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Robert Campbell

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Philosophy of Objectivism 1976

Lecture 11 Q&A

CD 2, track 5, 5:34 through 12:26

All right, now we're going to battle… humor … [Peikoff whispers something] Well, it's too long to read. Wait… there's some I want to… If we have time, hold it.

Now, I will preface this by saying, I regard this as a dishonest question, and you will see why, so I'm answering it as a job of teaching you philosophical detection. The question:

Humor does not appear to play a major role in the lives of your fictional heroes. What is the role of humor in human life? Do comedians have a value to an Objectivist? What does an Objectivist find humorous?

Starting, starting backward, uhh, I mentioned last time that we're sometimes asked questions on which there can be no possible philosophical stand, uhh, and here it is, a good example of it. That's the lesser objection to it. "What does an Objectivist find humorous?" How in hell would I know? [Laughter] Philosophy cannot give you a principle by which you decide what you find humorous. And, uh, there is a principle, but it belongs to psychology more than philosophy.

"Do comedians have a value to an Objectivist?" Well, it depends what kind of value, and to which Objectivist and, above all, which comedian?

Now, the serious dishonesty of this piece is the idea that humor does not appear to play a major role in the lives of my fictional heroes. You bet your goddamned professor from whom you heard it that it does not! Let me see a person to, in whose life humor plays a major role.

Humor is not a major issue. You know, in the old days, there used to be short-reel subjects, usually comedies, and they had a slogan, "the spice of the program." Well, that's exactly what humor is—it's the spice. Proper humor can be amusing. Now, that's enjoyable, just as good food is enjoyable, and tennis games are enjoyable. (But is that a major issue in your life, unless you're a professional tennis player? I would exclude professional interests.) But anyone who would say sports are a major interest, he's, has to check his premises, because it's an interest and a valid one and it's fine; it's enjoyment; but it's not a major interest in anyone's life.

Now, to tell you in one word, as briefly as I can, what humor is: humor is the denial of met, metaphysical importance to that which you laugh at. And a classic example, for instance: if you see a very snooty dowager, very well dressed, walking down the street, and then she slips on a banana peel—it's, it's used in every old-fashioned comedy—what's funny about it? Well, it's the contrast of the woman's pretensions to reality. She acted very grand, but reality undercut her with a plain banana peel. Now, you see, that's the denial of the metaphysical validity or importance or pretensions of that woman.

Therefore, humor is a destructive element, which is quite all right; but its value and its morality depend on what it is that you are laughing at. If what you are laughing at is the evil in the world, provided that you take it seriously, but occasionally you permit yourself to laugh at it, that's fine. If you laugh at that which is good, at heroes, at values, and above all at yourself, then you are a monster.

And any time I have heard anyone comment on "no humor" in my books or in my heroes, that is what is meant here. Because look: there are passages in all my books, where I know of audiences or readers laughing aloud, and it's really funny. There is that kind of humor. But never will you find one line which laughs at my heroes, my values, or at anything good. And in this context, I want to remind you of a very important distinction I drew in Atlas Shrugged, which is relevant here, where Dagny in her childhood observed that Francisco and her brother James both laughed very often, but they laughed in different ways. Francisco laughed as if he saw something much greater than what he was laughing at. James laughed as if he didn't want to allow anything to remain great. Now, that's the distinction.

And the kind of people who say there's no humor in, uh, my novels has said it also about every writer that I like, including even I've read it about Cyrano de Bergerac, which is called a tragic comedy and is an enormously witty, humorous play and also tragic. But the humor is always directed at human weaknesses or evils—never at the hero, never at Cyrano himself.

The worst evil that you can do psychologically is to laugh at yourself. That literally means spitting in your own face. Anyone who is looking for humor as a major issue is looking for that. He doesn't think it's funny when you laugh at him—that is, at villains; but he wants you to laugh at yourself, and he'll be happy and at home only with another character like himself who will be spitting in his own face. Leave them to it, and if this question interests you, my novels are not for you.

Ayn Rand Answers (pp. 140-142)

[Mayhew tones down the railing at the questioner, which continued right through to the end of the original answer. He also puts in some Mayhew-emphasis on "Show me a person in whose life humor plays a major role."]

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Philosophy of Objectivism 1976

Lecture 11 Q&A

CD 2, track 5, 12:27 through 13:07

Now, some brief ones.

How would you state the Objectivist evaluation of free verse?

Yes, it is lower than free lunches. [Laughter] (I have no humor!) Thank you.

