Why the novels of Russian American author Ayn Rand give so many insights and are yet so annoying in style and lack of humour
I’ve spent the last month reading ‘Atlas Shrugged’ by Ayn Rand. After emigrating from the Soviet Union to the United States in 1926, she has sold millions of novels about her philosophy of Objectivism, claiming: “I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows.”
After working through ‘The Fountainhead’, her first major novel, in April, I finally picked up the courage to again get hammered home a message of pure individualism in over a thousand pages. And again I’m amazed at her quick and easy-read writing and almost gutter-style romantics, interspersed with endless monologues about how the world belongs to larger-than-life Ubermensch caricatures. And I get fed up with the lack of homour and sentences like: “I started my life with a single absolute: that the world was mind to shape in the image of my highest values and never given up to a lesser standard, no matter how long or hard the struggle.”
Yet I keep reading, and every page I turn I get more influenced by her story and thinking. When reading ‘The Fountainhead’ I found myself imaging to be Dominique Francon, as vividly as I’d last done when reading ‘Gone with the wind’ and pretending to be Scarlet O’Hara as a 12-year old. And now, with ‘Atlas Shrugged’, I actually for the first time understand the attraction of technology. It’s technology that is the proof that in our shifty uncertain world, reason ultimately triumphs and creates an objective truth. Because every time I ignite the motor of a car, it functions according to the same principles. I’m suddenly very impressed that we have minds endowed with the ability to not only build a logical edifice, but also translate this into a tangible and functioning machine.
I’m now very curious as to what kind of woman Mrs Rand was like – wondering how a reader can be both grateful for many insights, and yet still predominantly annoyed with a book. Wikipedia tells me that she was a self-thought philosopher who was never taken seriously by academia but gathered around her a cult of like-minded people. They worshipped everything Ayn Rand did or said, to the point where her ‘followers’ would wear the exact same clothes as she did. Not quite the Galt’s valley in ‘Atlas Shrugged’ where a group of supermen are loving each other endlessly because of their boundless virtuosity and individuality…
One of these like-minded people apparently was Alan Greenspan, the later Chairman of the Federal Reserve. I wonder how objectivist the world seems to him now that he has seen the laws of finance crumble in front of his eyes during the credit crunch?
The image I now have of her as a slightly absurd yet mollifying object in a curiosity shop is confirmed by this television interview she gave in 1959. She’s like a little bird of reason trapped in a nonsensical television box, asked to ‘capsulise’ her philosophy. It’s a joy to watch also because of the late 1950s style – the clumsily fading show titles, the perfectly accented American, and best of all, Mike Wallace’s brylcreem-ed hair!