Mike11

Is Objectivism Philosophy?

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The basic premise of Objectivism is (objective) reality and (the search for) truth. If someone doesn't accept such, fine; nothing more needs be said. If something is wrong with Objectivism out of its basic context it is proper to say there is a mistake and so and so is the truth, is actual Objectivism. This is the sense that I am an Objectivist. I would ask Mike: Are you an Objectivist in the sense that I am or another sense or not one at all? If the last, do you reject reality and truth? If you don't what are you trying to find or do? If it's just bile, that's no foundation to build a house on; that's negative and destructive.

--Brant

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That comment is beyond my ability to let go past without objecting.

Sounds like something someone on ATL might write (back in the day) or

(maybe???) on ATL2 now. Then someone could quote it out of context

and say "Look, Ellen admitted something is beyond her ability." (_I_ would

never think of such things, of course.) -- Mike Hardy

Of course you wouldn't ever think of such things!

Fancy meeting you here. You haven't been around these parts in quite awhile. I'm currently lying low myself, but seeing The Magic Mountain's literary merit slighted piqued me into posting.

A lot of things are beyond my ability. The sentence is poor, however.

L.N.S.

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Isn't one of the problems that when literature has dealt with philosophical thought the literature has not been done well. I am thinking of Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain for example.

That comment is beyond my ability to let go past without objecting. On what basis do you claim that Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain wasn't "done well"? Have you read the book?

Ellen

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Ellen; You have caught me. I have not read The Magic Mountain. The comments by Ayn Rand and others make me think it is not well done.

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Fancy meeting you here. You haven't been around these parts in quite awhile.

Actually, a couple of weeks ago I posted in a thread you were participating in.

I was replying to something Robert Kolker had said. I don't think anybody

noticed my posting. -- Mike

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I'm currently lying low myself, but

So Ellen, what Inquiring Minds really want to know about you is this:

Was there _really_ a photograph of you that JeffO (who apparently

has never met you in person) once saw that caused great excitement

among the JeffOs of this world (all _one_ of them) sufficient to explain

the style of rhetoric with which he has sometimes written about you,

and when are you going to post it here? -- Mike Hardy

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Ellen; You have caught me. I have not read The Magic Mountain. The comments by Ayn Rand and others make me think it is not well done.

You've got to be really careful about stuff like that. G.H. Hardy (not related

to me, as far as I know) was an eminent mathematical analyst and number

theorist, and famously the mentor and patron of Srinivasa Ramanujan, and

he wrote some very very disparaging comments on Lancelot Hogben's book

_Mathematics_for_the_Million_, which caused me to view that book with

contempt for many years without ever having opened it. Then I saw a web

site on which David Mumford, a winner of the Fields Medal, spoke very

highly of it. Finally I looked at it and found that my previous position, adopted

when I was young and naive, was unjustified. -- Mike Hardy

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Ellen; You have caught me. I have not read The Magic Mountain. The comments by Ayn Rand and others make me think it is not well done.

First, my apologies to "Mike11" for having deflected the thread to a side issue. Since I haven't time now for engaging in list debate, I debated with myself for nearly an hour before saying anything re Chris G.'s initial remark about The Magic Mountain. "Mike11," I hope to write about the main topic when I have some time (later this month). I think you're onto something which echoes similar views of my own about Rand, but I can't begin to do justice in a quick note to my agreements/disagreements with specifics of what you said.

Chris G., I don't recall Rand herself commenting about The Magic Mountain. The only remark I'm remembering about it from official O'ist writing was made by Nathaniel Branden and did not pertain to the literary merit of the book. It was something along the lines, Unlike The Magic Mountain, in which the characters retire to a mountaintop to discuss philosophy, Atlas Shrugged is an action story. I'm not sure where he said this, maybe in the essay on AR's literary method in Who Is Ayn Rand?, but that's just a reasonable guess. It might have been in an O'ist Newsletter context. The description isn't accurate to the metaphorical nature of the story. The reason the characters have retired to a mountaintop is because they have TB; the story transpires at a TB sanitorium. And there's only one philosopher, the Italian Settembrini. The main character, a stodgy, conventional plodding sort named Hans Castorp, becomes somewhat enticed into reflection by Settembrini -- and by the general circumstances of the sanitorium's cloistered isolation.

Thomas Mann, in an essay written years after the book was first published, says this of Hans Castorp:

The Making of The Magic Mountain

copyright 1952 by Thomas Mann;

first appeared in The Atlantic, January 1953

Hans Castorp is a searcher after the Holy Grail. You would never have thought it when you read his story--if I did myself, it was both more and less than thinking. Perhaps you will read the book again from this point of view. And perhaps you will find out what the Grail is: the knowledge and the wisdom, the consecration, the highest reward, for which not only the foolish hero but the book itself is seeking. You will find it in the chapter called "Snow," where Hans Castorp, lost on the perilous heights, dreams his dream of humanity. If he does not find the Grail, yet he divines it, in his deathly dream, before he is snatched downwards from his heights into the European catastrophe. It is the idea of the human being, the conception of a future humanity that has passed through and survived the profoundest knowledge of disease and death. The Grail is a mystery, but humanity is a mystery too. For man himself is a mystery, and all humanity rests upon reverence before the mystery that is man.

-

Thomas Mann's conception of humanity was far from being Ayn Rand's. I think that few Objectivists would like The Magic Mountain. But Rand did distinguish between the literary craft with which a story is told and its personal appeal. For instance, she said of Tolstoy that although she detested his stories and found reading his work an excruciatingly boring chore, she had to give him high marks as a writer. I expect she'd have had to do the same with Thomas Mann.

Ellen

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Chris G., I don't recall Rand herself commenting about The Magic Mountain.

Oh, but she did. The Romantic Manifesto, page 49-50 in my edition:

If the characters of a novel engage in lengthy abstract discussions of their ideas, but their ideas do not affect their actions or the events of the story, it is a bad novel. An example of that kind is The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. Its characters periodically interrupt the story to philosophize about life, after which the story - or lack of it - goes on.

I seem to remember she mentioned it also elsewhere even in more detail, but I'm not sure about that.