Ayn Rand Answers (p. 211)

That it's lower than free lunches.
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Philosophy of Objectivism 1976

Lecture 11 Q&A

CD 3, track 1, 8:19 through 12:19

Uh, now, Does the Primacy of Existence and the Law of Identity apply as clearly to the things we consider beautiful? Or is beauty, as they say, "in the eyes of the beholder"? Are things beautiful in themselves? Can we have univer, euh, can we have universal standards of beauty?

I assume you mean: If things are beautiful in themselves, can we have universal standards of beauty? Well, first, the definition of, ehh, "beauty": beauty, actually, is a sense of harmony. What you call beautiful, whether it's an image, euh, uh, a human face, a body, or a sunset, it's that if you take the object you call beautiful as a unit, you look at what parts, euh, is it made up of. What are its constituent elements, and are they all harmonious? If they are, the result is beautiful. If there are contradictions and clashes, the result is marred or positively ugly.

For instance, the simplest example would be a human face. You know what features belong in a human face. Well, if, euh, euh, the face is lopsided, uh, very indefinite jawline, very small eyes, beautiful mouth, and a long nose, you would have to say that's not a beautiful face. But if all these features are harmoniously integrated, wik, if they all fit your view of the importance of all these features on a human face, then that face is beautiful.

In this respect, a good example would be the beauty of different races of people. For instance, the black face, or an Oriental, yellow face, are built on a different standard and, therefore, what would be beautiful in a vite, white face will not be beautiful for them, or vice versa, because there is a certain racial standard of features by which you judge which feature, which face in that classification is harmonious or distorted. That's in regard to, euh, human beauty.

In regard to a sunset, for instance, or a landscape, you will regard it as beautiful if all the colors complement each other or go well together or are dramatic together; and you will call it ugly if it's a bad, rainy afternoon, and the sky isn't exactly pink, nor exactly gray, but sort of modern. [Drinks glass of water]

Now, since this is an objective definition of "beauty," there, of course, can be universal standards of beauty, provided you define the terms of what objects you are going to classify as beautiful, and what you take as the ideal, uhh, harmonious relationship of the elements of that particular object. To say it's "in the eyes of the beholder," that, of course, would be pure subjectivism, if taken literally. It isn't what you, for unknown reasons, decide to regard as beautiful. It is true, of course, that if there were no valuers, nothing could be beautiful or ugly, 'cause values are created by the, uh, observing consciousness; but they're created by a standard based on reality. And so, here the issue is: values have to be, including beauty, have to be judged as objective, not subjective or intrinsic.

Ayn Rand Answers (pp. 226-227)

Now since this is an objective definition of beauty, there of course can be universal standards of beauty—provided you define the terms of what objects you are going to classify as beautiful and what you take as the ideal harmonious relationship of the elements of that particular object. To say, "It's in the eye of the beholder"—that, of course, would be pure subjectivism, if taken literally. It isn't a matter of what you, for unknown reasons, decide to regard as beautiful. It is true, of course, that if there were no valuers, then nothing could be valued as beautiful or ugly, because values are created by the observing consciousness—but they are created by a standard based on reality. So here the issue is: values, including beauty, have to be judged as objective, not subjective or intrinsic.

Mayhew-emphasis in the final paragraph.

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Philosophy of Objectivism 1976

Lecture 11 Q&A

CD 2, track 5, 2:20 through 3:34

Now this one's thoroughly different.

Besides Hugo, Spillane, Christie, and Ian Fleming—the questioner knows some of the ones I like—is there any other author you admire?

Not that I know of, except, uhh, I would include Fleming, nuh, Hamilton here. Euhm, so that I would have to say adding Donald Hamilton, that would be about it at present.

Do you think that the Bible has at least some literary worth? Yes, but the old version. The old tran, the King James translation of the Bible has some literarily very beautiful passages. But there's a new version that's come out which is something unbelievable. If you want to read it for comedy, do so. [Laughter]

Uh, Are there any parts of it that you have read and consider worth reading?

Yes, I've read almost all of the Bible, not consistently, but from time to time and in different sequences; but I can't recommend a religious book.

Ayn Rand Answers: not included

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Ayn Rand only partially understood humor. She also made some factual misstatements. She didn't say writing fiction wasn't important, but she could have with some of her same reasoning concerning humor. And laughing at yourself (as evil)--spitting in your own face--is something I can't get my brain around.

