January 13, 2017

JSTOR Promotes JARS Nathaniel Branden Symposium

For those who might not know: The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies is published as both a print periodical and electronically through both Project Muse and JSTOR, which is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary sources. As a Pennsylvania State University Press periodical, the journal has benefited from these diverse publication formats (including a new Kindle edition of our most recent issue). JSTOR's electronic publication of JARS has increased our accessibility and visibility to educational, business and not-for-profit institutions across the world. They also provide access to all of our back issues. (And Stanford CLOCKSS houses all of our issues in its dark archives for future generations of scholars.)

In a wonderful development, JSTOR has announced a special promotion on the new pathbreaking symposium in JARS: Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy. Check out that announcement in a Message from Penn State Press, which includes information on a special price for those who would like to download the entire issue (for $24.00!!!).

In another development, we'd also like to announce that we expect the issue to be reviewed in numerous online and print forums. Scroll to the bottom of our Branden Symposium page and you will find a special "Reviews" section that lists currently two discussions of the symposium, one by Anoop Verma of "For the New Intellectual" (who today, on his blog, discusses an early Branden work, Who is Ayn Rand?) and the other by Stephen Boydstun, who fills in some gaps in the annotated bibliography that JARS published as the concluding part of the Branden symposium. Boydstun provides additional references to Branden in the secondary literature from the wonderful journal he edited, Objectivity.

Postscript: In a Facebook thread on Anoop Verma's discussion of Who is Ayn Rand?, the typical Branden Bashers are at it again. I posted the following to that discussion:

Is it possible, for even a moment, to focus on the intellectual content of the book and of all the writings and lectures of the "evil" Brandens? Ayn Rand herself, after the break of 1968, wrote "A Statement of Policy," that all of the lectures and writings of Barbara Branden and Nathaniel Branden up to that point were among the "only authentic sources" on her philosophy and she explicitly mentioned "Who is Ayn Rand?" as among those sources. The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies has just published a symposium on "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy"; so while Yaron Brook of ARI is busy calling Nathaniel Branden a "scumbag" on his podcasts (check out Episode 77), we are trying to recapture a significant part of the history of Objectivism as a philosophy and a movement. Others can engage in scholarship that is more akin to "art" insofar as it is a "selective re-creation of reality", but we choose not to airbrush out of existence the important contributions made by both Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden, whatever their flaws as human beings. And Lord knows, those flaws were many. Let's not forget, however, that in addition to all the lectures and writings of these individuals, under the auspices of the Nathaniel Branden Institute and in the various Objectivist periodicals of the time period, both Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden conducted the deepest, most significant biographical interviews of Ayn Rand in 1960-1961, which have formed the basis of virtually every biographical study of Ayn Rand since, including the only "authorized" biography by Barbara Branden in Rand's lifetime, written as the title essay of the wonderful book that Anoop has highlighted here. I fear it is going to take a whole generation of folks to drop dead before we can start evaluating these issues more "objectively."

And the beat goes on, as one of the discussants attacked my own work on Rand; I replied:

On the contrary, I am completely aware of the Blackwell Companion, which is a giant step forward, and it took these folks several decades to finally address the contributions of the Brandens to the Objectivist canon. On the other hand, your completely gratuitous swipe at my own book, with no discussion whatsoever of its contributions (especially that it is the only extant source that discusses the actual courses that Rand took at the University of Petrograd; see the second edition), is actually something that the writers of the Companion acknowledge. You must have skipped that part.

The discussion then turned to several negative evaluations of my work, to which I replied:

I'm not going to turn this into a discussion about my work. But I have NEVER claimed Rand was a Hegelian or a Marxist. Read my trilogy, which started with Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, and continued with Russian Radical and ended with Total Freedom, which totally rewrote the history of the concept of dialectics, rooting it in Aristotle (whom Hegel himself called the "Fountainhead"!! of dialectical inquiry). Dialectics, in short form, is "the art of context keeping" and it is an art that predated Aristotle, but it was Aristotle who wrote the first theoretical book (the Topics) on the method, and showed the importance throughout all of his works, of looking at events, things, problems, etc. from different vantage points, on different levels of generality, as an integrated whole, understood across time. This is context-keeping of the most sophisticated kind and it is apparent in Rand's work. It is something that has not been discussed at length in the literature and I sought to fill that gap.
Moreover, my original historical research entailed unearthing Rand's college transcripts from the University of Petrograd (now the University of St. Petersberg again) and doing a very thorough analysis of the courses Rand took, the books that were used in these courses, and the most probable professors who taught these courses, all in an effort to try to understand better the context within which Rand was growing to intellectual maturity. (For the fuller analysis of the transcripts, in fact the ONLY analysis of the transcripts in print anywhere, see the second edition of my Russian Radical.)
In the end, however, my book tells the story of how Rand was actually more of an Aristotelian than even she may have recognized, since it was Aristotle who was the genuine father of the form of dialectics that I advocate. It is understandable why Rand would have rejected the word "dialectics" given its connection to the "dialectical materialism" of the Bolsheviks. But that does not mean that her methods of analysis show no evidence of this kind of dialectical form.
I don't want to hijack this thread on Who is Ayn Rand? to discuss the merits or demerits of my work, or my morality or my evasiveness and genuinely evil soul. None of us is perfect, and the Brandens certainly weren't, and you will find no place in any of my writings that has soft-soaked the ways in which Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden undermined and betrayed Ayn Rand and the movement they worked so hard to build. (And for the record, you will find in my work many extremely positive discussions of non-Brandenians, like Leonard Peikoff, his books and many lectures, which recognize their indispensable importance to the evolution of Randian philosophy.)
For me, it's time to move on. I'll take my lumps like anyone, but this kind of utter distortion of what I had to say is so beyond the pale that it merits some kind of response from the person who actually wrote the books and knows what he did. And if anyone here thinks that this put a feather in my cap professionally, or that it gave a boost to my "career," I can assure you that it has all been a labor of love. I've coedited The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies for sixteen years and have not earned a single cent. And I have not endeared myself to either the left (which has owned "dialectics") or the Objectivist or libertarian communities (which typically identify dialectics with Hegel and Marx) by taking up this thesis and running with it.
But I stand by every single word. Thanks for the engagement. Enjoy the conversation.

