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Premises Of Post-Objectivism


Art Versus Philosophy in Ayn Rand's Writings on Male/Female Relationships

Copyright Charles Wieder

Objectivity Vol. 2, #6 (1998)

The novel Atlas Shrugged opens with an indigent asking, "Who is John Galt?" The question is directed at Eddie Willers, a character who will come to represent competence, loyalty, and common decency of the noblest sort. The encounter affects Eddie in an unexpected way, far beyond the quite ordinary circumstance of encountering a panhandler on the city streets.

The significance of the encounter and of that question is well known to many readers of this journal who are familiar with Ayn Rand's fiction. In the course of events that follow in the novel, Rand creates an image of the human spirit that few artists, literary or otherwise, have attempted to portray. Upon completion of Atlas, Rand devoted the major part of her literary work to explicating the moral significance of the character of John Galt, in a steady outpouring of non-fiction essays, and commentaries, toward the formulation of a philosophy to which she gave the name Objectivism.

What this essay asks is whether the matching of John Galt and the mythological Atlas was meant to stand for a generic human capacity for strength, courage, integrity, etc., or if Rand's choice of this hero icon was based at all on Atlas' gender. In other words, could Atlas Shrugged, in theory, have begun with the question, Who is Dagny Taggart?

There is no simple answer to this question of whether Rand would have been less inclined to create a female lead character of the stature of John Galt. For despite her fictional portrayals of among the strongest female images of independence and human achievement in Western literature, Rand utterly disavowed feminism. Feminists - including individualist feminists like myself who are admirers of Rand's work - are understandably perplexed by this apparent inconsistency on Rand's part. In exploring the matter of Rand's opposition to feminism, this essay will hold up one of Rand's foremost female, fictional protagonists, Dagny Taggart, in contrast with Rand's non-fiction writing on the subject of man-woman relationships.

In the course of this inquiry a larger question will be raised concerning Rand's method of deriving the philosophy of Objectivism from the themes embodied in her fiction. By this I mean her frequent reliance upon her novels as philosophic source material - i.e., the direct referencing of portrayals of fictional characters and events, offered not merely as metaphorical examples but as substantive philosophic argument and explanation. What I will be arguing is that:

  1. Rand's efforts to translate the sexual/romantic imagery of her novels into statements on human psychology and moral philosophy led to inconsistencies regarding women's (romantic) psychology, and
  2. that her explication/justification of this fictional imagery, particularly that which relied upon traditional notions of man/woman sexuality, was at odds with respect to her embrace of individualism.

Objectivism: The intersection of rationality and romance

Ayn Rand is not alone as a literary artist who also wrote serious non-fiction. Other novelists and playwrights, ranging from Leo Tolstoy to Oscar Wilde, have done substantial technical writing on such subjects as aesthetics and political philosophy. (Other examples include Voltaire, Dickens, and George Eliot.) And certainly there are numerous examples of individuals whose literary interests have shifted in the opposite direction - scholars, journalists, and scientists who have turned to writing fiction (Arthur Koestler and Carl Sagan are two examples). But where Rand may well stand alone is the extent and comprehensiveness of her philosophical writing after gaining world renown as a writer of fiction. How did these two bodies of Rand's work combine and intersect in the development of Objectivism? - and in her ideas on male-female relationships?

As a philosopher and critic Rand embraced rationality as the cornerstone of her method. As a novelist, however, Rand was an unabashed romantic. Her philosophic writing, by and large, was concerned with reconciling the theory with the fiction. In the mid 1950s, during the writing of her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, Rand explained why she began to formulate the comprehensive, rather technical, philosophic framework for Objectivism:

I had to originate a philosophic framework of my own because my basic view of man and of existence was in conflict with most of the existing philosophical theories. In order to define, explain and present my conception of man, I had to become a philosopher in the specific meaning of the term. (Quoted by N. Branden in Who is Ayn Rand?, p. 74)

And in an ad for Atlas Shrugged Rand is quoted describing the undertaking of this philosophical project in order to clarify the wider implications of questions that had been raised in her 1943 novel The Fountainhead.

