November 25, 2015

National Review‘s Katherine Timpf will not apologize

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At least, she’s not planning on apologizing for making a few (not-even-PG-rated) jokes about Star Wars. Her critics, in addition to pouring scorn and hatred on her for daring to joke about such a holy topic, also threaten her life:

Now, I received a few death threats right after I posted the aforementioned tweet — which, by the way, was why I was saying Star Wars fans were “crazy” in the first place. Overall, though, it wasn’t a big deal, and I kind of forgot about it.

Then, this week, one Star Wars super-super-super fan who calls himself “AlphaOmegaSin” made a ten-minute (!) video brutally ripping me apart.

The YouTube comments on his manifesto were even better. You know, stuff like:

    justin 12 hours ago
    Maybe a SW nerd needs to sneak into her dark room, dressed like her bf, rape her, but she doesn’t know it’s rape because she thinks it’s her BF.

    needmypunk 16 hours ago
    I hope she gets acid thrown in her pretty little face.

    sdgaara2 1 day ago
    Wouldn’t it be great if she was beaten to death with “space nerd sticks”

    Guardian978 22 hours ago
    I want to cut that blonde c***’s face off and stick it to a thermal detonator. What a network full of c***s.

    dethklok21 1 day ago
    Wow what a f***ing thunder c***. I hope this b**** gets hit by a f***ing car.

    Mikki Yeong 1 day ago
    those death treaths are approved by me look at that b**** it’s a typical i wear big glasses to look smart but in fact i’m stupid as f*** btwthose glasses used to be only weared by nerds stupid h**

    TheValefor1984 1 day ago
    We should get her address then bury her a** in Star Wars memorabilia lol

    TheGreenStreak452 1 day ago
    I just want to burn Fox News to the ground and all their stupid employees.

[Asterisks not in the original.]

To be fair, AlphaOmegaSin did say that he denounced threats on my life because “Just because you’re a f***ing idiot doesn’t mean that you should have to die.”

A problem with being a free speech absolutist is that you have to accept that some members of the community are going to use it to be as grotesquely offensive as they possibly can. Way to live down to expectations, Star Wars fans.

November 18, 2015

QotD: Piketty’s pessimism

Filed under: Books, Economics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Piketty’s theory is that the yield on capital usually exceeds the growth rate of the economy, and so the share of capital’s returns in national income will steadily increase, simply because interest income is growing faster than the income the whole society is getting. Let us therefore bring in the government to implement “a progressive global tax on capital” — to tax the rich. It is, he says, our only hope. Reading the book is a good opportunity to understand the latest of the leftish worries about capitalism, and to test its economic and philosophical strength. Piketty’s worry about the rich getting richer is indeed merely the latest of a long series going back to Thomas Malthus, David Ricardo, and Karl Marx. Since those founding geniuses of classical economics, trade-tested progress has enormously enriched large parts of humanity — which is now seven times larger in population than in 1800 — and bids fair in the next 50 years or so to enrich everyone on the planet. And yet the left routinely forgets this most important secular event since the invention of agriculture — the Great Enrichment of the last two centuries — and goes on worrying and worrying in a new version every half generation or so.

All the worries, from Malthus to Piketty, share an underlying pessimism, whether from imperfection in the capital market or from the behavioral inadequacies of the individual consumer or from the Laws of Motion of a Capitalist System. During such a pretty good history from 1800 to the present, the economic pessimists on the left have nonetheless been subject to nightmares of terrible, terrible faults. Admittedly, such pessimism sells. For reasons I have never understood, people like to hear that the world is going to hell, and become huffy and scornful when some idiotic optimist intrudes on their pleasure. Yet pessimism has consistently been a poor guide to the modern economic world.

Deirdre N. McCloskey, “How Piketty Misses the Point”, Cato Policy Report, 2015-07.

November 12, 2015

“Camille Paglia is an intellectual flamethrower”

Filed under: Books, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Rachel Toor talks to Camille Paglia:

Not long after she had splashed onto the scene with the publication of her first book, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence From Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, and followed that up with an essay in The New York Times claiming that Madonna was the future of feminism, I went to see Camille Paglia speak on a panel about political correctness at New York University. My recollection is of being frisked by armed guards before being allowed to enter the auditorium, but it’s more likely we just had to empty our pockets and go through a metal detector. That I thought the extra protection was for the professor from a small arts college in Philadelphia, and not for another speaker on the dais, Edward Said, tells you something about how Paglia was regarded in the circles in which I traveled.

