Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’

Personal Activism

Posted by Jerry on February 27, 2008

I have played a significant part in introducing my friend L’Innommable to the ideas of Ayn Rand and Objectivism. In fact, I think I have done the same with most (all?) of my close friends, who have now read the major works of Ayn Rand and agree with at least some of her ideas to some extent.

I think it comes with the territory: out of happenstance, if I befriend someone, they are bound to be exposed to my value-system; indeed, I am certain that my values play a role in the kind of people I keep and value as friends.

As a matter of fact, I know that simply running this blog and writing the occasional article on Objectivism here has introduced several people to Ayn Rand and helped them get a more mature grasp of her ideas. I am happy of these consequences–and they are an added perk because they are not wholly intended. I write on my blog simply because I like setting my thoughts into words, and I derive a serene sense of pride from my writings. That my blog has resulted in some positive–and hopefully, challenging–intellectual experiences for some is a delight to learn about.

Anyway, L’Innommable is in the midst of reading Atlas Shrugged and he has written of his impressions of the book so far. I liked what he had to say. Here’s just an excerpt of his post:

“[Atlas Shrugged] reminds me of a symphony… I see hints, suggestions, undertones, and allusions to what is to come; an exposition on the philosophy of Objectivism. The thing is, it starts out as any good symphony would, not giving too much away in the beginning, but enticing the listener to continue listening for his enjoyment and edification, climbing ever higher to a crescendo that seems inevitable.”

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, General Work/Life, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Personal, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

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 »

My Interview with The Telegraph

Posted by Jerry on October 24, 2007

The following are the questions posed by the reporter from The Telegraph (TT) and my e-mailed responses to them. I have slightly edited only my responses at some places for stylistic reasons; in the question about the response of young readers to Ayn Rand’s books, I have added a few additional points to expand upon my original thoughts.

TT: What drew you to Ayn Rand?

JJ: I was first introduced to Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead by a friend of mine. While I thoroughly enjoyed reading the novel as a work of art, the philosophical ideas in it disturbed me greatly. They were radical and completely alien to everything I had been taught as moral. My response to this cognitive dissonance was to shut out Rand’s ideas from my mind and continue to live the way I was used to. A couple of years later, I happened to pick up a copy of Atlas Shrugged. My life was never the same after that. I could no longer just ignore the radical ideas in the book. This pushed me to investigate further, ask “why?” to every single premise and belief I currently held, dig deep to the roots and trace out the ideological contradictions in my belief; in essence, from that point on, I embarked on a critical evaluation and a massive upheaval of my belief systems. It was a challenging and confusing period of time, but I was open to the experience.

TT: There are successive generations of readers who discover Rand in their youth and then move away. What are the elements in Rand that you continue to revisit or discover over the years?

JJ: There are several reasons why young readers become zealots of Rand’s ideas and then move away as they grow into adulthood: Rand’s philosophy is tremendously complex and radical. Every principle in the system is internally related with every other, non-contradictorily. Therefore, there are two approaches to dealing with this philosophy: first, one honestly wrestles with the ideas of the philosophy and attempts to follow all its logically connected chain of thoughts to integrate them in one’s own mind, or second, one can take the shortcut approach and memorize the key fundamental principles, learn a few choice quotes from Ayn Rand and the novel’s heroes, and then claim to be an Objectivist.

Unfortunately, the young readers who have not yet achieved the intellectual capacity (due to their age or intellectual training) required for such massive integrations across philosophical levels tend to adopt the second–easier and shorthand–approach to express and feed their emotional excitement from having read the novels. The reason is that one can simply not read these emotionally stirring and philosophically challenging novels and remain passive or wait over years for intellectually maturity to set in: one is compelled to feed this immediate emotional experience by retaining key slogans or quotes from the books that express an emotional truth, then they seek out answers from wherever they can–even if it may be from Google searches or the Wikipedia.

Consequently, an intellectually pre-mature and overwhelmingly emotional introduction to the radical Objectivist premises of individualism, egoism, and self-interest often leads young people to hold an undigested, unintegrated, contortion of dogmatic beliefs–identical to religious beliefs held on faith, emotional need, repeated memorizations, and acceptance from authority. Eventually, such a person may literally “grow out” of their memorized philosophy and regard it as his foolish and juvenile indulgence in youth.

For me, Rand’s works continue to reveal whole new integrations, different perspectives, unique approaches, and various applications of a principle to reality. For example, my recent discovery was the integration of the Objectivist position on charity with the issue of cultural activism for change in society. While I won’t go into the details of this integration here, I will only say that the elegant nature of Objectivism’s non-contradictory system of principles can give amazing insights into any and all aspects of reality: since there is only one reality, it necessarily means that all of reality is a totality of interrelated facts and relationships. Therefore, it is simply an incredible experience to discover new relationships among seemingly unrelated existents in this one reality.

