TheDancer

Should Ayn Rand be credited with being a great writer? Or just a great philsopher?

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I am an avid fan of Ayn Rand. I have been reading her fiction and nonfiction nonstop for 1 year, now, and this is only my 2nd post on The Forum. I have read The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, Anthem, Virtue of Selfishness, some of OPAR, Romantic Manifesto, a few of her short stories, and I've begun We The Living. I mostly read to further understand how I can live my life according to reason, principle, and purpose. I have found an incredible new philosophy that doesn't have any holes in it, it seems, and I am enjoying integrating Objectivism into my life, to help me achieve the goals and dreams I have set for myself.

However. . .after reading The Romantic Manifesto, I have some questions/concerns that I wanted to get some feedback from others about. Yes, she was a great thinker, and supplied a philosophy for living, but was she an ARTIST? Is good art only good art when the content of which is uplifting and purpose-driven? I have a hard time with this belief of Rand's. What the art communicates should dictate the measurement of the piece of art itself? Really? I enjoy reading her novels immensely, but I confess, I don't really read them for the artistry or creativeness. Giving one example from Romantic Manifesto, she criticizes the side of beef painting that is so popular among everybody(I forget the artist). Yes, I agree with her, in how portraying a piece of meat is counterproductive and is the antithesis of what she stands for, but is this painter any less of an artist for it, compared to Ayn Rand? Why can't an artist be a lousy thinker, and a decent artist? This seems like a weak argument. I'm not persuaded.

I read her books to apply the philosophy to my life in a realistic way. A friend of mine told me recently that she thought Ayn Rand's writing wasn't as incredible as I thought. She went on to say that Ayn Rand was an "economic writer" and a "utilitarian writer", using words, characters, and stories to merely communicate a philosophy, but that there was only an average skill-level at allegories, metaphors, and whatever "good literature" fans enjoy.

Why is it that literature buffs are not as impressed with Ayn Rand's novels? Are her novels not high-brow literature? When this friend of mine made these accusations about Ayn Rand, about how she was a good thinker, and a good conveyor of her philosophy, but not an extremely awesome novelist, I had to agree with them a bit, and was surprised to find that this disappointed me. Thinking of Ayn Rand as anything less than what she thought of herself to be, would be very disappointing to me. Seeing her only as a thinker, and not as an artist possibly, seems to disappoint me.

I am left wondering, is she a good writer after all? How does one define a good writer from an average one? Does it even matter if she's an amazing artist at all? She's contributed so much with Objectivism.

Thoughts, Feedback, Corrections, Things to ponder, PLEASE!

Thank you.

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I offer that you attempt to open up one of her fictional works and point out any page of bad or average writing. I also offer that I do not think you will find one, if you are being objective in your pursuit. During Ayn Rand's lifetime a lot of the people that condemned her writings had never even read her works. If you are being objective, and not taking someone else's word for the truth, you may find that there is not a period, comma, a word or anything else out of place. It has been written, and I do not remember exactly where at this time, that Ayn Rand wrote five pages for everyone that she kept. Is she a great artist? Does she get you to feel intense emotional responses to your values? I offer that they answer to both questions is, yes.

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There are two issues involved in evaluating a work of art -- artistic merit and sense of life (implicit philosophy) -- and Ayn Rand carefully distinguishes between the two. So do we here on THE FORUM when it comes to movie reviews.

Some writers have artistic merit but horrible senses of life (Dostoevsky, Shakespeare) and some have artistic merit, a benevolent sense of life, and a terrible explicit philosophy (Victor Hugo). I think Ayn Rand was first-rate in all departments and those who claim she was a bad writer almost always disagree with her sense of life and are not distinguishing that from the artistic aspect of her fiction.

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As one who read Rand after years of reading the classics, of "fine" fiction, I remember, the first time I read The Fountainhead, thinking that it was incredibly powerful writing, painted in powerful, clear strokes. More "subtle" writers I had read had hinted their way around their subjects, Rand blasted the way Rourk shattered rock in the quarry. In comparison to the "fine" writing I had become accustomed to, her writing felt "chunky" to me. But I loved the power and clarity and, of course, the inspiring message that swept away the dusty cobwebs in my head. That was the image of that book that I carried with me for years. Then I reread it and, somehow, her writing had gained in subtlety and nuance. Her writing was far more evocative than I had remembered, even though it had made a huge impact on me from the first.