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Oh, but she did [say something herself about The Magic Mountain]. The Romantic Manifesto, page 49-50 in my edition:
If the characters of a novel engage in lengthy abstract discussions of their ideas, but their ideas do not affect their actions or the events of the story, it is a bad novel. An example of that kind is The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. Its characters periodically interrupt the story to philosophize about life, after which the story - or lack of it - goes on.

I seem to remember she mentioned it also elsewhere even in more detail, but I'm not sure about that.

That's very interesting to me. Thanks for posting the quote. I'm still not recalling having read that comment, even now you've posted it. ;-)

I think she's just wrong both in her description and in her evaluation.

Ellen

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Rand did not mention The Magic Mountain any further as far as I know, but Peikoff sure did. I am pushing the envelope of fair use with the following excerpt, but there it is. The excerpt is from The Ominous Parallels, Chapter 10 - "The Culture of Hatred," pp. 191-195.

In relation to the glowing view of man held by earlier writers such as Schiller (and, in France, Hugo), Hauptmann's late-nineteenth-century Naturalism is modern: man the proudly independent being has given way to man the moaning social atom. Hauptmann, however, is not fully representative of the Weimar trend. He is almost an old-fashioned man-glorifier, when compared to the other, much more influential literary leader of the country, Thomas Mann.

Mann, a disciple of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Wagner, began his career as a German chauvinist-authoritarian, explicitly opposed to reason and to the values of Western civilization. Gradually, however, he made his peace with the Republic and became a convert to democratic socialism (he went into exile when Hitler took power).

The essence of the republican Mann's approach to philosophy and to art is eloquently revealed in The Magic Mountain, the major philosophical novel to come out of Weimar Germany. According to one observer, the book, published in 1924, "has important symptomatic meaning for Weimar"; according to another, it "may iustly be called the saga of the Weimar Republic."(2) These statements are true, though in a different sense than their authors intended. The Magic Mountain is an important symptom—of a uniquely twentieth-century condition.

Set in a TB sanatorium in the Pips during the period just before World War I, the novel details seven years' worth of the inner experiences (thoughts, feelings, memories, sensations) of Hans Castorp, a tubercular engineer, presented as a simple, average youth who wishes to discover the meaning of life.

Hans Castorp is an average youth, as such might be conceived by Schopenhauer in a necrophiliac mood. There is nothing distinctive about Castorp, except a penchant for lengthy abstract discussions, and a hypnotic fascination with suffering, disease, and death (his eyes, for instance, glitter with excitement when he hears the coughing of a tubercular patient). "... I insist," he says early in the novel, "that a dying man is above any chap that is going about and laughing and earning his living and eating his three meals a day."

The major event in Castorp's life at the sanatorium consists in his falling in love with a young woman, Claudia, who attracts him for a number of reasons—among them, the fact that she is diseased; that her eyes and voice remind Castorp of a boy to whom he had been attracted years earlier in school; and that she slams doors, an act "as intimately bound up with her very being and its state of disease as time is bound up with the motion of bodies in space." After much hesitation and soul-searching, Castorp declares his love to Claudia in pages of (untranslated) French; he explains to her that speaking in French prevents his statements from being fully real to him, thus permitting his declaration to retain the quality of a mere dream. Nothing comes of his dreamlike avowal. The next day Claudia departs from the sanatorium (she later returns as the mistress of a diseased old man and then departs again). Castorp is left, however, with "his keepsake, his treasure," which he carries about with him and often presses to his lips: an X ray of her lungs.(3)

At the end Castorp descends from the mountaintop to fight in the war. We are not told his fate.

These few events (along with a grab bag of Castorp's random experiences) are scattered across hundreds of pages; they are buried under mountains of obsessively detailed trivia (accounts of the weather, the scenery, the meals, the doctors, the entertainments, the treatment of the various patients, etc.), and of similarly detailed conversations and narrative tracts on an assortment of purportedly intellectual subjects (life, nature, physiology, love, art, time, etc.).

During the conversations, two men, presented as the spokesmen of opposite schools of philosophy, fight to win Castorp's intellectual allegiance. One is the "corrosively ugly" Naphta, the defender of death, a passionate, virtually maniacal champion of pain, illness, sacrifice, religious mysticism, the Inquisition, and the dictatorship of the proletariat. The other—presented as the defender of life, health, science, man, happiness, and liberal republicanism—is the freethinker Settembrini.

It has often been said that Settembrini dramatizes Mann's sympathy for the Republic, and that this character, more than any other in the literature of the period, represents the best of the German republican spirit.

Settembrini is described by Mann as having the curling mustache, shabby dress, and general appearance of an Italian "organ-grinder"; the intellectual manner of a posturing "windbag"; and the occupational interests of an unworldly simpleton (to alleviate human misery, e.g., he is working on an "encyclopaedia of suffering"). A self-proclaimed champion of human dignity, Settembrini interrupts a recitation from Latin verse to "smile at and ogle most killingly" a passing village girl, whom he succeeds in embarrassing. An avowed champion of human brotherhood, he has one dominant emotion, mockery; he loves to laugh at the foibles, real or imagined, of others, a practice he defends by warmly endorsing malice, which is, he says, "reason's keenest dart against the powers of darkness and ugliness." An avowed champion of this world, he admires the "great Plotinus" for having been ashamed to have a body, and delivers several tirades against physical nature, which he calls a "stupid and evil" power because of its ability to frustrate the intellect (an ability allegedly evidenced in such phenomena as disease and earthquakes). An avowed champion of peace and freedom, he urges Castorp at the novel's end: "Go, then [to the war], it is your blood that calls, go and fight bravely. More than that can no man."(4)

This muck of contradictions and pretentiousness signifies, in the author's opinion, a definite school of philosophy. Mann presents Settembrini, stressedly, as the man of reason and the representative of the era of Enlightenment.

