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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Ayn Rand

While I am a Christian and believe in the unyielding sanctity of the marriage bed, there is still much to admire about Ayn Rand as a person, but especially her writings from both a reader's pleasurable viewpoint and an author's clinical approach. Somewhat akin to how Ayn admired Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings but not the man himself (per the In Her Own Words video account of Ayn Rand).

Even her life reads like a novel.

Regardless of the negative connotations associated with Ayn's "selfishness" doctrine, as in "self comes first," I maintain there is a healthy version, the positive side which the Bible confirms in a well-known passage about loving your neighbors as yourself. If you don't love yourself first, how can you possibly offer any love to your neighbors? And of course the love quoted here is charity or acceptance (flaws and all) or a brotherly (philia) kind of love, not the love you feel for your spouse (eros).

After all, any virtue can become a vice: justice can warp into vengeance or vigilantism; love into obsessive control; fun into irresponsibility, etc.

Here are various insights into the author and philosopher, Ayn Rand, from In Her Own Words:
  • "I hold that men should have self-esteem."
  • She was born in St. Petersburg where the Russian collective had no respect for the mind; hence Ayn's sole focal point is on their omission. [I find this to be a pendulum effect. Where Russia swung too far to one end, Ayn may have swung too far to the other with her negation of spirit and her relegation of emotions as something to be avoided, not something that may inspire, enlighten, enrich or inform. See the seventh-from-the-last bullet point in this section, beginning with "Her objectivism philosophy is..." wherein she further states we should dismiss feelings (emotions, right?), wishes, hopes, fears. I do not agree.]
  • As a youth, she was mentally busy with her own concerns; her lack of friends did not worry her.
  • Ayn didn't like the dark and depressing Russian fairy tales, so her mother purchased a subscription to a boys' magazine from England for Ayn to read. Somewhere around the age of ten, Ayn fell in love with the character of Cyrus in The Mysterious Valley, a novel by Maurice Champagne, which had been serialized in the magazine. She decided when she was about twelve that she could never be in love with an ordinary man but needed a hero. This was her bromide.
  • Ayn states her mother thought "my enthusiasms were too strong" as expressed by Ayn (a child) while attending her mother's intellectual gatherings [which alone seems to contradict her approach toward emotions but especially later in life in light of her affair]. Yet it didn't seem to curtail her further appearances at her mother's parties.
  • I found it interesting to see that Ayn, as a girl living in St. Petersburg, a port to the Baltic Sea, found Europe to be "abroad." It was also interesting to be reminded that, while I think of Europe as "abroad," to the Europeans, we here in America are living "abroad." It is all about perspective, isn't it?
  • "America is a country of individuals."
  • Ayn was writing screenplays at the age of eight and novels at ten and found school too slow. Theater fascinated her.
  • She left Russia in January 1926 to head for America, when she was not yet twenty-one. 
  • Before her books gained her acclaim and wealth, she took whatever jobs she could. She was a museum guide. She was a waitress for one day then fired and thereafter a waitress again for one week. She stuffed envelopes. She sold subscriptions. She worked in RKO's wardrobe department (which was her salvation during the Depression).
  • Talk about less-than-six degrees of separation: from what I understand, Ayn's aunt in Chicago, who owned a movie theater and knew a mutual supplier in this field, got Ayn a letter of introduction to Cecil B. DeMille's studio in Hollywood.
  • Talk about serendipity [which I'm sure Ayn would reject in theory]: Her second day in Hollywood, Ayn met Cecil B. DeMille. Soon thereafter she was invited to visit the studio and given a pass by DeMille for several days. Then he hired her as an extra. Eventually she landed a junior screenwriter position with DeMille, mostly translating foreign screenplays.
  • Talk about providence [another idea which I believe Ayn would also deny the existence of]: due to her work as an extra on one of DeMille's projects, Ayn met her future husband, Frank O'Connor, on a streetcar ride to the studio. It was love at first sight for her. But soon his bit part was over. She had no way to contact him. [Still it should not be surprising to see strong-willed Ayn's machinations to get Frank's attention, then later his contact info, even though we are discussing the 1920s.]
  • Talk about destiny [Ayn would argue this point for sure]: Ayn was scheduled to interview a construction worker for research into a skyscraper screenplay but upon arrival found her subject would be delayed an hour. Ayn went to a nearby library and found Frank there, too. Their first date was that night over dinner. By 1929 they were married.
  • During the Depression, Ayn began writing her own works. Her first novel, We the Living, after numerous rejections, was originally published in 1936 by Macmillan. 
  • On February 9, 1936, Ayn made her initial notes on The Fountainhead (first published in 1943 by Bobbs-Merrill Company but purchased in 1959 by a concern later acquired by Macmillan in 1985).