Camille Paglia is an intellectual flamethrower. She’s fearless. She can be bully-mean and a name caller. She makes some people really, really mad. But she’s also a serious thinker who has been able to write important scholarly books that cross over into a wide readership, and you can regularly find her byline in national magazines, where it’s always a treat to read her sentences. Whether she’s writing about the Obama administration, characterizing cats (in Sexual Personae) as the “autocrats of self-interest,” rhapsodizing about The Real Housewives, or bludgeoning feminists, Christopher Hitchens, or Jon Stewart, she is sometimes right and never boring.

I approached her for this series with trepidation. I was eager to hear what she had to say about writing, but, to be honest, I was a little afraid of her (she called my former boss, Stanley Fish, a “totalitarian Tinkerbell”). Silly me. Camille could not have been more gracious, personable, or fun. She did tell me with a bit of glee that my former employer, Oxford University Press, was one of the seven publishers who rejected Sexual Personae. Thankfully that was before I started working there.

QotD: What repression looks like from the inside

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Reaction isn’t a conspiracy theory; it’s not suggesting there’s a secret campaign for organized repression. To steal an example from the other side of the aisle, it’s positing something more like patriarchy. Patriarchy doesn’t have an actual Patriarch coordinating men in their efforts to keep down women. It’s just that when lots of people share some really strong cultural norms, they manage to self-organize into a kind of immune system for rejecting new ideas. And Western society just happens to have a really strong progressivist immune system ready to gobble you up if you say anything insufficiently progressive.

And so the main difference between modern liberal democracy and older repressive societies is that older societies repressed things you liked, but modern liberal democracies only repress things you don’t like. Having only things you don’t like repressed looks from the inside a lot like there being no repression at all.

The good Catholic in medieval Spain doesn’t feel repressed, even when the Inquisition drags away her neighbor. She feels like decent people have total freedom to worship whichever saint they want, total freedom to go to whatever cathedral they choose, total freedom to debate who the next bishop should be – oh, and thank goodness someone’s around to deal with those crazy people who are trying to damn the rest of us to Hell. We medieval Spaniards are way too smart to fall for the balance fallacy!

Wait, You Mean The Invisible Multi-Tentacled Monster That Has Taken Over All Our Information Sources Might Be Trying To Mislead Us?

Since you are a citizen of a repressive society, you should be extremely skeptical of all the information you get from schools, the media, and popular books on any topic related to the areas where active repression is occurring. That means at least politics, history, economics, race, and gender. You should be especially skeptical of any book that’s praised as “a breath of fresh air” or “a good counter to the prevailing bias”, as books that garner praise in the media are probably of the “We need fifty Stalins!” variety.

Scott Alexander, “Reactionary Philosophy In An Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell”, Slate Star Codex, 2013-03-03.

November 3, 2015

Lois McMaster Bujold’s Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen

Filed under: Books, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The book isn’t out yet, but it’s starting to get some interesting reviews, including this one by Gopal Sathe for NDTV Gadgets 360:


We will not discuss the plot too much here, but we will certainly say that the book is going to be one of the most divisive ones in the series. Not because of its writing, or the twists and turns that the plot follows, but simply because of the subject matter — Bujold has already confirmed to fans that this book is not a war story, and that it is about grown-ups. In classic science fiction fashion, Bujold uses her alien settings and advanced technology to directly address the questions and concerns we are facing today, about age and gender and relationships and modern culture. And she does a brilliant job of it, as usual.

The book does drop a rather big revelation about a major character, and although the groundwork has been laid out in earlier books in the series (if sparingly), it still feels like an unexpected surprise. So it’s a good thing that Bujold gets the twist out of the way quickly, and matter-of-factly. This means that the book is given the breathing room to tell its own story, instead of twisting itself into knots around this revelation.

Outside of the main story, the B-plot figures around some typical Bujold tropes — military and logistics feature heavily, as does urban planning, and inter-cultural relations — but these all feel a little underdeveloped in Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen. But despite a few small missteps, this book feels like one of Bujold’s most cohesive and mature works, and so it’s perhaps fitting that it’s in this book that she finally returns to the planet Sergyar, which was also the stage for Shards of Honor, the first full novel in the Vorkosigan Saga.

There are frequent references and callbacks to the first book, and reflections on how the story has matured over time, and this works really well in establishing a sense of history to the novel. Even if you aren’t familiar with the adventures that the various members of the Vorkosigan family have had, the sense of real characters who have lived storied lives is clear, and does a lot to ground some of the more fanciful creatures and creations that we find in the book.