What was Rand's philosophical method? In her critical-philosophic writing, Rand went to great lengths to define key terms and explicate underlying assumptions, her own as well as those whose work she took to task. This was a key feature of her approach. She endeavored to leave little doubt about her meaning or stand, particularly on controversial issues. She would typically stipulate her usage where she felt a need to redefine terms to clarify common misconceptions and confusions, which she believed permeated an intellectually "bankrupt" American society that had lost its moral bearings. Rationality was one such term.

Rationality - "the recognition and acceptance of reason as one's only source of knowledge" - is the premise of Rand's philosophical method and of Objectivism's epistemology and ethics. Rationality is, for Rand, the highest of human virtues. It is said to entail independence of mind and never accepting contradictions; an uncompromising commitment to consciousness and truth as guides to action; and an "absolute" reliance on reason "as one's only source of knowledge." (Binswanger, p. 404; Rand, Virtue of Selfishness, p. 25)

Toward reconciling her philosophical rationalism with the romantic imagery of her fiction, Rand defined feeling and emotion as basically derivative of cognition. Denying any necessary dichotomy, Rand argued for the integration of mind and body, much like Ghibran (1970), who spoke of reason and emotion being "the rudder and the sails of [a] seafaring soul." (p. 55) She rejected any and all variations of the traditional Freudian/Platonic notion of an inherent opposition between these two functions of consciousness. (N. Branden, 1983, p. 174) Rand believed that reason was the primary means of achieving psychological integration. (Sciabarra, 1995, pp. 195-196) Particularly relevant here is that for Rand logic and rationality are not a priori, deductive, cognitive processes. They are methods of inquiry based upon sensory-perception and potentially consistent with feeling-emotion. So it would seem that Rand's embrace of rationalism was not irreconcilable with her highly romantic fictional images of individualism. This reconciliation, I believe, proved more difficult than she had imagined, especially when it came to matters of human sexuality.

Dagny Taggart versus (the mythological) Atlas

As a novelist, Rand was an unapologetic romantic and arch-individualist whose fictional characters are free, independent spirits standing apart from and often in defiance of custom and tradition. Her protagonists declare their independence in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson - which leads me to ask: Could her heroic depictions of Galt and Roark have been recast as women? The answer depends on "Who is Dagny Taggart?"

Feminists who are sympathetic with the themes of Rand's literary work will say that Rand has indeed created at least one female character on a par with any folk hero or medieval knight in the name of Dagny Taggart, the force behind Taggart Transcontinental Railroad. Gladstein (1984) describes Dagny as "that rarity in American fiction - a heroine who not only survives, but prevails." (p. 685) But even sympathetic feminist readers have difficulty with Rand's seeming to define her female characters in terms of their relationships to their male counterparts. For Rand, femininity was in some sense derivative or dependent, if not subordinate: "For a woman qua woman, the essence of femininity is hero-worship - the desire to look up to man." (Binswanger, p. 166; Rand, The Objectivist, Dec., 1968, p. 1) Sciabarra (1995) explains Rand's notion of masculinity to which femininity yields or defers as a "trace of cultural conservatism" (p. 200). As Barbara Grizzuti Harrison (1978) puts it, Rand created "indomitable, fierce heroines - who...found ecstasy in surrender." (p. 30) As an example, Dagny, as a high school student, is slapped across the face by Francisco d'Anconia. "[T]he ground rocked under her feet," and left a bruise. Albeit, Francisco had acted in response to Dagny's making a self-effacing remark about playing dumb in order to become more popular at school. Nevertheless, Dagny "felt [a] violent fury... [and] would have killed any other person who struck her" - but at the same time she experienced "as violent a pleasure that Francisco had done it." (Atlas, 1957, p. 100)

For the adult Dagny, there are few men (individuals) in the world to whom she could submit or subordinate herself. As John Galt is following her into the long, dark, abandoned, granite tunnel of Taggart Transcontinental Railroad, Dagny chants to herself, "You will follow me." These words silently spoken are more a claim of right than a prayer, more a demand than a wish. Sensing that she is being followed, she moves even faster into the darkness, pulse beating rapidly, but unafraid. And then, despite Galt's "leashed intensity," the "harshness of his lips...down the line of her throat, [leaving] a trail of bruises...[and] his elbow knocking her head aside," with "her teeth sinking into the flesh of his arm," there is less surrender than "worship of him." (Atlas, pp. 995-996)

Are these clear cases of submission? Arguably not. These are better interpreted as instances of "ecstatic surrender," as Harrison (1978) put it, drawn from drama replete with romantic intrigue. To argue that there is ambiguity is to forget that these cases are drawn from works of fiction.

