4/13/2007

Katie Shrugged: Initial thoughts on Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged

I hate every character in this book. It seems impossible to me that not a single person in Rand's created universe would have a sense of humor or any hint of joie de vivre. Certainly Rand herself knew one happy person — one person on whom she could base a character who was warm or generous in spirit. The world of Atlas Shrugged has no such character. So far everyone falls into two categories: stupid and despicable or smart and loathsome. And that is as far as it goes.

This is not to say that I hate the book. I do not — not so far. Likewise, I do not love the book — not so far. I do not find the story particularly compelling, but it is not usually a chore to read or listen to. (I have it on my iPod and have been listening to it as I walk to and from work and while I do the dishes and once while I played a video game.) I think mostly it is predictable — both the characters and the plot devices. I am looking forward to seeing if my predictions about John Galt are correct though.

I am not finished with the book. I am only about halfway through. Things could change, but somehow, I doubt it. I am reading this book because it is one of my father-in-law's favorites, and I am mentioning my first impressions here at his request.

Again, I have not finished the book. Please no one give anything away. This book is a million pages long; I won't have anyone ruining the ending for me when I've put in so much work. So no spoilers in the comment section PLEASE.

10 Comments:

Blogger activated charcoal said...

There is a scene in South Park where the illiterate town sheriff learns to read and reads "Atlas Shrugged"

His words at the end of the show were: "At first, I was happy to be learning how to read. It seemed exciting and magical. But then I read this-- all 1085 pages of it... I read every last word of this garbage and because of it I'm never reading again!"

I am definitely beyond redemption... gonna go read some comic books now.

10:56 PM  
Anonymous best friend said...

I would imagine that this type of book appeals to a certain kind of person. What kind of person that is I am not sure, but I guess I fall into that category. I loved this book, and I didn't find the good guys to be loathsome, but rather refreshingly focused and independent, capable and strong, great tributes to human potential.

I think you may be overlooking the deep affection and respect that the good guys feel for one another and the joy they take in the things they find important. They may not jump up and down to show their jubilation, but that hardly makes them joyless. I saw them celebrating a tremendous amount of joy in the human spirit and human accomplishment throughout the story. No one can argue that it is secular joy, but it is joy and lust for life, none the less. Because they do not compromise their principles to lesser ones, does not make them monsters.

I read this book in Mexico for the first two months I lived there. My tone here betrays my broken-heart to hear that you are not noticing its great merit and importance. If nothing else, you might try to understand its influence over the character of those for whom you care deeply and why that influence is such a good thing.

That being said, I love you and am super duper pumped that you are going to be here in 2 weeks at which time we can fight more over why this is the best book ever and you are simply wrong for not loving it.

3:30 PM  
Blogger The Wifest said...

Why else do you think I'm reading this monstrously long book if not to "to understand its influence over the character of those for whom you care deeply"? I'm certainly not doing it for my health.

Maybe in the second half somebody in this book will laugh without it being more of a "moan"and finally show their warm hearts. Maybe I just haven't gotten to the part where they will show their humor and joy. But I'll keep my eyes out for it.

But if Ayn Rand uses the phrase "the most profoundly moral [whatever]" one more time, I might throw the book across the room or out a window. I'm only on page 661 and I've seen that phrase five or six times. I guess when you write a long book you run out of words to use and have to use some of them over again.

Also the six and eight page speeches Francisco d'Anconia gives every time he appears in the story—the ones that say in lighter ink before they start "this is where the author will explain her philosophy on ______ at the expense of the story— are about to kill me.

I just wish there was anything surprising about this book. I also wish that there was more than one woman in the whole world who was respectable and hard working. Dagny Taggart is going to have to be the whore of the New World because she's the only woman who embodies the principles. So she's the only woman that respectable men can have sex with and "they've earned it" so she doesn't really have a say. Did mention that I'm really loving the portrayal of women in this book?

10:30 AM  
Anonymous best friend said...

In what way is it predictable? Is that largely due to the fact that your family has been talking about this book forever and maybe not a short-coming of the book? I am in total agreement about the long speeches, although I took them with a grain of salt and tried to learn from each of them and found the philosophy interesting, even if it was not plot-oriented. I am a big fan of the money speech he gives at the party.

I don't think you can argue that Rand uses the same phrase about absolute moral "whatever" for lack of imagination. Whatever her failings, it cannot be denied that she is brilliant; she is not stupid for believing something you do not. It is a valid belief whether you like it or not. I love that Dagny cares more about the truth and following what she believes to be true than anything else. Again, I don't think jubilation is necessary to celebrate joy, especially to a character whose value is placed in mental and not emotional ability. She celebrates joy by doing her job better than anyone else could do it and by being freaking capable and responsible. How is that not to be admired? She celebrates life by making decisions with her mind and not her feelings and by not letting anyone else dictate her actions to her. I agree that her views on sex are incomprehensible, but that hardly spoils the whole book.

I don't see that her views of incompetent men are any different than those of her incompetent women. Both genders are capable of great destruction, and the groups basically boil down into destroyers or builders, those who would take freedom for any or all reasons and those who would go to any lengths to ensure freedom to themselves and others. Certainly this is simplistic, but I think that is intentional. She is projecting what she sees and is frustrated with in her time onto a near future where we have degenerated into two basic groups. Is it hard to see this in our world? I don't think it is as black and white as that in real life, but I do think her writing that way helps us in understanding to which category we would strive to belong and to go about life accordingly. This isn't a foreign principle. You and I started doing this early in college. We made choices based upon ideals higher than ourselves to the end of pursuing truth and doing what was right at any cost. That is not to equate Atlas Shrugged with religious life. I think both realms of thought concern themselves with truth, even absolute truth (hence the redundant use of the phrase "absolute moral..."). At least that is what I took from reading the book, that to pursue truth above everything else was the way to be a successful human being.

Freedom and truth are the premises of another book about which we do not disagree as much. That is why I liked the book. I related to the principles if not the characters, and I would be more proud of myself were I better able to identify myself with characters who are so focused and capable. I don't think it had ever occurred to me before reading this book that my brand of compassion was based largely upon my desire to be excused for my own failings and not a true desire to forgive the short-comings of others. This is something I still strive daily to amend. Another thing I think I learned more pronouncedly when I read this book was to always question and ask for the reason behind things. I enjoy being able to boil things down to a premise and to appreciate causal relationships and identify them in the universe around me, and I am better equipped for the task having read this book.

3:57 PM  
Anonymous brian said...

Ayn Rand's books are packed with thinking. They are also inherently dramatic and emotional. Remember: Ayn Rand is an artist; a storyteller. She crafts stories that stir some people (like Veronica and my dad). They encourage people to think and feel. They make some people feel like thinking.

What provokes the search for truth? Feelings. Ayn Rand is an artist who understood this. She understood and employed the art of rhetoric. Her work betrays an understanding of not only logos, but also ethos and pathos. It means something that she chose to communicate in the art of fiction. What does it mean? Well, among other things, it suggests that bare logic was not sufficient for Ayn Rand.

The next time someone feels like taking a dump on feelings (which is no sweat off my back), keep all this in mind. Or don't. But if you don't, you might be being illogical.

Love,
Brian

5:31 PM  
Blogger The Wifest said...

"Artist" might be stretching it a bit, Brian.

Veronica, in what way is it predictable? Are you kidding me? I knew nothing about this book before I started reading it. I knew that it was one of the first and most important defenders of capitalism, and Sean told me that it was about "what happens when the Henry Ford's of the world stop working." But that's all I knew.

After about 20 pages I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen - what the leavings would amount to, what romantic relationships would develop, what the Washington men were up to - and I haven't been surprised yet. Within four sentences of a new characters introduction, I know exactly what kind of a man he is and what is most likely going to happen to him. Again, I'm not finished, but I haven't been surprised yet.