  • Ayn speaks of "one line" to the process of writing The Fountainhead being her research into the career of an architect and reading the bio of Frank Lloyd Wright.
  • Another line was the plotline working out the theme in action.
  • A third line was her four main characters who became as many parts in her book: Part One was Keating, who was no hero and didn't know it; Part Two was Toohey, who was no hero and fully knew it; Part Three was Wynand, who wasn't a hero but could have been; Part Four was Roark, who could be a hero and was. Roark represents Ayn's ideal man.
  • She was paid $50,000 by Warner Bros. for the movie rights to The Fountainhead. Warner paid for her travel from NYC to Hollywood by train. Ayn said, "The advantage of poverty is to feel the contrast (with wealth). And we (she and her husband, Frank) had earned it." [I would like to point out here that wealth gives a person more choices. Not that you can't make the same choice from a poor standpoint. It just is harder.]
  • Ayn's characters were based on other people or other characters. Roark was her ideal man, probably based on Cyrus from The Mysterious Valley. Dominique, full of moral indignation, was Ayn on a bad day or her husband, Frank, if he were a woman. Wynand was based somewhat on William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate. Toohey was patterned after a liberal English professor, Harold Laski, with a snide and sarcastic intelligence; a charming, witty and social man.
  • Her first notes on Atlas Shrugged (published in 1957 by Random House) are dated February 1945 under the working title "The Strike" dealing with railroads and heavy industry. She told one reporter that this work dealt with metaphysics (philosophy), morality, politics, economics and sex. [Funny, isn't it, that we are told not to talk about politics, religion, money or sex; yet this is exactly what Ayn's book is all about.]
  • The forty-page-or-so Galt speech (which I admit I have never read despite reading Atlas Shrugged about six times already) took Ayn two years to finalize. [Note that the book spanned twelve years from notes to publication.]
  • Atlas Shrugged was a centralized integration of Ayn's philosophy. Dagny was the female version of the Roark hero from The Fountainhead.
  • Ayn states every [relationship] has its currency. For love it is virtue. We choose to associate with people based on their values.
  • Her philosophy in essence is: Man as hero. Man's moral purpose in life is to be happy, to seek his own happiness. His productive achievement is his noblest activity. Reason is his only absolute. [I agree with all but the last. Reason is an absolute but not the sole or the highest.] It is Ayn's vision of the complete image of what man could and ought to be.
  • She considers herself both an author and a philosopher.
  • Her objectivism philosophy is based on realism, self-interest and laissez-faire capitalism. Where we obey reality, wishing won't make it so, give me liberty or death and man is a man unto himself. Facts are facts. Ayn dismisses feelings, wishes, hopes, fears. She maintains our five physical senses are to perceive reality, gain knowledge, take action and survive. [I too use my five senses but also have a healthy respect for my sixth sense and an even higher respect for my faith, which is evidence of the as-yet unseen.]
  • I love how Ayn's philosophy is founded on the basic elements of our Declaration of Independence: each man to his own happiness, each man to his own rational self-interest, each man to his own life, each man to his own liberty. Ayn states we had no moral code at the time to match the political code stated in the Declaration of Independence. [America was established with God and Creator in mind, so I cannot agree with this particular point of Ayn's in general.]
  • While she declares herself an atheist, she does follow a lot of the Christian tenets, except the main one: belief in Jesus Christ. Although she does recognize, and even use, the word "God" to mean "the highest possible." 
  • "I will not die. It is the world that will end."
  • "The struggles have been enormously unimportant."
  • "It is a benevolent universe."
  • "Enjoy life to the last moment."
  • "Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark. In the hopeless swamps of the not quite, the not yet, and the not at all, do not let the hero in your soul [interesting choice of word here, soul] perish.  And have only frustration for the life you deserved but never have been able to reach. The world you desire can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible. It is yours."
During her In Her Own Words account, Ayn repeated a phrase, sense of life, that intrigued me. It is explained in more detail in the video Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life. Here are some gems contained there:
  • Being raised in Russia in her formative years, it comes as no surprise to me that Ayn was obsessed with individualism.
  • Her "sense of life" term means: a person's subconscious view of the universe and man's place in it; our most personal emotional (emphasis mine) response to existence.
  • Ayn states she has integrated everything to her purpose as an author and philosopher.
  • She was born February 2, 1905, as Eliza Rosenbaum.
  • "I had to get out of Russia if I was to live."
  • Anything she valued had to come from deep within herself. Not from others' opinions.
  • She loved Victor Hugo's books.
  • Life had a profound and special meaning.
  • She related to Aristotle's teachings (as well as St. Thomas Aquinas's) which were based on the mind. However she disagreed with Plato's words regarding the spiritual world beyond.