How does Rand explain these depictions? The issue, for her, "is primarily psychological... involving a woman's fundamental view of life...." (The Voice of Reason, p. 268) And she goes on to caution that this "hero-worshiping" should not be taken to mean that femininity is a matter of dependence or of sexual passivity or inferiority. Rather, the reference is meant to describe an intense admiration. She states further that "the object of [a woman's] worship is specifically [a man's] masculinity... Her worship is an abstract emotion for the metaphysical concept of masculinity." For evidence we are referred to "the basic motivation of the heroines in [her] novels...." (Rand, The Objectivist, Dec., 1968, p. 1, Voice of Reason, pp. 267-269)

One fascinating case in point where Rand's fiction seems to argue against her pronouncements on femininity and female sexuality is Roark's design of the Stoddard temple. For this commission Roark seeks out sculptor Steven Mallory, whom he rescues from a state of drunken despair. Roark, having seen in Mallory's work images of "the heroic in man," wants Mallory to create "a statue of a naked woman..." which the building would be "built around." "[T]he figure must be... [of the] human spirit. The heroic in man... uplifted by its own essence. Seeking God - and finding itself. Showing that there is no higher reach beyond its own form." (pp. 337-341)

The source of the apparent tension between Rand's philosophy and her aesthetic imagery, I will argue, is rooted in Rand's philosophical embrace of rationality combined with a rather traditional Western aesthetic icon of human heroism (related to Sciabarra's "trace of cultural conservatism"). In brief, the suggestion will be made that traditional icons of individuality overly influenced Rand's aesthetic theory, icons which have invariably been represented by images of male figures, notably from Ancient Greek mythology. Moreover, there is the longstanding traditional dichotomy posited between romanticism and formal, classical rationalism which, I will be arguing, Rand did not fully transcend.

Gods and goddesses of Ancient Greek myth: a question of parity

In her personal philosophy of human sexuality, Rand might be described as a romantic traditionalist, inspired by images of Ancient male Greek gods. Though she denies that sexual "hero-worship" implies dependence, the view of femininity yielding to a higher, masculine principle of human potential comes far too close to common notions of women as the weaker sex. The idea seems to fly in the face of the value that she places on individuality. Rand spoke of goddess imagery, but to a far lesser extent and in a somewhat different way, referring more to their grace and beauty. She was less fond of the later Hellenistic genre images of goddess figures fixing their hair or slipping into sandals, as in the sculptural relief of Nike on the Acropolis in Athens (circa 410 BC). (Personal notes taken from Nathaniel Branden Institute lectures.) In her view of human nature and potential, as well as of human sensuality and sexuality, Rand fixated on images of solo adventurers, invariably male, such as Atlas and Prometheus. "Howard Roark laughed," proudly and defiantly, at the opening of The Fountainhead - rather than tell a party joke or comb his hair. As in the history of Western art (Rand and her associates had few kind words for "Eastern" visual imagery), images of women standing alone confronting the forces of nature or of human dastardliness have been few and far between. Rand favored the naturalistic individualism of Ancient Greek imagery. But "who is Dagny Taggart?" - one then asks.

Contemporary feminist historians like Riane Eisler (1988) have only recently begun to uncover the significance of the female goddess icons that presaged, and may have given birth to, the glorious imagery of Greece's Golden Age. It is a radically different interpretation of the cultural roots of Western imagery and heritage, supported by fairly abundant, newly discovered anthropological evidence. It is a reinterpretation that is entirely consistent with the life-based, romantic naturalism at the core of Objectivism.

