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C. Jordan

THE PASSION OF AYN RAND: THOUGHTS AND EVALUATIONS

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I could not judge, from first-hand experience, the truth of Barbara Branden's book. I was born in 69, a full year after the Break. I never met Ayn Rand. I can only go by my understanding of Rand's novels.

I can say that I find Mrs. Branden's account very believable, in the context of having read THE FOUNTAINHEAD and ATLAS SHRUGGED. To begin: now the one glaringly off-tune character in THE FOUNTAINHEAD comes into focus.

I refer to Dominique, and the contradictions in her ideas and behaviour. I found it hard to understand why, given that she knew better than anyone how evil Toohey was, that she would co-operate with Toohey. In particular, why co-operate with Toohey to destroy the man she loves?

The answer was provided, in the discussion of Ayn Rand's virtues and short-comings. There we have another point in Mrs. Branden's favour. In her discussion of Rand's work, she showed that she understood them very well.

One short-coming of ATLAS SHRUGGED which Barbara Branden did not raise, was in the portrayal of Galt's Gulch. All the heroes there spoke seemingly in the same voice, as though they were all echoes of John Galt. This was not true in THE FOUNTAINHEAD. I could see Howard Roark's friends — Steven Mallory and Austen Heller, Roger Enright and Kent Lansing — as distinct individuals. Had I seen them together in real life, they would have seemed an unlikely group. What did they have in common, but for their friendship with Howard Roark, and the reason for that friendship?

This was precisely what ATLAS SHRUGGED lacked. However, Mrs. Branden's portrayal did explain the reason for that particular flaw. By comparing Rand's real-life admirers, the Collective, to the fictional characters in the novel, the answer was immediately clear to me.

Critics of P.A.R. have often denounced the book, without explanation. This reminds me of how Bertram Scudder wrote about Hank Rearden: providing no facts, only an endless stream of denunciations. Or how a certain film critic from THE FOUNTAINHEAD assured people that if they didn't like a particular play, they were "worthless human beings."

Two concrete criticisms have been raised: that Rand did not get her American name from a typewriter, and that Rand's father was named Zinoviy rather than Fronz.

The second part is simple: Barbara Branden Anglicised the names. Ayn was Alice, rather than Alissa. A Russian Empress was Catherine, rather than Yekaterina, the Great. This is of no importance, even to me — and in my own writing, I prefer to use Russian formulation of names when I am writing about Russian characters.

I will venture an opinion: given that Ayn Rand was proud to be an American, given that she hated Russia, given that these are facts with which Dr. Peikoff agrees — then surely Ayn Rand would have approved of her father's name being Anglicised.

As for the first point: from what I have read here, the jury is still out on whether the "Remington-Rand" story is right or wrong. Assuming that Barbara Branden was wrong about that, does not mean she was wrong about other things.

It has been said, that surely the author of ATLAS SHRUGGED could not behave as Mrs. Branden described her as behaving. I don't find it difficult to imagine. In the context of having read Ayn Rand's novels, I found the portrait to be very believable.

There lies a deeper text to THE PASSION OF AYN RAND. I was considered "gifted" as a child, and had a similar lack of social skills. The portrayal of Anna Rosenbaum reminded me of my mother.

In addition to believing that I share some of Ayn Rand's virtues, I know that I share many of her short-comings. I would be willing to underscore the relevant passages, where I recognised myself. Often, these were not flattering recognitions. Nonetheless, they are true.

To draw an analogy: Sir Isaac Newton believed that outer space was filled with "luminiferous æther." He was wrong about that; and his being wrong does not mean his theory of gravity is also wrong. In the same way, I look at Ayn Rand.

The short-comings in Rand's writing, do not cancel out the virtues in her writing.

The mistakes Rand made, do not invalidate the many ways she was right.

