Guest Michelle F. Cohen

"Things as they could be and ought to be"

61 posts in this topic

I have a question about the origins of the statement that art presents "things as they could be and ought to be."

In The Romantic Manifesto, Rand ascribes to Aristotle the principle that "history presents things as they are, while poetry presents things as they could be and ought to be." Rand was criticized by Stephen Cox for ascribing this statement to Aristotle, because in the Poetics Aristotle wrote that "poetry presents things as they could be," but not that it "presents things as they ought to be."

My question is: did anybody address Cox's criticism and responded to him? I noticed that the Ayn Rand Bookstore is selling a new audiotape by Tore Boeckmann titled "What Might Be and Ought to Be," which discusses this statement and its origins in Aristotle's Poetics. Does anyone know if Boeckmann refers to the criticism that Aristotle said "things as they could be" but not "as they ought to be"?

(I would venture to say that "things as they ought to be" is implied in the Poetics because an artist cannot avoid expressing his metaphysical value judgement, i.e. what he thinks ought to be, but I'm curious if the issue was addressed.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
In The Romantic Manifesto, Rand ascribes to Aristotle the principle that "history presents things as they are, while poetry presents things as they could be and ought to be." [...]

(I would venture to say that "things as they ought to be" is implied in the Poetics because an artist cannot avoid expressing his metaphysical value judgement, i.e. what he thinks ought to be, but I'm curious if the issue was addressed.)

The appropriate passage is, perhaps, at 1451a36 to about 1452a11. Aristotle makes a clear distinction between writing history (as singulars, that is, particular events the way they were) and writing drama (as universals, stating what might happen or will probably happen, as in comedy or tragedy).

I do not know the context of that passage well enough to say whether an "ought" -- in Ayn Rand's use of the term/idea -- is implied. One would also have to know a lot about the nature of the dramatic forms Aristotle is discussing. Do they assume man has free will -- or is he a plaything of the gods, thus destroying any question of "ought" -- or does man have free will and is a plaything of the gods?

Another question to explore is this: What would "ought" have meant to Aristotle? Would it mean the same as it did to Ayn Rand, that I want something to happen because it is morally proper for it to happen? Or would Aristotle have assumed that "ought" means that something will probably happen given the nature of the entities doing the acting?

Did Ayn Rand mistakenly give Aristotle more credit than is justified by his text? I don't know.

Whichever is the answer, how will if affect your life?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you for your thoughtful answer! You raised several issues I have to think about. There is one point I can answer right away:

Whichever is the answer, how will if affect your life?

The issue has affected my life because it is used by critics of Rand and of her esthetics. Their argument goes like: "Rand misrepresented what Aristotle actually said, therefore, the foundation of her esthetics is shaky." I realize that such critics are looking for flaws in Rand's philosophy, but they raise a point that has to be addressed, so that their negative impact is averted. I am trying to resolve this issue and hope others will too. So far, I think that "ought to be" is implied in Aristotle's "could be," because it is psychologically impossible for an artist to present things "as they could be but ought NOT to be."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The issue has affected my life because it is used by critics of Rand and of her esthetics. Their argument goes like: "Rand misrepresented what Aristotle actually said, therefore, the foundation of her esthetics is shaky."

Several points:

1. To decide what Aristotle said, we would need to go ultimately to the Greek text. Even then there would probably be puzzles, as there are in most of Aristotle's texts on fine points (not on the broad outline), based on what I have seen in a few texts and on what generally reliable scholars say.

2. The critics' argument, as you have presented it, is wrong. Deciding what Aristotle said in 340 BCE is an historical question, not a philosophical question. Whether Aristotle said what Ayn Rand believed he said makes no difference to Ayn Rand's philosophy, including the branch called "esthetics." Philosophy is the universal science that applies to all people, everywhere, and at all times. It does not depend on particular judgments in any specialized science such as physics or history.

Besides, wasn't Ayn Rand giving Aristotle credit -- rather than citing him as an infallible, authoritative source, that is, as a "proof" of her position?

Ayn Rand was a novelist and philosopher, not an historian. She, unfortunately, seldom documented her views of history. I don't know why. But her views on history, in their particulars, are not the foundation of her philosophy. A philosopher needs "only" to look around and think logically. No specialized knowledge is required.

