Sunday, 14 January 2007

Atlas Shrugged

I know this will cost me any leftish readers I still have but so what. I'm re-reading this for the third time and I love it. Yes - the villains all have "empty" faces and "lifeless" eyes, and the heroes are all supermen and women whose achievements are probably physically impossible, but I like it because I am a bit of a geek, and I find endless descriptions of railways comforting, and I like it because I agree with its basic tenet that a man without a purpose is a moral evil. I don't agree that no-one should respond any to non-selfish ideal or should work for the good of others, though I understand where Rand is coming from (even if I can't see a society that would function on those lines - Rand doesn't really draw one, as Galt's Gulch is not a real community in any sense). It does make me think (naturally) of myself, and of the need to get out, get working, achieve things, build things, create things, be happy and be satisfied in the sense of achievement - that my tribute to the wonder of existence is to contribute to the store of resources that the world has, and thereby to leave some kind of order as a defence, however temporary, against the entropy. That does affect me, and make me think: not only do you have to create your own meaning, but your own purpose, and stick to it, create real things with it (and as such, the heavy industry of the novel is a metaphor for tangible things generally). I wonder if Rand was, in part, writing mysticism without knowing it.

An interesting side issue, like a small plate of onion rings to the pizza of the novel, is that some of her heroes are scions of great dynasties (except, I think, Hank Rearden). There is, somewhere, a half hearted defence of the principle of heredity, as a set of values an individual has to prove themselves worthy of, but it still strikes me as odd that Dagny Taggart and Franscisco D'Anconia haven't created everything for themselves: they've been gifted a lot of what they have (talent, especially). If Rand wants us to grasp the greatest good as the creation by an individual of meaning and of material, then it is almost self-defeating to concentrate on people of such abilities and fortune. Or it's a two fingers to the critics, given that she knew what they would say (they pretty much appear in the novel anyway, as Bertram Scudder and various others).

Is a small blog an achievement, or a distraction? What is great work? Oh God, I'm sounding like Jim Taggart.


Matt M said...

You've still got at least one "leftist" reader. Sorry. :-)

I've never read any of Rand's stuff. Part of me is interested, but I've been put off by various articles written by Objectivists which I just found annoying. Perhaps when my bank balance is looking a little healthier, and I don't have such a stack of unread books already waiting, I'll give 'Atlas Shrugged' a go.

I think a small blog can be counted as an achievement if you use it the right way. I look at mine as a space for getting ideas in order, which hopefully means that when it comes to the real world I have a far better idea of what I want to do and how best to do it.

The Tin Drummer said...

Matt, you are deeply and profoundly welcome.

I've just finished the book. It's not Shakespeare, or Tolstoy and yes, as you've mentioned, the Objectivist philosophy is full of holes (where does John Galt get the ability he so loves in himself from? He has not earned it! What _would_ he do in a society with disabled people, or children (there aren't any children in the book)?

I just like the energy of it, the development of the villains' psychology from the self-deception to the open admission of evil and in some ways back again, and, as I said, that particular part of its ethics.

Matt said: I think a small blog can be counted as an achievement if you use it the right way. I look at mine as a space for getting ideas in order, which hopefully means that when it comes to the real world I have a far better idea of what I want to do and how best to do it.

This is what I have only just started to do.

Ian Grey said...

I've got shrugged on the shelf which I've had for a couple of years and have yet to seriously start. I've read Les Mis about half way through and I read book one of the Ring Trilogy.

One day I'll get a round tuit...

The Tin Drummer said...

Ian, I love Tolkein's lit.crit

but I cannot bear his creative writing. I have tried 4 of his books and they're all like walking through thick, dull, lukewarm treacle.

Can't explain that!

I've also got 500 pages into The Brothers Karamazov 3 times but never any further!

james higham said...

Yes, it seems puzzling that those two should be the main protagonists because they represent the 'given to', rather than the 'created-by-self' type.

Matt M said...

Tolkein needed an editor who wasn't afraid of him. A good third of the LoTR trilogy could be cut with no real loss.

The Tin Drummer said...

Quite. I think Rand has a slightly romantic attachment to heredity. Not to mention beauty. Danneskjold, d'Anconia and Galt are all deeply handsome, apparently.

Also - John Galt _is_ a self made man, who ran away from home at the age of 12, but the book is somewhat unclear as to who paid for his education, such that he could be able to devise a completely new kind of motor at the age of 26. In his 40 page speech he never addresses this point. Is it possible that he, John Galt, got his education..from the tax dollars...of other people?

In a book of 1000+ pages this is a minor quibble for me: as I've now said 3 times, it is a particular part of its philosophy that makes me think, and with which I really do agree. The inconsistencies and the rubbish I can discard.

The Tin Drummer said...

I'm sure you're right, Matt, but it's the prose itself I find unattractive, which is odd, because "Beowulf, the Monsters and the Critics", for example, is really well written and much easier than a lot of criticism to read.