And in one final, parting shot, I added:

Some folks just never disappoint; I'm delighted that you're still having such a ball! Enjoy!

For the record, these folks know exactly who they are.

Oh, one more comment came in, on the thread I initiated at Facebook, with this JSTOR announcement; it was public, so that means any whackjob could post to the thread. Alas, one person warned Anoop Verma not to become involved with the folks of JARS; he said: "Anoop, you would be wise to avoid these people. They are dishonest and corrupt."

Well, I have to admit that I was born in Brooklyn and have lived here my whole life. And at the end of a long day of debating one whackjob after another, I just could not contain the Brooklyn in me for one minute longer. I replied:

That's right, Anoop. We have signed a pact with the Devil, and we get together regularly to perform ritual sacrifices. So, be careful, or you too will become a fallen angel.

Follow-up Postscript (posted on 14 January 2017, 9:30 p.m.): In the discussion that followed my announcement on Facebook, a dear friend, Stephen Boydstun, discussed some issues with regard to the publication in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies that raised questions as to whether we advertised a piece written by ARI-affiliated scholar Andrew Bernstein on the cover of our Spring 2002 issue, in which appears Bernstein's reply to a Kirsti Minsaas review of his "Cliffsnotes" series. In the following post, I responded for the record:

I would like to say for the record that Andrew Bernstein signed a letter of agreement with The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (I have the original letter of agreement with his signature, address and contact information, and can scan it and provide it as proof to anyone so interested; but because it has private contact information, I don't think it is appropriate to put it on a public forum.) In any event, he was invited to publish an essay in reply to a critical review of his "Cliffsnotes" series, written by Kirsti Minsaas in the Fall 2001 issue of JARS. He declined to write an essay, but chose to write a paragraph in reply; that was his prerogative. But he was obligated to sign a letter of agreement, because we do not publish anything in our pages without such a letter of agreement. I had cordial exchanges with him prior to the publication of his reply to Minsaas, and we were set to publish a review of a forthcoming of book of his until he decided to apologize to the world for having published his paragraph in JARS. He urged all those concerned with the future of Objectivism to boycott JARS. Folks can still read his apologia here.

I should mention that Bernstein's denunciation of our journal got him into a little hot water in later years; the story of that was reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education, an excerpt of which appears at the bottom of our review page, the piece by David Glenn.

Finally, I consider you a dear and valued friend, Stephen (and by the way, I read Mr. Shelton's essay in Objectivity and quite enjoyed it back then). So in the interests of accuracy, I would like to attach here a copy of the cover of the issue of JARS (Spring 2002) in which Bernstein's reply to Minsaas appeared. As you can see, we never went out of our way to put his name on the cover, and only listed him among those appearing in the journal when we circulated our announcement of its contents (and you can see the original Spring 2002 announcement above in the same link that contains the Bernstein apology), as was our policy then, and now. I don't know if you can see the contents in this jpeg, but as listed, here they are:

The Actuality of Ayn Rand - Slavoj Zizek
The Trickster Icon and Objectivism - Joseph Maurone
Is Benevolent Egoism Coherent? - Michael Huemer
Goals, Values, and the Implicit: Explorations in Psychological Ontology - Robert L. Robert L Campbell
A Contest of Wills: David Kelley's "The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand" - Jonathan Jacobs
Having Your Say: Ayn Rand's "The Art of Nonfiction" - Stephen Cox

NOWHERE on the cover will one find Bernstein's name.

Spring2002JARSCoverForNotablog.jpg

Stephen subsequently checked out his back issues and discovered that I was correct. I added on Facebook:

You know how high I hold you in esteem; and whatever my Brooklyn sarcasm above, I stand by my word that I did indeed enjoy Ray Shelton's essay in Objectivity, and you know how much I honor your journal. As you can see, we've added two links to your own comments on the Branden symposium to our reviews page, one of which fills a gap in the secondary literature, documenting citations from Objectivity in which Branden was mentioned. Again, no harm, no foul.
And as I mentioned in correspondence, we have always followed a policy of having contributors sign a letter of agreement, no matter how short or long their contributions are (and in the case of Andrew Bernstein, it was he who gave us his biography, which was actually longer than his contribution!). In any event, one can find a rejoinder to James Arnt Aune in the pages of the Fall 2002 issue of JARS by Leland Yeager, and it consisted of a single paragraph, and he too had to sign a letter of agreement.

Postscript to the Postscript to the ... (posted on 15 January 2017, 3:39 p.m.): I replied once again on the Anoop Verma thread to various questions that were raised; here's what I had to say:

