Friday, May 06, 2011

Keeping Perspective

Everyone in this country seems caught in a two-choice good/bad Right-Left way of thinking. Reality is more complex. My point about Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged wasn't that it's the greatest book ever. But it's surely not the worst. For literary mandarins to claim it fails on every level, and then for other so-called intellectuals to blindly follow along, shows me that many people aren't thinking at all.

Someday, just to do it, I may get ahold of the novel-- I've read it only once, but I have read it-- and show passages where the writing works, and works well, is in line with prose from Rand's better accepted peers from Mailer to Bellow during the same time period. I'll also show how well constructed the book's narrative is. Whatever one thinks of Ayn Rand's ideas-- she surely took reason and logic to an unreal, imaginative extreme-- she used form and logic in putting together her greatest work. As one would assume to be the case.

A few days ago I was in a discussion about Atlas Shrugged, the movie and the novel, on a "Lefty" blog (the Leftists likely self-deluding bourgies who've never taken an upfront independent stand on anything, and who scorn independent thought). Here's an excerpt from what I said, with quotes added:

"Atlas Shrugged is an in-your-face novel-- which is why it continues to generate intense passion. Which, as I've said, is one of the objectives of art. In a sense she's asked for the blowback. Rather than give ticky-tack arguments about this point or that point of hers (I'm not an Objectivist so I don't care), try instead to assess the novel within context, understanding where the author was coming from and what she was trying to accomplish. As with all authors, Ayn Rand was trying to make sense of her life, which began with an experience of the Bolshevik revolution, and ended, at the time she wrote the book, living in the most successful civilization that ever was. Her philosophy and her aesthetic is an attempt to understand this and explain it. Few American novelists have tried to understand what's made this civilization as powerful and as wealthy as it's been-- yet that should be the task of the ambitious novelist. That the attempt ultimately failed is no argument against the attempt. Other writers, yes, like John Updike had much smaller goals. Their style of thought and literary art is very different. There should be room in American literature for a variety of viewpoints and artistic styles-- Ayn Rand's among them. Why is the very notion upsetting to people?


"This isn't a football game. There are no winners or losers in literature. Art isn't about keeping score. No significant work of art is all bad or all good. One can point to missteps and inconsistencies from the greatest novelists who ever lived, such as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. That their philosphical ideas and arguments may be only partly true, that they're not followed by readers, doesn't make their novels insignificant or invalid or uninteresting. Atlas Shrugged is a significant novel in the context of American literature and American civilization because it presents one part of the argument, because it gives a picture of what the creators of the civilization have believed and thought, because it stimulated debate, was provocative, IS provocative even in our own time now. It's hard to ask more from a novel."

3 comments:

King said...

There are likely psychological reasons for the emotional response to Atlas Shrugged, whose ideas, after all, are classically liberal-- what has been known of late as neoliberalism-- secular, with extreme focus on the individual. Many who agree with her ideas in every crossed t and dotted i-- and live that way-- have a problem with the novel's honesty.
Imagine: Capitalists talking and behaving like Capitalists! This upsets many's self-delusional facade.

Zoe said...

I really don't understand why you're bringing in political spectrum issues here. Isn't this a site about the coming literary revolution? Is it really necessary to alienate people who agree with you by ambiguously supporting a literary work that has been constantly noted in justifications of the class war against poor and middle class people that's going on right now.

We get it, it's an important book culturally. But if it isn't propaganda, it has certainly been used that way ... you cross the line when you say "the novel's honesty."

King said...

I mean Ayn Rand's honesty in expressing the pro-Capitalist viewpoint, and the honesty of characters like Hank Rearden who says, "I'm in business to make money."
My point is that one can disagree with Ayn Rand's philosophy yet appreciate her novel as a work of literature.
Why have I belabored my points?
Because I've seen a certain kind of novel-- they're usually from the Left-- excluded by the mandarins of contemporary literature, whose highest value is a kind of elite refinement, a world where big picture questions are excluded, unseen and unwanted. Where all polemics are shut out. Where any kind of naturalistic look at America is unwanted.
My point is that official American literary criticism is biased, from, of, and about a very narrow world.
Atlas Shrugged is an important focal point because the opinions expressed by the elite are far removed from the reality of the novel, as a novel. When they say that it fails on every level, they're clearly lying. It's a point to hang them on.
********************
Re the literary revolution.
Where?
My experience is that the ULA's attempts to democratize the literary system met with overwhelming hostility from the so-called progessives of the literary world.
See the PEN Petition matter.
The ULA was destroyed.
A lot of writers pay lip service to concerns about class war while moving not a finger to change things for real.
Being from Detroit, my life has been one of being the brunt end of class war. This was in part behind the creation of the Underground Literary Alliance, whose six founders were from the Rust Belt. What bothered me more than anything during our campaign was the extreme phoniness of the so-called liberal-Left. This starts at the top with the hyper-rich Arianna Huffington's and Katrina vanden Heuvels, but extends to your standard Ivy league grad conforming to every part of the literary system, grabbing every speck of system largesse, supporting a narrow definition of American literature contrary to American lit's great populist roots, yet at the same time maintaining a self-image contrary to reality-- wearing buttons for all to see stating "I Care." Fuck that!
Give me Rand's Overdogs instead, ruthless bastards who make no bones about it.
Today's elite mandarins want to speak for the people-- a la Citizen Kane-- rather than allow us to speak for ourselves.
This society gives one no choice but to be that-- if you're not, like Dagny Taggart's brother, born into a situation where you can exist above the turmoil.
Literary Revolution would mean collapsing the current structure, which serves literature least of all, and starting over.