I credit that change of effect with my own growth and maturity, changes in what I considered to be the purpose of reading fiction, the nature of great writing. I find that her style is maybe more "Russian," in the sense that that tradition of the grand "novel of ideas" is one in which you might be able to classify hers. The power and sweep, the clear painting of the characters in unequivocal terms, that is also characteristic of Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy. But her style is in important ways her own, exclusive of her philosophy as set forth in her stories. It is a consistent expression of her metaphysics, of the nature of causality, that drives her characters and, therefore, her understanding of and description of her characters' motivations and the underlying psychology is essential to the action. All action in her novels is explicitly character-driven, not some sequence of happenstance, even for her losers and villains. The choice to think or not to think, to act according to a proper moral code or to attempt to live in ignorance, to "blank out," determines the outcomes of the actions of her characters. And all of that is vividly expressed in her writing in the clearest of images. What, then, is good writing? Define your terms (as Rand would say).

I suggest you come to your own conclusions, based on your own first-hand observations. If Ayn Rand's novels move you, you might want to consider that bad literature with a good message is unlikely to do that. And, as you can see with Rand, it is her own good metaphysics and epistemology, her understanding of how things work, how and why people do what they do, that informs her writing and makes for powerful stories and images that last.

As far as "goal-directed action" and "purpose" being the goals of Romantic art, Ayn Rand's chosen form of fiction and that she judged the highest, again, Betsy nails it: There is artistic merit and sense of life. Francis Bacon, the man who painted the side of beef, "Pope Innocent X," he was saying something about a brutal man and he was making that point powerfully and in the form of a horrific image. I think he was referring to the Inquisition. It is an excellent choice of image and, as rough-hewn and crude as his painting was, it was highly evocative of the horror he intended to evoke. So, as a work of art, it was a success. But Bacon pretty much stuck to the dark and horrific in his work and it is not something that I would seek out in a gallery unless required by a specific research assignment, let alone something that I would want to have hanging on my wall.

At this stage in my life, I am clear and unapologetic about my love of life-affirming, beautiful art, art that makes me feel good, that makes me think about possibilities, about doing and becoming better and striving for more out of life. I certainly watched my share of dark, dreary movies and plays, hell, I've lived my share of dark, dreary days, but, nowadays, I prefer the works that show me a hero. I can even comb through and strip out the crud in a mixed work and come away having loved the good and ignored the bad, unless the bad is pervasive and the ultimate destination. Life is short -- I want to live it fully and well and beauty is something worth seeking out and appreciating, the execrable is not.

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I am an avid fan of Ayn Rand. I have been reading her fiction and nonfiction nonstop for 1 year, now, and this is only my 2nd post on The Forum. I have read The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, Anthem, Virtue of Selfishness, some of OPAR, Romantic Manifesto, a few of her short stories, and I've begun We The Living. I mostly read to further understand how I can live my life according to reason, principle, and purpose. I have found an incredible new philosophy that doesn't have any holes in it, it seems, and I am enjoying integrating Objectivism into my life, to help me achieve the goals and dreams I have set for myself.

However. . .after reading The Romantic Manifesto, I have some questions/concerns that I wanted to get some feedback from others about. Yes, she was a great thinker, and supplied a philosophy for living, but was she an ARTIST? Is good art only good art when the content of which is uplifting and purpose-driven? I have a hard time with this belief of Rand's. What the art communicates should dictate the measurement of the piece of art itself? Really? I enjoy reading her novels immensely, but I confess, I don't really read them for the artistry or creativeness. Giving one example from Romantic Manifesto, she criticizes the side of beef painting that is so popular among everybody(I forget the artist). Yes, I agree with her, in how portraying a piece of meat is counterproductive and is the antithesis of what she stands for, but is this painter any less of an artist for it, compared to Ayn Rand? Why can't an artist be a lousy thinker, and a decent artist? This seems like a weak argument. I'm not persuaded.