The contest between Naphta and Settembrini for Castorp's soul is resolved not by their interminable arguments or by any existential event, but by a dream which Castorp chances to have, involving an idyllic community of beautiful youths (supposed to represent life), and a temple in which bloody witches dismember a child with their bare hands (death). With no explanations offered, Castorp suddenly intuits the answer to his dilemmas. Unrestricted death-worship, he decides, is wrong, and so is unrestricted life-worship. The truth is the middle of the road, a golden mean as it were between Naphta and Settembrini, "between recklessness and reason . . . between mystic community and windy individualism." "Man," Castorp thinks, "is master of contradictions, they exist through him, and so he is grander than they. Grander than death, too grand for it.... Grander than life, too grand for it. ..." "The recklessness of death," he decides, is inherent in life, but one must award sovereignty in one's thoughts and actions to life—so long as one always remembers to "keep faith with death in [one's] heart...." Settembrini, he decides, is too rational. "It is love, not reason, that is stronger than death. Only love, not reason, gives sweet thoughts."(5)

As the caliber of these statements indicates, Mann, despite the abundance of abstract talk in the book, does not take ideas seriously.

In the sequence on Pieter Peeperkorn, he all but says so openly. Peeperkorn is an old Dutchman described as self-indulgent, nonintellectual, and almost completely inarticulate. It is, he tells Castorp, "our sacred duty to feel .... For feeling, young man, is godlike." This incoherent creature is presented by Mann as a stammering, often farcical figure and at the same time as a majestic presence, who wins Castorp's admiration, completely overshadowing "pedagogues" like Naphta and Settembrini, because he has a power transcending "the realm of the Great Confusion" (i.e., intellectual debates). "omehow or other," Castorp tells Settembrini, "he has the right to laugh at us all .... "He is, Castorp concludes, an example of "the mystery of personality, something above either cleverness or stupidity ...."(6)

Thomas Mann, the major philosophical novelist of Weimar Germany, is no thinker. The out-of-focus flow of non-events in the book is matched only by the similar flow of non-thoughts, i.e., of pseudogeneralities purporting to have cosmic significance and amounting only to a high-school bull session with delusions of grandeur.

The key to the meaning of The Magic Mountain is that it has no me meaning: it commits itself to nothing, neither idea nor value. Mann's method is to present his characters, however "scientific" or maniacal or depraved or pedestrian, with a tolerant detachment overlaid with a furtive mockery; the method is not open satire, but a genteel "irony," a timid, well-mannered sneer directed at man, at aspiration, at ideas, any ideas, including even the idea that ideas are useless. Beneath the surface—beneath the murky half-hints, the numbing details, the indecipherable symbols (which posturing literati have a field day pretending to decode )—the book is a vacuum, which says nothing and stands for nothing.

Except by implication. Implicit in its approach and style—in its well-bred decadence, its sly flirtation with death and disease, its "ironic" cynicism, its logorrheic emptiness, its weary, muted disdain for all viewpoints—is a viewpoint broadcast to the book's readers: the futility of man, of human effort, of human intelligence. To a country and in a decade swept by hysteria, perishing from uncertainty, torn by political crisis, financial collapse, violence in the streets, and terror of the future—to that country, in that decade, its leading philosophical novelist offered as his contribution to sanity and freedom the smiling assurance that there are no answers, no absolutes, no values, no hope.

The message reached its audience. The book was a literary sensation, selling tens of thousands of copies in its first year alone.

Thomas Mann, says Laqueur, was "one of the main pillars of the Republic."(7) If so, anyone could bring the structure crashing down with a single boot.

As we all know, Rand oversaw the writing of this book and wrote the "Introduction," so it is more than reasonable to conclude that she was aware of this passage and approved of it.

EDIT: Here are the footnotes:

1. Laqueur, Weimar: A Cultural History, Preface, p. iX. Myers, "The Modern Artist in Germany," The American-German Review, Vol. XVI, No. 4, April 1940, pp. 16, 34. Gay, op. cit., Preface, p. xiii.

2. Ibid., p. 123. Pinson, op. cit., p. 458.

3. The Magic Mountain, trans. H.T. Lowe-Porter (New York, Random House, 1969), pp. 55-56, 349, 348.

4. Ibid., pp. 372, 85, 62, 246, 62, 61-62, 249, 100, 712.

5. Ibid., p. 496. (The second quotation—"Man is master ...."—is taken from Gay, op. cit., pp. 126-27.)

6. Ibid., pp. 603,496, 594, 583.

7. Weimar: A Cultural History, p. 123.

Michael

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I looked up the passage. It's in an article titled "Basic Principles of Literature." I couldn't swear I ever read that article, though I suppose I did when it appeared.

Btw, her attribution to Aristotle of the quote she takes as enunciating "The most important principle of the esthetics of literature" is in error. Aristotle didn't say what she says he said, i.e., that "history represents things as they are, while fiction represents them as they might be and ought to be."

Ellen

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Well, Leonard Peikoff sure didn't like The Magic Mountain. I, on the other hand, sure did and expect I still would if I read it again. Reading it again is something I've had in mind to do for several years. Though I recognize specifics from Peikoff's descriptions, he isn't conveying how those specifics came across to me. Almost as if we'd read two different books by the same name and with the same vaguely similar story line.

Ellen

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...her [Rand's] attribution to Aristotle of the quote she takes as enunciating "The most important principle of the esthetics of literature" is in error. Aristotle didn't say what she says he said, i.e., that "history represents things as they are, while fiction represents them as they might be and ought to be."

It's correct that this is not a literal quote from Aristotle. As Robert Mayhew points out in his 2005 lecture to the Ayn Rand Society (a division within the American Philosophical Association), Rand no doubt got this quote or the gist of it from Albert Nock's Memoirs of a Superfluous Man (1943), the relevant passage in her personal copy of it being underlined with no less than 6 perpendicular lines beside it in the margin.

However, both Mayhew and Tore Boeckmann (“What Might Be and Ought to Be: Aristotle’s Poetics and The Fountainhead,” in Robert Mayhew, ed., Essays on Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead) argue that this is indeed Aristotle's view, even though he didn't say so in so many words. So, Mayhew concludes:

Ayn Rand’s claim that according to Aristotle “history represents things only as they are, while fiction represents them ‘as they might be and ought to be’” is accurate—though she should have left off the quotation marks (which are likely the result of a reliance on Albert Jay Nock’s rendering of the Greek).