Two things: First, Jae Alexander states: "And neither was I ever taken in by their [the Brandens'] wretched (post-mortem) smears, nor by your non-objective 'Russian Radical' revisionism." This is followed by the statement: "In fairness to Sciabarra, I have not gotten to his allegedly valid contributions to the Objectivist scholarship, and have not read his book myself." I would so much prefer to be condemned for something Jae actually read. I guess I'm having a little difficulty reconciling Jae's judgment of my "non-objective" revisionism without ever having read the book.
Second, Robert Nasir asks that it depends which way you look at it (the Brandens' contributions versus their flaws), and he is right; I was merely reacting to the actual content of Anoop's post, which was the contributions the Brandens made in the book Who is Ayn Rand?
Ironically, I agree entirely with some of the things Yaron Brook said about Nathaniel Branden (the "scumbag" comment notwithstanding): that NB had a key role in laying the groundwork for the sycophancy, rationalism, cultish, and nasty behavior of some of those in the Inner circle and among the first generation of "students of Objectivism," and that NB used certain important concepts meant to understand aspects of human psychology as a sledgehammer in his NBI days, harming many people in the process. I have written about this not only in the Prologue to the JARS Symposium on NB's work and legacy but in several other essays as well through the years.
All I asked at the beginning of this thread was that we focus on what I believe is the important content of a book that has been buried in the historical memory bank of Objectivism, for it was indeed a crucial contribution not only to an understanding of who Ayn Rand was (biographically) but what she had achieved philosophically. Fortunately, I was only 8 years old when the Break came, and never had the misfortune of having lived through the NBI days. I came to Ayn Rand independently, and read all her work, the work of every person who was mentioned in "The Objectivist" periodicals, all of the Austrian literature, and the libertarian literature, and was never a member of any group, though I did lease lectures from the ARI-affiliated "Lectures on Objectivism" and attended some of the early forums hosted by the Institute for Objectivist Studies. I met both Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden independently while I was preparing my book on Rand (Russian Radical), and each gave me extensive commentary and criticisms of earlier drafts of the manuscript, making comments that were crucially important to its final exposition.
The only "chips" that formed on my shoulder were the ones that fell on me when I tried to crash through the walls of the Ayn Rand Archives in search of Rand's college transcript. I tell the story of my experiences in this article: "In Search of the Rand Transcript." Prior to that experience, I had had cordial relationships with many ARI-affiliated folks, and was even given a screen credit for the Oscar-nominated documentary, "Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life" (as a Research Assistant) for having provided information on Rand's early education, and for having facilitated the receipt of a photo of Rand's philosophy professor (or at least the professor she herself acknoweldged), N. O. Lossky, from Lossky's son for Michael Paxton's use in the documentary. Till this day, I still have professional contact with scholars who have been associated with all the groups in Rand-land, and I try not to paint with a broad brush due to anyone's affiliations. It's a small world out there for Rand scholarship, and I've tried to move on from whatever acrimony I've added to the various fights throughout the years. Life is too short. But I've never hidden the fact that in their later lives, I was befriended by both Nathaniel and Barbara and honored their memories upon their passing. And as for Ayn Rand: I honor her every day of my life... just by living and loving it.

January 09, 2017

Trump versus Streep

Last night, Meryl Streep was honored at the Golden Globes with the Cecil B. DeMille Award. Our President-elect took great exception to Streep's eloquent words in opposition to some of the attitudes projected by Trump on the campaign trail (though never actually using his name in her remarks). Trump has not been kind to Hollywood types, foreigners, or the press (and the feeling has been, generally, mutual), and since the Globes are presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press, Streep, who is probably one of the most accomplished actresses of her generation, used her acceptance speech to put folks on notice that she fully intended to work toward holding the President-elect accountable. Streep was exercising something that is fundamental to this country: the right to speak freely.

In an era where the President-elect reaches his fan base with policy statements that are 140 characters or less, Trump tweeted, in a classic ad hominem, that Streep was "one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood . . ." Mr. Trump, you may be right on a lot of things, and wrong on a lot of things, but if you can achieve half of the accomplishments in politics that Ms. Streep has achieved with her talents in the art of acting, then you'll be a great U.S. President. I just find it amazing that a man can be so thin-skinned as to feel the necessity to belittle one of the finest talents to have ever graced the screen. If he'd simply said: "I didn't expect to be celebrated among the Hollywood elites, and Ms. Streep didn't disappoint, but I hope to prove her wrong," it would have been a welcome break from his typical Twitter tirades. Unfortunately, I think we'll have to settle for at least four years of what is typical of him.

Postscript: I'm reminded by a colleague that in her lifetime, Streep has had 19 Oscar nominations and only 3 Oscar wins in nearly 40 years. If anything, she's not been over-rated; she's been overlooked and underappreciated; for a person who has consistently delivered a remarkable range of performances (and dialects), from her roles in "Sophie's Choice" and "Silkwood" to becoming Julia Child and Margaret Thatcher, she's been taken for granted.

January 01, 2017

Song of the Day #1411

Song of the Day: Funky New Year, words and music by Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Bob Seger and J. D. Souther, was recorded by the Eagles, among the newest Kennedy Center Honorees, as the B-side to "Please Come Home For Christmas" [YouTube link], first made famous by Charles Brown. Check out the Funky single and a Funky live version too [YouTube links]. A happy, healthy, and very funky 2017 to all!

December 30, 2016

Nathaniel Branden Symposium Reviews Begin

Anoop Verma has written a review of the new Journal of Ayn Rand Studies symposium on Nathaniel Branden. Readers can find that review here, though the review has sparked a dialogue on Anoop's Facebook page.

I made one comment on the current thread (and will update readers as time allows):

I would just like to make one comment here, having been a coeditor on this project. Nobody should be speculating on what the "movement" would have been like had Nathaniel Branden not been there; this is a completely ahistorical way of looking at the world. We are not soothsayers; nor are we fiction writers who can easily recreate alternative realities. Reality is what it is independent of what people think or feel; Branden was there from 1950 onward. Rand dedicated Atlas Shrugged to both Nathaniel Branden and Frank O'Connor; who knows how different Atlas would have been had Nathaniel not been in Ayn Rand's life? Would we have had the same plot and same romantic entanglements of Dagny with three men (John Galt, Hank Rearden, and Francisco d'Anconia)? Who knows?
Bottom line is: deal with what is, and form your judgments. Branden was there from 1950, and Rand and Branden went their separate ways in 1968. You may disagree with the directions that Rand and/or Branden went, but the fact is that Rand said explicitly that all the pre-1968 writings and lectures of both Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden remained among the "only authentic sources" on Objectivism, in addition to her own work and the work of others featured in periodicals that she edited. As we say in Brooklyn: "Dems de facts." End of story. (And by the way, if there were no Nathaniel Branden or Barbara Branden in Rand's life, there would also have been no Leonard Peikoff, and so on...)
Those pre-1968 Branden writings and lectures are part of canonical Objectivism whether you like it or not; take them out of the canon, and you can take out all the essays and lectures that Branden contributed on perception, volition, the stolen concept, psycho-epistemology, self-esteem, pseudo-self-esteem, social metaphysics, psychological visibility, romantic love, and countless other subjects, including analyses of Rand's literary method. Not to mention the essays that made it into both The Virtue of Selfishness and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (in the latter work, this includes all of the material that Branden integrated into the Objectivist corpus from the economic writings of Austrian economics).
And in terms of Barbara Branden, we have the only authorized course (a ten-lecture course) on "Principles of Efficient Thinking," which might as well have been renamed "Introduction to Objectivist Psycho-Epistemology," since it is the only course to deal extensively with that crucial subject in the entire Objectivist tradition (oral and written). Nathaniel Branden himself credits Barbara Branden with having introduced both he and Rand to this crucial area of study.
Also note that Rand counted Who is Ayn Rand? (co-written by Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden) as among those only "authentic" sources containing information about her and her philosophy, and that that particular book has the only authorized biography written (by Barbara Branden) in Rand's lifetime.
I would prefer, of course, as a founding co-editor of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies that if readers would like to participate in a thread on the symposium, it would be great if they actually read the symposium and offer their critical comments as Anoop has done here. The essays in the symposium are not purely "hagiographical"; yes, some of the reflections are deeply personal and laudatory. But the subject matter of the symposium is made up of many different perspectives coming from many different disciplines; it is the only anthology of such essays of its kind. In fact it is the first of what we hope will be many more studies of Branden's work to come.

