R.A. Lafferty Tomorrow!! And New John C. Wright!! And More Randian Disappointment

madmademodels

Just a reminder that the first of 12 R.A. Lafferty volumes is released tomorrow! Buy! Buy! Buy! So all 12 volumes will be published and I can get them all.

Here is the table of contents for this first edition.

Contents:

  • Introduction by Michael Swanwick
  • The Man Who Made Models
  • The Six Fingers of Time
  • The Hole on the Corner
  • Square and Above Board
  • Jack Bang’s Eyes
  • All But the Words
  • The Ungodly Mice of Doctor Drakos
  • Frog on the Mountain
  • Narrow Valley
  • Condilac’s Statue or Wrens in His Head
  • About a Secret Crocodile
  • Days of Grass, Days of Straw
  • The Ninety-Ninth Cubicle
  • Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne
  • Parthen
  • The Skinny People of Leptophlebo Sttreet
  • Rivers of Damascus
  • Afterword by John Pelan (the publisher)

If you want to experience outside the normal bounds of whatever it is you have read in your life indulge in some Lafferty. If not for your own sake, then do it for mine!

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Also tomorrow is the third installment of John C. Wright’s Count to a Trillion series. So far I have loved the series. The only caveat is his tales are dense and I read some 50 – 60 books a year. I have to find some synopsis to remember exactly where the last book left off…

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I am afraid I am going to end up being one of those ex-Objectivists that end up resenting Rand. I can grant that she had a good many points on a variety of subjects and she was very strong in certain areas of economics and politics. And I still think her theory of concept-formation is particularly novel. But damn it, you try to apply her whole system to yourself and it is a mindf***.

Would one believe that I had never seen the movie It’s a Wonderful Life until just this last December because I knew the villain of the story was a businessman and thus had to be anti-business? Why bother watching another piece of collectivist anti-business propaganda?

Well that wasn’t the point of the movie at all. And I loved the film!

I am not prepared to yet but one day I am going to revisit and dissect what is wrong with that philosophy. One of the things I am sure of is that it is a destroyer of anything spontaneous and creative in man. While Objectivists can point to a number of writers, businessmen, actors and such that will say they read say, Atlas Shrugged, and found it inspiring, they cannot point to any of these people and say they were actual Objectivists. An Objectivist is a person that swallows the whole log.

If you read Atlas Shrugged, for instance, and you come away with an inspiration for working very hard in some business you always wanted to start, that is not the same thing as being an Objectivist. There is a whole litany of things that you have to believe (they would say “know”)  and follow to qualify for that title. For instance you cannot be an Objectivist and not an atheist.

However, unlike some of her dishonest detractors, you can like Beethoven and still be an Objectivist. Rand herself disliked Beethoven, and I wouldn’t put it past her that she would think something (not too terrible) was wrong with you for doing so. And I would be willing to bet there would be a limit beyond which most Objectivists would say you were out.

I have been involved in the last year or so studying Catholicism. People generally consider that to be a pretty restrictive form of belief. Meaning there are certain things you have to believe in order to be a Catholic (it is also true that this is the case for most things if you are to fall under a certain category or class). I mean if you do not believe in the resurrection of Christ, you cannot call yourself Catholic.

But here is what I have noticed as I am becoming familiar with one and lived the other. Catholicism leaves a great portion of your life untouched in certain categories that are prescribed in Objectivism. To consider the two as clothing; Catholicism is a snug sweater to Objectivism’s straightjacket.

Life does not reduce to Reason and your actions in the marketplace. If I could give anyone coming across this philosophy a piece of advice. Take the pieces that you can in good conscience and reason take, do not attempt to integrate them into a Hegelian Whole.

For instance, most of her list of virtues are good and the reasons given for them are all valid reasons. But her list is not complete and the reasons are not the whole story. If you come away with only the notion that it is important to think, I say, you got enough, move on.

The second piece of advice I would give is to be aware of the simple, and do not be tempted by the promise of your personal glory. Life is infinitely more complex than Rand ever makes it seem.

Now onto the disappointment. Several years ago there was a book published called Ayn Rand’s Marginalia. Here is a portion of the write up for the book from The Ayn Rand Institute.

Those who have had the experience of discussing topics with Ayn Rand invariably remark on her intensely active, penetrating mind. In Ayn Rand’s Marginalia, we are treated to glimpses of Ayn Rand’s mind at work—and her passion for ideas—as we see her private, marginal comments on various books and articles.

Unlike readers who passively imbibe an author’s development, Ayn Rand actively judges a writing’s truth and clarity at every stage.