Now, nothing that I've said above has anything to do with Rand's philosophy or whether or not I agree with her. I certainly didn't say she was "stupid for believing something I don't." I just don't think that she's a particularly brilliant writer. Her characters are two-dimensional, her style is preachy, her stories are redundant and so is a lot of her phraseology. ("the most profoundly moral statement she had ever heard," "the most profoundly moral man he had ever known," "the most profoundly moral principle in your life." I'm not saying anything about morality of the statement, the man, or the principle. I'm just saying - come on.) Her foreshadowing is transparent and the whole thing is so heavy-handed. And those are my main reasons for not loving the book so far.

I'm really looking forward to coming to see next week though. Have you picked out paint colors for your walls or flowers for your garden?

7:37 PM  
Anonymous best friend said...

I'm not taking a crap on emotions. I am saying that using them to make decisions doesn't work for me and that logic and feeling are very often times at odds with one another (ie. my heart tells me to do something that my head vetoes for a very good reason). I like emotions within their proper context and when checked with propriety. I do not believe something is valid or true just because I feel a certain way about it.

I also believe that art can be produced apart from raw emotions. I guess my problem is not with the act of feeling, but with failing to accompany them with a thought process. Everything in moderation. I think we actually agree about this and are maybe misunderstanding one another. Feeling something is an opportunity to make a decision and to analyze from where the emotion comes and what circumstance you can avoid in the future in order not to feel that again...just kidding.

Brian, I agree that anyone who undertakes to display her thoughts in such a medium, and does it with the skill that she does, is an artist. There is plenty of art I don't like (sawing houses in half for instance ... also, just kidding), but that doesn't really give me license to call the artist "not an artist." So, I just can't agree that calling Rand an artist is a stretch. I would emphasize again that her choices as an author play directly into her intent. She is not at all concerned with whether or not she causes you consternation. She is trying to make a point and feels that the way to do that is to be redundant. One might argue that she has chosen her enemies as her audience and feels that the only way to reach them is to say what she says in many ways and many times (undoubtedly she has very little respect for her enemies, and Katie may be valid in feeling that she has equally little respect for her audience). I certainly don't know that that was the theory she used, but I still say her style is very effective at communicating her intent and that she accomplishes that which she sets out to do, to make you understand every facet of her philosophy.

Let me know when you get to the hamburger part. It is one of my favorite scenes and sticks in my mind somewhat hauntingly, for some reason.

Katie, you liked Pride and Prejudice, right? I am reading a biography of Jane Austen's life which is making me see it differently (not necessarily for the better) especially against the family drama presented in Little Women and I am eager to discuss with you, since I know you have read both recently. Little Women doesn't have quite the style that Jane Austen uses, but the story makes up for it I think. I will most likely finish it before you get here.

I do not have paint or plants yet, but I will be ready for you when you come. It looks like this bad weather is never going to end, so I am not holding my breath on the gardening.

11:41 AM  
Anonymous Sc.U.M.F.A.C.E. said...

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10:13 AM  
Blogger The Wifest said...

One of my favorite momories of rooming with Best Friend in college was seven years ago today.

She was working at our dorm's front desk. She had a Saturday morning shift that started at 8 A.M. At 8:15 A.M. I was rosed for sleep by the incredibly loud ring of our telephone. Groggy, I answered the phone.

"Hello?"

In a voice way too loud for that early in a college student's morning, Best Friend shouted, "It's 4/20! AH HA HA!" Then she hung up.

For those of you who don't know 4/20 - the date, the time, and I hear the police code - has something to do with smoking pot. Neither of us where people who smoked pot in college (or now), but we where people who occationally made fun of people who smoked enough pot to use expressions like "4:20 break." So I laughed and laughed in spite of my bed hair. Then I went back to sleep.

Every April 20th since then, I have remembered this story. Thanks Best Friend for calling me seven years ago, yelling in my ear, and hanging up. It was funny. I love you.

5:43 PM  
Anonymous Sister said...

Hey! Who's ready for the next Harry Potter book to come out?

I've got 2 more days with my bunch of 7th graders, and my brain is like Vegemite. Maybe this book shouldn't be on my reading list for this summer.

11:03 PM  

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