queries to Ayn Rand (1969 & 1970)

Roger Bissell

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[i wrote Ayn Rand twice about what she might be planning to write on music and theoretical esthetics...]

April 20, 1969

Dear Miss Rand [lengthy comments on various issues]...The other general matter I wanted to talk to you about is my career. Presently I'm in my third year in college at Iowa State U., and am a rather ambitious senior in music...My strongest point in music is performance, specifically, I play trombone. I also am a budding composer-arranger, however, and here is where my long-range goal comes in. I have decided to spend much time working on an integrated view of music, aesthetics, psychology, psycho-epistemology based on your philosophy Objectivism. I have been anticipating an article (or series) on music by one of the Objectivists for quite some time--in vain, however. Although I have done some speculation on these subjects for quite some time, and the articles by you Objectivists on art in general and on literature, theater, movies, painting, and sculpture have provided me with some important leads, I am certainly in no position yet to write a full-blown philosophical treatise on them. Perhaps you or one of the Objectivists are working along these lines now. If so, fine; if not, be assured that I am. If you have any suggestions or comments to make, and can spare the time, I would love to hear from you. I remain

Your student and admirer and my own man,

Roger E. Bissell

[i received no substantive reply to this letter; there may have been a form letter, but I have no record of it. I then wrote more briefly and pointedly a second time...]

April 20, 1970

Dear Miss Rand:

I'm now a graduate student in music here at the University of Iowa, having received my B.M. (minors in mathematics and philosophy) from Iowa State University (Ames) on February 20.

For some time now I have been deeply concerned with several problems:

1. an objective definition of esthetics (esthetics as it is, has been, and will be)

2. a definition of the concept of an Objectivist esthetics (subsumed under the general concept esthetics, but based upon objectively valid principles derived from man's nature and needs)(i.e., esthetics as it should be)

3. a definition of the concept beauty (should there not be two definitions at least? one a socially objective definition and the other a philosophically objective definiton?)

4. an application of the concepts sense-of-life and psycho-epistemology to music (in similar manner to your application of them to other areas of art)

5. an explanation of how music can be considered Romantic (or "Classical," or Naturalistic, or Fatalistic??)

If you or another of the Objectivists is working along these lines and would care to correspond on this matter--or if you could recommend relevant books or articles on the subject--please contact me at the address below. Thank you.


Roger E. Bissell

[Here is the reply I received...]

The Objectivist Inc.

201 East 34th Street

New York, N.Y. 10016


June 30, 1970

Dear Mr. Bissell:

Thank you for your letter of April 20.

Miss Rand cannot engage in philosophical correspondence. However, many of the issues you raise are discussed in Miss Rand's latest book, THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO. [!!??]

The enclosed brochure contains an order form, for your convenience.

Sincerely yours,

Barbara Weiss

[Even a year later, when Rand published her three-parter, "Art and Cognition," in The Objectivist, she did not deal with any of the above five questions except #4, and not even that to my satisfaction. Little did she know, but my frustration with this form reply provoked me into securing a commission to work on an esthetics project, which I began in January of 1971 and finally finished in 1991. Portions of the project have been published in Objectivity, ART Ideas, and Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, including especially my essay "Music and Perceptual Cognition" (JARS, vol. 1, no. 1, fall 1999), which was based on my original essay, "Music and Cognition," written in 1971 and delivered at a conference in Williamsburg, Iowa in December of that year. Anyway, this is what got me started!]

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