Now I have not read the whole of this book because I decided more than a year ago I didn’t want to live any longer by a “philosophy for living on earth” that meant a living death of the soul. I did, however, read the part where she wrote comments to C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man. C.S. Lewis is a writer I have come to have great respect for over the last couple of years.

I do not know why the Ayn Rand Institute (which is the orthodox center for advancement of her philosophy in the culture) thought it would be a good idea to publish this sort of thing. I do not know anyone except the strongest of followers not being embarrassed by what she writes, the tone and abuse, and the complete lack of reading comprehension she exhibits here.

For example:

4.There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man’s side. Each new power won by man is a power overman as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger. In every victory, besides being the general who triumphs, he is also the prisoner who fol­lows the triumphal car.

[pp. 37/29/36]

  

 

So when you cure men of TB, syphilis, scurvy, small pox and rabies – you make themweaker!!!

Now it would help the general reader here to have read the whole of The Abolition of Man to understand the full context, but even here Lewis’s meaning is clear. The same power to cure diseases is also the power to create diseases. Even our power to fight infections have led to drug resistant strains of bacteria. Or take the discovery of the atom. On the one hand you could say it gave us the power of cheaper energy among many other things, on the other it gave us the power to annihilate ourselves.

Think about it simply in the terms of war and Lewis’s point is rather clear and utterly uncontroversial. But to the whiplash, utterly linear thinking of Rand this can only be an attack on science.

As to tone, let me add a few choice cuts. They are scattered throughout her commentary, I threw them into a unit.

This is really an old fool – and nothing more! The lousy bastard who is a pickpocket of concepts, not a thief, which is too big a word for him. The cheap, drivelling non-entity!!!! You bet your life, you God-damn, beaten mystic at the Renaissance!

This is true – but even here he’s lying. He knows what he wants: a science subser­vient to the Pope. [Lewis was Anglican, not Catholic.]

The abysmal caricature who postures as a “gentle­man and a scholar” treats sub­jects like these by means of a corner lout’s equivocation on “seeing through.”! By “seeing through,” he means “rational understanding”!

Oh, BS! – and total BS! (The abys­mal scum!) (The bastard!) You bet he couldn’t! The abysmal bastard!

There is not much more commentary left after all of this abuse. But if you would like to read the whole of her commentary, I found it online here.

Go and read the whole thing (it is not too long) and then come here and reread the quote from The Ayn Rand Institute that I am re-quoting below.

Those who have had the experience of discussing topics with Ayn Rand invariably remark on her intensely active, penetrating mind. In Ayn Rand’s Marginalia, we are treated to glimpses of Ayn Rand’s mind at work—and her passion for ideas—as we see her private, marginal comments on various books and articles.

Unlike readers who passively imbibe an author’s development, Ayn Rand actively judges a writing’s truth and clarity at every stage.

That is an example of an active and penetrating mind? A passion for outrage and insult, maybe. And it is a clear example of her not grasping what an author is saying.

My departure from Objectivism is one of the reasons for the sparseness of my posts of late. In fact last week I took my entire Rand collection to Half-Priced books.

Not only does this departure (which actually happened about a year ago) leave me in a state of flux ideologically, but it leaves me also in a state of complete uncertainty. Almost my entire intellectual development took place while under her “spell”. I do not trust that development now – at all. And I mean on almost all topics such as history, the issue of reason and faith, the cause of the rise of science, cosmology, morality, etc, etc. I don’t have to re-examine economics thankfully!

I would think, and I would have thought as an Objectivist, that such a state of uncertainty and flux would be utterly intolerable. I find that the opposite is true.

I think a good summation would be a paraphrase from the bard himself:

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Rand, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

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7 responses to “R.A. Lafferty Tomorrow!! And New John C. Wright!! And More Randian Disappointment

  • Sylvie D. Rousseau

    Good quote from Shakespeare (I had to look it up: my English culture is severely wanting). But you should not be too resentful to Rand. If I compare her Aristotelian basis to what I learned in my youth, I consider it to be a fairly good start.

    • bensira587

      I apologize in advance for never leaving short responses…

      No, it is a fairly good start. There are far, far worse philosophies out there nowadays from Derrida to the whole Dawkins/Harris/naturalism axis that seeks to efface free will and consciousness (at least human consciousness) and other philosophies I probably don’t want to know about.. And while a Randian is not too likely to be charitable or helpful (or understanding or sympathetic) you can feel safe having one as a neighbor (at least as far as that particular person being any sort of a threat to your person or property).