I read her books to apply the philosophy to my life in a realistic way. A friend of mine told me recently that she thought Ayn Rand's writing wasn't as incredible as I thought. She went on to say that Ayn Rand was an "economic writer" and a "utilitarian writer", using words, characters, and stories to merely communicate a philosophy, but that there was only an average skill-level at allegories, metaphors, and whatever "good literature" fans enjoy.

Why is it that literature buffs are not as impressed with Ayn Rand's novels? Are her novels not high-brow literature? When this friend of mine made these accusations about Ayn Rand, about how she was a good thinker, and a good conveyor of her philosophy, but not an extremely awesome novelist, I had to agree with them a bit, and was surprised to find that this disappointed me. Thinking of Ayn Rand as anything less than what she thought of herself to be, would be very disappointing to me. Seeing her only as a thinker, and not as an artist possibly, seems to disappoint me.

I am left wondering, is she a good writer after all? How does one define a good writer from an average one? Does it even matter if she's an amazing artist at all? She's contributed so much with Objectivism.

Thoughts, Feedback, Corrections, Things to ponder, PLEASE!

Thank you.

One of the virtues of Objectivism is independence. So my advice is to make up your own mind and not place what others think as your primary focus on reality. You have to establish the standards for evaluating her and judge other people's evaluation on that basis. Everyone has their own standards for evaluating the questions you ask. The question to ask is, do you agree with the standards for evaluation?

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However. . .after reading The Romantic Manifesto, I have some questions/concerns that I wanted to get some feedback from others about. Yes, she was a great thinker, and supplied a philosophy for living, but was she an ARTIST? Is good art only good art when the content of which is uplifting and purpose-driven? I have a hard time with this belief of Rand's.
Ayn Rand loved Fyodor Dostoevsky and Victor Hugo. I don't know if you've read any of Dostoevsky's works, but I would say he is FAR from uplifting. I think you had some misunderstandings of what Ayn Rand wrote in TRM. (I don't have time to dig out quotes or anything for you, though, so this is all going to come from my memory.)
What the art communicates should dictate the measurement of the piece of art itself? Really? I enjoy reading her novels immensely, but I confess, I don't really read them for the artistry or creativeness. Giving one example from Romantic Manifesto, she criticizes the side of beef painting that is so popular among everybody(I forget the artist). Yes, I agree with her, in how portraying a piece of meat is counterproductive and is the antithesis of what she stands for, but is this painter any less of an artist for it, compared to Ayn Rand? Why can't an artist be a lousy thinker, and a decent artist? This seems like a weak argument. I'm not persuaded.
Ayn Rand understood that art has two parts: the technical skill of the artist, and the message the artist conveys. It is a waste of the artist's skill to portray something that is so bland. For example, I have been told that Picasso was a very skilled realism painter before he decided to experiment with cubism. But the fact that he was skilled doesn't make his art any more valuable to me. (If you read TRM, you should understand that the artist's epistemology forms the base of his art. Think about what this means for Picasso's art.)
I read her books to apply the philosophy to my life in a realistic way. A friend of mine told me recently that she thought Ayn Rand's writing wasn't as incredible as I thought. She went on to say that Ayn Rand was an "economic writer" and a "utilitarian writer", using words, characters, and stories to merely communicate a philosophy, but that there was only an average skill-level at allegories, metaphors, and whatever "good literature" fans enjoy. Why is it that literature buffs are not as impressed with Ayn Rand's novels? Are her novels not high-brow literature?
Primarily, the idea that I took away from TRM was that for a novel to be good, the plot had to be driven by the character's ideas, so that the theme and the plot are not two separate entities. All people, particularly characters in a novel, act according to their ideals. The plot is determined by the actions of the characters, and thus is the consequence of the philosophy held (implicitly or explicitly) by the characters in the story. Given that we know philosophy is what drives people's actions, and is the primary driver of history, this make perfect sense to me. Very few modern novels have good enough characterization and/or integration of the plot with the characters for this to seem "real" to me. (I can probably do a better job explaining this, but it's probably best for you to just re-read TRM.) Most modern thinkers enjoy books that are heavy on style (though this term is very rarely defined) and nearly devoid of plot. The best example of this is Flaubert's Madame Bovary. (Read it, and let me know what you think. ;) ) This is probably the view of literature that your friend has, because it is the accepted view by most academics. So I'd offer that you disregard what "learned" people think, and just think for yourself.
How does one define a good writer from an average one?
Again, I thought Ayn Rand did a pretty good job with this in TRM. Perhaps you need to re-read and/or ask questions about specific ideas/passages on this forum.