Considerable "ink" (much of it of the cyber-variety) has been spilled taking Rand to task for her lack of scholarly rigor on this point. Even granting this point, however, it remains true that she was well within the ballpark, in essential terms.

REB

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Rand did not mention The Magic Mountain any further as far as I know, but Peikoff sure did.

Then that is probably the passage I remembered, attributing it erroneously to Rand. On the other hand, knowing how much Rand was looking over Peikoff's shoulder when he wrote The Ominous Parallels...

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Re Rand's quoting Aristotle as saying that "history represents things as they are, while fiction represents them as they might be and ought to be," Roger comments:

It's correct that this is not a literal quote from Aristotle. As Robert Mayhew points out in his 2005 lecture to the Ayn Rand Society (a division within the American Philosophical Association), Rand no doubt got this quote or the gist of it from Albert Nock's Memoirs of a Superfluous Man (1943), the relevant passage in her personal copy of it being underlined with no less than 6 perpendicular lines beside it in the margin.

However, both Mayhew and Tore Boeckmann (“What Might Be and Ought to Be: Aristotle’s Poetics and The Fountainhead,” in Robert Mayhew, ed., Essays on Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead) argue that this is indeed Aristotle's view, even though he didn't say so in so many words. [....]

John Cooper, an Aristotelian scholar who chaired the 2005 ARS session referred to, differed from that conclusion, as he explained in some prefatory remarks. At Larry's request, Cooper later typed up the gist of what he'd said, giving permission to distribute the typed copy, with the indicated attribution. I'll excerpt just the part about the Poetics:

Attribution:

"This paper, by Professor John Cooper (Princeton University), is based on comments that he gave at the meeting of the Ayn Rand Society (which he also chaired) on December 29, 2005."

The passage in question [the passage Rand read as rendered by Nock] is the famous one in which Aristotle contrasts poetry (or creative literature in general) with history by saying that creative literature is more philosophical and more intellectually serious than history is. But what struck Rand in Nock's report of what Aristotle says was the paraphrase Nock gave to the basis of this Aristotelian contrast: fiction, Nock said, according to Aristotle, represents things, not as they are, but as they might be and ought to be. [....] In fact, though, Nock's report is a serious distortion of what Aristotle actually says in this passage, and of what he thought about literature as a whole and in general. Mayhew in fact admits this, if I have understood him, though he works hard, through citing other passages in the Poetics, to find Aristotle nonetheless in substantial agreement with Rand's literary ideals. In the sentence in question, and its context in chapter 9, Aristotle actually emphasizes, not at all that creative literature represents people as they ought to be, but only that it presents us with human types acting in accordance with what is probable or necessary for people of those types, by putting them into situations in which they can or could be found, so that, by seeing them presented acting or undergoing things we can learn something about the varieties of human being and what makes them tick that we could never learn just by seeing actual people act and suffer (or by reading about events in history). Actual people seen or read about in histories are simply too small a sample to go on. Only creative literature gives us concentrated thoughts on types of person and what makes them tick. [....]

.

So people can judge for themselves, here's the entirety of Chapter 9 (also of the brief Chapter 10) of the Poetics, in the McKeon single-volume selection--the Random House Basic Works of Aristotle, published in 1941--which, according to Mayhew's report, Rand bought and began to read a couple years after she'd read Nock's Memoirs of a Superfluous Man. The first paragraph is the key paragraph contrasting the historian and the poet.

Chapter 9, Poetics

From what we have said it will be seen that the poet's function is to describe, not the thing that has happened, but a kind of thing that might happen, i.e., what is possible as being probable or necessary. The distinction between historian and poet is not in the one writing prose and the other verse--you might put the work of Herodotus into verse, and it would still be a species of history; it consists really in this, that the one describes the thing that has been, and the other a kind of thing that might be. Hence poetry is something more philosophic and of graver import than history, since its statements are of the nature rather of universals, whereas those of history are singulars. By a universal statement I mean one as to what such or such a kind of man will probably or necessarily say or do--which is the aim of poetry, though it affixes proper names to the characters; by a singular statement, one as to what, say, Alcibiades did or had done to him.

[added para. break] In Comedy this has become clear by this time; it is only when their plot is already made up of probable incidents that they give it a basis of proper names, choosing for the purpose any names that may occur to them, instead of writing like the old iambic poets about particular persons. In Tragedy, however, they still adhere to the historic names; and for this reason: what convinces is the possile; now whereas we are not yet sure as to the possibility of that which has not happened, that which has happened is manifestly possible, else it would not have come to pass. Nevertheless even in Tragedy there are some plays with but one or two known names in them, the rest being inventions; and there are some without a single known name, e.g. Agathon's Antheus, in which both incidents and names are of the poet's invention; and it is no less delightful on that account. So that one must not aim at a rigid adherence to the traditional stories on which tragedies are based. It would be absurd, in fact, to do so, as even the known stories are only known to a few, though they are a delight none the less to all.

It is evident from the above that the poet must be more the poet of his stories or Plots than of his verses, inasmuch as he is a poet by virtue of the imitative element in his work, and it is actions that he imitates. And if he should come to take a subject from actual history, he is none the less a poet for that; since some historic occurrences may very well be in the probable and possible order of things; and it is in that aspect of them that he is their poet.

Of simple Plots and actions the episodic are the worst. I call a Plot episodic when there is neither probability nor necessity in the sequence of its episodes. Actions of this sort bad poets construct through their own fault, and good ones on account of the players. His work being for public performance, a good poet often stretches out a Plot beyond its capabilities, and is thus obliged to twist the sequence of incident.

Tragedy, however, is an imitation not only of a complete action, but also of incidents arousing pity and fear. Such incidents have the very greatest effect on the mind when they occur unexpectedly and at the same time in consequence of one another; there is more of the marvellous in them then than if they happened of themselves or by mere chance. Even matters of chance seem most marvellous if there is an appearance of design as it were in them; as for instance the statue of Mitys at Argos killed the author of Mitys' death by falling down on him when a looker-on at a public spectacle; for incidents like that we think to be not without a meaning. A Plot, therefore, of this sort is necessarily finer than others.