And finally: Ayn Rand's personal short-comings illuminate her philosophy. In ATLAS SHRUGGED, readers were informed that people who had contradictions in their thinking and behaviour would pay a price. THE PASSION OF AYN RAND makes clear: Ayn Rand's errors came from not consistently putting her philosophy into practice. Paradoxically, Rand's errors proved how right Rand's ideas are.

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I read your post with interest, C. Jordan. (Can you give us a more informal name to call you by?) I'm glad to comment on some of the points you raised.

I looked up a post I submitted some time ago to another forum, in response to a questioner's puzzlement about Dominique's psychology, which may help to clarify the issue. Here it is:

"The problem with understanding Dominique is that she is presented on a slightly different level of abstraction than the other characters in the book. Let me explain what I mean.

"If Roark were a character in, say, feudal times, a noble crusader for the right and the good, able to accomplish great deeds and to conquer armies with his magical sword, instead of a modern day architect in a suit and tie -- we would accept him as that kind of character and find nothing strange or contradictory about him. And if the beautiful woman who loved him begged him to give up his dangerous way of life, terrified that he will die for the sake of men who are unworthy of him, we would not find this strange. And if he refused to abandon the dangers he faced, and she then swore to harm him physically so that he no longer would be able to engage the enemy with his sword, but he would live -- we might say she was wrong, but we would not find her attitude strange or unconvincing.

"In this version of Roark and Domimique, both characters exist on the same level of abstraction. Both are highly abstract -- one a fighter for an undefined good, the other a woman frightened of the peril faced by the man she loves. But in THE FOUNTAINHEAD, Roark is a man living in New York and seeking architectural commissions -- while Dominique is the crusader's lover who cannot bear to have him lose his life in battle."

Does this help?

You wrote: "Two concrete criticisms have been raised: that Rand did not get her American name from a typewriter, and that Rand's father was named Zinoviy rather than Fronz."

It may well be that I was mistaken in thinking that Rand brought with her to America the typewriter in question; perhaps she bought it here or her relatives bought it for her. But I do know that I was told that she got her last name from that typewriter by both Rand and by her niece, Fern Brown.

As for her father's name, Rand referred to him as "Fronz," and she so refers to him on the tape recordings of the interviews I did with her. I did not know his Russian name at the time; I learned it only much later; and you must understand that it was impossible to see any Russian archives during the years I was writing THE PASSION OF AYN RAND. It appears that "Fronz" is not the anglicized version of his name. Adam Reed pointed out the following to James Valliant in a post on the subject on another forum:

"In footnote 10 on page 389, you speculate on Barbara Branden's motives for giving Ayn Rand's father's first name as 'Fronz,' 'while all other sources and scholars are in agreement that his name was 'Zinovy.' You speculate, 'Perhaps Ms. Branden is attempting to draw more dubious "patterns" between Rand's father and her husband, Frank O'Connor.' But it so happens that my parents were born in ethnically Jewish families in the Russian Empire in 1909 - and they and my other relatives had different native-sounding first names in different languages. For example, my father was Tsvi in Hebrew, Hersh in Yiddish, Genrik in Russian and so on. It was the Yiddish name that was used in everyday life within the family, even though they talked to each other much more often in Polish (or German or Russian) than in Yiddish. So it would not have been unusual if Ayn's father were named Franz/Fronz in German/Yiddish and Zinovy in Russian; Zinovy would have been on official documents examined by scholars and Fronz would have been Alyssa's father's name in childhood memories recounted by Ayn Rand to Barbara Branden."

As for Rand's name, "Alice," this is the name she told me -- again on tapes in my possession -- that she was always called by her family and friends in Russia.

I do not doubt that there may be minor factual and other errors in my book. I don't know of a book of which this is not true. But errors born of my "malice" toward Rand -- of which my denouncers accuse me -- are not among them.

One other issue I'd like to mention, because it amuses me whenever I see it. I am accused of hypothesizing and theorizing about Rand's psychology in PASSION. I plead guilty. Of course I do precisely that. I was writing a biography, after all -- that is, the story of a person's life and the attempt to shed light on why that life took the course it did. No other biography I know of has been criticized for not being simply a dry, factual account without interpretation or explanation.