Hope this was somewhat helpful.

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Thank you everybody,

You all have given me a lot to think about. I appreciate everybody's feedback on my questions. I have many responses to your own comments, but rather than retort, I think I need to ponder everybody's comments, and maybe look through The Romantic Manifesto one more time, before saying anything else. Many surprising and interesting things for me to think about.

I have much to learn, THANK YOU!

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...I enjoy reading her novels immensely, but I confess, I don't really read them for the artistry or creativeness... Giving one example from Romantic Manifesto, she criticizes the side of beef painting that is so popular among everybody(I forget the artist). Yes, I agree with her, in how portraying a piece of meat is counterproductive and is the antithesis of what she stands for, but is this painter any less of an artist for it, compared to Ayn Rand? Why can't an artist be a lousy thinker, and a decent artist? This seems like a weak argument. I'm not persuaded.

...A friend of mine told me recently that she thought Ayn Rand's writing wasn't as incredible as I thought. She went on to say that Ayn Rand was an "economic writer" and a "utilitarian writer", using words, characters, and stories to merely communicate a philosophy, but that there was only an average skill-level at allegories, metaphors, and whatever "good literature" fans enjoy.

Why is it that literature buffs are not as impressed with Ayn Rand's novels? Are her novels not high-brow literature? When this friend of mine made these accusations about Ayn Rand, about how she was a good thinker, and a good conveyor of her philosophy, but not an extremely awesome novelist, I had to agree with them a bit...

I think Rand wrote truly great literature. I consider her artistically brilliant, and powerful in most aspects of her novels. But I don't consider her mature, long fiction to be ideal or perfect in every aspect. You could say that in Atlas Shrugs she speechifies too much; and John Galt is too flatly one-dimensional and not fully fleshed out; and her heroic characters there are too similar in word and personality; etc.

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...I enjoy reading her novels immensely, but I confess, I don't really read them for the artistry or creativeness... Giving one example from Romantic Manifesto, she criticizes the side of beef painting that is so popular among everybody(I forget the artist). Yes, I agree with her, in how portraying a piece of meat is counterproductive and is the antithesis of what she stands for, but is this painter any less of an artist for it, compared to Ayn Rand? Why can't an artist be a lousy thinker, and a decent artist? This seems like a weak argument. I'm not persuaded.

...A friend of mine told me recently that she thought Ayn Rand's writing wasn't as incredible as I thought. She went on to say that Ayn Rand was an "economic writer" and a "utilitarian writer", using words, characters, and stories to merely communicate a philosophy, but that there was only an average skill-level at allegories, metaphors, and whatever "good literature" fans enjoy.

Why is it that literature buffs are not as impressed with Ayn Rand's novels? Are her novels not high-brow literature? When this friend of mine made these accusations about Ayn Rand, about how she was a good thinker, and a good conveyor of her philosophy, but not an extremely awesome novelist, I had to agree with them a bit...

I think Rand wrote truly great literature. I consider her artistically brilliant, and powerful in most aspects of her novels. But I don't consider her mature, long fiction to be ideal or perfect in every aspect. You could say that in Atlas Shrugs she speechifies too much; and John Galt is too flatly one-dimensional and not fully fleshed out; and her heroic characters there are too similar in word and personality; etc.

I disagree with your perspective as I do not think John Galt was one-dimensional, but then again I do not know exactly what you mean by that. If John Galt was one dimensional he would not have been able to convince the other producers that his ideas worked. If John Galt was one dimensional he would have sat in a room contemplating what a more rational society should be like but never have taken the required action to make it come about. As we know John Galt is the "prime mover" of the novel, even though he is not directly seen, and if not for his character traits/virtues he would not even be worthy of writing about. And if the 72 pages of John Galt's speech did not "flesh" out his character then I do not know what more would have.

