Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged

Val Kilmer:

Hey I can’t promise that you’ll like any of the Updike rabbit books, a lot of its theme is small town everyman America, but the prose itself is really good, and after Ayn Rand it would seem like Shakespeare.  Sorry I don’t really like atlas shrugged, partly bc I think she’s bad at writing, and even though there are aspects to objectivism that I think are good/permanent, most of it to me doesn’t seem to even remotely mesh with how people really are and really act.  I read it a long time ago and liked it at first, but I dunno, since then I’ve read a lot of evolutionary biology/psychology.  Fwiw I liked the Fountainhead better though, at least as a story.

 

Lyon Keating:

I think it’s funny when people have such dramatic different views of what they deem good writing vs. bad writing.  I guess that’s art, though.  Atlas Shrugged for me was interesting and captivating and what I thought was good writing from the first page.  Now, I am not an intellectual when it comes to writing and maybe since that is the case what I am drawn to doesn’t really chime that tune of what people would think of as magnificent writing.  I came to love writing through basically just doing it and journaling and stream of conscious writing (as you can probably see if you’ve checked out my books) and have never learned more traditional forms of writing.  When I was taught those things in school I wasn’t interested in the least, however, maybe now I would soak those things in since I have more of a background in the concept now, but maybe not.

Anyway, lots of books that people tell me are classics I actually end up not liking.  I can’t usually just read to read the beautiful combination of words that they’ve thrown together and sentence structure they use and prose and blah blah blah.  Just isn’t my cup of tea and I end up getting bored.  It’s sort of like going into museums.  Museums are an overwhelming bore to me and I can only take them for about an hour at most.  However, there are a few that I’ve liked and really can connect to as an interesting form of expression or showcase.  Such is the same with writing I suppose.  I gravitate more towards content and what I feel connected to vs. academic good writing.  What are you saying first and how are you saying it second.  Although, one exception to the rule that I can think of is ‘East of Eden.’  I wasn’t particularly interested in that book but it was so well written that I just couldn’t put it down and it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.  However, that is the exception to the rule for me.  I’m down to try that updike, though.  I am always willing to expand my horizon and try, although, I guess I gravitate to more non-traditional forms of maybe less structured writing.  Maybe I just have ADD and that’s just how I communicate.  It’s an interesting thing to think about for why you like certain forms of art or whatever vs. others.

Yeah Atlas Shrugged was a very one sided story I believe about a certain type of person in a certain type of era but I would have to disagree with you in that I thought it was realistic.  I don’t think you’re likely to see that type of thing happen with most people but why couldn’t it?  How easy is it to always say that something is not realistic and won’t happen?  People jump the gun quite often on dismissing something because maybe they couldn’t see it happening but how many things have happened throughout time that weren’t planned or thought to happen?  Seems like those unplanned things happens just as often, if not more, than things that people think will happen and are realistic.  The human condition can be very reliant on the unpredictability of never knowing what idea will take or which ones won’t.  It can happen many ways.  Subtly and slowly as ideas are presented and through time those ideas form people’s opinions and lives and you never really know what idea at one point in time led to an eventual lifetime of change.  Each idea can have an impact on us over a lifetime just how each step we run can have an impact on our knees as we get older.  What combination of Ayn Rand ideas with others can lead us to what we are looking for.  It’s not that Ayn Rand knows all or she has the answer.  Maybe she had it at that time but it sure can lead to what is applicable in our own time.  Ideas can also take suddenly and with such force that everything else is blown away and people will look back and cringe at how something was possible to arise so quickly without them seeing it and this is the type of change that most people only pay attention to because it is in your face and obvious to see.  Poker comes to mind at the moment when thinking about this.  How many times does the unpredictability of a certain situation come forward to kill someone when they were playing so safe and with the percentages?  Can happen a lot.  Anyway, that was sort of a thought that jumped in my head and I wrote it down instantly so whatever about that but maybe you can gather what I’m saying.

In a nutshell, what did you particular find unrealistic about the idea/novel?  It’s a story really pushing private ownership and individual achievement as the sole reason for success and progress and my critique of the novel is that what they complained about and went against in the government could just as easily happen in the private sector as well.  What happens when private tycoons are the people who limit others?  Do we just get Ayn Rand all over again but with the sides switched and your classic liberal, pro-government cause story?  In that sense I didn’t like the book after I read it but it seemed that it did provide a solution to a system ripe with corruptness, although maybe it went a little far in describing what was the only solution.  It was the solution for that era.  The pendulum needed to swing back to the people and private ownership again and that’s how history books and ideals need to be presented to people.  They need to be seen in the context of what was happening and when the novel was written and what was out of balance at that time.  However, the ideas in Atlas Shrugged are extremely intoxicating and will last for a very long time and provide for a philosophical base which is more than most can say about their ideas.

