Michael Stuart Kelly

To Barbara Branden With Love

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Not speaking for Ellen but I'd be amazed if Barbara had that attitude toward anyone except, perhaps, someone who once was a self-identified Objectivist but gave it up. Then I'd expect some curiosity as to why.

--Brant

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Ellen:

This may seem like a dumb question and it might be something you do not care to share: do you think it bothered BB that you were not a self-identifying Objectivist?

Clearly, it didn't bother her in the broad sense, but did she ever seemed concerned why/why not?

I just saw the question, catching up with the last couple days' posts, and it gave me a startled, how do I process that?, feeling. I never thought of it. I suppose she knew from early in our acquaintance that I've never considered myself an Objectivist, since I suppose I mentioned this on the Atlantis list, but I don't recall ever feeling that she was concerned about it one way or the other.

Ellen

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Thing is, the way Barbara and I started emailing each other multiple times a week for a couple years, sometimes multiple times a night, was because of Ellen Moore. It was coalition in relationship to a strong source of aggravation/amusement/amazement.

Barbara and I had corresponded a bit before the We the Living lists began operating in April 1999. I'd been reading the previous list run by Kirez Korgan toward the end of that list, and the subject of the movie version of "The Passion of Ayn Rand" had come up, and there'd been some attacking of Barbara, and of Nathaniel. So I'd said something about how Objectivists had cause for gratitude to the Brandens, since I didn't think there'd have been Objectivism as we know it without them and NBI. So Barbara wrote thanking me, and then we had a bit more correspondence before the Atlantis list started. When that list started and Ellen Moore was Ellen Moore, Barbara and I began regularly exchanging notes. Others too. We developed an off-list list, so sometimes notes would be cc'd to a bunch of people. Much fun and games, with some serious talk also.

Ellen

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Ellen wrote:

We developed an off-list list, so sometimes notes would be cc'd to a bunch of people. Much fun and games, with some serious talk also.

end quote

I remember those days and thinking, “They are responding to something said offlist.” I also remember getting personal notes from BB (that was truly a thrill) though not realizing it and then quoting something she said in private, on Kirez’s Atlantis. That was very embarrassing for me, though I don’t remember Barbara complaining. I got a private message from someone else saying, “You idiot! She did not say that on this thread . . . ”

I miss her.

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I found this old post while looking for material about Barbara's 1983 breakfast talk at the Libertarian Party Convention in New York City.

I think that my desire to repeat the following on this thread is self-explanatory.

I'll just add: Oh, how I wish that Barbara had written the novel she sketched (see posts above), One Clear Chord.

~~~~

Dear Ellen -- thank you.You wrote: "I see the similarities in her own writing to his." That fascinates me, because I see them, but no one else ever has. Of course, practically no one today reads Wolfe. Do you care to say what you see?

Barbara,I'm so surprised at your saying that "no one else ever has." No one else? To me, it seems so obvious, the sense of rhythm, of image, of cadence of words, and of the searching...for that ineffable something, that delicate flame glimpsed in the caverns of a beckoning wind... Thomas Wolfe has a striving for just those words, just that image, evanescent, poignant. So often in reading your biography of Rand, I thought of Thomas Wolfe "...a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces. [....] Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When? O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again." It seemed to me that AR herself and the whole sense of what it all really was up close was a kind of "wind-grieved ghost" (changing the punctuation) the spirit of which you sought, attempting to make it all live again as it was. As I said, I'm not near so keen on Wolfe himself as you are. But your own writing seems to me to convey a kind of distilled essence of what does remain a forever-haunting feeling from Look Homeward, Angel (even the title of which strikes me like tones from a delicate harp in a lost cathedral).

Apropos of the lines that haunted you: Years ago, when I first began giving talks after my break with Rand, I gave a breakfast talk (I can't recall to whom) -- but now that I think of it, I believe you said you were there, Ellen -- and I mentioned my difficullties with Rand over Thomas Wolfe. During the question period, a young man I didn't know stood up and said: "'O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost' -- welcome home!" Tears spurted to my eyes -- and that young man became my friend for life.

Yes, I was there. It was the breakfast talk at the 1983 Libertarian Party Convention in New York City. Both Larry and I were there. Chris Grieb has recently on OL said that he was also. And I remember the young man standing at the back of the room -- Larry and I were at a table near the podium, so we turned to hear the remark -- and reciting that line. I remember that there was applause of such a warm kind, I think the first time I heard applause with that "tone of voice" in a remotely Objectivist gathering. I felt tears forming, too. It's a treasured memory.

Ellen

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John Hosper’s recollects:

We did get into a bit of a flap about Thomas Wolfe. I had grown up on his novels, and there were passages of his poetic prose that had become so close to me that I had them virtually memorized. I brought a copy of his Of Time and the River one evening and read aloud to Ayn, Nathan and Barbara a passage of about five pages—a part of the description of the young man (Eugene Gant), having left his native North Carolina for the first time, reflecting on his chaotic childhood as the train is pounding away all night through the hills and forests, propelling him forward toward the unknown (his first year at Harvard). I empathized with so much in the passage that I waxed quite emotional in the delivery of it.

When I had finished, Ayn proceeded to decimate it bit by bit. How could I possibly care for such drivel? It was anti-conceptual; it was mystical; it was flowery and overlong. I do not remember the details of the criticism (then as on many other occasions, I wished I had had a tape recorder with me). I remember that they all seemed to be valid points, and I was somewhat ashamed that my emotional reactions did not jibe with these rational ones. But I defended my favorable verdict on the passage with the observation that Wolfe has a tremendous evocative power, the power to generate very intense emotions by drawing on haunting memories of days past and setting them in the context of the present experience.

And then Barbara came to my aid. She said, very simply, "Wolfe is beautiful music." And suddenly it struck me how true this was. I thought of Walter Pater, who said that all great art approaches to the condition of music; and how Wolfe is as near as American literature has yet come to creating literary music.

From Hosper’s recollections of his meetings with Rand 1960–62, published in Liberty in 1990.

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Further material from the Hospers "Memoir" is here.

When Barbara saw the excerpt I posted, she sent me a note saying that she'd forgotten about the incident and thanking me for reminding her. She said that she was going to call John and thank him for what he'd said. :smile:

Ellen

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Thank you, again, for writing The Passion. Truly a gem.

-J

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Ellen,

You might be amused to know of a Jedi mind trick they use in marketing for writing copy. I believe this hits the appeal of Thomas Wolfe square in the middle.

The marketing gurus teach you to be VERY specific about pain and suffering--go into vivid detail, then twist the knife. But use abstract and general language about imagining the future when, happily and to great relief, the problem is solved (because of the product, of course :) ).

The reason is that we have mirror neurons, so a reader will empathize strongly with the suffering of the marketing story's protagonist. But everyone has a different image of what future happiness looks like. So if you wax poetic about the emotions and what such relief and joy will feel like (and throw in how much others will love you for good measure), but go easy on the visuals and details, each person will relate the story to his or her own life. They will pour their personal values and images into the mold, so to speak.

For instance, if you are selling the "Get Rich Quick for Doing Jack Home Business System" :smile: , you would never say, "You will finally be able to take that fishing trip in Mato Grosso (the Brazilian wetlands) you have been dreaming about." Instead, you will talk about taking that perfect vacation and looking at the glow on the faces of your loved ones. Not everybody fishes or goes to Brazil, but everybody takes vacations and has loved ones.

In this manner, the reader will supply information from his or her own life (i.e., where and what the faces look like for this case) to complete the story--and this generally falls right near the call to action to buy. :smile:

Soften 'em up with vivid pain, then knock 'em down with an emotion template they customize without realizing they are doing it.

I think Wolfe's appeal is in this interactive experience precisely because he omits concrete details and focuses on feelings. A reader complements the narrative with scenes from his or her own life as the emotions flow.

I haven't read anything by him other than a passage or two, but I wonder if he sets up his situations with concrete details, then goes abstract for the emotional payoffs. It would be interesting to look at this one day...

Michael

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Ellen,