Finally, many thanks for your kind comments about my book. I'm happy that you found it of value.

Barbara

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Hello, Barbara.

My name is Chrys, with a Y.

That Ayn Rand referred to herself as "Alice" fits perfectly. She was proud to be an American. I have seen that before, when I was wearing a stars-and-stripes bandanna and people from China said they were glad to see me showing pride in my country.

I'm turning over what you said about Dominique in my mind. I never quite thought of her that way before.

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Chrys: "I'm turning over what you said about Dominique in my mind. I never quite thought of her that way before."

I don't mean to leave the impression that I think Dominique is a fully believable or understandable character. She isn't -- because she IS written on a different level of abstraction than the other characters, and because of the particular means by which she fought Roark.

Barbara

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One thing which is important to understand about Dominique is that despite the error of her pessimistic philosophy, she is independent in the use of her mind. One example is her evaluations regarding architecture, that is one reason why she detested her own father, because she understand that her father's career is phony and not worthy of admiration.

She is able to understand and realizes at the end, after observing the life of Roark, Wynand, Keating, and Toohey that her believe that the good will inevitably fail and the evil triumph is wrong, and that Roark's benevolent

assessment of life is true.

CD.

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Ciro: "One thing which is important to understand about Dominique is that despite the error of her pessimistic philosophy, she is independent in the use of her mind."

Agreed. As Rand said, "Dominique is myself in a bad mood." And to have the qualities of mind of Rand -- even in a bad mood -- ain't half bad!

Barbara

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While we are on the subject, let me begin (apparently off topic) by noting that when I first read The Fountainhead, I kept trying to imagine exactly what a Roark building would look like. That may be because I hadn't seen any good "modernistic" buildings before.

I felt as though I were hearing descriptions of Roark's buildings from Ayn Rand herself, as if the book were a dialog with me. This led to the obvious question: would I like a Howard Roark building if I saw one? Because, strange as it may sound, I wanted to see the Heller house or the Stoddard Temple for myself, to judge them. (Precisely as Roark would have wanted.)

What helped me decide that I would, was when I observed the same kind of deceptive simplicity which is NOT easy in writing. That has been one of my greatest stumbling blocks: trying to focus on the essentials of a story, analogous to the skeleton of a building. Trying to create beauty, harmony and (dare I say) poetry with a minimum of ornamentation -- again, like a Roark building, and again, much more easily said than done.

What was a good analog, in writing, of what Roark was doing in architecture? An obvious question. The answer was across my knees as I read it.

Which brings me to the topic: because one of the greatest strengths of Barbara Branden's biography is that she has learned that architectural form of writing.

More to the point, I believe she has been INFLUENCED by Rand without IMITATING Rand. The analogy there was in having read Les Misérables. I can recognise from there the influence Hugo had on Rand, which is not to say that Rand imitated Hugo.

Both, I daresay, are compliments well deserved.

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I am accused of hypothesizing and theorizing about Rand's psychology in PASSION.

There is no guilt in doing what every human being naturally does at some level. If it is a source of guilt, then we are guilty for being human. Frankly, I've had enough of that in religion to even have patience for it in the secular world.

I'm reading PAR and while the navigation of the topic after chapter 20 is more personal, it is not a bad thing because of the role of the author in the events. It is understandable and very human, and to any accusers-- I would have to ask if they've ever appreciated and known what "understanding with insight" is. It is almost like writing an autobiography in the biography. That, I think, is hard to do, when one's own life is mixed in with the biography.

Barbara, I find some great insight in your book. The behaviors of the people involved were not surprising to me. But it allows me a deeper understanding of social dynamics-- an understanding that would help me now in picking and choosing what is good for me and discarding what is bad.