P. S. -- Are the critics actually saying Ayn Rand intentionally misrepresented Aristotle's position, or that she mistakenly misinterpreted it, or that she drew a conclusion they don't understand and don't agree with, and she didn't explain?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
P. S. -- Are the critics actually saying Ayn Rand intentionally misrepresented Aristotle's position, or that she mistakenly misinterpreted it, or that she drew a conclusion they don't understand and don't agree with, and she didn't explain?

The critics I know about say that she mistakenly misinterpreted what Aristotle said. The best known example is in Stephen Cox's article, "Ayn Rand: Theory vs. Creative Life." He begins by saying: "One of the most important, and most troublesome, elements of Rand's theory of literature is her insistence on morally idealized characters." The argument he brings against this "troublesome element" is that Rand is basing it on a principle she claims Aristotle defined in the Poetics, but which Aristotle in fact did not define. Cox criticizes Rand, saying: "The principle is distinctively Randian. She feels impelled to justify it, however, by resorting to the distinction drawn by Aristotle, in his Poetics." I think that the answer to this argument is Mr. Laughlin's point that Rand was not invoking Aristotle's authority, but giving him credit:

Besides, wasn't Ayn Rand giving Aristotle credit -- rather than citing him as an infallible, authoritative source, that is, as a "proof" of her position?

Cox concedes that: "At one point in the Poetics, he recognizes that an author may properly create characters who are what they 'ought to be,' but he does not stipulate that an author should do so, not does he make this the basis of his distinction between history and imaginative literature." In other words, Aristotle did not develop the principle in the same way Rand did, so she should not cite him as her source of inspiration.

Another point Cox raises is that the type of hero Aristotle is most interested in "is hardly an example of perfection and success" like the Randian hero. It is the tragic hero, who suffers as the result of some flaw. But this tragic hero "is conspiciously excluded by Rand's moral theory of art." Again, Rand's concept of a hero is different from Aristotle's, so she should note cite him as her source of inspiration. On this point, however, the new Audiotape I referred to may provide a rebuttal, since Mr. Boeckmann "shows how the principle applies to Aristotle's favorite Greek tragedies."

Thanks for the good points you raised, Mr. Lauglin. They can certainly serve as intellectual ammunition!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Michelle,

Re Tragic Heroes in Rand

First, if Leo and Kira are not tragic, who is?

Second, what are Cox's sources for his belief that tragic heroes are disallowed?

Re: the general question

Am still unclear what, exactly, is troublesome here that Mr. Laughlan hasn't dealt with. That Rand got anything wrong about the history of philosophy (as Fred Seddon is fond of claiming) doesn't affect the truth of Objectivism, only her standing as a scholar and then only if she is actually wrong. In most cases the issues she covers in her comments on the history of philosophy are very controversial within academe and are consistent with one of the sides taken in the controversy.

Tom

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Am still unclear what, exactly, is troublesome here that Mr. Laughlan hasn't dealt with.

Tom,

Nothing is troublesome for me. I was responding to mr. Laughlan's question re whether the critics are actually saying Ayn Rand intentionally misrepresented Aristotle's position, or that she mistakenly misinterpreted it, or that she drew a conclusion they don't understand and don't agree with, and she didn't explain. To answer the question, I presented Cox's arguments and refuted them.

I certainly agree with you that Cox is wrong about the absence of tragic heroes in Rand's novels, or that they are disallowed by her esthetic theory. In fact, Cox is also wrong in claiming that Aristotle's tragic hero suffers from a "tragic flaw" that dooms him. It is the Shakespearean tragic hero who suffers from a "tragic flaw," an idea Rand criticizes in The Romantic Manifesto. The hero of the Greek tragedy is doomed because he is "a plaything of the gods" as pointed out by Mr. Laughlan in his first post. I think Cox can be criticized here for his bad history on the development of the tragic hero.

Thank you for adding more points to the case against a commonly heard criticism of Rand's theory of esthetics.

-- Michelle

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Re Tragic Heroes in Rand

First, if Leo and Kira are not tragic, who is?

Questions for anyone:

1. What is the standard, conventional, academic definition of "tragedy" in literature (or other arts), or, for that matter, in the rest of life?