TT: Would you say Rand’s time has come in India?

JJ: I would say that Rand’s ideas have long been pervasive among Indians–both abroad and here in India. After the United States, India is cited as the nation with the most Ayn Rand fans. Further, Rand’s ideas have a particular relevance to the history of Indian politics and economics. One can actually argue that many from our parent’s and grandparent’s generation “Shrugged” in the intellectual sense in response to the repressive Socialist policies of Nehru and the License Raj. Free minds cannot function under oppressive regimes. That generation chose to withdraw their minds and the products of their minds from this society in search of free societies in the West; the government of India called it the “brain-drain”–Ayn Rand would have called it “Atlas Shrugged.”

Notice how with the opening of the Indian borders, the gradual acceptance of free markets, and the loosening of government regulations, not only is tremendous wealth flowing into this country but also the minds who create such wealth are choosing to return to make their fortunes here.

TT: In what way is Rand’s work, particularly Atlas Shrugged, relevant in India today?

JJ: [I think the answer to this question is the same as above.]

TT: What are the common misconceptions, if any, that you find people bear about Rand’s philosophy?

JJ: Rand’s philosophy is only about 25 to 30 years old. It is only now being studied seriously in the philosophy departments of 30 universities in the United States. As an intellectual movement, Objectivism–the philosophy of Ayn Rand–is only beginning; most movements take centuries to merge into the mainstream mindset. Until that happens, Objectivism is prime target for misrepresentations and outright distortions. Some examples of such are as follows: some people claim that Ayn Rand advocated that man is an island, that individualism means isolationism, that to be independent is to never ask the help of anyone else on principle.

Any substantial study into the actual ideas of Ayn Rand will reveal that such a notion of individualism and independence is contrary to Objectivism. Among other things, Objectivism champions laissez-faire capitalism. The crucial and practical tenet of capitalism is the division of labor society: that individual men engage in the mutual trade of products that they have gained an expertise in producing. A division of labor society–that is, a capitalist society–necessitates a society of individual men who need each other in the rational–non-sacrifical–sense of traders–traders who voluntarily exchange a value for another. In simplistic terms, this ensures a steady supply of products out in the market for exchange and a market of consumers eager to exchange their own products or values for that which they have not produced.

Therefore, it is contradictory to claim that Objectivism preaches isolationism or that independence means man is an island. Quite the opposite, it is only the rational man who can foster a benevolent society of individuals who engage in voluntary transactions that mutually benefit each other’s lives immensely! 

TT: What is your personal favourite AR writing?

JJ: We The Living–for its incredibly moving portrayal of a rational life struggling to exist in an oppressive and irrational society. It is also the closest to an autobiography of Ayn Rand–in terms of its ideas, themes, and values, not in terms of the concretes.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Culture, Economics, General Work/Life, India, Mumbai, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Religion, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 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 »

Tracinski’s Article in FoxNews

Posted by Jerry on October 9, 2007

This is one of the best and well-formulated articles I have read on the historical significance of Atlas Shrugged.

Robert Tracinski writes:

[Ayn Rand] saw the dramatic potential in asking a single question: what would happen if the innovative entrepreneurs and businessmen — after decades of being vilified and regulated — started to disappear? What if the men condemned as parasites who somehow grow rich by exploiting manual laborers — the whole Marxist view of the economy — what if those “exploiters” were no longer around? The disappearance of the world’s productive geniuses provides the novel’s central mystery, both factually and intellectually.

Factually, the story follows Dagny Taggart, a woman in the then-unconventional role of operating vice-president of a transcontinental railroad, as she struggles to keep her railroad running in the face of strangling government regulations, while trying to solve a series of mysteries: a promising young railroad worker refuses a promotion and takes up a menial job instead; a spectacularly talented heir to a multinational copper company abandons his work to become a flamboyant playboy; a genius who invented a revolutionary new motor abandons his creation in the ruins of a derelict factory.

The factual questions are: Where did all of these people go? Why did they give up their work? Is there someone or something that is causing them to disappear?

The philosophical questions raised by this plot are: What is the role of the entrepreneurs and innovators in a society? What motivates them, what are the conditions they need in order to work and what happens to the world when they disappear? The factual mystery is integrated with the novel’s deepest philosophical question: What is the moral status of the businessman and industrialist?

Read his entire article for its many good insights. Especially tantalizing is Tracinski’s concluding statement in the article. It’s such a brilliant device to push the reader to learn more!

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

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 »

 
%d bloggers like this: