Michelle Marder Kamhi's "Who Says That's Art?"


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4 hours ago, Max said:

There is nothing moral in Roark's blowing op that building. He made a serious error of judgment by surreptitiously helping Keating in designing that building, and therefore he would have had to bear the consequences when that went wrong. In spite of all the noble excuses for a "morally perfect hero",  this was just an unwarranted  act of scorched earth.

He didn't help Keating design that housing project. It was 100 percent him.

--Brant

he didn't blow up the Cosmo Slotnick building

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I’m not knowledgeable or passionate about art but I have followed many of your conversations with interest. When you  point out the inconsistency that music doesn’t fit her criteria but she called it

LOL. Look at the amount of verbiage you produced when I didn't even cite a passage.  What would I be in for if I did? Ellen  btw, I haven't read any further than the sentence I quoted,

I could, abundant passages, like approximately the whole book. But I don't have the time, and if I did have the time, I wouldn't want to spend it on so frustrating a proceeding - way worse than t

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2 hours ago, Brant Gaede said:

If Roark were morally perfect he'd never have helped Peter Keating. No novel.

Brant,

Here are Rand's own words from "The Goal of My Writing" in The Romantic Manifesto.

Quote

The motive and purpose of my writing is the projection of an ideal man. The portrayal of a moral ideal, as my ultimate literary goal, as an end in itself—to which any didactic, intellectual or philosophical values contained in a novel are only the means.

Let me stress this: my purpose is not the philosophical enlightenment of my readers, it is not the beneficial influence which my novels may have on people, it is not the fact that my novels may help a reader's intellectual development. All these matters are important, but they are secondary considerations, they are merely consequences and effects, not first causes or prime movers. My purpose, first cause and prime mover is the portrayal of Howard Roark or John Galt or Hank Rearden or Francisco d'Anconia as an end in himself—not as a means to any further end. Which, incidentally, is the greatest value I could ever offer a reader.

Can anyone imagine "ideal man" meaning anything to Ayn Rand but a morally perfect man according to the way she defined moral perfection?

I can't.

In the quote above, she specifically lists Howard Roark as one example among four of an ideal man, a "portrayal of a moral ideal," to quote her exact words. In other words, Roark was morally perfect--at least to her, the creator of him.

Also, I can't conceive of her creating a book about Howard Roark where he betrays his own morality as the climax. The very idea is silly when thinking about Ayn Rand.

One can debate different standards of morality and how and where they apply to blowing up buildings, but not whether Rand considered Roark's action in doing so immoral according to his own moral code (which, incidentally, was her moral code). 

Michael

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btw - Just to confuse the matter more, one difference I have with Rand is that I don't agree that a person can be morally perfect. This has nothing to do with recognizing that she strove to portray morally perfect individuals according to her meaning of moral perfection. 

I hold that individual choices and actions can be morally perfect (i.e., fully rational or reason-based according to Rand's meaning), and that one can have a high degree of consistently making morally perfect choices and actions, but to use that "morally perfect" designation on an entire person is a category error. The short reason is that the brain is really, really complex, and full of processes that have nothing to do with morality that run alongside parts that do when a person makes choices. 

Here's just an easy example of what I mean. When the brain is exhausted, it's perfectly reasonable that a person can make a moral lapse, even on purpose--one they would never make when thinking straight. As just one element, willpower itself uses up calories (lots of calories) and gets tired. But morally perfect people don't make immoral choices on purpose by definition.

(Believe it or not, when exhausted, you can make better moral decisions if you eat a donut. That's been proven over and over. So how's that for moral perfection? :) This can also make you fat. :) )

I can list a gazillion other examples.

Still, my original point way earlier in this thread (which I probably didn't state all that clearly) is that Rand says she projects the ideal man as the goal of her writing, but she shows all too clearly that she does it on top of a solid foundation of storytelling techniques that cause the mind of the reader to enter into aesthetic trances. You will find this storytelling foundation in all her fiction. It's a fundamental part of her talent. 

But you will not find the goal of creating an ideal man in all of her fiction, especially not in some of her short stories ("The Simplest Thing in the World," "Good Copy," "Her Second Career," etc.). So it's reasonable to say that inducing an aesthetic experience in the reader was the primary goal of her fiction writing and the projection of an ideal man was a goal of some of her fiction added on top of that.

In my mind, this is as it should be because the other way is ass-backwards.

I will give Rand this. She loved her heroes, even when they were not ideal humans, and her characterization of them was always top notch.