2. Are there other definitions of "tragedy"?

3. In what way might Kira be considered a tragic character in We the Living?

For years, I have been assuming that a tragedy is a story in which the hero comes to a bad end because of a flaw in his otherwise noble character. In that sense, Kira was not a tragic character. She died because Soviet Russia killed her. The ending is sad, but is it tragic?

Now I am wondering if another definition would be this: a story in which the hero comes to a bad end because of his virtues.

Take two examples. In We the Living, Kira loses her life because she has the virtues that put her at risk, specifically her refusal to continue accepting the end of her spiritual life in Soviet Russia, and her choice to risk death in fleeing.

In the ancient Greek tragedy, Oedipus the King, which I read many years ago, doesn't Oedipus come to a bad end because of both a flaw (impulsiveness) and a virtue (his persistent drive to understand, to get to the root of puzzles, rather than passively accept the status quo)?

In summary, today what does "tragedy" usually mean?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Questions for anyone:

1. What is the standard, conventional, academic definition of "tragedy" in literature (or other arts), or, for that matter, in the rest of life?

2. Are there other definitions of "tragedy"?

3. In what way might Kira be considered a tragic character in We the Living?

.....

In summary, today what does "tragedy" usually mean?

Interesting questions.

I don't know very much about various historical literary meanings of "tragedy", but what should it mean? I think I know what I mean by the term, but is my meaning well grounded?

To start off, here's the definition of tragedy in the Oxford English Dictionary that I think is most relevant:

A play or other literary work of a serious or sorrowful character, with a fatal or disastrous conclusion: opp. to comedy.

The first question that raises to me is: why do they classify serious and sorrowful together? I'll come back to that.

Concentrating on sorrowful, that raises the question: Sorrowful? By what standard?

Why would one consider the conclusion of a work of fiction sorrowful? Since sorrow is an emotion, this obviously depends on the reader's (automatized) value judgments. Assuming then that one's automatized value judgments are in line with one's explicit philosophy, the question is: given that something bad happened to some character, should one feel sorrow?

The answer, for a particular book, will depend on the reader's philosophy. Obviously the author also had in mind what a reader properly would feel.

Stepping outside of fiction, I myself feel sorrow when I see something bad happening to a good person, that the person did not deserve. He might be a victim of injustice, or maybe a random mishap did him in (i.e., he got hit by lightning). I think I feel this way because justice is such a high value to me. What I feel is "one ought to get what he has earned, and this is tragic, because this person will not enjoy the fruits of his virtues."

(This kind of value judgment makes it even more tragic if somebody is killed because of his virtues. For in that case, not only will his virtues not benefit him as they ought to, but they're being used perversely against him.)

So to me, the degree of tragedy depends on how good the person was, and also on how undeserved was his demise. For instance, if I read in the news that an ordinary person was killed by a drunk driver, I would think it tragic. If I then learned that the person was some kind of heroic person passionately pursuing his values, I would think it very tragic. But if I read that a drunk driver killed himself by running into a tree, I would probably not think it tragic at all.

(I also feel more sorrow the worse the antagonist is, and also more sorrow if somebody is killed by another person versus some random mishap. I'd have to think more about why this is. Maybe it's because it also involves injustice in the sense of a bad person not getting what he deserves....)

So based on that thinking, what happened to Kira is the ultimate tragedy. But if I were a Communist, I might feel that it wasn't tragic at all: that she got what she deserved for being so selfish.

For me, a tragic ending means that a character I cared about had something disastrous and undeserved happen to him.

I would say then that if a character is brought down by a "flaw" that was something he could have corrected, I will feel somewhat less sorrow, depending on how much I think the victim was at fault. So to me, somebody like this is less tragic than somebody like Kira.

It occurs to me also that one could judge an author or culture based on what sorts of things are written that are supposed to be tragic. If an author writes a book in which I'm clearly supposed to feel sorrow about what happens, but I end up not caring at all, then either the author has failed, or else his value judgments are so different from mine that I can't respond the way he means me to. And if a culture consistently produces literature that is supposed to be tragic but that I don't think is, it's probably the case that I'm not going to find much to admire about that culture.

In summary: I think that what one views as tragic depends on one's philosophy, sense-of-life, and automatized value judgments.

How has the idea of what is tragic varied over history and across cultures? That would be interesting to know.

.....