Chapter 10, Poetics

Plots are either simple or complex, since the actions they represent are naturally of this twofold description. The action, proceeding in the way defined, as one continuous whole, I call simple, when the change in the hero's fortunes takes place without Peripety or Discovery; and complex, when it involves one or the other, or both. These should each of them arise out of the structure of the Plot itself, so as to be the consequence, necessary or probable, of the antecedents. There is a great difference between a thing happening propter hoc and post hoc.

.

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Re Rand's quoting Aristotle as saying that "history represents things as they are, while fiction represents them as they might be and ought to be," Roger comments:
It's correct that this is not a literal quote from Aristotle. As Robert Mayhew points out in his 2005 lecture to the Ayn Rand Society (a division within the American Philosophical Association), Rand no doubt got this quote or the gist of it from Albert Nock's Memoirs of a Superfluous Man (1943), the relevant passage in her personal copy of it being underlined with no less than 6 perpendicular lines beside it in the margin.

However, both Mayhew and Tore Boeckmann (“What Might Be and Ought to Be: Aristotle’s Poetics and The Fountainhead,” in Robert Mayhew, ed., Essays on Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead) argue that this is indeed Aristotle's view, even though he didn't say so in so many words. [....]

John Cooper, an Aristotelian scholar who chaired the 2005 ARS session referred to, differed from that conclusion, as he explained in some prefatory remarks. At Larry's request, Cooper later typed up the gist of what he'd said, giving permission to distribute the typed copy, with the indicated attribution. I'll excerpt just the part about the Poetics:

Attribution:

"This paper, by Professor John Cooper (Princeton University), is based on comments that he gave at the meeting of the Ayn Rand Society (which he also chaired) on December 29, 2005."

The passage in question [the passage Rand read as rendered by Nock] is the famous one in which Aristotle contrasts poetry (or creative literature in general) with history by saying that creative literature is more philosophical and more intellectually serious than history is. But what struck Rand in Nock's report of what Aristotle says was the paraphrase Nock gave to the basis of this Aristotelian contrast: fiction, Nock said, according to Aristotle, represents things, not as they are, but as they might be and ought to be. [....] In fact, though, Nock's report is a serious distortion of what Aristotle actually says in this passage, and of what he thought about literature as a whole and in general. Mayhew in fact admits this, if I have understood him, though he works hard, through citing other passages in the Poetics, to find Aristotle nonetheless in substantial agreement with Rand's literary ideals. In the sentence in question, and its context in chapter 9, Aristotle actually emphasizes, not at all that creative literature represents people as they ought to be, but only that it presents us with human types acting in accordance with what is probable or necessary for people of those types, by putting them into situations in which they can or could be found, so that, by seeing them presented acting or undergoing things we can learn something about the varieties of human being and what makes them tick that we could never learn just by seeing actual people act and suffer (or by reading about events in history). Actual people seen or read about in histories are simply too small a sample to go on. Only creative literature gives us concentrated thoughts on types of person and what makes them tick. [....]

.

So people can judge for themselves, here's the entirety of Chapter 9 (also of the brief Chapter 10) of the Poetics, in the McKeon single-volume selection--the Random House Basic Works of Aristotle, published in 1941--which, according to Mayhew's report, Rand bought and began to read a couple years after she'd read Nock's Memoirs of a Superfluous Man. The first paragraph is the key paragraph contrasting the historian and the poet.

Chapter 9, Poetics

From what we have said it will be seen that the poet's function is to describe, not the thing that has happened, but a kind of thing that might happen, i.e., what is possible as being probable or necessary. The distinction between historian and poet is not in the one writing prose and the other verse--you might put the work of Herodotus into verse, and it would still be a species of history; it consists really in this, that the one describes the thing that has been, and the other a kind of thing that might be. Hence poetry is something more philosophic and of graver import than history, since its statements are of the nature rather of universals, whereas those of history are singulars. By a universal statement I mean one as to what such or such a kind of man will probably or necessarily say or do--which is the aim of poetry, though it affixes proper names to the characters; by a singular statement, one as to what, say, Alcibiades did or had done to him.

[added para. break] In Comedy this has become clear by this time; it is only when their plot is already made up of probable incidents that they give it a basis of proper names, choosing for the purpose any names that may occur to them, instead of writing like the old iambic poets about particular persons. In Tragedy, however, they still adhere to the historic names; and for this reason: what convinces is the possile; now whereas we are not yet sure as to the possibility of that which has not happened, that which has happened is manifestly possible, else it would not have come to pass. Nevertheless even in Tragedy there are some plays with but one or two known names in them, the rest being inventions; and there are some without a single known name, e.g. Agathon's Antheus, in which both incidents and names are of the poet's invention; and it is no less delightful on that account. So that one must not aim at a rigid adherence to the traditional stories on which tragedies are based. It would be absurd, in fact, to do so, as even the known stories are only known to a few, though they are a delight none the less to all.

It is evident from the above that the poet must be more the poet of his stories or Plots than of his verses, inasmuch as he is a poet by virtue of the imitative element in his work, and it is actions that he imitates. And if he should come to take a subject from actual history, he is none the less a poet for that; since some historic occurrences may very well be in the probable and possible order of things; and it is in that aspect of them that he is their poet.

Of simple Plots and actions the episodic are the worst. I call a Plot episodic when there is neither probability nor necessity in the sequence of its episodes. Actions of this sort bad poets construct through their own fault, and good ones on account of the players. His work being for public performance, a good poet often stretches out a Plot beyond its capabilities, and is thus obliged to twist the sequence of incident.

Tragedy, however, is an imitation not only of a complete action, but also of incidents arousing pity and fear. Such incidents have the very greatest effect on the mind when they occur unexpectedly and at the same time in consequence of one another; there is more of the marvellous in them then than if they happened of themselves or by mere chance. Even matters of chance seem most marvellous if there is an appearance of design as it were in them; as for instance the statue of Mitys at Argos killed the author of Mitys' death by falling down on him when a looker-on at a public spectacle; for incidents like that we think to be not without a meaning. A Plot, therefore, of this sort is necessarily finer than others.