      My comment on resentment was out of context to the rest. I feel no resentment that she felt it necessary to abuse Lewis within the confines of her own copy of his book, nor that her heirs (non-biological, of course) decided to publish such a thing after she died. Nor that she, for some reason, didn’t seem to understand what he was saying. That is her business and theirs. But, the more I distance myself from the particulars of her philosophy (the ones that are particular to her, not commonalities with Aristotle) the more holes I see, and the less attractive the whole thing looks.

      The resentment, I fear, arises out of what I think it has done to my abilities as a writer.

      I realized a few years ago that in my preferred field of science fiction my favorite authors, the ones I held in highest esteem, were largely Catholic (three off the top of my head would be Gene Wolfe, John C. Wright, and R.A. Lafferty).

      Where were the Objectivist writers of science fiction? Where were the Objectivist writers period? There is one or two, and they are a snooze to read or too horrible to be published. Why are the ones that are chained to this monolithic religion of Catholicism, this seeming straight-jacket of thought, the wildest and freest writers I could find?

      For instance, R.A. Lafferty can be downright bizarre, hysterical, creepy, and downright outlandish, and his play on English etymologies and his use of far removed metaphor is probably the best science fiction has produced. And he was a devout Roman Catholic who, I have read, attended mass every single day.

      Mr. Wright’s works usually span millions and billions of years, require flowcharts to keep track of details and ideas. He pushes the very limits on all dials, makes up some dials of his own whenever he puts pen to paper. He not only throws the kitchen sink in every time, but throws the pipes and drains in as well as the plumber.

      Gene Wolfe is already acknowledged as one of the finest writers out there right now in the english language – genre or no.

      I am not saying one has to be Catholic to be any of those things as a science fiction writer. What I am saying is that this would not be the result expected from the perceptions of my Objectivist gestalt.

      There is something in Objectivism that is toxic to writing. I haven’t found it yet, but it is there. It has never produced one writer of mention, and has produced a couple of pure stinkers. They all write, not as if they write according to what they desire to write, by their muse. They strangle their muse, and write to the message. Every single work is like that. Rand herself in one of her fiction writing classes said the fact that you wanted to write something was not a sufficient reason to write it. I now say, “the hell it is not!” As soon as I “bought” the philosophy some 20 years ago, I felt the belt tighten around me.

      The great irony is that the philosophy that championed the individual more than any other philosophy ever had, could not produce writers that were individuals, but were copies. Or, if you know the story. The philosophy that began in The Fountainhead could only create Peter Keatings but no Howard Roarks.

      It had to be this way and that way. In one of her works on art, she completely dismisses the entire genre of horror as not art but representing a psychological disorder in the writer producing it and in the person who enjoys it.

      Before you start to write you should have your theme. Really? That is not what Stephen King says and he’s written over 60 novels (not all of them great, but he’s got some good ones). You should have an outline before you start to write. Really? I don’t know how many writers I know that say that’s the last thing you should do. Isn’t that why there is a word called re-write?

      That is just the obvious stuff in her explicit comments on writing. But there is something more. I can’t put my finger on it yet. When I do I will post it all in detail.

      Wow, that was a looonnnggg reply. Sorry!

      • Sylvie D. Rousseau

        How very interesting. This reply complements nicely your article. As I am not an avid reader of fictional work I might be mistaken, but I suspect from your description that the problem with Rand has something to do with putting ideology above art and inspiration. This is probably what makes the worst art and literature teachers.

        I believe there is something to learn from it, however, and the fact that your favorite SF authors are known as devout Catholics seems a good omen that your views on literature and writing, as well as on philosophy and religion, are expanding in the direction, and under the appeal, of beauty as the splendor of truth. By all means, let the Muse inspire you and write; nothing good that is learned and done while so doing will be lost.

        • bensira587

          It is a characterization I notice in the few followers of hers that have managed to get their fiction published. One such work is one of the very worst things I have ever read. One would suspect, digging it up centuries later, that the author was under some form of compulsion from an authoritative government. I never bought into that whole mindset because I have always believed in my muse. What I am, is what I will write. If you are going to force something, you may as well not even try.

          I did spend some number of years stuck because there seemed to be something nagging me at the back of my mind. And the reason I suspect there is something in the philosophy itself is because I so thoroughly rejected the zombification I saw in the other authors.

          I’m not tied to it any longer. But I am greatly curious to find out what this “bug” is.