Consider in this connection Rand's view of femininity as deferring, albeit admiringly, to a masculine principle. That characterization comes very close to Downing's (1981) discussion of how Homer, Hesiod, and the Ancient Greek tragedians recast Greek mythology, subordinating the goddesses who had in the pre-Olympian scheme of things held positions of far more autonomous authority:

The goddesses are not only subordinated to the god [emph. added], they are defined as being in their very essence related to men.... Hera [formerly goddess of birth and death] is wife, Athena [once maiden warrior, protector of family, patron of the arts] is father's daughter, Aphrodite [once goddess of love, both noble and earthy] is the responsive beloved, Artemis [once formidable protector of the animal kingdom] is she who shuns men. (pp. 20-21)

Goddesses were thus diminished and delimited, according to Downing; Aphrodite's beauty became more sexual and physical, Artemis became a huntress rather than protector. (p. 21)

Powers (1991) expresses similar dismay over "The absence of a discernibly autonomous heroine in all of Western literature," (p. 3) an omission she too traces to Greek mythology. Its "revised" message she interprets to suggest that only limited possibilities are open for women:

Heroism... appears in myth to be an entirely masculine affair.... The goddesses and mortal women who do appear in myth are mothers, wives, mentors, temptresses, ogresses, and victims... play[ing] supporting roles in the stories of heroes.... Women are props,... functionaries, backdrops. (pp. 3-4; see also the related discussion on pp. 61, 74, 89)

Speaking more generally of Western literature, she laments that women are offered "no transcendent models of autonomous affirmation, no daughters of the goddess." (p. 202):

"[T]he woman as hero was born... [in the writing of] Ibsen and [Henry?] James some time around 1880. But... [quoting Carol Heilbrun] "By the end of the Second World War, however, the wench was dead. Women characters had become, as they largely still are, events in the lives of men." (p. 145)

"[T]he deeply buried divinity of the goddess," Powers says, emerges only as archetypal outlaw, enigma, or survivor. (p. 150) Later she suggests that this has had the effect on women of "internalization of vulnerability, culpability, and secondary status...." (p. 202)

Rand's personal aesthetics - in her novels and from accounts of her personal life - explicitly embraced images of the individual standing alone, with the world as backdrop. These images were of the human spirit deliberately set in opposition to such traditional religious icons as those of Madonna and child. Many feminists, from Friedan to Steinhem, would likely be sympathetic with this aspect of her female hero/ines. But where some of them would readily dispense with the pas de deux, few would appreciate Rand's traditionalist view of Man alone as creator, Man in the image of a god (albeit of the Earthly variety), indeed as the creator of gods and of monuments to the human spirit. Rand's protagonists stand alone in defiance of the forces of nature and human malfeasance. Her idealized icon of the hero leaves little room for the likes of an Earth mother or snake goddess. For Rand the pas de deux is problematic symbolically, more likely because of its "collectivist" connotation. (Sciabarra, p. 199, B. Branden, p. 412) The choice of an aesthetic icon was for Rand between a singular woman or man standing alone.

The artist's sense-of-life in Rand's imagery and aesthetic theory

In Rand's aesthetic theory, art (in the romantic style or not) is defined as the "selective re-creation of reality according to the artist's metaphysical value-judgments." (Binswanger, p. 37; Rand, "The psycho-epistemology of Art," Romantic Manifesto, p. 22) An artwork's selectivity of subject matter, its unity of composition and thematic content derives from the basic philosophic beliefs embraced by the artist. The function of art is said to be "communication of a moral ideal," (ibid., pp. 25, 161) by means of a concretization of abstract life-values (ibid., p. 23). "Art gives [one] the pleasure of feeling what it would be like to live in one's ideal world." (ibid., p. 48)

However, artists rarely hold such life-values explicitly or in the forefront of consciousness while working in their craft. And rarely are such "philosophic" beliefs made explicit in the works themselves. One could argue that this is true even, let us say, in a scene where a closing courtroom argument is given by the story's protagonist who happens to have degrees in both law and philosophy. (Hypothetically extending a scene from The Fountainhead.) Fictional characters are not to be taken literally as spokespersons for authors. That would render fiction bad autobiography, or make for fictional autobiography. Works of art do not convey their philosophic life-values explicitly. Rand acknowledges this, saying "The concretization of a moral ideal [in a work of art] is not a textbook on how to become one." (Romantic Manifesto, p. 25) Saying that an artist's "philosophy" guided or inspired the creation of a work is one thing; attempting the systematic exposition of that philosophy is quite another matter. The latter requires doing philosophy. (N. Branden has recently made much the same argument in 10S Journal, Feb. 1997, p. 12)