Now for the question of why serious and sorrowful are classified together. I know that they occur together a lot. Of the very limited amount of classical literature I've read, it usually seems like it's either "tragic": meaning it has an unhappy ending, and also that it deals with a serious sugject, or else "comic": meaning it has a happy ending, but that it deals with a non-serious subject. That's the way the few Shakespeare plays I've read seemed to be also. Why is this? It seems like a malevolent universe premise would explain it, but I'm hesitant to make such a sweeping generalization. The idea seems to be: if it's happy, it can't be important, and if it's important, it must be sad.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
To start off, here's the definition of tragedy in the Oxford English Dictionary that I think is most relevant:

"A play or other literary work of a serious or sorrowful character, with a fatal or disastrous conclusion: opp. to comedy."

The OED definition is rather defficient, because it does not explain why one would be moved by the fatal or disastrous outcome of a serious or sorrowful character. The Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia provides a comprehensive entry for "tragedy," beginning with this definition:

A Western literary form, chiefly dramatic, which evokes strong emotions in the audience by presenting an often superior and noble being who demonstrates great courage and perseverence while facing and struggling against certain defeat.

This definition begins with the audience's response, then proceeds to explain what evokes this response. The tragic hero is superior and noble, not just serious or sorrowful, and he does not passively suffers a fatal or disastrous outcome, but struggles against the odds and demonstrates courage and perseverence.

According to the OED definition, Kira's sister Lydia may qualify as a tragic heroine, because she is serious and sorrowful, and suffers under the Communist regime because she cannot enter a convent like she dreams about. Life under Godless Communism is disastrous for her. But Lydia does not move the reader, because she does not do anything about her fate, only welcomes the suffering as a punishment for her sins. In contrast, Kira is a tragic heroine becuase she is superiour to those around her, and struggles courageously against the fate imposed on her by the Communist regime. She fights to the end, and prefers to die while trying to escape than to live under oppression.

Benet's entry points out that Aristotle's definition of tragedy in the Poetics is the most generally acceptable definition, "a dramatic presentation that arouses pity and fear in the audience, thus stimulating a catharsis of these emotions." The entry provides information about the development of the concept of the tragic hero along history, then concludes:

The forms of tragedy have changed to reflect the beliefs, values, and conventions of the age in which they are produced. However, the fundamental tragic vision remain the same: the spectacle of a human being of nobility, idealism, and courage in conflict either with his or her own frailty or with a hostile or indifferent universe.

Benet's supports the view that Rand's tragic heroes cannot be expected to be identical to those of the classical tragic heroes because of the different age in which they were produced. The character of Gail Wynand cannot be expected to be identical to that of Oedipus Rex, (or of Hamlet for that matter.) But the fundamental tenets of the tragic hero remain the same in all ages.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

P.S. Reading the entry for "tragedy" in Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia, I realized that the classical tragic hero could also suffer from a tragic flaw. Such flaw could be pride, ambition, or overconfidence that "leads a hero to ignore warnings of the gods or to disregard established moral codes, resulting in the hero's downfall." In either case, the hero's downfall was a punishment from the gods, not the objective consequences in reality for his actions. The classical tragic flaw was personified by the goddess Hubris (or Hybris). I think that even when the classical tragic hero was undone by his tragic flaw or Hubris, he was still "a plaything of the gods."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
In summary, today what does "tragedy" usually mean?

Today tragedy in literature means a sad ending, but I don't think that's what it meant to the Greeks. Some of Euripides's plays, such as Iphigenia In Tauris, have happy endings. I believe to the Greeks tragedy meant serious and comedy meant humorous.

One critic, I forget the name, said that tragedy looks up at man and comedy looks down at him. It's hard to admire a character if you're laughing at him. Up until modern times tragedy was usually about nobility, whereas comedy was about more common people. In the New Comedy of Menander, which was adapted by and influenced the Roman playwrights Terence and Plautus, the central character was often a slave.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

While some tragedies might have ended end happily, I think that the unhappy ending was nevertheless the general rule, both statistically and ideologically. The last part of the definition Michelle quoted is a crucial one: "... who demonstrates great courage and perseverence while facing and struggling against certain defeat". I think the for the Greeks, a good ending for a noble character triumphing was trivial, almost an anti-climax; they were fascinated by what happens when a noble character is faced precisely with certain defeat -- why is the defeat certain, what does he do to deserve it, what does he do to try to face it (does he shirk from it, why or why not, etc), and others. That way, both a good lesson and a bad lesson were possible to be encoded into the same plot, to at once encourage a positive, and to discourage from some negative. "Hubris", arrogance, was a very common, almost 'stock', negative which the Greeks spent a lot of time teaching against, being a vice that would be inevitably followed by "nemesis", righteous retribution. This goes all the way from Homer.