She didn't know a lot of what she thought she did, but in that respect she always put on a better show of it than Leonard Peikoff--i.e., more modest and interesting. Yes, she was frequently modest about what she knew, but if something pissed her off she was off to the races. It was as if the motives of the questioner were more important than the question.

--Brant

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Ayn Rand only partially understood humor. She also made some factual misstatements. She didn't say writing fiction wasn't important, but she could have with some of her same reasoning concerning humor. And laughing at yourself (as evil)--spitting in your own face--is something I can't get my brain around.

She didn't know a lot of what she thought she did, but in that respect she always put on a better show of it than Leonard Peikoff--i.e., more modest and interesting. Yes, she was frequently modest about what she knew, but if something pissed her off she was off to the races. It was as if the motives of the questioner were more important than the question.

--Brant

Brant,

I think the whole motives thing was Rand's way of quickly sorting lots and lots of data and opinion. It certainly wasn't foolproof, but it allowed her to be incisive. Don't bother to examine a folly, examine what it accomplishes.

Jim

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Philosophy of Objectivism 1976

Lecture 11 Q&A

CD 2, track 5, 5:34 through 12:26

Now, to tell you in one word, as briefly as I can, what humor is: humor is the denial of met, metaphysical importance to that which you laugh at.

Near the beginning of Woody Allen's "Manhattan," there is a scene where a woman is discussing sex with some people at a cocktail party. She says, "I recently had my first orgasm, but my psychiatrist told me it was the wrong kind."

Allen's character replies, "That's funny; all my orgasms have been right on the money."

I laugh at this line every time I watch the movie, but I don't believe I am denying the metaphysical importance of orgasms. On the contrary, orgasms rank near the top of my metaphysical "to do" list. 8-)

Ghs

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Ayn Rand only partially understood humor. She also made some factual misstatements. She didn't say writing fiction wasn't important, but she could have with some of her same reasoning concerning humor. And laughing at yourself (as evil)--spitting in your own face--is something I can't get my brain around.

She didn't know a lot of what she thought she did, but in that respect she always put on a better show of it than Leonard Peikoff--i.e., more modest and interesting. Yes, she was frequently modest about what she knew, but if something pissed her off she was off to the races. It was as if the motives of the questioner were more important than the question.

--Brant

Brant,

I think the whole motives thing was Rand's way of quickly sorting lots and lots of data and opinion. It certainly wasn't foolproof, but it allowed her to be incisive. Don't bother to examine a folly, examine what it accomplishes.

Jim

This is a terrible thing to say about her, for if true it was indefensible that she would jump down someone's throat for the sake of quick and clear thinking, which wasn't the result regardless. I think she was purblind as to the effect she would have on people by acting this way and that the explanation had to have been psychological.

--Brant

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Philosophy of Objectivism 1976

Lecture 11 Q&A

CD 2, track 5, 5:34 through 12:26

Now, to tell you in one word, as briefly as I can, what humor is: humor is the denial of met, metaphysical importance to that which you laugh at.

Near the beginning of Woody Allen's "Manhattan," there is a scene where a woman is discussing sex with some people at a cocktail party. She says, "I recently had my first orgasm, but my psychiatrist told me it was the wrong kind."

Allen's character replies, "That's funny; all my orgasms have been right on the money."

I laugh at this line every time I watch the movie, but I don't believe I am denying the metaphysical importance of orgasms. On the contrary, orgasms rank near the top of my metaphysical "to do" list. 8-)

Ghs

But isn't the Allen joke aimed at psychiatrists and people being undeservedly pompous about their psychiatric knowledge, and not aimed at orgasm?

Jeffrey S.

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Philosophy of Objectivism 1976

Lecture 11 Q&A

CD 2, track 5, 5:34 through 12:26

Now, to tell you in one word, as briefly as I can, what humor is: humor is the denial of met, metaphysical importance to that which you laugh at.

Near the beginning of Woody Allen's "Manhattan," there is a scene where a woman is discussing sex with some people at a cocktail party. She says, "I recently had my first orgasm, but my psychiatrist told me it was the wrong kind."

Allen's character replies, "That's funny; all my orgasms have been right on the money."

I laugh at this line every time I watch the movie, but I don't believe I am denying the metaphysical importance of orgasms. On the contrary, orgasms rank near the top of my metaphysical "to do" list. 8-)

Ghs

But isn't the Allen joke aimed at psychiatrists and people being undeservedly pompous about their psychiatric knowledge, and not aimed at orgasm?

Jeffrey S.

