Rand Criticism, Again
Lots of people have emailed me, wondering about my opinion of the recent article on Ayn Rand, entitled "As Astonishing As Elvis," written by Jenny Turner, which appears in The London Review of Books.
I don't have much to say about the article; a full response would require an article of equal length, just to rebut all the arguable misinterpretations and misstatements therein.
For example, at one point, Turner makes the following statement:
Sometimes, she wore a mink coat to deliver her speeches, paid for with compensation received from the Italian wartime government (the Fascisti had liked We the Living so much they had filmed it, without Rand’s say-so).
Well, yes, Rand did receive royalties from the Italian government because of the unauthorized filming of We the Living, but Turner neglects to mention the fact that the film, which was initially green-lighted by the Fascisti for its anti-communism, was eventually pulled because people were responding positively to its individualism and anti-statism... two political "no-no's." Why not mention this? I suppose it is just a lot easier to leave the reader with the distorted implication that the Fascists and Rand had an ideological affinity.
I could go on and on, but there's not much that I'll say here that I haven't already said here and elsewhere.
I had a few brief email exchanges with Turner while she prepared her article. She had contacted me strictly with regard to an essay written by Slavoj Zizek, which appeared in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. As it turns out, it is because of that Zizek essay that JARS got a brief mention in Turner's article. (Even that mention contains an implicit error. Turner states: "A peer-reviewed journal, the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, was founded in 1999, and continues to run out of New York University..." In actuality, I am a Visiting Scholar at NYU, but the journal is not run out of New York University, and has no affiliation whatsoever with the University.)
Interestingly, while Turner mentions briefly Zizek's postmodernist critique of Rand's politics, she fails to mention Zizek's admiration for Rand's portrait of human authenticity in The Fountainhead or his admiration for the way in which Rand herself handled her Affair with Nathaniel Branden (an episode on which Turner focuses as well). I pointed out here Zizek's own words on this subject: "Rand did not cheat. ... To show such firmness in the most intimate domain bears witness to an ethical stance of extraordinary strength: while Rand was here arguably 'immoral' [in the conventional sense, a reference to the extramarital affair], she was ethical in the most profound meaning of the word. It is this ethical stance of inner freedom that accounts for the authenticity clearly discernible in Rand's description of ... Howard Roark."
As I have already stated:
[I]t's fairly typical that discussions of Rand end up becoming discussions of Rand's life. In these instances, however, biography doesn't supplement a discussion of ideas; it often supplants that discussion entirely. Even the New York Times, which has reviewed many Rand works, has never actually reviewed any books about Rand, unless those books are of a biographical character. Reading the Times, one would not even know that there is a growing secondary literature, a veritable industry, of scholarship focused on Rand's ideas.
Well, in all fairness, it should be pointed out that Turner does focus on Rand's ideas, but Rand's philosophy is presented as a stick-figure caricature of itself. And while Turner mentions that books on Rand are being published, the springboard for her essay is Jeff Britting's mini-biography on Rand, a handsome little book, but not one focused on Rand's ideas primarily. Indeed, no books in the vast and growing body of scholarly literature on Rand's ideas are examined in Turner's article, just as they are never mentioned in the New York Times Book Review or the New York Review of Books or anywhere else in the mainstream press.
But that scholarship continues to be published by university and trade presses alike, by organizations, institutions, periodicals, and individuals with vastly different perspectives on Rand. I am confident that at some point this literature will be given the attention it deserves.
Comments welcome. Noted too at L&P.