Additional comments were made on this thread; on December 31, 2016, I posted three additional comments, all in response to questions posed by Anoop Verma, whose review of the symposium is the subject of the thread.

Anoop wondered about the timeline of the relationships between Ayn Rand, Nathaniel Branden, Barbara Branden, and Leonard Peikoff, and about the relationships among these individuals; he also asked about the book Who is Ayn Rand?. I wrote:

Hi, Anoop: you can basically get all the facts from two sources; one is of course Barbara Branden's biography, The Passion of Ayn Rand, where she tells us on page 246 that after Nathaniel met Rand in 1950, and then she met Rand, they introduced Rand to others, including Barbara's dear friend Joan Mitchell (who had been briefly married to Alan Greenspan), and her 17-year old cousin Leonard Peikoff. Peikoff tells us in his essay "My Thirty Years with Ayn Rand," that he met her [Rand] when he was 17 in the spring of 1951. It should also be mentioned that almost the entire inner circle, that which became "The Collective", was made up of friends and cousins of Nathaniel Branden (then, Nathan Blumenthal) and Barbara Branden (then, Barbara Weidman): Elayne Blumenthal (Nathan's sister, who eventually married Harry Kalberman); Allan Blumenthal (Nathaniel's first cousin, who eventually married Joan Mitchell), etc. Others who came into the inner circle included Mary Ann Rukavina (who became Mary Ann Sures) and Joan Kennedy Taylor (who read an advance copy of Atlas and was daughter of Deems Taylor, composer). Hope this clarifies things; in essence, it was almost a family affair!

I added:

One other point: Barbara Branden was Rand's first biographer who wrote the first authorized biography in "Who is Ayn Rand?" but she also majored in philosophy and got a master's degree in philosophy under Sidney Hook at New York University (who was also the mentor to Leonard Peikoff, who completed his Ph.D. in philosophy at NYU). Barbara did review books for Rand's periodicals and delivered a course, "Principles of Efficient Thinking," which is on its way to becoming a print publication, published by Cobden Press, for which I have written the foreword. It is a fine work on one aspect of philosophy: psycho-epistemology (which pertains not to the content of awareness but to the methods, means, and mechanics by which we think).

I added:

Nathaniel wrote three essays for "Who is Ayn Rand?": "The Moral Revolution in Atlas Shrugged"; "Objectivism and Psychology"; and "The Literary Method of Ayn Rand"; this is followed by "A Biographical Essay": "Who is Ayn Rand?", the title essay of the book, the first authorized biography of Ayn Rand, written by Barbara Branden. Most of the material for this was gleaned from the many hours of biographical interviews of Ayn Rand conducted in 1960-1961 by both Barbara Branden and Nathaniel Branden. Check the materials I sent you and you'll find the authorized biography as the last chapter of the book.

I made an additional observation about Leonard Peikoff:

One other point, btw: None of my own admiration of Nathaniel Branden has affected any of my admiration for some of the important work, indeed--indispensable work--that Leonard Peikoff has done in the area of articulating Objectivist philosophy and extending some of the insights of Rand into areas in which Rand did not venture. Certainly his Ominous Parallels has some very important things to say about the phenomenon of Nazism, as well as the nature of social domination; his book on Objectivism includes crucially important material that was taken from the course he gave under Rand's auspices, but never put into print by Rand herself; his Understanding Objectivism is, for me, perhaps the most important series of lectures he ever gave, and I'm happy that it is now out in some form (even if not in its original packaging; that is, for example, we don't have Edith Packer's contribution to that course in print for obvious reasons: she and Peikoff parted ways some years ago in the split between Peikoff and George Reisman). I have learned immensely from Peikoff's work; a sizeable portion of my own Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical cites his published work and so much of the work he did in lectures that can only be found in the "oral tradition" of Objectivism, on subjects as varied as the philosophy of history and the principles of logic.

December 28, 2016

Song of the Day #1410

Song of the Day: Singin' in the Rain ("Good Morning"), music by Nacio Herb Brown, lyrics by Arthur Freed, made its debut in the 1939 film "Babes in Arms." But it was made super-famous by the wonderful singing-and-dancing trio of Donald O'Connor, Gene Kelly, and Debbie Reynolds in the great 1952 movie musical "Singin' in the Rain" (and while you're at it, check out the original Garland-Rooney "Babes in Arms" performance) [YouTube links]. Yesterday, I posted a tribute to Carrie Fisher, who died at the age of 60. I have just learned of the death of her 84-year old mom. To have to post, a day later, a tribute to Reynolds, whose many movies and television appearances I so loved (from "The Debbie Reynolds Show" to "Will and Grace," where Reynolds debuted the "Told Ya So" dance [YouTube link]), just goes beyond tragedy. It is almost literally unbelievable to see within a few days, the deaths of celebrities such as Zsa Zsa Gabor, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, and now, Debbie Reynolds. I am greatly saddened. For me, Debbie Reynolds was as "unsinkable" as Molly Brown. RIP, Debbie.

