have gone out with him, he has steadfastly refused to drink any alcohol–for no particular reason. But this evening was different (in more ways than just this, I believe); he opted to drink without any prodding or fuss. It was nice. And to wrap up the evening, the Harry Potter movie was enjoyable as well and sparked some more spirited discussion on the book–another work of fiction that he is very passionate about.

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5 Responses to “An Evening with We The Living”

  1. Charlotte said

    IS THAT ALL YOU COULD SAY ABOUT HARRY!

    Leaving me to do the dirty work, bah.

  2. You saw it, too?!

  3. Rambodoc said

    I liked the book, but felt this was the emerging Rand that culminated in The Fountainhead. To me, this last was one of the finest books EVER. Period. After this, perhaps because of social and peer hostility, she became more prone to using her profundity and literary skills like a hammer, rather than like a curtain through which you see life, society and yourself (which is what Fountainhead did). I have always felt she would have been a huge tool of social change if she had written more fiction, been a little more subtle. All said and done, I do love Atlas Shrugged (about the loudest of them all!) 🙂

  4. Ergo said

    Rambodoc,

    Well, perhaps it is because you read Atlas Shrugged *after* you read The Fountainhead, you feel the way you do. Those whom I know who hadn’t a clue what Ayn Rand stood for and what her ideas entailed, who had nothing to expect from AS and did not know the plot, immensely enjoyed by AS and were completely in the dark regarding its crucial plot turns. In other words, they found AS to be a thrilling novel qua novel in addition to it being a revolutionary work in philosophy.

    My experience is similar to yours, however. I read AS after I had already known much about Rand and the book. Hence, my experience after reading AS was slightly diluted given that I already knew what her philosophical position was and had a clue about the plot twists in the book.

    Now, WTL was totally different for me precisely because it is not essentially or primarily a vehicle for Rand’s philosophy, and so I didn’t know what to expect. It was a raw, emotional, and heartfelt outpouring of a sense of life. It was beautiful and unexpected, and troubling and horrifying. The novel–given its autobiographical elements–had a visceral, almost physical and concrete, quality to its narration and incidents. Further, being an Indian made it relatively easy to identify with the horrors of a communist economic system painted in the novel. For me, it’s on a totally different level than TF or AS. They are different genres of fiction, in my opinion.

    Charlotte,

    yes yes yes I’m coming over to your blog right noW! You don’t have to keep reminding me to visit your blog for updates! 😉

  5. Dan said

    I have been reading other Rand stuff lately and skipped “We The Living”. After The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged and Anthem, I went on to “Philosophy Who Needs It” and “The Virtue of Selfishness”. There was a lot of rereading with those last two so it took a while. After reading what you wrote, I am going to go to the store today and grab a copy.

    Thanks

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