Yeah, that thought occurred to me, but that interpretation would not have permitted me to write such a clever post. 8-)

I tell you what: Watch this YouTube video that I made a long time ago, "Bad Jokes and Good Jazz," and tell me what you think I am denying the metaphysical importance of.

<object width="445" height="364"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-7IVXG9dKw&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0&border=1"></param><param'>http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-7IVXG9dKw&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0&border=1"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-7IVXG9dKw&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0&border=1" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="445" height="364"></embed></object>

Ghs

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[quote name='George H. Smith' date='14 April 2010 - 11:59

I tell you what: Watch this YouTube video that I made a long time ago, "Bad Jokes and Good Jazz," and tell me what you think I am denying the metaphysical importance of.

<object width="445" height="364"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-7IVXG9dKw&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0&border=1"></param><param'>http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-7IVXG9dKw&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0&border=1"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-7IVXG9dKw&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0&border=1" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="445" height="364"></embed></object>

Ghs

My apologies, but I'm one of those benighted people who are on dial up, so I only watch the shortest of Youtubes.

Jeffrey S.

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I just got a recording of the Q&A from the Ayn Rand's last Ford Hall Forum appearance, in 1981.

The question period was very short (16 minutes), I assume because of Rand's age and failing health. Her answers were terser than usual.

Robert Campbell

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Ford Hall Forum 1981

Q&A, Track 4, 0:30 through 1:32

Q: The question is: Why do you never speak of or to libertarians, of which thousands are loyal readers of your works?

A: Because I do not speak to or of cranks—unless I have to—and because libertarians are a monstrous, disgusting bunch of people [Applause] — let me give you my reasons—who plagiarize my ideas without giving me credit when it fits their purpose, and denounce me in a worse, more vicious manner than any Communist publication when it fits their purpose, because they are lower than any type of pragmatist, and what they hold against me or Objectivism is morality. They would like to have an amoral political program. Well, that is just as bad as this Mr. Gilder here, and perhaps even worse.

Ayn Rand Answers (p. 74)

In the question, Mayhew changes "Why do you never speak of or to" to "Why don't you approve of."

Mayhew gives her answer the chop, cutting out her reference to George Gilder, among other things.

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Ford Hall Forum 1981

Q&A, Track 5, 1:52 through 3:41

Moderator: The questioner seems to look at libertarians as providing intermediate steps toward your goal. And how do you see your philosophies and goals being accomplished without such intermediate steps?

A: Please do not say they are after my goals. I have not asked for and do not accept the help of what I consider cranks, intellectually. What I am after is philosophically educated people, people who understand ideas, who care about ideas, and spread the right ideas. That's how m, my philosophy will spread, just as philosophy has through all history, by means of the people who understand it and teach it to other people. If it's a philosophy which is true to reality, as mine is, it will win. But neither I nor anyone can predict the time.

But I hope I have written enough to make it clear that I do not believe in the filthy slogan of "The end justifies the means." That, I believe, was originated by the Jesuits, and accepted enthusiastically by the Communists and the Nazis. The end does not justify the means. You cannot achieve anything good by evil means, and I would … [Applause] Just let me dot my "I": uk, the libertarians are most unworthy of being the means to any end, let alone to the end of Objectivism. [Lengthy applause]

Ayn Rand Answers (p. 74)

Toned down, as usual.

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Ford Hall Forum 1981

Q&A Track 5, 6:53 through 7:14

(Conversation between Rand and moderator, about making a final statement or taking one more question.)

Moderator: Ah, would you give us a word about the Women's Liberation movement?

A: I would be the last person to give it to you, because I am a male chauvinist. [Laughter]

Ayn Rand Answers (p. 106)

I'd be the last person to give you that. I'm a male chauvinist.

Mayhew never quits rewriting.

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Well, that is just as bad as this Mr. Gilder here, and perhaps even worse.

-----

Mayhew gives this answer the chop, cutting out her reference to George Gilder, among other things.]

Who was George Gilder and why did he earn the ire of Ayn, the wrath of Rand?

Jeffrey S.

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Well, that is just as bad as this Mr. Gilder here, and perhaps even worse.

-----

Mayhew gives this answer the chop, cutting out her reference to George Gilder, among other things.]

Who was George Gilder and why did he earn the ire of Ayn, the wrath of Rand?

Jeffrey S.

Jeff: George Gilder is conservative writer who in a book "Wealth & Poverty" argued that the essence of capitalism was altruism. He was a big deal in the late 70ths and early 80ths. He gave a page one review in the Washington Post's Book World to Barbara Branden's biography of Ayn Rand

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I just got a recording of the Q&A from the Ayn Rand's last Ford Hall Forum appearance, in 1981.