December 27, 2016

Song of the Day #1409

Song of the Day: Star Wars: A New Hope ("Princess Leia's Theme") [YouTube link], composed by the great John Williams, was first heard in "Episode Four," which for those who have been living under a galactic rock for 40 years, is actually the first film in the "Star Wars" franchise, which began in 1977. It is fitting to feature this theme in remembrance of the sad passing of the woman who first brought Princess Leia to life: Carrie Fisher, who died today at the age of 60. Daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds, she was a gifted talent, who achieved many wonderful accomplishments in her life. But she will forever be identified with this role, which she also played in "The Empire Strikes Back" (Episode Five, 1980), "Return of the Jedi" (Episode Six, 1983), and "The Force Awakens" (Episode Seven, 2015). The setting of this epic space opera may have begun "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away," but Fisher's force will be with us for light years to come. RIP, Carrie Fisher.

December 26, 2016

Song of the Day #1408

Song of the Day: Monkey features the words and music of George Michael, who, sadly, passed away at the age of 53 on Christmas Day 2016. Originally part of the duo Wham!, giving us a memorable song of the season ("Last Christmas"), Michael recorded a number of songs that have been among my favorites ("Feeling Good," "Kissing a Fool," "My Baby Just Cares for Me," and "If I Told You That," a duet with the late Whitney Houston). This track was a Top Ten R&B track that went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Dance Club Singles charts. A Jimmy Jam-Terry Lewis production, it was the fourth consecutive #1 hit from Michael's solo album, "Faith." It sported a deep bass line and a great sleaze dance beat. Check out the official video and the extended remix (with a few samples from "Hard Day" [YouTube links], another of Michael's adventures in funk). Back in 1987, when I was still doing the occasional mobile DJ gig, I'd have a ball with those two turn tables remixing the 12" vinyl records (remember those?) to packed dance floors. RIP, George. He'll be missed.

December 25, 2016

Song of the Day #1407

Song of the Day: That's What Christmas Means To Me, words and music by Harry Revel, is heard in the heart-warming 1947 film, "It Happened on Fifth Avenue." The title of this tune might pertain to at least four different songs, but this rare soundtrack gem can be heard in a TCM film clip. The film received an Oscar nomination for "Best Original Story", but it actually lost out to another wonderful Christmas film: "Miracle on 34th Street." For an extra dose of good cheer and good will, check out another holiday classic by the wonderful USAF Band playing "Jingle Bells/Auld Lang Syne" [YouTube link]. It may have you dancing right into the New Year (a tip of the Santa hat to Roger Bissell for that wonderful video!). And a Happy Hanukkah to all my Jewish friends!

December 24, 2016

Song of the Day #1406

Song of the Day: Boogie Woogie Santa Claus, words and music by Leon Rene, went to #12 on what in late 1947 was called the Billboard Race Records chart. That original version was recorded by Mabel Scott [YouTube link]. But there are also versions by the Brian Setzer Orchestra (single and live rendition [YouTube links]). Don't forget to track Santa's travels on NORAD! Have a safe and Merry Christmas Eve!

December 20, 2016

JSTOR Publishes JARS' Branden Symposium Prologue

As readers of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies know, our journal is available not only in print, but also online through Project Muse and JSTOR. And this year's double issue is actually available in a Kindle edition, the first Kindle version ever published in the journal's history. Folks interested in ordering the Kindle edition, should check it out at amazon.com here.

But JSTOR has for the first time made fully accessible to the public the Prologue to this year's symposium, "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy." You can read that Prologue here. Some of the Prologue was featured in my announcement of the issue's publication. But now you can read it in full; you don't have to be a subscriber to JSTOR!

Song of the Day #1405

Song of the Day: With Plenty of Money and You features the words and music of Harry Warren and Alexander "Al" Dubin. Back in the sizzling summer, we celebrated a week-long tribute to the great Tony Bennett, who turned 90 on August 3rd. On that date, the singer was honored with an Empire State Building Light Show [YouTube link] and an all-star tribute concert that was recorded for a 2-hour primetime special to be broadcast tonight on NBC. This "song of the day" comes from an album originally titled "Basie Swings, Bennett Sings" but was also marketed as "Strike Up the Band." Either way, this song cooks. For music afficionados, see if you can hear a tiny lick of "Sweet Georgia Brown" in that burnin' Basie big band chart. Check out the swinging tune on YouTube.

December 13, 2016

Ralph Raico, RIP

I have just learned from friends and colleagues that historian extraordinaire, Ralph Raico, passed away. I first met Ralph when I was an undergraduate at NYU, attending various liberty intensives sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies. He was a celebrated member of the Circle Bastiat, which constituted an intellectual and activist salon; it included folks like Murray Rothbard, Ronald Hamowy, George Reisman, and Robert Hessen, and had some celebrated encounters with the Rand circle of the mid-to-late 1950s (with Reisman and Hessen joining the growing circle around Ayn Rand). Ralph's recollections of those encounters bordered on classical theater.

I remember Ralph as being a remarkably passionate lecturer, and a wonderfully kind and considerate scholar, who gave me deeply appreciated personal and professional advice in our various encounters through the years. And he never lacked for a hilarious sense of humor. A founder of the New Individualist Review, he was a libertarian who was often unwilling to cede to contemporary liberals the label of "classical liberalism." A principled and decent human being he was; another light of liberty has dimmed.

RIP, Ralph.

December 12, 2016

New JARS Symposium - Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy

Today, a sparkling new edition of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies makes its debut. It is a special symposium featuring the contributions of fifteen authors on the subject of "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy." As a Pennsylvania State University Press periodical, the new December 2016 issue of the journal (Volume 16, nos. 1-2; Issues #31-32) will appear this week in electronic form on JSTOR, which is promoting it as the first double-issue in the history of JARS. Print copies are on the way to subscribers, just in time for the holidays! Since this is a double issue, it can be purchased as a stand-alone hard copy by nonsubscribers at the annual subscription rate (see the subscription page at the Johns Hopkins University Press, which handles all PSUP periodical distribution through its fulfillment services). In addition to our regular print and electronic publication, this special issue is also available through amazon.com as the very first Kindle edition in the sixteen-year history of JARS.
 
