Monday, May 7, 2007

Atlas Blogged

Before we begin today's rant, we wish to address the burning controversy over RandZapper's policy of allowing no comments and providing no contact info. The rationale behind our policy is simple. We do not choose to invite a barrage of email stinkbombs and righteously enraged comment posts into our life, for the same reason that we would not choose to invite a colony of crack-addled dung beetles to take up residence in our bunghole. Rand's insane clown posse of Galt-humping fanboys will simply have to vent their hyperactive spleens elsewhere. Their spittle is liberally distributed throughout the Internet, and surely our one little corner of the Web can be off-limits to their noxious sound and fury.

With this nonissue disposed of, we turn our attention to a newsgroup thread from 2004, entitled "Novels That Not Have Been Filmed." This newsgroup is unusual among those we have visited, in that it is not a domain of Objectivists. This of course elevates the discourse considerably, as most of the contributors have actually read books other than Ayn Rand's works.

When someone mentions The Fountainhead as a novel that should have eschewed its Hollywood incarnation, another poster comments,
I don't know. This might fall into the so godawful that it becomes bizarrely funny. Like a trainwreck
To which a certain Tony, having no idea of the can of worms (or perhaps the nest of dung beetle crackheads) he is about to open, replies,
It did [become bizarrely funny] -- but then again so did the novel. Atlas Shrugged on the other hand was so awful it was just plain terrible.
Enter Calvin Rice, with this combative riposte:
[The Fountainhead] was a great book, and seeing a bad movie made from it might turn some people away from the book, which is a shame. (I know, I know, nothing with Ayn Rand's name on it can possibly be any good, as you have been so effectively taught to say, with an uninformed but still withering sneer.)
Unwilling to leave it at that, Calvin immediately posts a follow-up:
[Atlas] is bad only to those who have been taught to trash it without reading it, and to those who can't appreciate a book on its own terms, but have to, for example, compare it to what a 'novel' is supposed to be, and to those who have to agree with a book's philosophy before they can look at it merits open-mindedly. Atlas Shrugged isn't meant to be a 'novel' or any other particular predetermined type of book.
Atlas isn't meant to be a novel? This would have come as news to Ayn Rand, who certainly saw herself as a novelist, as well to the chorus of mewling sycophants who ritually repeat the mantra that AS is the greatest novel ever written.
It is what it is, a great mystery story,
And a mystery story isn't a novel? How can AS be a mystery anyway, when any half-intelligent twelve-year-old can figure out the Big Surprise Plot Twist after the first fifty pages, even though the novel's heroes (geniuses all) cannot see it coming until it slams them in the head like Maxwell's silver hammer? As a mystery, Atlas manages to defy all known laws of fluid dynamics: it simultaneously sucks and blows.

a great rant about individualism as opposed to collectivism, a series of stunningly constructed dramatic scenes with deliberately larger than life characters, who many people have found to be inspirational....

I'm aware of the predominant political make-up of this newsgroup, so don't imagine that you will be surprising me by demonizing me along with the book for having the effrontery to try to defend it.

Yes, he's just another poor little Randian belittled and besieged by the ugly mob. Another poster calls him on his preemptive strike:
Dude, get off your cross--you are a little too eager to be martyred here, methinks. A LOT of people now find Rand embarrassing to some degree or the other, including many modern-day libertarians, so please--quit presuming that those who disdain your artistic choices are solely motivated by a political agenda. One Grand Inquisitor was enough.
Tony, who got the ball rolling, weighs in, responding to Calvin:
I've only read half of Atlas Shrugged. After the absolute asininity of The Fountainhead I could sorta tell after a while that things weren't going to get better. A non writer is a non writer. I also was a full fledged Eng Lit major (at one time) so I'm not basing my opinion on complete lack of knowledge here. I've read a lot, and turned in a lot of papers. You, on the other hand, with no knowledge of me, have determined in your own head that I didn't read your precious illiterate's POS and therefore you have given yourself a "authority" position. Sorry, Ace - but Shite is Shite - even if it is anti-commie.
Calvin fires back:
If you will check my post again you will see that I didn't assume you hadn't read the book. That was one of three or more possibilities I listed.... What I hate is sneering snobbery, putting down something without even bothering to give a reason, because you're secure in this company, knowing that 90 percent or more of the people here will just nod in agreement, because of one of the possibilities that I listed.
RandZapper hates sneering snobbery also (except for our own sneering snobbery, naturalment). But it seems to us that it was Calvin himself who engaged in some snobbish sneers, when he assumed that anyone who dislikes AS either a) hasn't really read it, b) doesn't understand it, or c) is too closed-minded to give it a fair chance.

How about the possibility that some readers simply aren't impressed with Rand's cardboard (oops - larger than life) caricatures (oops - characters), her polemical and didactic writing style, her repetitious plot, her disturbing sadomasochism, and her far-fetched dramatic situations?

Moreover, Calvin went to some pains to say that those who dislike Atlas have been "taught" to feel that way (i.e., they have no minds of their own) and that their opinions are "uninformed." Snobbish sneering indeed! Poor Calvin - you are predestined to make a fool of yourself on this thread.

After some back-and-forth on other, more interesting topics, Calvin levels his big guns on Tony:

You're lying. Neither have you read half of Atlas Shrugged, nor do you understand why you condemn it. You're parroting others who have convinced you that you shouldn't like it. You may have read some of it, but it's doubtful that you read even the first chapter with an open mind, or else you would know that Ayn Rand could write. Not like Joyce, or Tolstoy, or Fitzgerald, because it was not in her interest to write the way they wrote. As a reader, it's not your job to accept or reject a writer because she is or isn't like other writers. It's your job to open your mind and take in what is written, or leave it alone. It's certainly not your job to write baseless condemnations because the writer uses a style of romantic surrealism, and tries to promote individualism. If you hate individualism, you should have the decency to admit it, but not vindictively try to trash a writer because of it. If you hate the use of larger than life heroes and villains, you should just say so, but not try to denigrate a writer and her readers, because you object to a writer's politics, or attitude, or style. If Ayn Rand was a poor writer in the ways that you imply, her books would not have been revered by so many, and reviled by so many. The woman was a lightning rod, but not 'less than a hack'.

If you read half of Atlas Shrugged, prove it. Or show that you have any grasp of what was put forth in the first part of the book, even the first tenth of it.

This is sadly typical stuff for Randinistas - even though Calvin says he is not an Objectivist. Well, maybe not, but he has the patter down pat. "You're lying! And if you're not, prove it!" And of course, "You're parroting what others have taught you!" Only Randroids can think for themselves; everyone else is a second-hander. And finally the most cherished chestnut of all: "If Rand weren't so great, she wouldn't be so popular!" Nothing second-handed about that. Tony responds indirectly:
I find Rand an overbaked bore as a storyteller... So much of the plot tends to swing on illogical events or people withholding information for no good reason etc, that I cannot get into them. I read all of Fountainhead and determined that the Architect was insane - he takes a job on commission knowing they are going to do their level best to change it, then goes postal when they do.... His relationship with the woman was more than a bit sick - from my point of view, I've never been into S&M and think rape is about power and control - not sex. I can't even remember Atlas but I only got a couple hundred pages into that giant turkey. There was an earlier book that I read too - title, plot and everything else forgotten. I've always seen Rand as someone who obviously did not spend a happy childhood and devised herself a world view to take revenge on those who made her unhappy, then had the audacity to call it a "philosophy".
Someone else comments:
For what it's worth, I slogged through the entirety of Atlas Shrugged *twice* a number of years ago, and while it's a crackerjack piece of storytelling (that was always Rand's literary gift, her ability to tell a story; something she learned at the feet of a master, Cecil B. DeMille), the philosophy that informs the novel is strictly for adolescents (and those who think like them). Believe me, I was under the sway of Objectivism for about a half-hour and even I eventually figured out that what made sense on the page (or did it?) doesn't translate smoothly into real life. She was extremely good at constructing and writing stories (a not-inconsiderable achievement by any standard), but she was no kinda prophetess.
Now here's the real shocker. To this post Calvin responds:
I agree with most of what you said. [Emphasis added by a gape-jawed RandZapper.] Every time I mention Rand books in these NGs, I always point out that I'm no Objectivist, and don't aspire to be, but I always say that the books, Atlas Shrugged in particular, are great story-telling. That's all I would like to see others admit.... Atlas Shrugged is a marvel of plot construction.
Whoa. With friends like Calvin, Rand doesn't need enemies. After his earlier tirades worthy of the sainted John Galt himself, Calvin has now done a triple reverse and abandoned Rand in nearly all respects. Gone are his paeans to Rand's heroic individualism, inspirational characters, etc. Instead we're left with "plot construction" as the sole standout feature of Atlas Shrugged.

At this point Chris Cathcart, who participates in many Objectivist newsgroups, chimes in:
I've basically read no fiction over the past 10 years, with the exception of Rand's novels, so my frame of reference about her quality as storyteller may be non-existent.
He has read no fiction except Rand's for the last decade? Now there's an Objectivist!

What are we to make of all this? There are only two people in the newsgroup who defend Atlas Shrugged as literature. One of them has not read any other fiction in at least ten years. The other one ends up practically admitting that he thinks Rand was batshit crazy and wrong about everything she believed, but she spun a good yarn.

This is how we make progress, people - one nutjob at a time.