October 30, 2015

Al Stewart re-issues reviewed

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In Goldmine Magazine, Dave Thompson reviews three Al Stewart albums (Orange, Past Present and Future, and Modern Times) being re-issued by Esoteric Recordings:

Here’s a dilemma. Sacrifice the last round of Al Stewart reissues, with their healthy helping of bonus tracks, but not precisely stellar sound; or eschew this most recent bundle, which skip a few of the extra songs from before, but return to the original CBS tapes for a remastering that comes as close as Christmas to sounding like the original vinyl?

That’s for your ears to decide, but the fact is, these are the best-sounding Stewart CDs yet, and the most enthrallingly packaged too, with the original UK artwork restored; liners built around a brand new interview; and, between them, a large part of any self-respecting “best of Al” that predates the cat.

Certainly it’s difficult to play favorites between them – Orange boasts “You Don’t Even Know Me,” “I’m Falling” and “Night of the 4th of May,” perhaps the all-time great mea culpa confessional (hit Youtube for the Old Grey Whistle Test rendition, and marvel in speechless joy), then adds the scintillating 45 version of “News From Spain” alongside the already wonderful album take. Plus the b-side “Elvaston Place.”

PPF starts slowly but quickly finds its feet with “Last Day of June 1934,” “Post World War Two Blues” and the remarkable “Soho (Needless to Say),” before marching resolutely into epic territory with “Roads to Moscow” and “Nostradamus” – plus another stray single, “Swallow Wind” (and the 45 mix of “Terminal Eyes”); and Modern Times opens with “Carol,” closes with the title track, and … okay so if you only want two of the three reissues, that’s probably the one to pass over. Like Zero She Flies, earlier in the canon, it’s the sound of Stewart pausing for breath after one brace of brilliance, and before marching onto his next masterpiece.

Which, on this occasion was Year of the Cat, and all the fame and fortune that followed it. And which was also something of a mixed blessing, in that that album and single were so astonishingly huge that they drew a thick black line across his career, and rendered all those earlier albums “formative” works in the eyes of the Great Unwashed. When, in fact, it was simply one more highlight in a career that had positively overflowed with the things.

Three albums precede this batch in the catalog – among them a maiden effort (Bedsitter Images) that stands, in either of its originally released incarnations, among the most important, inspirational and, most of all, lasting of all late sixties singer-songwriter debuts; and a sophomore set whose subsequent renown is so unfairly focussed on the sidelong title track “Love Chronicles,” when it’s side one’s “Old Compton Street Blues” and “The Ballad of Mary Foster” that are truly its greatest accomplishments.

Hopefully we will be seeing similarly exacting reissues of both, plus the aforementioned Zero and many more besides. But for now, to paraphrase another cut from Love Chronicles, you should be listening to Al.

October 29, 2015

QotD: Culture, the arts, and elitism

Filed under: Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Of course not all liberal-arts professors think this way, and not all universities have become cultural wastelands. There are yet islands of excellence in the dead sea of mediocrity, meretriciousness and cultural Marxist rot.

Let us stipulate that there are excellent liberal-arts programs and professors out there. What value do they bring to students?

The usual answer is that a committed teacher can inculcate in a student a lifelong love of the subject matter, whether it be ancient Greek sculpture or medieval French poetry or American jazz music. However, this happens seldom enough to bring the whole axiom into question. It’s the whole “you can bring a horse to water but you can’t make him drink it” problem. You can make a class full of bored young people listen to Mahler and explain to them why you think it’s wonderful, but the point is to convince them that it’s wonderful (or at least worth “appreciating”). This is a much harder task, and one that not many college professors are particularly good at.

This is called the “arts appreciation racket”, and it goes back to the Romantic belief that exposing the hoi polloi to high art would make them more well-rounded people. Somehow. The belief has persisted in spite of mounds of evidence to the contrary. Forcing people to imbibe high art is like forcing a kid to eat broccoli — not only will the kid probably spit it out, he will probably develop a lasting dislike for it. Without context and some motivating purpose, high art simply doesn’t have much relevance for most people.

This is not an inherently bad thing. “High art” has never really been aimed at or intended for a mass audience. The whole notion of “high art” implies a kind of elitism, as a calculus equation is elitist (if you don’t know calculus, the equation will not yield its meaning). The creation and consumption of high art requires a level of literacy, wealth, and leisure that until recently not many people had. But now we live in an age when the jewels of world culture can be had for almost nothing, immediately, anywhere. The limiting factor is no longer literacy, or wealth, or leisure time, but rather motivation. All prerequisites have been removed except the “Why?”. Why spend time listening to a Mozart concerto? Why attend a Wagner opera or study a Turner painting or look up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? The problem with University liberal-arts programs is that they can only give you their “Why?”, not your own “Why?”.