(I am a huge fan--I even believe I am a better fan of Rand's writing and appreciate her writing skills more than people who are not all that critical of her. I'm not trying to demean their enthusiasm, but I see things they don't simply because they refuse to let themselves see her shortcomings when they occur. The thing is, as an artist, it's easy for me to see her greatness in how she overcame shortcomings, or even pulled off an effect despite a shortcoming, just as much as how she could tell one hell of a yarn.)

But Rand did not teach normal storytelling often, and when she tried, she overburdened the techniques with too much emphasis on black and white emotionally-laden value judgments. There is a place for this, but not while one is learning the basics. To use a musical metaphor (since I started out as a musician), a good teacher makes beginners practice scales to learn patterns and automate them, not learn how to heroically play scales with soaring triumph.

Or Rand would intimidate the hell out of students and cause them to be afraid of making mistakes. But how can one learn anything without making mistakes? If one never makes mistakes, one does not need to learn. One already knows. One can only learn something like creative writing by making mistakes, lots and lots of them, and correcting them. But there's an emotional component. When an intimidating person points out their mistakes in an intimidating manner or with other bad vibes, students generally shut down. They don't learn.

This is a sore point with me because I believe Rand confused beginning writers by focusing their minds on visions of striving for "the highest" while leaving out a hell of a lot of basics along the way, and this is one of the main reasons fiction coming from O-Land generally sucks. (There are a few exceptions, though.)

Michael

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19 hours ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

Brant,

Here are Rand's own words from "The Goal of My Writing" in The Romantic Manifesto.

Can anyone imagine "ideal man" meaning anything to Ayn Rand but a morally perfect man according to the way she defined moral perfection?

I can't.

In the quote above, she specifically lists Howard Roark as one example among four of an ideal man, a "portrayal of a moral ideal," to quote her exact words. In other words, Roark was morally perfect--at least to her, the creator of him.

Also, I can't conceive of her creating a book about Howard Roark where he betrays his own morality as the climax. The very idea is silly when thinking about Ayn Rand.

One can debate different standards of morality and how and where they apply to blowing up buildings, but not whether Rand considered Roark's action in doing so immoral according to his own moral code (which, incidentally, was her moral code). 

Michael

Important, if we have to analyze this into the ground, not to overlook that "man is a being of volitional consciousness", is Rand's base for Romantic Realism. You might volitionally make mistakes - and volitionally acknowledge and correct them, and make good.

AR: "...my writing is the projection of an ideal man". ..."as my ultimate, literary goal..."

And: "...my purpose is *not* the philosophical enlightenment of my readers...

Michael, I think you are making a stretch too far, from "MY ... projection of an ideal man" - as the goal in her ART - into Rand  prescribing "moral perfection" for all we living men, that you apparently assume is demanded of us/of Objectivists. 

I've said, one has to clearly distinguish art from reality. A potential downfall is rationalism, if not.

She backs up what I said about "over-deduction" from her novels - that her novel-writing is NOT philosophical. There's quite a lot of this by O'ist intellectuals, very understandable but imo, overdone.

I said too that her heroes' are exemplars (not molds) because their ~characters and virtues~ are exemplary for us.

All in all, one can make too much of certain things in art, and not take away the best and greatest of it.

If a reader only takes this: "I admire, and I can - by my free will - work to achieve those virtues", he's off to a flying start, I think.

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On 8/3/2019 at 12:12 AM, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

Tony,

I believe Rand would have called what Roark did by accepting the commission to ghost-design the building an "error of knowledge." I do not believe she would have called that choice and act evil or immoral. Roark did not consider the morality of corrupt people except as something like a fly to brush away. He certainly did not think their word to him was worth anything and his word to them was a chain to bind him. He would with a moral person, but not with scumbags.

As to blowing up the building, all he was doing was asserting his right to live on his own terms against a highly immoral society and rigged system. (Context.) He was withdrawing his own value from their corruption. Let them survive without him and the product of his mind. (Sound familiar? :) )

On the contrary of calling that an evil act, I believe Rand would have called it one of the most moral things Roark did--proof of his moral perfection, so to speak. A lesser man, a more morally imperfect one, would have let things be.

 

Michael

That's very good, I think accurate to Rand and Roark. If we only remove "moral perfection" and replace it with Rand's "ideal man".

One who doesn't give a crap about conventional etiquette...

"A self-sufficient ego" she put it, in another context.

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2 hours ago, anthony said:

All in all, one can make too much of certain things in art...