It has also taught me a large lesson: one cannot bifurcate emotion from cognition. It is biologically impossible. Also, if I am feeling "off" in a certain situation, I'd better listen to it-- my senses might be picking up something I may not be consciously aware of right away. Kinda like "don't ignore the smoke in case it might be a fire." :)

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Jenna wrote:

*Barbara Branden wrote:  
I am accused of hypothesizing and theorizing about Rand's psychology in PASSION.

There is no guilt in doing what every human being naturally does at some level. If it is a source of guilt, then we are guilty for being human.*

As well as doing what comes naturally, Barbara was following Rand’s lead. Rand was certainly well acquainted with the act of hypothesizing and theorizing about people’s psychology. It is something that flows naturally from following the causal roots of the behaviours we observe in the interests of developing a rational understanding human events. Rand pointed out: what a thing is determines what it does. Hypothesizing and theorizing about people’s psychology is simply an attempt to trace causation backward from what a thing does to what it is. The only question is how valid are the conclusions?

The validity of the conclusions is determined by the quantity and quality of the initial observations, the integrative value of the interpretation (the internal integration of the particular interpretation, the integration of the particular interpretation with the rest of one’s view of existence, and the integration with all observed facts), and the supporting evidence of reality testing. From where I stand, Barbara’s hypothesizing and theorizing about Rand strikes me as far more valid than Rand’s theorizing and hypothesizing about Barbara. Score 1 for team Branden and the denounced.

Paul

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I apologize for this act of Necromancy, but I do have to comment on PAR.

Recently I got out a copy from my university library and I read it. I was impressed.

The book gave a very understanding account of Rand, good and bad. It is not, as some orthodox persons think, some giant attack on Objectivism at all. It simply portrays Rand's character, which, like the character of most people, is not shaped merely by a single abstraction, but by many different ideas, and their related experiences. I certainly did not find it cruel or damning about Rand. She was not perfect, but honestly, her bitterness and anguish are completely understandable, given the lonely battle of ideas she fought.

Yes, Barbara did some psychological speculation. But that is not Psychologizing. Psychologizing is the use of bastardized psychology as a weapon of character assassination, i.e. "you only think that because you want to fuck your sister" or some variant thereof. Barbara performed no Psychologizing.

As for the character of Dominique in The Fountainhead, she is hard to understand. But after you grasp her basic premise, her absolute disdain for most people, then I honestly consider her a wonderful character. I am not sure it is fair to say she believed in a metaphysically malevolent universe in and of itself... it seems to me what she believed was that the social world is malevolent, i.e. Roark will be ripped apart by the subhuman wolf-pack that is the rest of humanity. His mere existence is to cast pearls (his greatness) before swine (the depravity of the masses). His work is too good for a humanity made up mostly of corrupt animals. In many ways, Dominique was a proto-Striker... refusing to benefit the world that she loathed, trying to make Howard join her in her strike against a world that would destroy him.

And certainly during my life, I have observed some evidence that makes Dominique's view of the social world as malevolent seem a quite defensible proposition. Im aware that in reality, almost everyone has a mixed character and the social world is not one giant firestorm of evil. However, I have experienced enough of the malevolence of much of the social world to develop a rather Dominique-like streak in my personality, which I am proud to have.

Regardless, I would like to extend my compliments to Barbara on PAR. It is an important book, and one that shows Ayn Rand was a fascinating woman.

(EDITED for correction of acronym)

Edited by studiodekadent

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And certainly during my life, I have observed some evidence that makes Dominique's view of the social world as malevolent seem a quite defensible proposition. Im aware that in reality, almost everyone has a mixed character and the social world is not one giant firestorm of evil. However, I have experienced enough of the malevolence of much of the social world to develop a rather Dominique-like streak in my personality, which I am proud to have.

A superficial perusal of the daily newspapers supports that view. What is the news? It is the Same Old Thing. It is a dirge of violence, wrongdoing, corruption, malice, dishonesty, stupidity unbroken except for an occasional (very occasional) account of decency and intelligence. As Theodor Sturgeon once observed, 85 percent of everything is shit.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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I suppose you mean PAR.