Monty, “DOOM (culturally speaking)”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2014-10-28.

October 15, 2015

S.L.A. Marshall, Dave Grossman, and the “man is naturally peaceful” meme

Filed under: Books, Cancon, History, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The American military historian S.L.A. Marshall was perhaps best known for his book Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command in Future War, where he argued that American military training was insufficient to overcome most men’s natural hesitation to take another human life, even in intense combat situations. Dave Grossman is a modern military author who draws much of his conclusions from the initial work of Marshall. Grossman’s case is presented in his book On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, which was reviewed by Robert Engen in an older issue of the Canadian Military Journal:

As a military historian, I am instinctively skeptical of any work or theory that claims to overturn all existing scholarship – indeed, overturn an entire academic discipline – in one fell swoop. In academic history, the field normally expands and evolves incrementally, based upon new research, rather than being completely overthrown periodically. While it is not impossible for such a revolution to take place and become accepted, extraordinary new research and evidence would need to be presented to back up these claims. Simply put, Grossman’s On Killing and its succeeding “killology” literature represent a potential revolution for military history, if his claims can stand up to scrutiny – especially the claim that throughout human history, most soldiers and people have been unable to kill one another.

I will be the first to acknowledge that Grossman has made positive contributions to the discipline. On Combat, in particular, contains wonderful insights on the physiology of combat that bear further study and incorporation within the discipline. However, Grossman’s current “killology” literature contains some serious problems, and there are some worrying flaws in the theories that are being preached as truth to the men and women of the Canadian Forces. Although much of Grossman’s work is credible, his proposed theories on the inability of human beings to kill one another, while optimistic, are not sufficiently reinforced to warrant uncritical acceptance. A reassessment of the value that this material holds for the Canadian military is necessary.

The evidence seems to indicate that, contrary to Grossman’s ideas, killing is a natural, if difficult, part of human behaviour, and that killology’s belief that soldiers and the population at large are only being able to kill as part of programmed behaviour (or as a symptom of mental illness) hinders our understanding of the actualities of warfare. A flawed understanding of how and why soldiers can kill is no more helpful to the study of military history than it is to practitioners of the military profession. More research in this area is required, and On Killing and On Combat should be treated as the starting points, rather than the culmination, of this process.


October 6, 2015

QotD: Real science

Filed under: History, Quotations, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The easy way to tell real religion from fake religion is that real religion doesn’t make you feel good. It doesn’t assure you that everything you’re doing is right and that you ought to keep on doing it.

The same holds true for science. Real science doesn’t make you feel smart. Fake science does.

No matter how smart you think you are, real science will make you feel stupid far more often than it will make you feel smart. Real science not only tells us how much more we don’t know than we know, a state of affairs that will continue for all of human history, but it tells us how fragile the knowledge that we have gained is, how prone we are to making childish mistakes and allowing our biases to think for us.

Science is a rigorous way of making fewer mistakes. It’s not very useful to people who already know everything. Science is for stupid people who know how much they don’t know.

A look back at the march of science doesn’t show an even line of progress led by smooth-talking popularizers who are never wrong. Instead the cabinets of science are full of oddballs, unqualified, jealous, obsessed and eccentric, whose pivotal discoveries sometimes came about by accident. Science, like so much of human accomplishment, often depended on lucky accidents to provide a result that could then be isolated and systematized into a useful understanding of the process.

Daniel Greenfield, “Science is for Stupid People”, Sultan Knish, 2014-09-30.

September 27, 2015

P.J. O’Rourke on Ann Coulter’s anti-semitism

Filed under: Humour, Media, Politics, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In the Weekly Standard, P.J. O’Rourke discusses Ann Coulter’s recently expressed anti-semitic remarks during the Republican candidates’ debate:

She is young, scatter-brained, and heedless, but she is not an idiot. She graduated cum laude from Cornell and has a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School. But no intelligent hike through the Minotaur’s labyrinth of politics can be made in 140-character baby steps. Especially when you’re walking in clown shoes.

What Ann Coulter tweeted was:

    Cruz, Huckabee Rubio all mentioned ISRAEL in their response to: “What will AMERICA look like after you are president.”


    How many f—ing Jews do these people think there are in the United States?

