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Tuesday, September 19, 2023


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Are Rand's popular novels (all continuously in print since publication) so bad that they deserve only invective and that no writer (e.g., O'Connor) should lower herself explain why they fail as literature?


Charles Bukowski outsells J. V. Cunningham. Who is the better poet?

Hey Vito, your literary sensibility is more finely honed than mine. What say you about O'Connor's judgment of Rand's literary merit.

I can’t comment, Bill, since I have not read Rand’s novels, which have never interested me.

I'll take that as a yes, Bill, but I'm not convinced. I read Chambers's review years ago. It's an explanation, though, so thanks for occasioning the re-reading. Tony

Rand wasn't a good writer. She tended to produce flat one-dimensional characters and ascribe them stereotypical features. Most of her positive heroes are tall and slender and bad guys are fat slobs.

Rand had some very challenging ideas; I read her in my 20's and 30's and benefited from them.
Further reading of her in my 50's was not satisfying.
I do agree that as a fiction writer she was weak.

Rand's fiction is not fiction, it's a set of moral treatises that happen to be cast in narrative form. No one reads it for the story.

I get all that, Bill, and that market share is not a measure of literary merit (or demerit). Let's stipulate that Chambers was correct in his review of AS.

Saying Rand "wasn't a good writer," however, as Dmitri does, leaves the success of one who sold her writing for a living (since her days as a scriptwriter for Cecil B. DeMille) inexplicable. Maybe there's a distinction I'm failing to make. Perhaps she wasn't a good novelist, but I fail to see how one can read her philosophical and political prose and conclude "she's not a good writer."


Is AS a "good bad book"? https://orwell.ru/library/reviews/books/english/e_books

Time will tell, Bill. No, "art is not the same things as cerebration." Tony

Good bad book is an apt description of AS. This novel runs for about a thousand pages, the language is repetitive and frequently overly romantic in a long time ago outdated way. The characters are schematic and thin so as to reach low levels of transparency and triviality. Comparison along the standard (and basic) literary dimensions like language, plot and characters with a novel like Heart of Darkness -- also written by a non-native English speaker -- can help to illustrate why AS is badly written.

And, yes, Anthony, "bad novelist" would be a better description. Rand's ideas, the power of her convictions and somewhat believable dystopian elements of the book (the pillars of American capitalist society leave it "for the hills" to a complete collapse as a result of socialist degeneration) are the elements that contribute to the strong and consistent sales of AS despite the weakness of her novel writing.


You have pretty much nailed down the point I wanted to make. The question concerns literary merit. O'Connor's fiction has high literary merit, unlike Rand's.

In the visual arts, there is something called 'kitsch.' See here: https://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2010/01/kitsch-and-clich%C3%A9.html?cid=6a010535ce1cf6970c0120a7ab59e8970b

Look at the Kinkade painting. Do you agree with me that it is kitsch? Perhaps we can say that Rand's novel are literary kitsch.


Yes Rand's AS is kitschy in many places, but I wouldn't call it a pure literary kitsch. "Kitsch" has acquired so many connotations that it became almost useless for identification and classification purposes. Ideologically driven pulp fiction could be a more precise tag.

On a side note, I also read your unflattering comments on Rothko's picture in the 2010 posting. While an understandable reaction, let me just mention that Rothko did know his figurative painting when he was younger. He arrived at the abstract expressionistic "color fields" style you dislike(d?) as a result of a long personal development process. With these works he wanted to elicit strong primary emotions from the viewer. He wasn't a decadent opportunist artist like Warhol or a commercial kitsch genius like Koons. Like Rand who had strong convictions about political economy and religion (and philosophy, but let's leave that topic aside), Rothko had his convictions about art, life, human psychology and philosophy. To the best of my understanding he was genuinely preoccupied with life and death, spirituality and the meaning of it all. Whether a certain technical method he partially invented and adopted later in life was as correct and expressive he thought it to be is an open question, but in my humble opinion, it is highly unlikely.


Rothko aside, do you agree that Kinkade is kitsch?

One of the underlying issues is whether the arts need justification in non-aesthetic terms such as political terms. Nazis and commies have thought so. Perhaps Rand can be lumped in with them.

Yes Bill, I agree that Kinkade's painting is a kitsch.

Rand's upbringing in a totalitarian environment has left its marks -- noticeable to others who knew her, but not to her. Despite her decidedly capitalist and individualist outlook, the intensity of her ideological zeal, intolerance of dissent in her inner circle and anti-religious dogmatism (which ran way deeper than just plain atheism) puts her on par with totalitarians in a few categories.

Well said, Dmitri





Rothbard on AS: "greatest novel ever written." https://thebaffler.com/latest/the-forgotten-man-ganz

Great bunch of links, thanks Bill. Similarities in totalitarian art are striking. Shocking to the uninitiated who are open minded... I learned a few things from the article on Rothbard. Although written by a left leaning author, it is a good counter punch to the choir of usual hagiographers.

Somehow, great art must navigate between the aestheticism of "art for art's sake" and art as political propaganda.

As for Rothko, I still see it as decadent rubbish: it has no human meaning. Whatever you say about Nazi, Commie, and 'Randy' art, it has human meaning. And the same goes for the kitsch of Kinkade.

Agree with you on artists' need to navigate. BTW I am not a fan of Rothko personally. But I do like another abstract expressionist -- Jackson Pollock. Most of his works appeal to me aesthetically, I just enjoy looking at them. I don't care whether its art for art's sake or not, it is beautiful for reasons I can't verbalize well. For example, there is a good specimen called Convergence in the rebuilt Buffalo AKG

On a side note, the completely renovated AKG building is an amazing architectural feat in itself, US $195M and 4 years of work were not spent in vain. Super rich donor who gave a lot of this money could have easily been a star in a Rand novel https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeffrey_Gundlach.

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