Yes, I mean PAR. Thankyou for bringing that to my attention, have fixed.

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Didn't Sturgeon say that 95% of everything is crap?

Not that I have gone back to the source...

Robert Campbell

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Robert,

Sturgeon's Law

"Ninety percent of everything is crud."

According to the article:

The first reference to what was then called Sturgeon's Revelation appears in the March 1958 issue of Venture Science Fiction Magazine, where Sturgeon wrote: "I repeat Sturgeon's Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud."

It was also:

... referenced in Theodore Sturgeon's 1972 interview with David G. Hartwell (published in The New York Review of Science Fiction #7 and #8, March and April 1989).

So he was talking about the low quality of most science fiction, but the universal form of expression led to the popularity of the quote for almost all areas. The word "crud" is often replaced by "crap" or other graphic terms. I found the corollary by Shannon Wheeler to be cute:

Except crap. One hundred percent of crap is crap.

I also like very much the continuation that is sometimes added:

"...but the remaining 10% is worth dying for."

That almost sounds Objectivist.

Michael

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As one who was shocked into rationality by Rand 40 years ago and who thus has witnessed a bit of Objectivism’s history, I have to say that Barbara’s biography, *The Passion of Ayn Rand*, is one of the more significant achievements in this ongoing history.

Even my younger sister, who is and has always been a evangelical Christian, seemed to have suddenly gained a large measure of respect and sympathy for her big brother’s heretical Objectivist views by finally reading Barbara’s biography. She saw Rand for the first time as a person, a woman, a struggling individual. Formerly she had seen her as only an anti-Christian ideologue.

Barbara has shown us the credible human behind the public image.

-Ross Barlow.

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Here is a guy on YouTube who just reviewed Passion. Stuart Hayashi sent me the link (hat tip).

It is interesting that he says he was expecting a hit job because of the controversy, but found a really fair treatment of Rand instead (although he does find the reporting of personal conversations per se "evil" for some reason).

by Aaron (an anarcho-capitalist who calls himself "Objectivish.")

Michael

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I don't quite follow the view that Dominique's psyche and motivations are somehow unbelievable, even when most charitably viewed in terms of mythic archetypes. The question never came up for me in reading of Rand's novels until I encountered it in criticism.

Certainly there are people in real life who don't like to share their values with anybody, because they fear these lesser souls will somehow "taint" those values by their appreciation or mis-appreciation (cf. Dominique's throwing a beloved sculpture down a shaft, to make sure nobody else ever sees it; a preview of her perspective on Roark). I once met someone who was a bit confounded when a singer he liked became more popular; he had had her more "to himself" before then. There may be many concerns involved, including fear that the newly popular one will suffer a loss of integrity. Roark proved that no matter how externally buffeted, he was going to be okay, and that there was really nothing to fear. Dominique realized this and said, "Okay, I'll stop trying to destroy you now."

There may be only a few basic human motives, but the way these can be combined and sliced and diced in different individuals is infinite.

Maybe if critics were more specific about when and how Dominique's actions and motivations become self-contradictory or unconvincing, I'd be more likely to agree. Is it a craft problem about portraying a certain kind of psychology; or, on the other hand, is the claim being made that nobody, period, could ever be motivated in the way that Dominique is motivated? Barbara claims that Dominique is implausible in virtue of the purportedly higher level of abstraction with which she is portrayed. How is this manifested? Most of Rand's major characters are portrayed in both very vivid and specific and very abstract ways. They're symbolic of a certain approach to life in addition to being sui generis. It's Galt whose portrayal seems way more abstract than that of others, not Dominique's.

Edited by Starbuckle

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I found it to be a truly wonderful read, full of good info and a lot of insight. Barbara is obviously a great writer and a fine person. I think Nat screwed up, big time, over that one. Sorry, Nat.

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