Tony,

That is the way you justify the difference between what Rand said about her fiction writing and how Rand actually did it?

You are claiming that she didn't mean what she said when she said it?

That, to me, is a stretch too far.

To go into the difference between errors of knowledge and breach of ethics, I agree she may not have thought through something or not been aware of it. But that is an error of knowledge. To actually say something to her readers as important as the goal of her writing and not mean it is a moral breach. I cannot conceive of Rand doing that. 

btw - I never overlooked volition as a condition of Romantic Realism. That is engraved in my brain like a cattle-brand. Did you notice that I have studied this stuff a bit? :) Want to discuss normative abstractions, sense of life, or jumping to ITOE, conceptual common denominator, crow epistemology and all the rest of her jargon? I know this stuff from reading it, reading about it and discussing it for decades.

I didn't discuss volition in the above posts because it did not pertain to my point (basic storytelling techniques as opposed to projecting the ideal man). At any rate, we agree that Rand used volition as the basis of value choices in her fiction (and as the basis for her own school of art, Romantic Realism). Not only that, her morally perfect heroes used volition, too. They use it perfectly.

:) 

Speaking of volition and Rand's division of fiction into Romanticism versus Naturalism, I disagree with her division as being as important as she made it out to be. Naturalism is a small school (a very small school) of writers and other artists, but this school certainly does not cleave art as a whole in twain. :) 

However, this is a much longer discussion than I have time for right now. Let's just say that Rand was on to something, but like she did often, she took an insight that was profound for something specific or smaller and tried to expand it to be universal.

Also, I can't remember where (but I am looking), the division between Romanticism and Naturalism was mentioned by some French thinker of the 1800's. I didn't note it down when I read it and, for the life of me, I can't remember who said it. When I find it again, I will write about it.

1 hour ago, anthony said:

That's very good, I think accurate to Rand and Roark. If we only remove "moral perfection" and replace it with Rand's "ideal man".

Come on, man. Are you positing that Rand did not use the terms "moral perfection" and "ideal" as synonyms?

Do you think conceptually or like a parrot?

:) 

Rand was a conceptual thinker. You may not like the term "moral perfection," but she certainly did. She used it many times. Ditto for the word "ideal," which you seem to like better. But she was generally talking about the same concept each time she used one of those terms.

Michael

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I went by my understanding of Roark depicted, not something Rand wrote decades later.

And a "moral ideal" and moral perfection are not the same things.

Striving for moral perfection is like striving for political perfection. You'll never get there, but that doesn't negate the morality of the striving.

Roark never strived for this moral perfection. He had it from Rand Day One. Looking at Roark is like looking at water flowing downhill. It's looking at the inevitable.

He is sustained by his matchless integrity, not the Rand several decades later perfection thingie.

Moral perfection means never making wrong choices. That makes Toohey, who objectively makes all the wrong choices and subjectively all the right ones, much more interesting.

Isn't The Fountainhead really all about the perfectly evil man?

--Brant

heh, heh, heh 

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1 hour ago, Brant Gaede said:

And a "moral ideal" and moral perfection are not the same things.

Brant,

Whoever said anything like this?

Not me.

That would be confusing a unit of measure with an outcome or identity.

I said a morally perfect person and an ideal person in the way Rand built them or conceived of them were interchangeable. When she said man was capable of attaining moral perfection (like in John Galt's speech), she was saying man could become ideal human beings--and that means you and me. She found it insulting that only God was the ideal, that only God was morally perfect, and that man could never be.

I know you've read this stuff...

And for the record, saying here that God was the ideal, that means the standard of perfection, and saying God was morally perfect, that means the outcome or His very identity.

When we get to "ideal man" and "morally perfect man," how can ideal mean standard of moral perfection without the man being morally perfect? So if your quibble is this, i.e., standard versus state, OK. But in both cases, moral perfection is present.

So if I ever chopped off a word here or there or used a different phrasing in this discussion, it was always within this context.

By extension, if I am ever talking about a lady who is sweating, breathing hard, gulping ice-water and fanning herself and I said she's "hot," I hope people would not take it to mean the same as thing when I am looking at lovely ladies from a comfortable seat in the Playboy mansion.

Context...

:)

Michael

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1 hour ago, Brant Gaede said:

Moral perfection means never making wrong choices.

Brant,

Not really. Moral perfection from what I have read of Rand means only making choices that one knows are rational, or to say it differently, not making choices that one knows are irrational. That's different than making irrational choices or wrong choices without knowing they are irrational or wrong.