  • Sylvie D. Rousseau

    I had an idea about the “bug” you are wondering about. I re-read Maritain’s excerpts on “Eudemonism of Beatitude” posted on my blog, because I get a few hits on this article regularly (probably because “eudemonism” is a rare word). It recalled me conversations about morals with you and others on Mr. Wright’s blog.

    Here is the chain of thought: Eudemonism is not sufficient for man’s complete happiness – Only beatitude can fulfill us – What gets in the way is egocentricity – Ayn Rand’s worldview is based on selfishness as virtue (mere rational self-interest is not a virtue in itself) – What makes a hero, and the hero’s appeal essential in literature (as well as in life, to men particularly), is selflessness and courage – No true hero means no true love and heroism, small or great, no praise of virtue, no moral growth, no rescue, no redemption – This precludes any epic or romance, thus any uplifting literature at all, maybe any literature worthy of the name.

    • bensira587

      I haven’t really thought of that angle yet. But at first thought it reminds me of many conversations I have had with Mr. Wright on Rand’s characters themselves. For instance, we have had more than one discussion on Rand’s main hero, John Galt (her “perfect man”), who offered to sacrifice his life if the life of his love were threatened. Rand had this character go through some dialogue explaining how this would not be a self-sacrifice but how it would be to his own interests.

      I don’t remember what my reply to Mr. Wright’s mockery of that scene was then (it was several years ago) but I can see now that her character’s claim is absurd. Doubly absurd since he makes it within the atheist matrix.

      There is an interesting essay by novelist Michael Prescott called Ayn Rand and Martyrdom (I don’t know how to make a link, but it shows up Googling it). It talks about the movie A Man for All Seasons about Sir Thomas More and how it is very popular among Rand followers. Here is the penultimate paragraph of the essay.

      Ayn Rand viewed Objectivism as a philosophy of self-fulfillment and personal happiness. I would argue that instead of self-fulfillment, it glorifies martyrdom; instead of happiness, suffering. Like More, Rand’s heroes are most true to themselves when they are enduring privation or even torture, and like More, they would be at peace only on the scaffold, submitting to the execution that would elevate them, once and for all, above this world of imperfect compromise.

      Meaning there is a dichotomy between art and life within Objectivism as my conversation with Mr. Wright proved a number of times. She has her characters do and endure things that they simply could not do nor endure on her philosophy. The philosophy does not produce the character able to do the things she had them do. For instance, the character of her’s I discussed above, John Galt, submits freely to torture by his enemies. He is laid out on a rack (in an obvious analogy to Christ) and is tortured. When the machine that they are using to torture him with breaks down, he tells them exactly how to repair it to continue their torture (carrying his cross). Actually, if you read Atlas Shrugged with an eye to the New Testament, you can find all kinds of “parallels”; another would be the call of the strikers to the call of the apostles.

      The reason why she would do this should be obvious.

      Your reply coincides with a discovery I just made the night before – this time philosophical, namely metaphysical. I am reading a book called Theology and Sanity by Frank Sheed. In the chapter called He Who Is he is discussing Aquinas’s 5 proofs. It suddenly hit me why I had such bewildering conversations about Rand with Thomists (heck, even Mormons!) on Mr. Wright’s site. If you were a committed atheist and wanted to set up a strong metaphysical base, and you were familiar with Aquinas (which she was) but needed to cut out God – well I think that is what she did. She pilfered Aquinas. I haven’t work it out, but I did see it, it is there.

      I definitely think your “bug” theory in the area of ethics holds water. It is a piece of the puzzle. I need to familiarize myself a lot more with Aquinas to complete the whole thought. I think there is a problem(s) in each branch of her philosophy that is a “bug” that stops creative flow. But certainly the extreme atheism of Rand’s system demands a selfish ethics. A non-selfish ethics in an atheist matrix, I believe, does not make any sense and can have no justification.

      I should note that I also dabble in drawing (used to paint, but I had no skill) and I play numerous musical instruments. Her philosophy never interfered with expression in those areas. It is in the expression of ideas that is at least implicit in writing that trouble arises.Ultimately the problem is in her epistemology and its empiricism resulting from an Existence in her metaphysics that is stripped of God. I am not saying that atheism leads to a stifling of creativity (I am emphatically not saying that) but I am saying that Rand’s particular brand of it does.

      Sorry, I can’t write succinctly enough!

  • Sylvie D. Rousseau

    Sorry, there is a typo in the title of my blogpost “Eudemonism or Beatitude.”
    Also, the expression “hero’s appeal” should rather be “hero’s call,” a better translation from the French “l’appel du heros.”

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