As the ad copy for the new issue informs us:

Nathaniel Branden (1930-2014) was a crucial figure in the life of Ayn Rand and her philosophy. A brilliant psychotherapist and "father" of the self-esteem movement, he made important contributions to the theory and practice of Objectivism. So far, however, his life and influence have never been the subject of a book or collection of articles. The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (JARS) long intended to fill this gap by publishing an interdisciplinary collection of studies about the many facets of his work. With his death on December 3, 2014, JARS received too many valuable essays to publish in a single issue. Now, two years after Branden's passing, and for the first time in our sixteen-year history, we offer not only a double issue but one that will be available in print and as a Kindle edition. Our contributors---who include Tal Ben-Shahar, Roger E. Bissell, Susan Love Brown, Robert L. Campbell, Stephen Cox, Walter Foddis, Teresa I. Morales Gerbaud, Mimi Reisel Gladstein, Roderick T. Long, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, Andrew Schwartz, Duncan Scott, Deepak Sethi, Michael E. Southern, and Joel F. Wade---represent a wide array of perspectives and disciplines, such as political theory, history, philosophy, literature, anthropology, business, film, and both academic and clinical psychology. Also presented is the first print publication of a transcribed 1996 lecture (and its Q&A session), "Objectivism: Past and Future," by Nathaniel Branden, as well as the most comprehensive annotated bibliography yet produced on Branden and the secondary literature regarding his life and work.

NEW JARS: THE BRANDEN SYMPOSIUM


For a lengthier description of the purpose and contents of this symposium, I'd like to feature in today's Notablog entry, a few extended passages from the "Prologue" (full citations and endnotes can be found in the published version, along with much material omitted here), written by the coeditors for this very special issue:  Robert L. Campbell and yours truly (Chris Matthew Sciabarra).  We write:

Nathaniel Branden (born Nathan Blumenthal, 9 April 1930) passed away on 3 December 2014. In 2012, the Editorial Board of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies had approached Branden with a proposal to feature a symposium on his work and legacy. He and his wife Leigh were pleased with the idea, and gave the project their blessings. We are only sorry that he did not live to see its completion.
The symposium, we had explained, would encompass both his eighteen years with Ayn Rand and the much longer post-Randian period in which he became known as the father of the self-esteem movement. Ironically, in the latter period, Branden was gradually drawn back toward reexamining and ultimately reiterating the core principles that Objectivism encompassed. Despite criticisms of Rand in his later work, he became a veritable neo-Objectivist who spent much time on what might be called praxis, that is, the technology of moving toward the six pillars of self-esteem, as he defined them: the practices of living consciously, of self-acceptance, of self-responsibility, of self-assertiveness, of living purposefully, and of personal integrity . . .
Upon Branden's death, our ongoing call for contributions to the symposium suddenly elicited an enormous response. So many essays poured in that it was no longer possible for all of the accepted material to fit into a single issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. Our colleagues at Pennsylvania State University Press, including Patrick Alexander, Julie Lambert, Rachel Ginder, and especially Diana Pesek, helped us to arrive at a workable solution. This would constitute the very first double issue in the history of the journal, and would be published simultaneously as an e-book . . . Kindle edition.
And so we are honored that the entirety of Volume 16, Numbers 1 and 2, is now "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy." We did not wish to publish a hagiography. But we must say for the record that not a single scholar from the orthodox wing of Objectivism or from the Ayn Rand Institute, where criticism of Branden has been most common, submitted a paper, though some were specifically invited. So if the balance tilts toward the laudatory in many of the contributions here, that is because the people who took the time to write these essays actually respected and valued the subject, both personally and professionally.
It was our intention to allow scholars from different disciplines and perspectives and from many walks of life to offer their critical assessments of the legacy of a towering figure in the history of Objectivism, as a philosophy and a movement, and in the popular emergence of the self-esteem movement. Many of the contributors to these pages have never before published in any journal connected to Rand studies. For that very reason, it is our hope that this first anthology will be a watershed moment in critical thinking on Branden's work and legacy.
We dont know who else could have taken on this scholarly endeavor. An orthodox Objectivist periodical would surely not wish to sanction any study of the work of Nathaniel Branden. Professional psychology journals, especially those catering to academic audiences, have not particularly wanted to give legitimacy to the study of a writer who has often been dismissed as a popular psychologist---in much the same way that Ayn Rand was once (and still is, in some circles) dismissed as a cult fiction writer and pop philosopher.
 
