Part IIII of multi-part review series.
Nutshell: person who has read a half dozen novels and no literary theory writes treatise on literary theory.
Opens with an dictionary definition of manifesto
, regarding a declaration of intentions by an organization, then promptly states that this manifesto is “not issued in the name of an organization or movement. I speak only for myself” (v). The title is therefore revealed in the preface to be dishonest. We are accordingly off to a standard start in a Rand book, wherein if her mouth is moving, then she is lying.
Severe Dunning-Kruger effect on display in such comments as “the humanities have been virtually abandoned to the primitive epistemology of mysticism” (15), “The cognitive neglect of art has persisted” (16), and “the principles are defined by the science of esthetics--a task which modern philosophy has failed dismally” (43). These comments prophesy that the entire project here will be completely silly, and later developments completely bear out the prophecy. At least prophetics come true in Rand, if nothing else.
Core of Randian literary theory is naïve beyond reckoning: “The psycho-epistemological process of communication between an artist and a viewer or reader does as follows: the artist starts with a broad abstraction which he has to concretize, to bring into reality by means of the appropriate particulars; the viewer perceives the particulars, integrates them and grasps the abstraction from which they came, thus completing the circle” (35). This theoretical assertion is that authors fill texts with meanings, and readers must extract the meanings therein by reproducing the author’s understanding. Literary theory has long abandoned this model as untenable; it simply is not what happens when one reads--and literary theory had moved on from this cartoonish understanding by the time this essay was written in 1966. Rand nonetheless believes that “what an art work expresses, fundamentally, under all of its lesser aspects is: ‘This is life as I see it’” (35), whatever the hell that means. That’s why a painting of “a beautiful woman wearing an exquisite evening gown, with a cold sore on her lips” is “a corrupt, obscenely vicious attack on man, on beauty, on all values” (34). Huh? There is just no middle ground in this pseudo-philosophy.
But, this “vicious attack on man” is bizarre, considering her comments otherwise about “collectivism.” Consider that an artist “who presents man as a deformed monstrosity is aware of the fact that there are men who are healthy, happy, or confident; but he regards these conditions as accidental or illusory, as irrelevant to man’s essential nature--and he presents a tortured figure embodying pain, ugliness, terror, as man’s proper, natural state” (37). So, here’s the standard Randroid bad pop psychology, imputing to other people motives for which there is no evidence. Worse than the bad pop psych, though, is the bizarre collectivism of the analysis: “man” is presented in the painting of an ugly person, and Rand distinguishes in the same sentence that there are some “men” who are not ugly, like the ugly person in the painting. Why impute the collective representation to the artist? This is not Rand attacking a known evil socialist artist, but rather categorically stating that any painting a woman with a blemished face is an attack on all humanity. There is no basis for any of it, though of course she can read however she likes--it just comes across as silly, inconsistent, reckless. This is the basis of her ongoing polemic against alleged naturalism: it has “bleak metaphysics” (41) that substituted “statistics for a standard of value” (89).
Adopts Aristotle’s poetics as an explanation of all literature, but distills down the six elements of tragedy: mythos (Rand‘s “plot“), ethos (Rand‘s “characterization“), dianoia (Rand’s “theme“), and lexis, melos, & opsis (collapsed into Rand’s “style“). This particular essay (45-63) is a bad simplification of Aristotle’s concepts, and expansion of them to cover all writings, illustrated with passages from [b:The Fountainhead|2122|The Fountainhead|Ayn Rand|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1344618350s/2122.jpg|3331807] and [b:Atlas Shrugged|662|Atlas Shrugged|Ayn Rand|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1358647812s/662.jpg|817219]. Good job!
Rand doesn’t really care about literary theory or Aristotle, though. Rather, important for her is the fifth essay, regarding romanticism, which contains the primary overt political content of the volume (though she is sufficiently undisciplined to fly off the handle on every page otherwise in denouncing altruists or rooting our collectivists or laying down spenglerian denunciations or identifying insufficient moral clarity among her unidentified contemporaries).
That fifth essay opens with the dogmatic insistence that “romanticism is a category of art based on the recognition that man possesses the faculty of volition” (64). Huh? That’s not really a distinguishing feature of romanticism. But her bete noire, naturalism, “denies it” (id.). Alrighty then!
Although nothing can be “causeless” (16) (despite a later contradiction that “man is a being with a self made soul” (28)), it is said that “Romanticism is non-existent in today’s literature” (66), which bears “the crushing weight of the philosophical wreckage under which generations have been brought up--a wreckage dominated by the doctrines of irrationalism and determinism” (66-67). So: strike determinist doctrine, and all that’s left is indeterminism--causelessness.
Even though romanticists of the 19th century were great individualists, “they were for the most part anti-Aristotelian and leaning toward a kind of wild, free-wheeling mysticism” (68). They “predominantly were enemies of capitalism” (70)--but nevertheless are “champions of volition” (id.)--how’s that work, when volition and capitalism are otherwise equated? Her local commentary on particular works and writers is extremely jaundiced: Tolstoy is “evil” (43); Wells, Verne, & Lewis are “unconvincing” (74); [b:Dracula|17245|Dracula|Bram Stoker|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1347251549s/17245.jpg|3165724] and [b:Frankenstein|18490|Frankenstein|Mary Shelley|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1311647465s/18490.jpg|4836639] belong to “psychopathology more than to esthetics” (78); Shakespeare is the father of the thesis that “man does not possess volition” (80-81), seemingly because he deployed (Aristotelian!) concepts of hamartia
, which Rand does not seem to understand, even though she affirms Aristotle otherwise. Overall, romanticism is good because romanticist authors “owe no allegiance to men (only to man)”--Rand’s odd idealist collectivism of humanity (82-83).
Naturalists are death-choosers because they represent “misery, poverty, the slums, the lower classes”--”mediocrity” (90). Modern literature is worse, representing criminals and marginals: “The hopeless love of a bearded lady for a mongoloid pinhead [!]” (id.).
Some unintentional comedy in the pronouncement that “I am referring here to romantic love, in the serious meaning of that term--as distinguished from the superficial infatuations of those whose sense of life is devoid of any consistent values” (32), which is merely the most polite way that she phrases this asinine distinction between “romantic love” and “superficial infatuation,” to which one must respond, “Are you a virgin, or something?”
Even though it is asserted early that “art is not the means to any didactic end” (22), Rand later gets her dogma confused in a nasty contradiction that also reveals the mean-spiritedness of objectivist parenting theory (because they are likely virgins, they probably know nothing of parenting, though, poor things): “Thus the adults--whose foremost moral obligation toward the child, at this stage of his development, is to help him understand that what he loves is an abstraction, to help him break through into the conceptual realm--accomplish the exact opposite. They stunt his conceptual capacity, they cripple his normative abstractions, they stifle his moral ambition” (114). How do these evil altruist-collectivists choose death for their children? “It is easy to convince a child, and particularly an adolescent, that his desire to emulate Buck Rogers is ridiculous” (id.). Seriously? Really? Is this the Colbert Report?
Recommended for dipsomaniacs, drug addicts, sexual perverts, homicidal maniacs, & psychotics, and for bearded ladies in love with mongoloid pinheads.