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...I enjoy reading her novels immensely, but I confess, I don't really read them for the artistry or creativeness... Giving one example from Romantic Manifesto, she criticizes the side of beef painting that is so popular among everybody(I forget the artist). Yes, I agree with her, in how portraying a piece of meat is counterproductive and is the antithesis of what she stands for, but is this painter any less of an artist for it, compared to Ayn Rand? Why can't an artist be a lousy thinker, and a decent artist? This seems like a weak argument. I'm not persuaded.

...A friend of mine told me recently that she thought Ayn Rand's writing wasn't as incredible as I thought. She went on to say that Ayn Rand was an "economic writer" and a "utilitarian writer", using words, characters, and stories to merely communicate a philosophy, but that there was only an average skill-level at allegories, metaphors, and whatever "good literature" fans enjoy.

Why is it that literature buffs are not as impressed with Ayn Rand's novels? Are her novels not high-brow literature? When this friend of mine made these accusations about Ayn Rand, about how she was a good thinker, and a good conveyor of her philosophy, but not an extremely awesome novelist, I had to agree with them a bit...

I think Rand wrote truly great literature. I consider her artistically brilliant, and powerful in most aspects of her novels. But I don't consider her mature, long fiction to be ideal or perfect in every aspect. You could say that in Atlas Shrugs she speechifies too much; and John Galt is too flatly one-dimensional and not fully fleshed out; and her heroic characters there are too similar in word and personality; etc.

The speeches in Atlas Shrugged may have been too long for you, but they were not too long for me. John Galt may have been one-dimensional to you, but was not one-dimensional to me. _You_ could say that "her heroic characters are too similar in word and personality", but I could not say it. In fact, Francisco, Galt, Rearden, Dagny, Ragnar, Eddie, and even the statue--Nat Taggart--- are all so clearly distinct in my mind, that I find your evaluations of Miss Rand's work to be totally without value to anyone but yourself.

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John Galt is too flatly one-dimensional and not fully fleshed out;

I once thought that too until about my fifth reading of Atlas Shrugged. We know hardly anything about Galt in the first two-thirds of the book, but after we meet him in the Valley, Ayn Rand gives us an enormous amount of information about his thoughts and feelings, what and whom he values, the value conflicts he is experiencing, and more. I eventually got to know Galt as a real three-dimensional person, but it took a while.

and her heroic characters there are too similar in word and personality; etc.

While an Ayn Rand Hero ™ has certain characteristics in common with other Ayn Rand Heroes, there are great and significant differences in personality leading to all the major dramatic conflicts in her novels like Galt vs. Dagny, Roark vs. Dominique, Francisco vs. Rearden, etc.

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I have an opinion why people might view John Galt as a one-dimensional character, maybe moreso than any other heroic character of Ayn Rand's. In her novels, Dominique, Dagny, Rearden, Ragnar, Francisco, and even Roark all have major or minor things that they are dealing with along the way, so we can relate to them better. Even if we as readers recognize they are rational beings who are heroes in their own right, there is at least one psychological problem/situation they are each trying to overcome, and by the end of the story, they each know their error, or they have a fuller understanding of how

Dangerous the secondhanders/moochers are. Even Roark, throughout most of The Fountainhead, doesn't know why secondhanders are the way they are, and why they don't see the importance of being rationally selfish. So we can relate to these characters more because we see them make errors, learn from situations, etc. With Galt, he is presented in Atlas Shrugged as pretty much perfect, one who is the epitome of a heroic being. I'm wondering if why most of us say he is a one-dimensional character has something to do with we don't BUY his character. He seems too perfect, so we write him off as one-dimensional. I am guilty of doing this too, and I guess, now I'm thinking that this more of a confession on an insecurity I/we have. What do you think? Is this a reasonable realization or no? Could Rand have "fleshed out" Galt's character a bit more somehow?

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