Such views of Rand have undergone major change, with the recent publication of two major unauthorized biographies and an exponential growth in scholarly books and articles. Our own sixteen-year history and our collaboration with Penn State University Press are powerful illustrations of the trend.
We hope now to be at the forefront of a comparable change in attitudes toward Nathaniel Branden. A critical reassessment of the man and his work can only benefit our understanding of Objectivism, both theoretically and historically. We also believe that his eclectic clinical approach is bound to have an impact on the established orthodoxies in academic and applied psychology. Such an impact will come only from the kind of constructive engagement that this journal has always encouraged. . . .
As scholars, however, we have remained true to our word: this was going to be an open forum, allowing many perspectives on the man and his work to be expressed. We think we have succeeded, as the fifteen essays (and extensive annotated bibliography) in this collection will show.
Upon Branden's death, Sciabarra criticized orthodox Objectivist writers, who refused to cite Branden's works, even those that are still part of the "official" canon of Ayn Rand's philosophy. It must be remembered that despite their acrimonious personal and professional Break in 1968, Rand made it very clear that Branden's work prior to the Break would and should be considered as among "the only authentic sources of information on Objectivism," which included "my own works (books, articles, lectures), the articles appearing in and the pamphlets reprinted by this magazine (The Objectivist, as well as The Objectivist Newsletter), books by other authors which will be endorsed in this magazine as specifically Objectivist literature, and such individual lectures or lecture courses as may be so endorsed. (This list includes also the book Who Is Ayn Rand? by Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden, as well as the articles by these two authors which have appeared in this magazine in the past, but does not include their future works.) (Rand, "A Statement of Policy," The Objectivist, June 1968)
Sciabarra . . . argued further that those who excoriate the man still owe him a debt of gratitude, "for it was Nathaniel Branden more than anybody, save Ayn Rand, [who was responsible] for the formal development of the philosophy of Objectivism. It was Branden who created the Nathaniel Branden Institute, which brought Rand out of her post-Atlas Shrugged depression, and catapulted her into the role of public philosopher. It was Branden who presented the first systematization of the philosophy with his Basic Principles of Objectivism course (later published as The Vision of Ayn Rand: The Basic Principles of Objectivism), . . .  a course that was given live, and heard by thousands of others on audio recordings, both on vinyl records and tapes. It was Branden who explored the psychological implications of Rand's exalted conception of self-esteem, and whose work was fully and unequivocally endorsed by Rand during her lifetime (indeed, his book, The Psychology of Self-Esteem is largely a collection of . . . the work he did while under Rand's tutelage, and it is, in many ways, the popular launch of the self-esteem movement in modern psychology). He also conducted, with the late Barbara Branden . . . a series of interviews that have formed the basis of nearly every biographical work that has been published."
Alas, the relationship between philosophy as the broadest of disciplines and psychology as a special science is precarious, at best. It cannot be denied that Branden significantly examined many psychological elements that were implicit in Rand's work, and contributed greatly to our understanding  of them. He did so in the magazines he co-edited with Rand (The Objectivist Newsletter and The Objectivist), in a series of articles he wrote on self-esteem, pseudo-self-esteem, social metaphysics, and psycho-epistemology. He provided an explicit discussion of ideas that Rand did not fully explore in her own writings. But in applying these concepts, the early Branden fell into the error of using them not as tools of cognition with which to understand human behavior, but as tools of emotional abuse with which to control those in the growing inner circle of Randian admirers---and it cannot be said that Rand deplored this practice, for she often encouraged it, or used it herself. It was the employment of psychological ideas for social control that led Jeff Walker to characterize Branden not as the father of the self-esteem movement, but as "The Godfather of Self-Esteem". While the metaphor is over the top---Branden lacked both the fists and the guns available to Don Vito Corleone---it is nonetheless true that he was responsible for much damage.
This includes, of course, the damage that Branden did to his relationship with Ayn Rand and to the movement he worked so hard to create. As Sciabarra puts it, Branden, "like every other human being on earth had his faults." It was not that he conducted a relationship with a woman (Ayn Rand) twenty-five years his senior, but that he lied to Rand as that relationship collapsed . . .  It was for this dishonesty that he was ultimately exiled from Rand's life and from organized Objectivism for all eternity. But in self-disclosure, there is a path to self-redemption. As Sciabarra argues: "[I]t was in his post-Randian years that Branden made his biggest impact. He owned up to the damage he did to so many people when he used psychology as a sledgehammer in the Randian Inner Circle to the detriment of many talented and tender human beings. But he also traced the rationalism that was poisoning the philosophy; instead of being a path to uplift, it often became a path to self-repression, self-flagellation, pain, fear, and guilt. It was the height of horrific irony that a movement based on individualism would give birth to The Collective, where group-think discouraged independent thought. But Branden wrote Breaking Free and The Disowned Self, both of which began the very process of breaking free from the worst aspects of that legacy, to which he himself had contributed . . ."
Sciabarra observed . . .  that it was . . . Branden's path toward self-redemption [that] became a path for millions, among them many former Objectivists whose lives were damaged by the cultic aspects of the movement---aspects that Branden once fostered.
And that is one reason this symposium is necessary. . . .  It is surely time to reexamine Branden's contributions across the board. And this symposium leaves almost no relevant discipline untouched.
In Section I, "The Rand Years," we begin with filmmaker Duncan Scott's essay, "The Movement That Began on a Dining Room Table," which discusses the visionary role played by Nathaniel Branden in systematizing Ayn Rand's philosophy and launching an Objectivist movement. Branden's achievements, argues Scott, were accomplished despite deep skepticism and considerable resistance among those within and outside of Rand's circle. And yet, with highly unlikely odds for success, Branden inspired hardworking individuals to use their talents to launch what became a cultural and political phenomenon.
One of our advisory board members, a Professor of Anthropology at Florida Atlantic University, Susan Love Brown, follows with a truly controversial---dare we say, provocative---discussion of the personal relationship between Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden. In "Nathaniel Branden's Oedipus Complex," Brown applies an Oedipal interpretation to this aspect of Branden's life story, one that ultimately resulted in his ability to break free and become his own person.
The last entry in Section I, "Objectivism: Past and Future," is the first appearance in print of a lecture and question-answer session that Branden gave in 1996 before the California Institute for Applied Objectivism. We thank the Estate of Nathaniel Branden, and Leigh Branden in particular, for allowing us to bring this eye-opening session to a wider audience. In many ways, it provides an intellectual culmination to the first section, because it allows Branden to articulate his agreements and disagreements with Rand, from the perspective of a man nearly thirty years removed from the official movement he practically created. It challenges us to think of his whole body of work as a part of Objectivism, or, at the very least, a kind of neo-Objectivism still rooted fundamentally in that which he learned from Rand.
Roger Bissell, who transcribed the Branden lecture, leads off Section II, which we've titled simply "Reflections"---by various individuals who came to know Branden from a variety of disciplines and walks of life. It was through Branden that Bissell, whose works on music, aesthetics, logic, epistemology, and politics have appeared regularly in these pages, came to read Rand, and his essay shows a special appreciation for Branden's wit, wisdom, and welcoming attitude toward new ideas.
Another JARS advisory board member, a Professor of English and Theatre Arts at the University of Texas, El Paso, Mimi Reisel Gladstein, tells us of "The Impact of Nathaniel Branden" on her career---how, if it were not for his initial encouragement, she would hardly have become the Rand scholar she is.
Tal Ben-Shahar, who taught two of the largest psychology classes in the history of Harvard University, provides a touching glimpse of his personal relationship with Branden, who greatly influenced the development of his approach to psychology. His essay, "My Aristotle," details the ways in which Branden helped him both academically and personally.
Deepak Sethi, the CEO of Organic Leadership, follows with his "Personal Reflections on Nathaniel Branden: My Guru and More," which tells the story of how Branden's work inspired him to collaborate with the trailblazing self-esteem theorist, not only on an article that made an impact in the business community . . . but on a series of leadership programs that integrated Branden's sentence-completion techniques into sessions, exploring ways on how to raise the levels of self-esteem among those in the work environment.
Michael E. Southern, a client, an intern, and an eventual friend to Branden, follows with an extraordinary personal memoir---"My Years with Nathaniel Branden"---which tells the story of how Branden helped to liberate Southern from a host of demons. It is also a wide-ranging explication of all of the eclectic, and often literally amazing, techniques that Branden used in his clinical practice.
This essay serves as a natural transition to Section III, to which we've given a Branden-style sentence-completion stem: "If Branden's Works Were Studied by More Academic and Clinical Psychologists. . . ." The section features five individuals in the field who examine Branden's works from diverse perspectives.
Coeditor Robert L. Campbell, Professor of Psychology at Clemson University, provides us with a personal testament to Branden's impact on the development of his career and research interests. He credits Branden's book, The Psychology of Self-Esteem, with having helped him to choose psychology as a career, and considers the gulf in modern American psychology between academic research and clinical practice, which Branden was only partly successful at bridging.
Walter Foddis, a clinical psychology doctoral student, gives his own suggestions about bridging. "Branden's Self-Esteem Theory within the Context of Academic Psychology" presents a new theory of self-esteem that synthesizes ideas from Branden and theorists from clinical, developmental, and social psychology. Foddis documents Branden's influence on his own development of a qualitative and quantitative measurement procedure, the Self-Esteem Sentence Completion Instrument, to assess people's sources of self-esteem.
A biochemist and doctoral student in clinical psychology, Teresa I. Morales Gerbaud provides us with an essay, "Nathaniel Branden's Legacy to the Science of Clinical Psychology," on Branden's essentially, not incidentally, biocentric approach. Branden had characterized "his approach to psychology and psychotherapy as 'biocentric'," which, of course, means "life-centered," focusing on "the study of human beings" from an evolutionary or "life-centered perspective" [quotes from Branden's Informal Discussion of Biocentric Therapy].  Morales puts into sharp focus Branden's concerns with the interplay of the conscious and nonconscious aspects of the mind.
Psychotherapist Andrew Schwartz takes on Branden's dialectical concerns with the whole organism in his essay, "Adler, Branden, and the Third Wave Behavior Therapists: Nathaniel Branden in the Context of the History of Clinical Psychology." In this examination, he situates Branden's contributions to clinical psychology in the traditions of cognitive and behavioral therapy. Specifically, he traces the way they were anticipated in Alfred Adler's "Individual Psychology" (a more accurate translation, as Schwartz reveals, would be "Holistic Psychology") and their similarities with contemporary developments, such as the functional contextual Acceptance and Commitment Therapy of Steven Hayes and the Dialectical Behavior Therapy of Marsha Linehan.
The section concludes with an essay by psychologist Joel F. Wade, "Nathaniel Branden and Devers Branden and the Discipline of Happiness." Wade explores his personal experiences with both Nathaniel and his wife Devers (born Estelle Israel; married to Branden in 1978, divorced in 2003), and the ways in which their techniques influenced his own approach. Wade emphasizes how Devers influenced Nathaniel's work in developing a conception of happiness as a discipline, and one approach that they developed together to build on this through their work with sub-personalities, which draws on an idea of Carl Jung's.
Our Epilogue is written by one of JARS's founding editors, Stephen Cox, Professor of Literature at the University of California, San Diego. "Nathaniel Branden in the Writer's Workshop" details the ways in which Branden was both inspired by imaginative literature and ambitious to create it himself. Cox traces the history of his remarkable literary relationship with Branden, and provides us with a moving perspective on the literary Branden, a man hitherto unseen.
We conclude the symposium with a Nathaniel Branden Annotated Bibliography, by far the  most extensive in print. It traces not only all of his books, articles, and lectures, but much of the secondary literature. It was compiled by Roger E. Bissell, Robert L. Campbell, Stephen Cox, Roderick T. Long, and Chris Matthew Sciabarra.
This symposium has been four years in the making; we hope our readers reap the rewards of an anthology that could have come into being only in a climate of intellectual diversity---a climate that this journal has championed since its inception in 1999.