 

Val Kilmer:

well I totally agree that taste is (more or less) subjective and that nobody should ever apologize for liking or not liking something, although fwiw I am almost never bored in a museum, I could spend all day in probably pretty much any museum in the world. I don’t think that’s because I’m more intellectual or anything like that, the reasons that I like museums and literature don’t really have too much do with fancy theories or philosophies that can only be explained by tenured professors, mostly I just think that they both are super fun ways to learn a lot about myself, and the world, and truth/beauty too. But then sure, lots of other times I’d rather be listening to music or playing soccer or hiking or laughing or fucking, but the stuff I get out of those things and the stuff I get out of literature and museums aren’t necessarily always that different. When you talk about the “classics” that people expect you to like but you end up not liking, I think that’s cool and I’ve definitely been there, but yeah I definitely don’t think most of those authors would say that the stuff they wrote was just about “the beautiful combination of words that they’ve thrown together and sentence structure they use and prose and blah blah blah,” Hm, for example, I don’t think people have a duty to like, say, Shakespeare…but whenever I hear people criticizing him (oh that was soo boring, oh that’s so outdated now, etc) then I usually think that whoever was their teacher is probably not a very good teacher.. There are plenty of reasons that so many people who spend their lives loving literature hold up Shakespeare as the best writer of all time (I’m just using Shakespeare as an example), and it’s not because they are all trying to sound smart or because of peer pressure or whatever. ITo me Shakespeare (and dickens and homer and tolstoy and bach and klee et al) are just so exciting!  I don’t think my opinion is any better than anybody else’s and if someone wants to memorize everything about Twilight or Justin Beiber, then seriously, more power to them. But I will say though that as I got to be a “better” reader, I think I started seeing a lot more in literature (and movies, and art, and music) then I did before, and it made some of my tastes change, and i was excited by a lot of things that hadn’t ever done it for me before.

Note that I 100% do not think that Atlas Shrugged is equivalent to Twilight or Beiber, and when I read Atlas Shrugged a long time ago (20 years?) I liked it. I don’t think I’d really like it anymore, but I don’t think that’s because I have “better taste” now than I did then, or because I think Ayn Rand’s philosophy is necessary naive or whatever.  Eh, I don’t think I could really write anything interesting right now on why I don’t really like Atlas Shrugged, it’s been too long. In short, for me it doesn’t work as art, and I also don’t agree with most of its philosophy.

Like you said, I remember thinking that it presented tons of false dichotomies, tons of either/or choices that are really a lot more complicated, that it was filled with an extremely binary black/white worldview that I just don’t find is super relevant to the actual world. Things objectivists like: logic, individualism, money, selfishness. Things objectivists don’t like: unions, charity, sacrifice, god, communism. et cetera.  I do agree with tons of the values of the book, for example I am constantly frustrated by corruption, cronyism, laziness, entitlement, bureaucracy, religion, etc, and I think the world is way better for all the brave Patrick Henrys who aren’t afraid to challenge the established order for the sake of ideas they believe in.

But when I said that Atlas Shrugged isn’t realistic, I guess I mean a lot of things. For one I just mean that the whole utopia/dystopia as presented seems bogus and academic . But beyond that, I think that human nature as a whole doesn’t work a whole lot like it does in the book.. A generation after Atlas Shrugged, evolutionary psychology started to say a lot more things about the world and people’s motivations that I find way more convincing.

Another thing that makes me nervous is just looking around at the people who like the book. Yes, again, I agree with a lot of the book’s values, but for example, the world has seen a thousand times what can potentially go wrong when unchecked ambition and individualism runs amok. That’s why I think that unions, for instance, can serve an important function. But unions also sometimes suck and completely botch up progress.  But the thing is, I’m more or less ok with living in a world where both of those sentences can be true. In a healthy society I think there will always be a pendulum sway to things, and that the world is too elastic and filled with too many different types of people to make any one philosophy or set of values perfect for all peoples and times. There are principles to communism and socialism that I think are pretty great, and there are principles to the most aggressive hyper capitalism that I think are great and permanent too. Yes, theoretically I value meritocracies over pretty much any other kind of -ocracy, but I wish it was that simple.

