9thdoctor

Jennifer Burns a bridge or two

122 posts in this topic

http://raritanquarterly.rutgers.edu/files/article-pdfs/05burnsxxxii2_web.pdf

A bit of slumming round the SLOP-trough today yielded this new piece by Jennifer Burns. It's quite lengthy, and there's quite a few mistakes in it, surprising things like saying The Passion of Ayn Rand was published in 1984, and that the estate has put out a volume titled Diaries of Ayn Rand. She also refers to Neil Parille as not just a Neo-Objectivist, but as a leader of this "faction" (my understanding is that he doesn't consider himself an Objectivist at all, Neo or otherwise). She takes aim at certain people, and is pretty disparaging of online Randland in general. Here's a favorite part:

My book validated the general worldview and intellectual approach of the neos, but it was most important to them as bloodsport, for it enabled them to attack their favorite enemy in the world, James Valliant. A Los Angeles area lawyer, Valliant is also author of The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics, a vigorous defense of Rand that can only with charity be called a book. The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics is a prosecutor's brief against Barbara and Nathaniel Branden, collecting in one venomous screed all the accumulated rage and denial of the Orthodox community. The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics is also noteworthy for being the first book to sample from the Ayn Rand Archives, and it includes several painful-to-read diary entries written by Rand during her breakup with Branden. Though Valliant intended these passages to puncture the legend of Nathaniel Branden, what they reveal instead is the desperate rationalization of a woman unable to comprehend the social or emotional world around her.

[...]

While I enjoyed stirring the pot by treating Valliant with respect rather than scorn, and wanted to follow the Objectivist discourse generated by my book, as a full-time college professor I simply did not have the time to keep up with the pace of discussion.

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Thanks for the lead. Snippy but entertaining. She understands the culture of the O-Web, and she shares my opinion of NB and of Judgement Day. What more could I ask?

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Super-creepy: Pages 68-70 of the PDF where Burns talks about being confronted by a friend of Bob Hessen.

J

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Super-creepy: Pages 68-70 of the PDF where Burns talks about being confronted by a friend of Bob Hessen.

J

It's Bob Hessen that I now find strange. Seems he's gone somewhat to seed since his wife died--something of a hoarder. I remember him starting a lecture course in NYC in the very early 1970s which he cancelled for some reason. Only time I ever laid eyes on him. Reddish-orange hair. Rather funny people seemed to float through the Objectivist scene back then--late sixties, early seventies. I suppose I was one of them, but the seventies represented inertia created in the sixties by Rand, Branden, NBI and Atlas Shrugged.

--Brant

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Oops, I started another thread on this article in the Library, before I saw ND's post here.

The entire article is worth a read.

It comes across to me as a kiss-off farewell.

If not to Rand studies, then to damn near the whole population of Randland.

Though certain bets are hedged with regard to Jeff Britting...

The Hessen-related episodes are sadly weird, but academia's got plenty of denizens who are loopier than Bob Hessen as Burns describes him.

The friend of Hessen giving her guff at Freedomfest 2010 is somewhat creepy, but I'll bet everyone who's been in Randland for a few years has had run-ins as creepy, if not creepier.

For all the rhetoric about "piranhas" and "bloodsport," I get the impression that Jennifer Burns has led a sheltered life, where nastiness in Randland is concerned.

I had an email exchange with Jennifer Burns before the Valliant review and the single Burns reply appeared on SOLO. I'll just say, then, that this remark

What impressed me more was that the review was free of the animus that had marked his earlier work. I typed up a response and both parts were published on an Orthodox-friendly website, much to the surprise and the consternation of the neos. (p. 68)

is more than a little off. I don't know whether she inaccurately thinks I'm another one of them "neos" (she probably does), but far from being surprised and consternated, I encouraged Jennifer Burns to make one response to Jim Valliant and not let him draw the exchanges out any further, because he wouldn't be able to stay on good behavior for long.

Looks like she followed my advice. Which would mean she never planned to stick around on SOLO afterwards.

Her calling Neil Parille a "neo" and the leader of a faction confirms how little time she spent on fora in Randland. I've emailed her to point out how wrong this was. I haven't heard back and don't expect to.

And frankly, I find her invocation of Valliant low-grade mischievous and nothing more. The more fervently you profess to believe that Valliant is a non-writer who produced a "venomous screed" brewing together all the "rage and denial" seething up among the Orthodox, the less seriously anyone will take your pretensions that there is anything to his work at all, or that other folks in Randland couldn't have had good reasons to despise both him and it.

Another inaccuracy: Valliant is an ex-lawyer in the San Diego area, not a practicing lawyer in the Los Angeles area.

None of this detracts from the value of her book, but it's sad to contemplate anyone spending 10 or 11 years of her life among people she fears or despises, simply to pursue a research project.

Robert Campbell

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Thanks for the lead. Snippy but entertaining. She understands the culture of the O-Web, and she shares my opinion of NB and of Judgement Day. What more could I ask?

Well, you might ask for a little bit of factual accuracy, here or there.

The idea that Nathaniel Branden was "feigning senility" at Freedomfest in 2010 is sadly inaccurate. I'd known him for 10 years when he gave me a frighteningly blank look and failed to recognize me—that was in 2006.

Plus this whole shtick about profiting off Rand's legacy—gimme a break.

If Burns has received any royalty statements from Oxford that weren't disappointing, she's been profiting off Rand's legacy.

And let's not get started with Leonard Peikoff, OK?

Robert Campbell

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The friend of Hessen giving her guff at Freedomfest 2010 is somewhat creepy, but I'll bet everyone who's been in Randland for a few years has had run-ins as creepy, if not creepier.
Yyyyyyyyup.
For all the rhetoric about "piranhas" and "bloodsport," I get the impression that Jennifer Burns has led a sheltered life, where nastiness in Randland is concerned.
And academia, for that matter.

Another inaccuracy: Valliant is an ex-lawyer in the San Diego area, not a practicing lawyer in the Los Angeles area.

He's an ex-lawyer in that he doesn't practice, or has he actually given up his license?

None of this detracts from the value of her book, but it's sad to contemplate anyone spending 10 or 11 years of her life among people she fears or despises, simply to pursue a research project.

But that's certainly the takeaway from this piece. Just look at the opening paragraph:

The Ayn Rand Archive is located in a part of Irvine, California that looks like the future as Ayn Rand might have dreamed it. Office parks stretch as far as the eye can see. Nature has been thoroughly tamed and subjected to man's dominion: paved, bulldozed, trimmed, uprooted, replanted. All the businesses are chain stores. Besides the ubiquitous palm trees and the quirkily named John Wayne Airport, it is the geography of nowhere. I loathed Irvine instantly. But here was the vineyard where I would toil for nearly eight years, the carefully guarded and privately held Ayn Rand Archives.

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Thanks for the lead. Snippy but entertaining. She understands the culture of the O-Web, and she shares my opinion of NB and of Judgement Day. What more could I ask?

Well, you might ask for a little bit of factual accuracy, here or there.

The idea that Nathaniel Branden was "feigning senility" at Freedomfest in 2010 is sadly inaccurate. I'd known him for 10 years when he gave me a frighteningly blank look and failed to recognize me—that was in 2006.

Plus this whole shtick about profiting off Rand's legacy—gimme a break.

If Burns has received any royalty statements from Oxford that weren't disappointing, she's been profiting off Rand's legacy.

And let's not get started with Leonard Peikoff, OK?

Robert Campbell

If you want to see how well NB's brain still worked once he was engaged, go to To The Point News .com and scroll down the left side menu and order the CD from Dr. Joel Wade that was made in the spring of 2010 in which Wade asks him a series of questions. This was with an audience and has a nice intro by Dr. Jack Wheeler. The cost is only about 12 bucks.

I finished neither the Burns nor Heller books; when they started to get into material I had first-hand knowledge of they became too questionable for my taste. That said, Burns' book was much better than Heller's and I read more of it comparatively. If it weren't for BB's bio. our knowledge of AR the human being--including my knowledge--would be speculative, mythical and nonsense. Whatever criticism anyone thinks it deserves, it is and always will be the basic point of biographical reference badly needed to really understand not only the Randian corpus but where it came from.

--Brant

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Brant,

I'm not questioning how well Nathaniel's brain could still work once he was engaged, even 2 years ago, just pointing out that, unfortunately, he's had more cognitive problems in recent years.

Neither Burns nor Heller has made Barbara's book obsolete. Future books won't either.

Robert Campbell

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ND,

In Valliant's case, I meant that he's completely retired for health reasons—not that he's no longer be allowed to practice law.

Coulda phrased it better.

Robert Campbell

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ND,

In Valliant's case, I meant that he's completely retired for health reasons—not that he's no longer be allowed to practice law.

Coulda phrased it better.

Robert Campbell

He stoppd renewing his CA license.

--Brant

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None of this detracts from the value of her book, but it's sad to contemplate anyone spending 10 or 11 years of her life among people she fears or despises, simply to pursue a research project.
This calls to mind anthropology students who go living with primitive tribes to study their customs, like in Amazonia, New Guinea and such. Hoping not to get eaten by cannibals or have their shrunken head end up as someone's trophy. They've got to have some "field work" on their resumes to ever get tenure. I recall in one of Joseph Campell's lectures a quip about Native American families in the early twentieth century consisting of a man, a wife, one child, and two anthropologists.
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Let's hope that Burns wasn't snookered by the natives the way Margaret Mead was.

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ND,

Interesting comparison to field ethnography.

But wasn't it considered bad form for anthropologists, once returned to the security of academia, to rip the people amongst whom they'd done their fieldwork?

Robert Campbell

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But wasn't it considered bad form for anthropologists, once returned to the security of academia, to rip the people amongst whom they'd done their fieldwork?
But if you make them all out to be Rousseauian noble savages, soon the Peace Corps will move in and repeat the catastrophe of Ted Stryker among the Molombos.

Then the next generation won't be able to do proper fieldwork for lack of subjects, and before long you're out of a job for lack of students.

Actually I have no idea.

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I read Jennifer's piece.

She had some interesting things to say, but my general impression was that, in several places, she tried too hard to sound literary. Probably because the article was for publication. That comment about loathing Irvine, prefaced by the strained "geography of nowhere" is a good example.

You wonder... is Irvine the Babbitt of cities? Why? And is Jennifer a connoisseur of geography? She certainly doesn't say.

The presence of suburbs and strip malls is the only clue she gives, but, hell, you find them all over America--probably even where she lives. So why the overblown loathing? Does she also loathe her city?

Her comment sounded to me like saying, "The beach was a vast nowhere of all that water coming in on the tide. I immediately loathed it."

:smile:

So it came off as a sour note in the song. Where did the sincerity go, girl?

It made me uneasy as a reader and mistrustful of her message in general. Will the true Jennifer please stand up? It's not the only example, either, but I don't want to waste a lot of time belaboring this point. Besides, I like Jennifer. My intent is not to cut into her on a snark hunt.

Whatever.

This is what happens when you go after dramatic effect in a stylistic manner more appropriate to a college sophomore. Granted, it's not easy to portray clearly what happened and what was on your mind. Writing well is hard.

Maybe I'm wrong, but that's the feeling her piece conveyed to me. Jennifer is not a bad writer, but she can do far, far better. My opinion, but I prefer one from the heart to one from effete-land.

Michael

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Michael,

Good point.

Not just an article for publication. For publication in the Raritan Quarterly, which has a literary bent.

Notice the absence of apparatus. No footnotes or references.

I interviewed at UC Irvine once upon a time. I liked Clemson better—just as well, 'cause they liked me better, too.

But if I were ranting about faceless suburbia, I sure wouldn't have picked Irvine as my exemplar.

Robert Campbell

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Actually her point is not that Irvine is dreary but that it's altogether artificial, with office parks, high-end housing and a spiffy UC campus, all very expensively maintained, sprinklers on all the time. It looks like this with grass.

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Peter,

I've been there, and I ain't buyin' it.

Besides, she doesn't knock the UCI campus.

Robert Campbell

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If anyone is interested, here is a bunch of pictures of Irvine.

As I thought, I have a hard time correlating Jennifer's description with the reality of what I see.

Looks like an artificial nature-killing place to loathe for sure...

:)

Michael

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I dunno...

For one thing, the wder world - as Jennifer Burns - makes a big deal out of Ayn Rand's personal life. The closest I know among other philosophers is Wittgenstein's Poker (read my review here). The authors, David Edmonds and John Eidinow, touch softly on the homosexuality of both Popper and Wittgenstein. (Wittgenstein's is attested. Popper's is inferred.) Similarly we speculate about Sir Isaac Newton. Ultimately, though, it loses interest. Our focus is on ideas not the human foibles of those who propose them. Indeed, on the matter of homosexuality, academics fall over themselves excusing Socrates and Alcibiades without besmirching the Socratic dialog, least of all his Death as told by Plato. But with Ayn Rand, the matter is different.

As for the ethnographic angle, I look to Shakespeare in the Bush by Laura Boihannan. You have to be objective. With Margaret Mead, it was not the Samoan girlls lied to her, but that she did not detect it. So, too, with Burns, as an outsider does she miss much of the nuance.Speaking as a social scientitist, the idea that James Valiant is the leader of a cult of neo-Objectivists is simply laughabale. Some of us here know Erwin S. Strauss. Is he the leader of a cult of neo-Fans? I have never read James Valiant or Neal Parielle. Leonard Peikoff's opinion of Ayn Rand's bedroom holds very little interest for me. I do not even read it.

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Michael M,

I think you're referring to Burns' claim that Neil Parille leads a "neo" faction.

You haven't even read any of Neil's posts on this site?

Robert Campbell

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I'm not an Objectivist, neo or otherwise. I'm sort of a conservative/libertarian with Deistic leanings. I don't lead any group.

Years before, the estate had mined the archive for materials published in two volumes, Letters of Ayn Rand and Diaries of Ayn Rand. A sharp-eyed reader and independent scholar, Chris Sciabarra, had noticed the published material differed from earlier excerpts released by the estate, and published several articles detailing his observations.It was thus an open secret by the time I arrived that books published under Rand’s name had been heavily edited by her estate.

1. I'm sure Burns knows that it's the Journals and not the Diaries.

2. I think Chris wrote at most two essays, not "several." I think they had to do with the Journals, not the letters.

3. If Burns went to the Archives in 2001, then Boeckmann's books (Fiction and NonFiction), the Letters, and Journals would have been published. There was obviously concern, based on what Chris found, that the Journals were misleadingly editied and, by implication, other works. I don't think that it was an "open secret" that the other books were "heavily edited." The Letters apparently weren't and, even now, no one has done an analysis of the Boeckmann books.

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1. I'm sure Burns knows that it's the Journals and not the Diaries.

By now she probably knows (I'm guessing she's following this thread), but what the hell, what a clumsy mistake. And it's not the only one, there were quite a few others. You'd think she'd know this stuff better than I do, having spent all those years focusing on this material as a professional scholar. Me, I'm just a weekend warrior.

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Actually Berliner altered Rand's letters editorially to some extent. Once, here in OL, I posted my findings in the correspondence between her and FLl Wright. If anybody wants to see a copy, send a personal message.

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