Needless to say, there is much more in the Campbell-Sciabarra "Prologue"---and even our summary of the essays in this extraordinary symposium provides just a small indication of the treasures readers will discover within its pages.

For more information on the symposium, please consult the JARS page for its abstracts and contributor biographies.  And don't forget to explore the many new and wonderful features of our fully reconstructed website, courtesy of our webmaster, Michael E. Southern, himself a contributor to the Nathaniel Branden symposium. (And I'd also like to thank our indefatigable PSUP copyeditor, Joseph Dahm, for all his wonderful work on this and all of our issues, and to give a "shout-out" to Jennifer Frost, whose Grammar Check always offers helpful tips even to those of us who have been editing for decades!)

We believe this issue constitutes a seminal moment not only in the sixteen-year history of our journal, but in the evolving scholarly literature on the impact of "Ayn Rand and her times," one of the very purposes for which JARS was founded way back in 1999.

Song of the Day #1404

Song of the Day: This Happy Madness (Estrada Branca), music by Antonio Carlos Jobim, lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes, with English lyrics by Gene Lees, was recorded by Jobim and Francis Albert Sinatra, who was born on this date 101 years ago today. Readers might recall that last year I did a three-week tribute in song on the occasion of the Sinatra Centenary. But December 12th never ceases to be a day to honor Ol' Blue Eyes. This particular song was recorded for the album, "Sinatra & Company," released in 1971, but is also to be found on the wonderful "Complete Reprise Recordings" of Sinatra and Jobim. A wonderful day to celebrate the talents of two of the finest artists to have ever graced this planet. Check out this lovely song on YouTube.

January 2017
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31

Contact

Welcome to Notablog.net:  The Blog of Chris Matthew Sciabarra

Information on email notification, comments policy, and the meaning of "Notablog" or write to me at: chris DOT sciabarra AT nyu DOT edu

Archives

Recent Comments

Powered by
Movable Type 3.2