All within a relevant context, of course. For example, lying to a thief is moral according to Rand. But lying is faking reality according to the Objectivist literature I have read... The context of the thief's immorality makes lying to him--faking reality to him--rational to keep from him taking your shit. :) 

Michael

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In essence, I agree with Brant.

An artistic "ideal" is an image/representation (of man or existence)  not "real" - re-created reality - what one looks at and up to, one's *chosen* exemplar. 

Moral perfection is the *target* of a flesh and blood, free-willed human: The aim for consistency in virtue-in-action, (inspired by "his ideal" as a reference point). So making re-created reality INTO something concrete and real for one's life and purpose.

Confuse the image with oneself, or vice-versa, and you might get rationalism. Believe the two will be forever apart, you definitely get cynicism and subjectivism. 

If anyone believes he has finally attained "moral perfection" - let me know! Virtue is equally content and action of consciousness, in my view. A state and a dynamic: To be virtuous and to behave virtuously, or ... conviction in action.

 

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12 hours ago, Brant Gaede said:

 

And a "moral ideal" and moral perfection are not the same things.

Striving for moral perfection is like striving for political perfection. You'll never get there, but that doesn't negate the morality of the striving.

 

I think the "political perfection" analogy is good. I was thinking of it too. We differ slightly. The accepted perfection, Utopia, is in fact "evil". 

It is a false 'ideal' - which always destroys other men whom it's tried upon - since it denies and opposes man's nature. Here, "the good", individual rights (etc.), which implicitly take into account all men and their continuous strivings, successes and failings, in a society - is also "the perfect".

This good-perfect conjunction exactly applies to the individual. The objective good, being practical and moral, is highly achievable. Therefore, perfection, as well. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good -  an effective saying.

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On 8/2/2019 at 6:04 PM, Max said:

There is nothing moral in Roark's blowing op that building. He made a serious error of judgment by surreptitiously helping Keating in designing that building, and therefore he would have had to bear the consequences when that went wrong. In spite of all the noble excuses for a "morally perfect hero",  this was just an unwarranted  act of scorched earth.

Roark also was wrong to commit the fraud of passing off his work as someone else’s for the purpose of subverting the owners’ right not to hire him. And his courtroom speech was irrational as hell:  He tried to claim that he had a contract with the people from whom he specifically and intentionally hid his participation in the project.

i think a typical reader can tell that Rand hadn’t yet worked out her philosophy of Objectivism while writing the novel.

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"...my purpose is *not* the philosophical enlightenment of my readers..."

Authenticity in romanticism - why it is Romantic "Realism". Roark made a mistake and is still, unparadoxically, his author's "projection of [her] ideal man". If he were always "perfect", always getting "perfect" results, a reader would find it hard to relate to him, and lose interest - he'd consider that mere sentimentalism, out of touch with tough reality as he knows it to be. Many readers need a character with guts, not scared to stick up for his/her convictions and values, at the risk of making errors of judgment and knowledge.

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7 hours ago, Jonathan said:

He tried to claim that he had a contract with the people from whom he specifically and intentionally hid his participation in the project.

Jonathan,

Toohey knew.

:)

Michael

 

EDIT: An added thought. The rigged system did not put Toohey on trial even though he orchestrated the whole thing as an intentional fraud on his side from the beginning.

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1 hour ago, anthony said:

... always getting "perfect" results...

Tony,

That is not what Rand meant by moral perfection.

She meant intent in making choices (morality being for Rand a code of values to guide man's choices). She meant always having the intent to adhere to an adopted code of values, starting with reason. 

Once again, its the error of knowledge versus breach of morality thing.

And error in knowledge can lead to a disaster, but if the intent in making the choice and performing the actions is pure, the moral perfection is not degraded.

This is kinda basic Objectivism 101, no?

Michael

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14 hours ago, Brant Gaede said:

Striving for moral perfection is like striving for political perfection. You'll never get there, but that doesn't negate the morality of the striving.

Brant,

I agree with this, but that's not what Rand said. In fact, she said the opposite.

Add this (a quote by Rand):

Quote

Man is a being of self-made soul.

To this (a quote by Rand):

Quote

And I mean it.

:)

btw - In looking for a different quote, I came across a 2006-2007 discussion on moral perfection right here on OL. It originally started out as a rant, but I later moved it to the Ethics section by suggestion from Robert Campbell.

Moral Perfection

This older thread is so pertinent to the present discussion, I recommend anyone interested in the ideas here read it. I, myself, just reread the whole thing.