A lot can be said about the things the Greeks found trivial, and why. As another example, they did not fashion themselves as defenders or champions of reason, even as they were that, because that would be trivial. I suppose they'd view it a lot like me fashioning myself a defender and champion of the idea that Internet forums are good, and writing a long and impassioned post about it in which I would wring out the most of my eloquence. The Greeks must have felt something similar for the idea of defending reason, and same, I think, for defending the good ending. An entire book could really be written about this.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
[stephen Cox] begins by saying: "One of the most important, and most troublesome, elements of Rand's theory of literature is her insistence on morally idealized characters." [snip] "The principle is distinctively Randian. She feels impelled to justify it, however, by resorting to the distinction drawn by Aristotle, in his Poetics." [snip] "At one point in the Poetics, [Aristotle] recognizes that an author may properly create characters who are what they 'ought to be,' but he does not stipulate that an author should do so, nor does he make this the basis of his distinction between history and imaginative literature."

I haven't read anything by this author, but, based on the above quotes, I have to wonder how familiar he is with Ayn Rand's The Romantic Manifesto; because in that book, she justifies her views of art (and especially of literature) on the volitional nature of man's consciousness rather than on anything that anybody else said about art. In other words, like most everything else Ayn Rand wrote about, she came to her conclusions about art inductively. She did give a lot of credit to Aristotle regarding literature, but the author, himself, seems to show that Aristotle did have an understanding of literature that was very similar to Ayn Rand's. It's been a while, but I have read Aristotle's Poetics and I thought the general ideas were pretty much in accord with Miss Rand's regarding literature.

But what troubles me most about the quotes from the author is him saying "One of the most important, and most troublesome, elements of Rand's theory of literature is her insistence on morally idealized characters." And I think his views regarding the relationship between Aristotle and Miss Rand is more of a rationalization than a reason for not trusting her understanding or misunderstanding of Aristotle. Just based on that one sentence, he seems to be a person who is against heroism.

It takes a tremendously virtuous and courageous writer to come up with a morally idealized character, because one is then putting one's own understanding of morality "on the line," so to speak, for the whole world to see -- while realizing that the reader will either accept or reject the author's view of heroism (regardless of whether or not those heroes are ultimately successful).

In short, I'd be leery of what an author who finds morally idealized characters troublesome might be smuggling in about literature and heroism.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I haven't read anything by this author, but, based on the above quotes, I have to wonder how familiar he is with Ayn Rand's The Romantic Manifesto
Cox dissects The Romantic Manifesto in his article, so he is definitely familiar with it. In fact, he is one of the contributors to an anthology on Rand's literary theory published by TOC.
In short, I'd be leery of what an author who finds morally idealized characters troublesome might be smuggling in about literature and heroism.

Cox gave a talk at the TOC summer seminar in 2002, titled "Completing Rand's Literary Theory." He presented a protagonist who is a 40-year old petty criminal still living with his mother in a small town where nothing happens. I almost fell asleep listening to the tape.

But rather than quote from Cox, I prefer to quote from F. McEachran's article "Tragedy and History" where he writes about the hero in Greek tragedy:

In a world verging on barbarism, is a conception of man so dignified, so noble and so far removed from the beasts that perish, in spite of the evident contrast between the ideal and the actual man, that mankind had never till quite lately ceased to imitate it and to feel its lasting inspiration.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A further thought on this issue:

Ayn Rand had a lot of characters in her stories who were not morally perfect -- i.e. the villains (Ellsworth Toohey), and those who were of mixed premises (Peter Keating). So she certainly didn't insist that all literary characters be morally perfect. In fact, it is logically necessary to have the full range of characterizations centered around the theme of the story in order to make the abstraction of the theme fully concretized. One does this by creating individual characters depicting the logical variations of the theme.