The question period was very short (16 minutes), I assume because of Rand's age and failing health. Her answers were terser than usual.

Robert Campbell

Robert -- Can you tell me if there is a questioner who began with something like, "Miss Rand, some of your critics have said such-and-such" -- after which he was cut off by Rand and admonished for conveying a second-hand insult.

I ask this because an Objectivist friend of mine packed several of his friends into a VW bug and drove from LA to Boston to hear Rand, and I think it was for her last appearance at Ford Hall, in 1981. My friend had carefully crafted a question on a note card (I don't recall about what) that followed the pattern, "Miss Rand, some of your critics have said such-and-such, but isn't it true that they have misinterpreted you...." His question was intended to be a vindication of Rand, but he didn't get past the first few words before Rand jumped all over him.

My friend, who worshiped Rand, returned to LA crestfallen. I told him he should have been pissed at the rude treatment, but after the lecture he talked briefly to Peikoff (I think it was Peikoff), explained the true intent of his question, and asked him to convey the information to Rand. His concern was that the message never reached her.

Anyway, if that brief exchange is in the 1981 Q&A, I would like to know exactly what was said.

Ghs

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"Miss Rand, some of your critics have said such-and-such, but isn't it true that they have misinterpreted you...." His

Sounds a lot like this one:

http://www.objectivistliving.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=7801&view=findpost&p=89531

Yes, that is similar, but I'm almost certain that 1978 is too early. My recollection is that my friend made a special effort to hear Rand in 1981, thinking that might be his last chance. Of course, that was a long time ago, so I could be wrong.

Ghs

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Ford Hall Forum 1981

Q&A, Track 4, 1:33 through 2:04

Moderator: Our questioner asks if you wrote Atlas Shrugged as a rebuttal to Lost Horizon, in part.

A: The answer is no. I hadn't even writ, read Lost Horizon at the time when I was writing Atlas Shrugged, nor would any one book of that nature be worthy of a book like Atlas Shrugged to answer it. [Applause]

Ayn Rand Answers: not included.

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Robert -- Can you tell me if there is a questioner who began with something like, "Miss Rand, some of your critics have said such-and-such" -- after which he was cut off by Rand and admonished for conveying a second-hand insult.

George,

There's a gap in the tape of the 1981 Q&A (after Rand answered a question about the "mainstreaming" of mentally retarded and physically handicapped children in public schools). I have no idea how much was lost there; could a whole question have disappeared?

That said, I don't hear anything like your friend's question on the available recording from 1981 (which does include Rand's signoff at the end of the question period). Whereas the item from 1978 that ND pointed to sounds a lot like your friend's question...

Robert Campbell

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Robert -- Can you tell me if there is a questioner who began with something like, "Miss Rand, some of your critics have said such-and-such" -- after which he was cut off by Rand and admonished for conveying a second-hand insult.

George,

There's a gap in the tape of the 1981 Q&A (after Rand answered a question about the "mainstreaming" of mentally retarded and physically handicapped children in public schools). I have no idea how much was lost there; could a whole question have disappeared?

That said, I don't hear anything like your friend's question on the available recording from 1981 (which does include Rand's signoff at the end of the question period). Whereas the item from 1978 that ND pointed to sounds a lot like your friend's question...

Robert Campbell

You must be right. My distant memories, though almost always accurate as to substance, are frequently defective in matters of detail, such as time. The incident had to occur sometime between 1976 and 1981; so if the 1978 incident is the only such incident during this span, that had to be it. Moreover, for reasons I won't go into, the part about "philosophy professors" makes sense -- something that sounds like my friend.

Boy, he really got dumped on. One thing I do vividly recall is how distraught he was after returning to L.A. That trip was a big deal for him. Neither he nor his friends had any money to speak of, and they could barely afford the gas expenses. I think all four of them may have slept in the VW during the trip to Boston and back. It was, in effect, his pilgrimage to Mecca. What a disappointment.

Ghs

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Robert, if you're trying to find FHF Q&As for two years, I know one year there wasn't any. Probably early 1970s. Judge Lurie announced Rand would not take any questions because she had "an urgent telephone." Must have been the year she went without Frank. This was a real disappointment because 75% of the reason you went to these things was to hear her answer questions. The talks themselves were subsequently published and I always considered them to be Rand at 20% of her brainpower. This was true of just about everything she wrote and published after ITOE in 1966.

--Brant

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