Not anywhere near as many as there would and should be if FDR hadn’t been as much of a jerk about immigration as you are, Ann, you etiolated bean sprout butt trumpet.

As to why Israel is important, to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, “Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ikh bin a Ishral.’ ”

And I mean it, even if, pope-kissing Mick that I am, my Yiddish is maybe sketchy.

Partly this is personal, Ann, you jangle-tongue, you all-clapper-and-no-carillon, you crack in the Liberty Bell. To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, “It’s not me, it’s you.”

But, first, my contempt is moral. Antisemitism is evil. Per se, as you lawyers like to put it. For the sake of argument, let us “stipulate” that you are not per se an antisemite. Instead of saying that’s true, let us stipulate it with all the snarky lawyer freight that “stipulating” carries.

Being so stipulated, you are damn rude. One does not say, “f—ing Jews.” One does not say “f—ing blacks” or “f—ing Latinos” or even “f—ing relentlessly self-promoting Presbyterian white women from New Canaan.”

Manners are the small change of morality. You, Ann, are nickel and diming yourself. And may all the coins in Scrooge McDuck’s money bin land on you and squash you flat. (Scrooge, by the way, is not a Jew, he’s a duck.)

September 11, 2015

QotD: Ayn Rand

Filed under: Books, Liberty, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Let it be said at the outset that I have never been an Objectivist nor am I now a Libertarian, albeit, obviously, I share many of their aims. There is much in Ayn Rand’s philosophy I admire, and much I despise. She has the odd ability to write pages and pages of very insightful wisdom argued with almost Thomistic rigor and logic, and then to stagger like a screaming drunk into page after page of vituperation and nonsense based on an apparently inability to distinguish radically unalike concepts, such as selfishness versus self-interest, or altruism versus communism.

John C. Wright, “Ayn Rand as Author”, John C. Wright’s Journal, 2014-09-24.

September 2, 2015

Guardian writer: Terry Pratchett was a “mediocrity”

Filed under: Books, Britain, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Jonathan Jones lets all of Terry Pratchett’s fans know that they’re idiots for liking such a mediocre writer of “potboilers”:

It does not matter to me if Terry Pratchett’s final novel is a worthy epitaph or not, or if he wanted it to be pulped by a steamroller. I have never read a single one of his books and I never plan to. Life’s too short.

No offence, but Pratchett is so low on my list of books to read before I die that I would have to live a million years before getting round to him. I did flick through a book by him in a shop, to see what the fuss is about, but the prose seemed very ordinary.

I don’t mean to pick on this particular author, except that the huge fuss attending and following his death this year is part of a very disturbing cultural phenomenon. In the age of social media and ebooks, our concept of literary greatness is being blurred beyond recognition. A middlebrow cult of the popular is holding literature to ransom. Thus, if you judge by the emotional outpourings over their deaths, the greatest writers of recent times were Pratchett and Ray Bradbury. There was far less of an internet splurge when Gabriel García Márquez died in 2014 and Günter Grass this spring. Yet they were true titans of the novel. Their books, like all great books, can change your life, your beliefs, your perceptions. Everyone reads trash sometimes, but why are we now pretending, as a culture, that it is the same thing as literature? The two are utterly different.

But, despite never having read a single one, he’s willing to share his amazingly brilliant insight with us ignorant, barely literate troglodytes. What a prince! We should all feel honoured and all that if he’s condescended enough to point out our collective failings, shouldn’t we?

September 1, 2015

QotD: Question everything

Filed under: Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I’m a fairly big believer in the idea of Questioning Everything, and the absolute first thing on the list of Everything to be Questioned is the self.

Why do I think the way I do? What bigotries lurk in my heart? What cheap rationalizations do I comfort myself with? What petty vanities do I sustain despite all evidence, and what contempts and condescensions do I offer others to sustain those vanities?

What myths and lies do I consciously believe in — and which do I subconsciously believe in?

I don’t want to be all Mr. Liberal here — and I certainly don’t want to lecture self-alleged Liberals on Liberalism 101 — but I think those are reasonable questions that all thinking Men or thinking Women should ask themselves every once in a while.

Self-serving answers shouldn’t be trusted. Self-serving answers may actually be correct, but they should never be trusted, and certainly never accepted at first blush.

We’re taught to be suspicious of flattery from our very first Aesop’s Fable. We know other people may flatter us in order to bend us to their own interests.

The most insidious flattery of all is self-flattery, because we never suspect ourselves of having any ulterior motives.