Chapter 10, Poetics

Plots are either simple or complex, since the actions they represent are naturally of this twofold description. The action, proceeding in the way defined, as one continuous whole, I call simple, when the change in the hero's fortunes takes place without Peripety or Discovery; and complex, when it involves one or the other, or both. These should each of them arise out of the structure of the Plot itself, so as to be the consequence, necessary or probable, of the antecedents. There is a great difference between a thing happening propter hoc and post hoc.

.

___

Three comments on Ellen's remarks:

1. Mayhew did not state that Rand ever read Aristotle's Poetics. In fact, he states in a footnote to his paper that "Rand’s copy [of the Aristotle volume she bought in 1945] is very lightly annotated, but contains no marginalia in the Poetics. It is not known when or if Rand read the Poetics."

2. If Ellen wants people to "judge for themselves" whether Aristotle's writings substantiate Rand's claim that her "might be and ought to be" view was also his, it would be good to provide, as Mayhew did in his paper, more than just the text from Poetics 9 and 10, which are more pertinent to the "might be." In particular, Poetics 15 and 25 are helpful to establish the "ought to be."

As Mayhew notes, Aristotle said that poets differ in how they present people; some present them as they are, some the way people think they are, and some the way they ought to be. For instance, “Sophocles said that he himself portrayed people as they ought to be, but Euripides portrayed them as they are” (Poetics 25.1460b33-34). (Mayhew also references Poetics 2.1448a1-18 and Poetics 25.1460b8-11.)

But, like Rand, Aristotle clearly preferred (i.e., thought best) those poets who presented men as they should be. Here is a key passage:

Since tragedy is a representation of people who are better than we are, one should imitate (dei mimeisthai) the good portrait-painters. In rendering people’s particular shape, while making them [life-]like, they paint them as more beautiful [than they are]. So too the poet, as he represents people who are angry and lazy and have other such traits, should make them such in their characters, [but] decent [too]. . . . (15.1454b8-15).

Mayhew further points out that Aristotle says of tragedy: “the characters should be good (chrêsta)” (15.1454a16-17); and discussing epic, Aristotle says: “it may be impossible that there are people like those Zeuxis painted, but it is better so, for [the artist] should improve on his model” (25.1461b11-13). (Mayhew points out in a footnote that Aristotle often compares poets and painters, and that this could suggest that "the purpose of painting is the same as or similar to that of fiction (or some genres of fiction at any rate." In other words, that Aristotle would probably generalize his "might be...and ought to be" viewpoint, as does Rand, to whatever arts were capable of portraying man.)

3. Cooper's slam/left-handed compliment(?) of Mayhew--"he works hard, through citing other passages in the Poetics, to find Aristotle nonetheless in substantial agreement with Rand's literary ideals"--seems a bit over-wrought. The above-cited passages about "ought to be" are well-known to scholars and easily integrated with Poetics 9's focus on "might be," if one is trained and comfortable with a relatively objective methodology, as Nock most apparently was. Nock was able, by thinking "outside of the box" (viz., Poetics 9), to grasp the full nature of Aristotle's view of fiction, and Rand enthusiastically, though not with full scholarly care, jumped on the Nockian bandwagon, not realizing it was Nock's formulation of Aristotle's views that she was endorsing.

So, again, it is important to acknowledge, as Mayhew does, that although there is ample justification in Poetics 9, 15, and 25 to support Rand's (via Nock) attribution of "might be and ought to be" to Aristotle, "she should have left off the quotation marks (which are likely the result of a reliance on Albert Jay Nock’s rendering of the Greek)."

REB

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It's correct that this is not a literal quote from Aristotle. As Robert Mayhew points out in his 2005 lecture to the Ayn Rand Society (a division within the American Philosophical Association), Rand no doubt got this quote or the gist of it from Albert Nock's Memoirs of a Superfluous Man (1943), the relevant passage in her personal copy of it being underlined with no less than 6 perpendicular lines beside it in the margin.

However, both Mayhew and Tore Boeckmann (“What Might Be and Ought to Be: Aristotle’s Poetics and The Fountainhead,” in Robert Mayhew, ed., Essays on Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead) argue that this is indeed Aristotle's view, even though he didn't say so in so many words. So, Mayhew concludes:

Ayn Rand’s claim that according to Aristotle “history represents things only as they are, while fiction represents them ‘as they might be and ought to be’” is accurate—though she should have left off the quotation marks (which are likely the result of a reliance on Albert Jay Nock’s rendering of the Greek).

Considerable "ink" (much of it of the cyber-variety) has been spilled taking Rand to task for her lack of scholarly rigor on this point. Even granting this point, however, it remains true that she was well within the ballpark, in essential terms.

REB

Excellent post Roger.

Michael

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Thanks, Michael. I try to call 'em as I see 'em. :-)

REB

[Reader alert: this reply post has been made in accordance with Dragonfly's recently stated "netiquette" recommendations. :angel: ]

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Three comments on Roger's remarks:

1. Mayhew did not state that Rand ever read Aristotle's Poetics.

I acknowledge that you aren't stating that I stated that Mayhew did state that Rand ever read Aristotle's Poetics. But just to be clear, I didn't state that.

2. If Ellen wants people to "judge for themselves" whether Aristotle's writings substantiate Rand's claim that her "might be and ought to be" view was also his, it would be good to provide, as Mayhew did in his paper, more than just the text from Poetics 9 and 10, which are more pertinent to the "might be." In particular, Poetics 15 and 25 are helpful to establish the "ought to be."

Rand quoted Aristotle as saying that "history represents things as they are, while fiction represents them as they might be and ought to be." Not only is that not, as you acknowledged in your post #64, "a literal quote from Aristotle," it isn't the comparison Aristotle draws between the historian and "the poet" in the passage in which he draws a comparison. Whether Aristotle "preferred (i.e., thought best) those poets who presented men as they should be" or not (quoting your post #67) doesn't contravene this point. Aristotle wasn't claiming that, by contrast to history, the function of art is to show what life "should" be; the "should" part I think is clearly a misreading.