  • Ayn was 24 and Frank about 31 when they married April 15, 1929.
  • To Ayn, love is seeing your values also in another person, but she considers pursuit of career a higher purpose than love.
  • "Your life, achievement, happiness, person, are of paramount importance."
  • "Live up to your highest vision of yourself no matter the circumstances."
  • "The exalted view of self-esteem is man's most admirable quality."
  • Ayn's heroes were idealists, uncompromising with an iron integrity that were all applied in practice. Her "secondhanders" were people who sought out goals per other people's standards [a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses' mentality] and usually by no legal efforts of their own.
  • She researched architects by working as a typist for one in NYC. She wanted to glorify the skyscrapers she had seen in American movies when she was just sixteen.
  • When The Fountainhead was published and then movie rights purchased, Ayn was feeling something like a god, since what she'd made out of spirit [Not mind? Freudian slip?] was now going to be translated into matter. Something which was nothing but her imagination. [Again, how could she not see the divine humor and wisdom in her own statements here? The Bible states our faith is evidence. Here Ayn states her imagination was alive (yet far from evident) long before it became fact, because she was not a prolific author. Her books took many years to come to fruition: seven for The Fountainhead and twelve for Atlas Shrugged.  So which of her five senses told her to follow her imagination during the seven long years before The Fountainhead was finalized and then published? Which of her five senses encouraged her until the physical hard copy of her book was before her, to see, to touch, to smell the ink? Even early on, what sense measured her imagination before it caused the result of her writing anything down, much less finishing this work? This is a great fallacy in her thinking.]
  • Ayn's definition of happiness is: achievement of your values; self-esteem built of your own achievements; set your own goals, choose your own values and achieve them; a profound feeling of self-esteem and pride in achievement is our enjoyment in life.
  • People will attack you for your achievements, make you feel guilty for your virtues and abilities. Cheats, liars and failures are evil, weak people.
  • Ayn admired Aristotle for his intellectual achievements and NYC for its physical achievements. She felt Hollywood was vulgar, filled with has-beens and wannabes. In 1951, she and Frank moved to NYC.
  • Atlas Shrugged is a parable novel, with some of the movers of the world designated as a copper magnate, a steel mill owner and the head of a railroad.
  • Random House gave Ayn a $50,000 advance for Atlas Shrugged.
  • Her creed is the highest moral action leads to a person's own happiness.
  • Cynical and scared do not define her "sense of life."
  • Two expressions of "sense of life" would be art and love.
  • Ayn states we are not here to save the world or to serve men.
  • She created characters she respected and admired.
  • Only one religion: to achieve the highest realm of human nature.
  • Not hero worship but admiration that leans toward religion then morphs into philosophy which is the whole of one's life.
  • With Atlas Shrugged, Ayn wanted to define and present the ideal man and his convictions.
  • "Universalisms" are those abstract qualities connected to reality, such as justice, freedom. [And how do the five senses measure these?]
  • Ayn dismissed Kant's teachings as he didn't acknowledge reality or the mind.
  • Ayn Rand had the ability to put her abstractions into concrete form. [Exactly. The woman was a master at this art. So why did she denounce their existence before the "reality" confirmed it by "facts" via our five senses?]
  • Ayn began her own philosophical magazine, a Reader's Digest for the intellect of action, where she discussed her epistemology, ethics, aesthetics and social philosophy.
  • Ayn states that the real cause, the real root of evil on earth is the irrational.
  • "Human" = "grandeur"
  • Self-esteem = to value the personal freedoms of individuals
  • A proper way of human life exists and justice matters.
  • In 1978, Frank and Ayn celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary. They were always holding hands, exchanging endearments. In November 1979, Frank died at the age of 82.
  • Ayn felt eternity was now. She died on March 6, 1982, at the age of 77.
Now that she is no longer with us, I sincerely hope she is with Frank. And if they are together, her theory that there is no hereafter has been disproved. She cannot tell us that she was wrong about that. We have to find it out for ourselves.

Regardless of our divergent religious positions, her final novel, Atlas Shrugged, will forever be my all-time favorite work of fiction, eclipsed only by a nonfiction collection of history, science, geography, biography, parable and wisdom from the beginning of time: the Bible.

I don't foresee another author knocking her off my number two spot. But I reserve the right to change my mind upon the appearance of such a worthy adversary.

Ayn altered my life as I read Atlas Shrugged for the first time at the age of thirteen/fourteen. She made me feel accepted. She gave me a place to belong. She bolstered my self-esteem. She confirmed I may still be in the minority, but it was a massively powerful place to be.

And I fell in love with John Galt. Have been looking for him ever since.

Denise Barker, author + blogger + copy editor

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