Michael

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16 hours ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

 

Come on, man. Are you positing that Rand did not use the terms "moral perfection" and "ideal" as synonyms?

Do you think conceptually or like a parrot?

:) 

Rand was a conceptual thinker. You may not like the term "moral perfection," but she certainly did. She used it many times. Ditto for the word "ideal," which you seem to like better. But she was generally talking about the same concept each time she used one of those terms.

Michael

 

I'm sure Rand's (abstract) "ideal man", she'd consider equally to be 'morally-perfect' - but - an abstraction, too.  

Her image of "ideal man" would be intrinsicist, of no value and purpose, if not taken up and applied by some of her readers, to their own, concrete, lives. Also, while one will aspire to one's moral perfection, one cannot be anyone's "ideal man", nor one's own, reversing the order. Simply, one can't be "a Roark-ian figure".

The process: Literary concretization of the virtue-actions by her ideal man (Roark) -->  one's own, real life.

Assuming one perceives 'his' virtues and their value.

Any given artist's depiction of their "ideal" will often not appeal to one. One's values determine which "ideal" is good. 

"Moral perfection" is a mystically-socially loaded term that clearly does confuse readers. I won't doubt that Rand could employ it for that reason. ;) Does this "perfection" signify a God-morality?; or the altruist ethics 'for others'? You can almost hear them ask: what "moral perfection" could it mean? 

What few understand is these moral "virtues" are practical and selfish, means to one's ends, not for God's sake, nor for show and self-aggrandisement.

 

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2 hours ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

Tony,

That is not what Rand meant by moral perfection.

She meant intent in making choices (morality being for Rand a code of values to guide man's choices). She meant always having the intent to adhere to an adopted code of values, starting with reason. 

Once again, its the error of knowledge versus breach of morality thing.

And error in knowledge can lead to a disaster, but if the intent in making the choice and performing the actions is pure, the moral perfection is not degraded.

This is kinda basic Objectivism 101, no?

Michael

Michael, You took a snippet from me, completely out of context. That's a bad habit of yours.

I was referring very plainly to "authenticity" in novel-writing: a reader reading of a romantic-realist's  heroes. If they are not 'real' to life, he will get bored.

You've jumped to real life "perfection" and what Rand said, (what I know),  just so you could one-up me.

Again, the distinction between "her ideal" - and "moral perfection" in one's life. Abstract to concrete.

.

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"Man is a being of self-made soul". Yes. Who else?

For whatever his genetic disposition, his upbringing, the emotion he felt yesterday, the chemicals in his brain, or any other excuses and justifications - he is always left with one main question: Who's in charge here?

Who conceptualizes his own knowledge? Who forms his own moral character? Who chooses his values? Is he conscious? Self-aware?

Against Sam Harris and other determinists who gladly absolve a man of responsibility, guilt, pride - etc. - because, er, all was "pre-determined", little else he could do.

There has been a recent thread on free will at OL which few bothered to discuss. 

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But I've heard it all before in this topic. When I make any original deductions and observations about art and man's mind - self-evidently, synonomous with reality and consciousness - from my experience and thinking: Rand didn't say that!

If I paraphrase Rand's ideas in my words: You are parroting her!

Everybody comes at art from their own fond preconceptions. Never disabuse them as Rand has done. 

 

 

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2 hours ago, anthony said:

If I paraphrase Rand's ideas in my words: You are parroting her!

Tony,

Try to go a little slower before you accuse people of oppressing you.

:) 

Look at where you "corrected" me above. Look at the exact wording you used.

You were not paraphrasing Rand. You were "correcting" me because I was using a different word than her own in a specific passage, even though both words meant the same thing (ideal man and morally perfect man in that context).

I, at least, am not saying you are parroting Rand when you actually paraphrase her. And you do at times, sometimes getting it right and sometimes getting things all mixed up. But that's the way you learn and that's what forums are for. (I don't speak as an accuser, but as one who has gotten plenty wrong in these discussions, myself, over the years.)

I am saying you are parroting her when you stop arguing conceptually because you don't like a word for the same concept because it is not the exact word Rand used.

My way out of this confusion, the times I got into it, was to adopt the rule of thumb: identify correctly, then judge. And especially in times like this case: identify conceptually correctly, then judge. It works a hell of a lot better accuracy-wise than: judge, then try to make the identification fit.

(btw - I like you, so there's that. :) Now let me try to identify you correctly to make sure... er... :) )

Michael

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