Miss Rand was such a master of this logical creation of characters that she even went so far as to have variations of the theme within the sub-set of heroism. Notice that the various heroes of Atlas Shrugged were variations (or added emphasis) on the theme of the rational virtues: Hank Rearden represented the virtue of productiveness, Francisco D'Anconia represented the virtue of pride, etc.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Cox gave a talk at the TOC summer seminar in 2002, titled "Completing Rand's Literary Theory." He presented a protagonist who is a 40-year old petty criminal still living with his mother in a small town where nothing happens. I almost fell asleep listening to the tape.

This validates my suspicions.

Why in the world would anyone think that writing what amounts to literary gibberish think that they are "completing" anything at all -- let alone Miss Rand's work? Besides, if someone wanted to present such a non-inspiring non-story, all one would have to do is to show some of the movies that came out in the 70's. Not only did he not complete a legitimate and rational theory, he spews contempt at heroism!

"Things as they might be and ought to be" means that the central character of the story must be trying to accomplish something because man has volition and his values are not achieved without rational effort -- which means the story needs a plot. But even stories which don't contain a plot can have heroes, witness Calumet K (Miss Rand said this was her favorite story because it showed an efficacious man) and Anthem (which definitely contains a hero, even though he wasn't trying to accomplish anything specific for the length of the story). So, even if a character only reacts rationally to events that are happening around him, there may not be a plot, but he can still be heroic.

Why go through the effort to create an anti-hero who is not even a capable villain? Did the author attempt to explain this?

Actually, just before I submitted this post I realized that Miss Rand did have such a character in Atlas Shrugged -- his name was James Taggart, who never did anything to achieve anything and who spat at John Galt to his own demise by the end of that story. So, even an anti-hero can have his place in a long story that can support a very wide range of characters to fully concretize the theme. The theme of Atlas Shrugged was the meaning of man's mind -- and James Taggart abdicated his mind, and therefore his life.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
---------------

Why go through the effort to create an anti-hero who is not even a capable villain? Did the author attempt to explain this?

Actually, just before I submitted this post I realized that Miss Rand did have such a character in Atlas Shrugged -- his name was James Taggart, who never did anything to achieve anything and who spat at John Galt to his own demise by the end of that story. So, even an anti-hero can have his place in a long story that can support a very wide range of characters to fully concretize the theme. The theme of Atlas Shrugged was the meaning of man's mind -- and James Taggart abdicated his mind, and therefore his life.

I don't think one can classify James Taggart as an anti-hero. He is a villain.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I don't think one can classify James Taggart as an anti-hero.  He is a villain.

I think you are correct, James Taggart did go through an effort to actually block and to confiscate the achievement of those better than him; making him a villain who used either force or fraud, instead of an anti-hero. Since Mr. Cox's character was a petty thief, I guess the same can be said of him.

Probably the closest Miss Rand came to creating anti-heroes was the town of Starnesville, which was full of people who never did much of anything and were complaining about their lack of achievement. The woman who was a mystic is one actual character, while the others like her are implicit. There may be other characters who were explicitly anti-heroes, but I can't remember them.

But what is the point of making such characters, except to show what happens when one is not rational -- i.e. not integrated to reality? And while this is an important message to get across, I don't think it would be valuable to read unless it is done in the manner of Dostoevsky, who did a ruthless dissection of evil.

Still, a ruthless dissection of a non-being? Why bother?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi everyone,

I addressed the subject of whether Aristotle said that art deals with things as they could be and ought to be, in one of my posts for Burgess' Poetics Study Group. Click here. It's a philological issue.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I think you are correct, James Taggart did go through an effort to actually block and to confiscate the achievement of those better than him; making him a villain who used either force or fraud, instead of an anti-hero. Since Mr. Cox's character was a petty thief, I guess the same can be said of him.

Probably the closest Miss Rand came to creating anti-heroes was the town of Starnesville, which was full of people who never did much of anything and were complaining about their lack of achievement. The woman who was a mystic is one actual character, while the others like her are implicit. There may be other characters who were explicitly anti-heroes, but I can't remember them.

But what is the point of making such characters, except to show what happens when one is not rational -- i.e. not integrated to reality? And while this is an important message to get across, I don't think it would be valuable to read unless it is done in the manner of Dostoevsky, who did a ruthless dissection of evil.