3. Cooper's slam/left-handed compliment(?) of Mayhew--"he works hard, through citing other passages in the Poetics, to find Aristotle nonetheless in substantial agreement with Rand's literary ideals"--seems a bit over-wrought.

It seems to me accurate to Mayhew's paper. Personally, what I find "a bit over-wrought" is the whole attempt to demonstrate that really Rand got it right here -- "if one is trained and comfortable with a relatively objective methodology" (your post #67). I also find the attempt relevant to the subject of this thread. Although this aesthethics sub-thread started as a tangent, with my wondering about the source of Chris G.'s opinion of The Magic Mountain, I think that interestingly the sub-thread has turned out to illustrate a mind-set in regard to Rand which isn't what I consider to be that of objective philosophic analysis. I think the objective thing to do in regard to Rand on Aristotle on aesthetics would be just to recognize in a straightforward way, with no need of apologetics, that she mistakenly thought Aristotle had proposed a principle which he didn't propose. From this basis one could then usefully compare/contrast Rand/Aristotle, instead of expending "ink" (cyber or otherwise) on attempting to tweak Aristotle into closer alignment with Rand than he was.

Ellen

___

Edited by Ellen Stuttle

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Ay-yi-yi. All right, three comments on Ellen's three comments on my remarks....

1.

Three comments on Roger's remarks:
1. Mayhew did not state that Rand ever read Aristotle's Poetics.

I acknowledge that you aren't stating that I stated that Mayhew did state that Rand ever read Aristotle's Poetics. But just to be clear, I didn't state that.

"Just to be clear," here are your own words.

So people can judge for themselves, here's the entirety of Chapter 9 (also of the brief Chapter 10) of the Poetics, in the McKeon single-volume selection--the Random House Basic Works of Aristotle, published in 1941--which, according to Mayhew's report, Rand bought and began to read a couple years after she'd read Nock's Memoirs of a Superfluous Man.

Now, please tell me what the normal, attentive reader is supposed to derive from that comment, if not at least the implication or suggestion that Mayhew was saying Rand had read the Poetics? For that matter, why is it relevant for you to mention that "Rand bought and began to read" the McKeon edition of Aristotle's works at all, if (as Mayhew pointed out) she made no annotations in the Poetics, and that it is not even known whether or when she ever read the Poetics at all?

2.

2. If Ellen wants people to "judge for themselves" whether Aristotle's writings substantiate Rand's claim that her "might be and ought to be" view was also his, it would be good to provide, as Mayhew did in his paper, more than just the text from Poetics 9 and 10, which are more pertinent to the "might be." In particular, Poetics 15 and 25 are helpful to establish the "ought to be."

Rand quoted Aristotle as saying that "history represents things as they are, while fiction represents them as they might be and ought to be." Not only is that not, as you acknowledged in your post #64, "a literal quote from Aristotle," it isn't the comparison Aristotle draws between the historian and "the poet" in the passage in which he draws a comparison. Whether Aristotle "preferred (i.e., thought best) those poets who presented men as they should be" or not (quoting your post #67) doesn't contravene this point. Aristotle wasn't claiming that, by contrast to history, the function of art is to show what life "should" be; the "should" part I think is clearly a misreading.

I disagree as strongly as I possibly can to this. I think it is clear that Aristotle realized, though he didn't state it, that any artist who presents men as they are, rather than as they can or ought to be, is little more than a narrative or pictorial historian. Now, is narrative or pictorial history--men as they are in story or painting form--actually art, as well as history? Perhaps so. But Aristotle said that artists (poets and painters) should go beyond this and present men as they ought to be. I think I included ample quotes from Poetics 15 and 25 to substantiate this reading/interpretation of Aristotle.

Also, it apparently cannot be said enough times that Rand's supposed "quote" of Aristotle was actually an unacknowledged repeating of Nock's supposed "quote" of Aristotle--i.e., that she unwittingly (and inexcusably) borrowed from Nock's faulty rendering of Aristotle, not quoting Aristotle directly. She can justifiably be criticized twofold for this: (1) she did not acknowledge that Nock was her secondary source, and, more importantly, (2) she (apparently) did not read Poetics herself, as any careful scholar would have, or she would have realized that what Nock attributed to Aristotle was never said in so many words by Aristotle--and that if she wanted to use Nock's convenient, pithy formulation (with attribution, of course), she would have to very carefully justify it by reference to various scattered passages in the Poetics.

3.

3. Cooper's slam/left-handed compliment(?) of Mayhew--"he works hard, through citing other passages in the Poetics, to find Aristotle nonetheless in substantial agreement with Rand's literary ideals"--seems a bit over-wrought.

It seems to me accurate to Mayhew's paper. Personally, what I find "a bit over-wrought" is the whole attempt to demonstrate that really Rand got it right here -- "if one is trained and comfortable with a relatively objective methodology" (your post #67). I also find the attempt relevant to the subject of this thread. Although this aesthethics sub-thread started as a tangent, with my wondering about the source of Chris G.'s opinion of The Magic Mountain, I think that interestingly the sub-thread has turned out to illustrate a mind-set in regard to Rand which isn't what I consider to be that of objective philosophic analysis. I think the objective thing to do in regard to Rand on Aristotle on aesthetics would be just to recognize in a straightforward way, with no need of apologetics, that she mistakenly thought Aristotle had proposed a principle which he didn't propose. From this basis one could then usefully compare/contrast Rand/Aristotle, instead of expending "ink" (cyber or otherwise) on attempting to tweak Aristotle into closer alignment with Rand than he was.

Ellen

___

The reader might draw the inference, reading between the lines, that I am some kind of Randroid who wants to prove Rand right on everything. I know that OL readers know better than that, and I know Ellen knows better than that, yet she refers to "a mind-set in regard to Rand which isn't what I consider to be that of objective philosophic analysis" and "apologetics," which apparently does refer to me (among others?). But rather than get into "duelling mindsets" here (I often think some on OL are feverishly determined to prove Rand wrong, no matter what), I'd prefer to clarify my earlier comments.