And I haven’t even started getting into how the book , to me, as art/entertainment. Too long of a topic to get into now, but I just don’t find her writing style that fun to read, not for three hundred pages and definitely not for a thousand. Rambly, loose, lazy, full of sentences that I think are hacky and dull, a universe flat characters and limp language, I mean it’s not really a story it’s a manifesto. Which is fine, but tough to slog through for so many words when you don’t agree with most of it and think a lot of it reads like agitprop.  But that said, I don’t think it’s awful, I definitely don’t think it’s a waste of time, I think it’s almost like a rite of passage, and I absolutely understand why so many people are responding to it right now, and why it always surges in popularity whenever people are frustrated with bureaucratic bloat (pretty much always) and whenever there’s a financial crisis (often). I’m glad it exists. I’m just not going to reread it again, life’s too short. Haha for the last six months I read almost nothing but books for young adults, lots of newberry award winners and stuff, it was a better way to live.

 

Lyon Keating:

I wonder if there are any authors out there that would ever say their writing was just a “beautiful combination of words.”  Ha!  Maybe not too many authors but probably a lot of rappers.  Unfortunately, I do know a lot of people who can’t sit down and just write.  They get stuck thinking about plot, characters, thesis statement.  I say forget all that and just say write!  A lot of creative people have trouble expressing themselves.  Yeah classics are classics for a reason.  They reached a lot of people for a good reason usually.  And I do like Shakespeare but I just can’t understand it unless I have my wonderful 8th grade humanities teacher at my side!  So many classic stories come from something like Shakespeare and people don’t even realize how what they are watching in shows, movies, songs, etc. come from that guy.  I would agree with you that tastes change over time and the more you write, read, listen, then the more you will have a chance to pick up more of what’s out there.  Simply just reading and writing will lead you gain more knowledge than practically anything else you do.  I always try to remember that even and branch out rather than continuing to read and liking the same things over and over; something that can be very easy for all of us to do.  Actually, funny that I wrote some of those things to you in my last email.  I picked up My Uncle Oswald by Roahl Dahl the other day and I absolutely love it!  It’s not necessarily this profound book with heavy important content but ya know what, it is totally those things and it is just beautifully written so here you go, me, keep on having those words as tasty snacks (eating my own words, get it?…good one eh?)

It’s interesting to note your response about Atlas Shrugged.  I had never heard of Ayn Rand before I picked up her book and then upon reading it I slowly started to realize who she was and how popular she was.  I was taken away by the novel and saw instantly how she touched so many.  However, you read it twenty years ago so it is old news to you and something you thought about a long while back and have built on since.  I can see how this can play in someone’s thoughts about something and if they like things more or less.  I’m still in a sort of star struck mode with the book and author.  I guess I was taken aback a little bit that I had never heard of these books and it made me feel like I had missed something big.  That might have made me actually look more fondly on it and I’m sure in time I’ll find something else to obsess over.  (I remember this happening with Dumb and Dumber as well.  I didn’t see that movie until I was about 22 and I went freaking crazy over it.  I wanted to watch it with everyone and so many people were like, “yeah we know.”…haha).  Another detail that might have made me like the book more is that Ron Paul mentions it in a lot of his books.  I have taken to Ron Paul more in the last year or so and like that two things that I’ve taken an interest in are related.  Don’t worry, I’m not a Ron Paul and unless it was Paul and against Obama I am going to vote for Obama, but I do think that Ron Paul represents “the next thing” that needs to happen to bring us to the next phase of what America needs to turn more into.

Interesting that you mentioned that you won’t be re-reading Atlas Shrugged again anytime soon.  Do you ever read books twice?  It got me thinking and there are only a handful of books that I’ve re-read twice.  All the Lord of the Rings and the hobbit, the little prince, the alchemist, watership down, doors of perception.  I think that’s it and I have been a big reader for the last 10 years or so.  Life is too short to re-read books I guess.  My dad always claims that he misses the age when a man used to carry around but a few books and re-read them over and over.  These books would define him and he could almost memorize them and what they were about; learning new things each time read.  I think it’s funny when he says these things.  I get what he’s saying and maybe people are missing out by not re-reading books.  Maybe people would learn more if they did this.  I don’t agree but to each his own.

I’m not surprised that your crazy Healdsburg friend or other crazies are into Ayn Rand.  Funny how a book can say totally different things to different people.  Ron Paul has been the same way.  You have gun-toting nuts and then you have like the smartest people I’ve ever met.  Not as much the case anymore as WAY more people are voting for him and into his stuff but that’s at least how it used to be moreso.

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