Still, a ruthless dissection of a non-being? Why bother?

I wouldn't say any of the characters in Rand's literature are anti-heros. I'm no literature major, but as far as I understand what an anti-hero is, it is NOT a character who is portrayed as a bad person (such as the Starnes heirs in your example) in the context where real heros exist in the book. A book with an anti-hero is one that does not contain a real hero in the traditional sense of someone who is pursuing values that advance his goals. The anti-hero is a main character who does not pursue values, but simply acts on the range of the moment within the context of the story created by the author. An example would be someone like Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, or the characters in the movie Easy Rider.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
A book with an anti-hero is one that does not contain a real hero in the traditional sense of someone who is pursuing values that advance his goals.  The anti-hero is a main character who does not pursue values, but simply acts on the range of the moment within the context of the story created by the author.  An example would be someone like Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, or the characters in the movie Easy Rider.

I think I agree with your defining characteristics of an anti-hero; though I'm not sure why the mystic in Atlas Shrugged wasn't an anti-hero, except insofar as she wasn't the main character of the story.

But I haven't read Crime and Punishment. I have it and have tried to read it a few times, but it doesn't keep my interest; since I prefer reading books that have real heroes. So, I can't say if Raskolnikov fits the definition or not.

Movies are a bit easier to take if they are not centered around a hero, and I have seen Easy Rider, though it's been a while. As I've said before, it is possible for a central character to be a hero even if he isn't positively pursuing a defining value of his actions throughout the story. A drifter acting on the range of the moment is not pursuing a value -- maybe the psuedo-value of having nothing to tie him down, so to speak (i.e. a warped sense of freedom -- freedom from having to be anything specific -- almost freedom from life), but this is not what rational individuals consider to be a value.

What is interesting in this context regarding Atlas Shrugged are two characters: the bum on the train (a physical drifter) and the wet nurse (an intellectual drifter). Notice that Miss Rand thought that even these types were salvageable: Dagny gives the bum a job, which he accepts; and the wet nurse does eventually try to defend Hank Rearden. Keep this in mind the next time you hear someone say that Ayn Rand was "cold hearted."

Ayn Rand and Aristotle wanted people to excel, which is one reason they championed romanticism -- or things as they might be and ought to be.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
-----------

As I've said before, it is possible for a central character to be a hero even if he isn't positively pursuing a defining value of his actions throughout the story.

----------

With this, I totally disagree. If the main character is not pursuing positive values, he cannot be classified as hero. That is what an anti-hero would be called. Since you like movies, compare To Kill a Mockingbird and High Noon with In Cold Blood and One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I think I agree with your defining characteristics of an anti-hero; though I'm not sure why the mystic in Atlas Shrugged wasn't an anti-hero, except insofar as she wasn't the main character of the story. But I haven't read Crime and Punishment. I have it and have tried to read it a few times, but it doesn't keep my interest; since I prefer reading books that have real heroes. So, I can't say if Raskolnikov fits the definition or not.
Raskolnikov is not an anti-hero but a protagonist who is not a hero. A protagonist is the main character who drives the action of a novel. He may be a hero or a villain or a mix, but he must be dominant in some form. An anti-hero is typically passive, and drifts through the novel.
As I've said before, it is possible for a central character to be a hero even if he isn't positively pursuing a defining value of his actions throughout the story.

I think the term is "protagonist" and not "hero."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think you may have missed my point about the possibility of someone being a hero even if, in a sense, he is not the protagonist of the story.

What I'm thinking of is something along the lines of the movies Enemy of the State or The Man Who Knew Too Much (or other Alfred Hitchcock movies), where the central character is certainly not the one to initiate the story -- he's just minding his own business and gets caught up in something that he doesn't know where it began or how to end it. However, over time he does begin to figure it out (often with the help of people who know more of what is going on -- especially how it all began and how the central character got involved).

So, in this kind of case, the central character does not begin in the story as a protagonist, but he does become one -- and he is usually the one to put all the pieces together leading to a climax of the struggle and a resolution, which are key elements of a good plot.

The better stories, however, are the ones where the central character is after something from the beginning of the story -- although it may just be a longing that he or she seeks to fulfill.

And I agree that a protagonist can be either a moral character or an immoral character (based on the standards of the story writer).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites