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Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand

Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand

THE RANDIAN-FEMINISM MAILING LIST

SELECTED ARCHIVES FROM THE FOUR MONTH CONFERENCE

The Randian-Feminism Mailing List is a forum for Objectivist and Randian Feminists -- people who share a common interest in Feminist philosophy, issues and perspectives, and in Ayn Rand's ideas and philosophy.  Thomas Gramstad created the list on January 14, 1998. 

June 14, 1999  (Thomas Gramstad)

Who is Dagny Taggart?: The Epic Hero/ine in Disguise  -   Karen Michalson

    Chris Matthew Sciabarra introduces the discussion (Date: 14-Jun-1999 10:18:14):

This week we turn back to Part Two... briefly... to discuss Karen Michalson's essay, "Who is
Dagny Taggart?  The Epic Hero/ine in Disguise."
Naturally, I invite Karen to say a few words about her essay--why she wrote it, what she hoped to
accomplish, and so forth.  I think it is great that so many of our contributors are here for the
discussion, and I am delighted to "pick their brains" throughout the many weeks of our
engagement. 
As we discuss Karen's essay, I'd like us to consider at least two points--including the essay's
overall theme, which draws from myth and pre-myth and epic fiction:
1.  How does Dagny embody a model for feminism that challenges convention, while
simultaneously transcending the limitations of the collectivist model and the woman-as-victim
model?  (Don't forget to read endnote 4 in this essay: it is priceless.)
2.  Karen provides a very different reading from Nathaniel Branden of the line in ATLAS
SHRUGGED that equates "femininity" with "the look of being chained."  Perhaps we can discuss
the relative merits of the divergent readings.
Discussion of this essay will, most likely, spillover into next week, as we turn to a discussion of
Thomas Gramstad's piece that deals with "the female hero."
     Karen Michalson discusses her contribution to the volume (Mon, 14 Jun 1999 23:07:58): 
Chris wrote:
>> This week we turn back to Part Two... briefly... to discuss
>> Karen Michalson's essay, "Who is Dagny Taggart?  The Epic
>> Hero/ine in Disguise."  Naturally, I invite Karen to say a few
>> words about her essay--why she wrote it, what she hoped to
>> accomplish, and so forth.
I wrote it for the most Objectivist of reasons, because it pleased me to do so.  I'd do it again.  ;)
>> 2.  Karen provides a very different reading from Nathaniel
>> Branden of the line in ATLAS SHRUGGED that equates "femininity"
>> with "the look of being chained."  Perhaps we can discuss the
>> relative merits of the divergent readings.
Thomas wrote:
> First, I think both readings are compatible with Atlas Shrugged
> -- that is, for a reader whose context is only Atlas Shrugged,
> that is, the work of art itself, either reading is possible.
> And since a work of art is supposed to be self-contained, we
> must thus accept both readings.
Agreed. I was primarily interested in examining Rand's work as a fiction writer, not as a
philosopher.  As Thomas points out, "a work of art is supposed to be self-contained" so I took the
approach of reading Dagny exclusively as a literary character in the western literary epic heroic
tradition to see where that would lead.  While recognizing that some of Rand's statements in her
purely philosophical writings and some of her personal statements concerning women were in
conflict with certain statements in her novels, this doesn't represent a real conflict for any
examination of her fiction qua fiction, or her literary characters qua literary characters.  ATLAS
SHRUGGED is of course a deeply philosophical novel, but it is a novel, and addressing it
primarily as a self-contained work of art will result in different readings than addressing it primarily
as a philosophical manifesto.  Since ATLAS SHRUGGED is clearly both, both approaches are
valid.
     Karen Michalson adds (Thu, 17 Jun 1999 17:26:32):
It rings true for me when Peter suggests that "Dagny is so focused on work and achievement that it
is in keeping with her character not to ask about Francisco's friends".  In support of this suggestion
we're told early in the novel that when Dagny was a young girl she was considered stuck-up partly
because she concerned herself more with her work and studies than with cultivating friends of her
own.  So it's perfectly consistent that the young girl who has no interest in cultivating a social life
for herself would also have no interest in anybody else's social life, including Francisco's.
We also know that Dagny considers the relationship she has with Francisco as based on
competence, and that it is the sort of relationship that up until this point Dagny has experienced
with no one else.  So I get the impression she so thoroughly enjoys what she and Francisco have
together that there is no need or desire on her part to inquire after his other friendships.  The
reason Francisco doesn't offer her stories about his great new friends at Patrick Henry University
may be because he has no reason to.  When he is with Dagny he is focused on his sense of
personal achievement along with hers, and that is a focus that can believably and logically exclude
chatter about his friendships with others, friendships that are also no doubt based on a sense of his
personal achievement along with theirs.
Also, Francisco is very much an achiever in his own right through his own efforts, and not an
achiever based on who he is friends with at college.  Epic heroes are solo acts, and Rand no doubt
knew this, so she probably had sound literary reasons for not framing Dagny and Francisco's early
relationship with references to friends or anyone else.

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