But of course we all do. We all want to feel superior to our fellow man, and especially those of Other Tribes.

And we will flatter ourselves until we feel just that.

Those who only question other people’s notions are not really questioning anything at all.

Ace, “Breaking: Cult of Intellectual Insecurity Reacts to Threat to Intellect in an Insecure, Cultish Way”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2014-09-19.

August 24, 2015

QotD: Air conditioning

Filed under: Europe, Quotations, Technology, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Thing is, since we don’t live in the far off frozen wastelands like you, it’s not “sweating for a few days”; here it would be sweating for a few months. Or practically the whole year in places like Miami, New Orleans, or Houston.

There’s a reason the population of our industrialized North massively outnumbered that of the South in our Civil War: Because before air conditioning, not many people chose to live in places where the summertime climate can kill you dead. It’s certainly not conducive to industry or a modern economy.

Why is there a stereotype of Southerners talking slowly and ambling languidly, rather than hurrying about like chattering New Yorkers? Because acting like that between May and September down around Atlanta or Birmingham is courting heatstroke.

Air conditioning didn’t just help the modern Sun Belt economy, it’s practically solely responsible for it. Twelve US states are partially or entirely located below the 35th parallel north; the only parts of Europe that far south are Crete and Cyprus, which are not areas known for contributing to the industry of the continent.

Conversely, only our northernmost tier of states is above the 45th parallel: Oregon and Washington, Montana, the Dakotas, parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin and Michigan, a bit of New England… You know what I noticed in Washington state? Neither of the houses I visited had A/C. Nor did the abode of friends in New Hampshire, until they added a window unit upstairs recently to make the occasional summer heat wave more bearable in the loft bedroom. Do you know where the 45th parallel crosses Europe? The French Riviera. Balmy Lombardy. The pleasant Piedmont.

Tam K. “Heavy Smug Emissions”, View From The Porch, 2015-08-13.

August 1, 2015

Ayn Rand’s Ideal

Filed under: Books, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In Vice, Milo Yiannopoulos discusses the long-lost-then-found early Ayn Rand novella Ideal, which Rand reworked into a play:

According to Michael Paxton, who directed the world premiere of the play in 1989, Ideal gives readers an insight into Rand’s state of mind in the early 1930s: Her first novel, We The Living, had been rejected by publishers for being “too intellectual,” and the writer was struggling with odd jobs, having recently moved to the United States.

“It examines the artist’s process,” Paxton told me from his hotel room in North Carolina, where he was set to give a talk at the Ayn Rand Institute’s Objectivist Summer Conference. “How do you be an artist and live in the world at the same time? It’s amazing how, once you’ve lived a little in the world, you can really understand these characters and the issues they’re dealing with — not being understood, thinking the world doesn’t care whether you live or die.”

His assessment is not universal. Perhaps predictably, the New York Times hated the play when it premiered off-Broadway in 2010, concluding that, “the show’s clumsy mix of long bursts of theory and a laborious plot would test the endurance of even Alan Greenspan, a famous Rand admirer and veteran of long, boring meetings.”

As a play, Ideal went unperformed for 60 years after its writing, and was never seen on stage in Rand’s lifetime, though Paxton says that may have something to do with its practical demands: The play has 37 characters and tons of set changes. But he thinks it’s worth the effort: “What’s surprising about the play is that it has a lot of humour, and a lot of satire in how it makes fun of organized religion. It’s subtle, and very funny.”

The good news is the new edition also includes the entire play script. So you can gather 37 of your closest right-wing nutcase allies — or lefty culture jammers, as you prefer — and stage it yourself to find out.

Ideal the novel, which Rand herself set aside as unsatisfactory, is less polished than the stage version, and, despite flashes of Randian flair, there is evidence that the author was still struggling to find her voice. Readers familiar with The Fountainhead will recognize the seeds of that work in this early effort. Thankfully, though, Ideal is not one of those works of juvenilia that ought to have remained lost.

Rand’s critics, often humourless literalists, will find plenty in Ideal to gnaw on: There’s the classically Randian was-it-rape-or-wasn’t-it sex scene and a blisteringly heartless remark after a death that will have fans sniggering and detractors drumming up all the manufactured fury they can muster. And, yes, Rand’s writing can be a bit… much.

But profound, existential loneliness, coupled with a Buffy the Vampire Slayer–esque sense of ordained personal greatness is why so many cheerleaders for capitalism relate to Rand’s lead characters, from Gonda to The Fountainhead‘s Dominique Francon.

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