Friday, August 28, 2009

A High and Lonely Destiny

It's slow going. Reading Atlas Shrugged is not providing me with one of those transforming philosophical/literary experiences. This isn't Brothers Karamazov or The Stranger. It seems more analogous to one of those long, long road-trips on superslab, where the scenery is just endless sameness and the only thing to break up the journey is keeping tabs on the mile markers. And they seem to go by with way too little frequency.

Ayn Rand does have a rather..cough...interesting style as a writer. She manages, somehow, to be both flowery and coldly inaccessible at the same time. Hers is a form of romanticism that seems to have sprung from the industrial 20th century, and her writing, for me, is like trying to read the music of Wagner. It's big, bombastic, and on a scale that has little to do with lesser mortals. The emotional subtleties of actual human existence are nowhere to be found. Every moment is a grand and towering gesture, all brass and kettledrums, brimming over with Meaning with a capital M. And yet, in the thick of all that fervor, it seems strangely inhuman.

Her characters...at least, the ones she presents as moral exemplars...all have an aesthete's disregard for every human being who does not meet their standards of profit, power, and pursuit of self-interest. Again and again in the first 100 pages we hear from them that human beings generally...and Mexicans in particular...are worthless parasites living off of the creative genius of a few glorious demigods.

As I settle in with Ayn Rand's band of sternly romantic, self-absorbed, and emotionally distant protagonists, I find that they remind me of someone else, someone from another story I first read long ago. That someone is Jadis, Queen of Charn. As she puts it in the Magician's Nephew:
You must learn, child, that what would be wrong for you or for any of the common people is not wrong in a great Queen such as I. The weight of the world is on our shoulders. We must be freed from all rules. Ours is a high and lonely destiny.
That the White Witch of Narnia would be a heroine in Atlas Shrugged is, I think, rather telling.

1 comment:

  1. When I read Atlas Shrugged, I told my wife that Rand writes like a woman but thinks like a man. I seem to recall a lot of scenes with steel gray scenery. (Frank Miller should adapt Atlas to a graphic novel.)

    If it's slow-going this far in, just wait until John Galt's radio address. Prepare yourself for didactic writing at it's very finest!

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