You might be amused to know of a Jedi mind trick they use in marketing for writing copy. I believe this hits the appeal of Thomas Wolfe square in the middle.

The marketing gurus teach you to be VERY specific about pain and suffering--go into vivid detail, then twist the knife. But use abstract and general language about imagining the future when, happily and to great relief, the problem is solved (because of the product, of course :) ).

[....]

In this manner, the reader will supply information from his or her own life (i.e., where and what the faces look like for this case) to complete the story--and this generally falls right near the call to action to buy. :smile:

Soften 'em up with vivid pain, then knock 'em down with an emotion template they customize without realizing they are doing it.

I think Wolfe's appeal is in this interactive experience precisely because he omits concrete details and focuses on feelings. A reader complements the narrative with scenes from his or her own life as the emotions flow.

I haven't read anything by him other than a passage or two, but I wonder if he sets up his situations with concrete details, then goes abstract for the emotional payoffs. It would be interesting to look at this one day...

Michael

I've been trying, and failing, to get around to commenting on this insight from Michael. I think it's very on-target about Wolfe's appeal, and have thought so for years - though not from a marketing background, just from thinking about my own reaction to Wolfe* and what I've surmised from other people's reactions. His novels were popular when I read them - um, more than fifty years ago.

[* It was more my mother's reaction; see the next post.]

See for a number of quotes from Look Homeward, Angel, for example the first one:

Each of us is all the sums he has not counted: subtract us into the nakedness and night again, and you shall see begin in Crete four thousand years ago the love that ended yesterday in Texas.

The full title of the book is Look Homeward, Angel: A Story of the Buried Life.

What's "the buried life"? A nostalgia for something desired from, but not exactly actually there, in one's childhood.

Here is a Wikipedia synopsis of the "plot" (a rambling plot, told mostly in memory).

The "angel" of the title is a graveyard ornament which inspired Oliver Gant, the narrator's father, to become a stone cutter.

So, yes, there are specific details on which the nostalgia is hinged, but told in a way such that each reader can fill in his/her own sources of childhood nostalgia.

Ellen

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[...] just from thinking about my own reaction to Wolfe and what I've surmised from other people's reactions.

Add: It wasn't so much "my own reaction" as it was my mother's. I read the book because my mother loved it, and sometimes recited from it. She had a strong childhood nostalgia, which I thought left out details which weren't so pleasant while enhancing other details with a glow. I think that Look Homeward, Angel invites this combination blurring/enhancing.

The childhood story it tells is of a messy "dysfunctional" family, yet in a way that makes the memories seem like an echo of lost beauty.

From the goodreads.com site:"

. . . a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces.

Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not know our mother's face; from the prison of her flesh have we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth.

Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father's heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?

O waste of lost, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this weary, unbright cinder, lost! Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When?

O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.

I remember specifically thinking of that passage when I read the beginning of Barbara's biographical essay in Who Is Ayn Rand?.

I wasn't surprised when I later learned that Wolfe was a special love of Barbara's.

Ellen

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Having only read Wolfe in very brief excerpts, and not very much liking him (his prose style), but now more curious than I've even been for all the positive comments I've been reading about the guy, does anyone who likes him have one particular novel in mind for me to read and give it my best shot for properly experiencing him, if not to a different personal esthetic conclusion at least to the point of a proper understanding and respect, all considered? I read very little fiction and see only a few movies on the telly. I'm currently interested in Godzilla in a theater. The last time I "went" to the movies was to see the latest iteration of The War of the Worlds years ago.

(I remember a telephone conversation I had with Barbara over thirty years old, when she was researching The Passion of Ayn Rand, in which I stated the first thing I was interested in in reading fiction was the prose style. She emphatically agreed.)

--Brant

Philistine

willing to work for enlightenment

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Brant, Look Homeward, Angel is the one I suggest. If you don't like the prose style, I think you'd have a difficult slog making it through the book, but you might read a bit of it to get a sense of how the sprawling Gant family is evoked. The plot is summarized in the Wikipedia entry I linked before.

Ellen

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I found this site and this thread a bit by accident, and I apologize if I'm responding somewhat late in the game, but since I happen to have read "Price No Object" (a very long time ago), and still have a copy of it somewhere or other, I wanted to say that at least at the time I read it I thought it was a terrific work, and thematically modelled after Rostand's "Cyrano." I'm surprised that over the years it never saw the light of day. Around the same time I read a play that Nathaniel Branden had written, the title of which I now forget, but of which I also have a copy. My memory is that was somewhat pedantic, and involved some axe grinding and wasn't particularly literary.

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I found this site and this thread a bit by accident, and I apologize if I'm responding somewhat late in the game, but since I happen to have read "Price No Object" (a very long time ago), and still have a copy of it somewhere or other, I wanted to say that at least at the time I read it I thought it was a terrific work, and thematically modelled after Rostand's "Cyrano." I'm surprised that over the years it never saw the light of day. Around the same time I read a play that Nathaniel Branden had written, the title of which I now forget, but of which I also have a copy. My memory is that was somewhat pedantic, and involved some axe grinding and wasn't particularly literary.

Stuart,

Wow!

I would love to see both of them if there is any way possible, especially Price No Object. See the next to last paragraph in Barbara's message here and you will understand why. I bet Barbara's novel is wonderful.

I know of one play Nathaniel wrote, At the Height. He used to sell an audio copy on his website, but I stupidly did not buy it back then.

Oh... where are my manners? A very warm welcome to OL.

Michael

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