Yes, to quote Ellen, Rand "mistakenly [thanks to her unscholarly reliance on Albert Nock] thought Aristotle had proposed a principle which he didn't propose." But the key word is "proposed." As Mayhew shows, Aristotle was clearly in possession of the components of the principle, and he was on the verge of stating it, even though he didn't propose it in so many words, and one has to look carefully through several books of the Poetics--as Nock apparently did--in order to piece it together explicitly in one phrase.

The need to "look carefully" and not just rely on or limit oneself to direct quotes is the key here. Part of the task of an objective methodology is to carefully consider a thinker's writings and to be on the lookout for principles that are implicit in what he writes, and to make those principles explicit.

Another part of such a methodology, however, is to clearly label one's own formulations and interpretations of those principles, rather than misrepresenting them as a quote from that thinker. Albert Nock (on whom Rand carelessly relied, even while not acknowledging him as a secondary source) had the first aspect of the methodology down cold, but he miserably failed on the second.

Suppose that Rand had said in one chapter of The Virtue of Selfishness that the good life requires rationality, and in another chapter that the good life requires productivity, rather than stating them both together as she did in chapter 1. It would not be "over-wrought" or a "misreading" of Rand for one of us to claim that Rand's view of the good life was that man should be rational and productive, though we should certainly not quote her as saying "rational and productive," if she never uttered or wrote the phrase in that context. Objectively, one should note that she said what she said, and acknowledge that even though what she said integrates into a fuller principle, the fuller principle was not explicitly stated in her writings.

Also, by the way, when I referred to "objective methodology," I was not referring to Rand, I was referring to Albert Nock! It was he, not Rand, who read the Poetics and, more importantly, read between the lines and saw that Aristotle's views on art amounted to (though not stated in so many words) the principle of "might be and ought to be." Nock, I maintain, had a great insight into Aristotle's perspective, but he just mis-represented and mispresented it. Rand, unwittingly because of her scholarly sloppiness, adopted this insight as well and thus did "get it right," even as she got it right the wrong way, compounding Nock's error of attribution.

REB

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From this basis one could then usefully compare/contrast Rand/Aristotle, instead of expending "ink" (cyber or otherwise) on attempting to tweak Aristotle into closer alignment with Rand than he was.

Ellen

___

I apologize if this was quoted before. This is from Philosophies of Art and Beauty, edited by Hofstadter and Kuhns:

"From what we have said it will be seen that the poet's function is to describe, not the thing that has happened, but a kind of thing that might happen, i.e. what is possible as being probable or necessary. The distinction between historian and poet is not in the one writing prose and the other verse--you might put the work of Herodotus into verse, and it would still be a species of history, it consists really in this, that the one describes the thing that has been, and the other a kind of thing that might be. Hence poetry is something more philosophic and of graver import than history, since its statements are of the nature rather of universals, whereas those of history of singulars." Aristotle, The Imitative Art of Poetry, from Poetics.

He goes on to discuss what subjects should be avoided, such as: "A good man must not be seen passing from happiness to misery, or bad man from misery to happiness."

"Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that which all things aim."

I think these thoughts convey clear insight into Aristotle's stance that could easily fit this summary: "History represents things as they are, while fiction represents them as they might be and ought to be." Artists and philosophers are not exactly historians, though I guess they could be...though, as much as I love historians, I don't really have the stomach for cataloging facts! Its more exciting to incorporate a truth and fly with it.

Michael

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It was after Atlas that Rand and the Branden's started thier philosophical endevours but I believe thier endevour to have been essentially corrupt.

Interesting perception on your part. Have you read all of Atlas Shrugged? Have you read Galt's speech? Would say that Rand started her philosophical endeavors AFTER writing Atlas Shrugged, which includes that speech?

Alfonso

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Chris G., I don't recall Rand herself commenting about The Magic Mountain. The only remark I'm remembering about it from official O'ist writing was made by Nathaniel Branden and did not pertain to the literary merit of the book. It was something along the lines, Unlike The Magic Mountain, in which the characters retire to a mountaintop to discuss philosophy, Atlas Shrugged is an action story. I'm not sure where he said this, maybe in the essay on AR's literary method in Who Is Ayn Rand?, but that's just a reasonable guess. It might have been in an O'ist Newsletter context. The description isn't accurate to the metaphorical nature of the story. The reason the characters have retired to a mountaintop is because they have TB; the story transpires at a TB sanitorium. And there's only one philosopher, the Italian Settembrini. The main character, a stodgy, conventional plodding sort named Hans Castorp, becomes somewhat enticed into reflection by Settembrini -- and by the general circumstances of the sanitorium's cloistered isolation.

I find this in the July 1968 issue of The Objectivist, published under Rand's byline:

"If the characters of a novel engage in lengthy abstract discussions of their ideas, but their ideas do not affect their actions or the events of the story, it is a bad novel. An example of that kind is The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. Its characters periodically interrupt the story to philosophize about life, after which the story—or lack of it—goes on."

Alfonso

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Chris G., I don't recall Rand herself commenting about The Magic Mountain. The only remark I'm remembering about it from official O'ist writing was made by Nathaniel Branden and did not pertain to the literary merit of the book. It was something along the lines, Unlike The Magic Mountain, in which the characters retire to a mountaintop to discuss philosophy, Atlas Shrugged is an action story. I'm not sure where he said this, maybe in the essay on AR's literary method in Who Is Ayn Rand?, but that's just a reasonable guess. It might have been in an O'ist Newsletter context. The description isn't accurate to the metaphorical nature of the story. The reason the characters have retired to a mountaintop is because they have TB; the story transpires at a TB sanitorium. And there's only one philosopher, the Italian Settembrini. The main character, a stodgy, conventional plodding sort named Hans Castorp, becomes somewhat enticed into reflection by Settembrini -- and by the general circumstances of the sanitorium's cloistered isolation.

I find this in the July 1968 issue of The Objectivist, published under Rand's byline:

"If the characters of a novel engage in lengthy abstract discussions of their ideas, but their ideas do not affect their actions or the events of the story, it is a bad novel. An example of that kind is The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. Its characters periodically interrupt the story to philosophize about life, after which the story—or lack of it—goes on."

Alfonso

This can also be found in The Romantic Manifesto, in the chapter on 5. Basic Principles of Literature.

Alfonso

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