Expounding on Rand's view of the relationship between philosophy and art, Leonard Peikoff (1991) concurs that "an artwork does not [explicitly] formulate the metaphysics it represents; it does not (or at least need not) articulate definitions and principles." (p. 418) He goes on to emphasize the relationship between the two, saying that:

Man requires the union of... philosophy and art, the broad [philosophical] identifications and their concrete embodiment [in the form of art].... [C]oncepts condense percepts; philosophy... condenses concepts; and art then condenses philosophy returning to the perceptual level, this time in a form impregnated with a profound abstract meaning. (pp. 418-419)

Peikoff's discussion of the relationship between art and philosophy focuses on their cognitive complementarity. That relationship is not in dispute. Rather, I am also looking at differences between these two forms of human inquiry and cognition.

Few would dispute that philosophic writing differs greatly from the process of artistic creation. Though Rand did both, I am contending, with Branden (1997), that these two endeavors are so fundamentally different that no one could have engaged in both with unimpeachable consistency. Throughout her philosophical writing on art, Rand uses the term "sense of life" to describe the form in which an artist's metaphysical beliefs are held in the process of creation. The metaphysical life-values guiding artistic creation are held implicitly and subconsciously, according to Rand, in the form of affect or emotion. Writing philosophy, however, requires systematic exposition and explication of one's method of inquiry. The process is deliberate and consciously critical, rather than intuitive.

After writing Atlas Rand's life's work shifted to the exposition of the "philosophy" underlying her fiction. Objectivism was, in effect, her attempt to define the meaning of the images of her fictional characters' lives. Their motives and their actions became, in effect, the basis of her ethics. Their intelligence and patterns of thought became the basis of her epistemology. Their manners, relationships, and personal interactions set the groundwork for her social-economic-political philosophy. For her ideas on art, Rand could consult the architects, playwrights, and sculptors she had created. Introspectively she could also study the process of their creation by her, as, in every work of art - consciously in Rand's case - the mind and technique of the creator is an ever-present factor. But once her efforts at philosophic exposition had begun in earnest, the writing of novels was done - something she would never concede.

Just as our responses to art differ in how we read/experience the moral or axiological content of artworks, so too, there is a basic difference between how artists and philosophers hold and express their "metaphysical" beliefs. One is justified in seeking greater consensus of interpretations of formal statements of philosophy; but aesthetic response entails a personal, emotional reaction to (visual) images or to even less tangible feelings/moods. The process is primarily perceptual and intuitive. Such responding entails the suspension of disbelief. The process is neither critical nor reflective. The acceptance of philosophical doctrine in this manner, however, is fraught with hazard. As Rand notes, "Art is not [properly] the means to any didactic end." (Romantic Manifesto, p. 25) It is for this very reason that, throughout the ages, the lure of religious hymns and icons has relied on the emotional appeal of art to convey political-ethical doctrine to the unwitting. Rand seems aware of this capacity of art: "[Art] conditions or stylizes man's consciousness by conveying to him a certain way of looking at existence." (The Objectivist, Apr., 1971, p. 1)

Conjecture regarding conflict in Rand's own life concerning man-woman relationships stemmed partly from her claim that her own marriage was based upon hero-worship. Some of those closest to her have questioned this claim. (B. Branden, p. 88) The truth is never easy to come by in these personal matters. But we can wonder why this champion of egoism in the pursuit of toe-tingling happiness would say that the goal of her writing was to create characters whom she could look up to. Does admiration require that one "look up to" the object of our admiration? And there is also the question of her disavowal of feminism and rejection of the idea of a women American president. ("About a Woman President," The Objectivist, Dec., 1968, p. 1) The latter, I will suggest, was not so much based on critical social theory as it was a position embraced by Rand that was grounded in the aesthetic/romantic symbolism captured so magnificently in the figures of Ancient Greek, lone, male gods.

Two of Rand's novels and a play contain (arguably) scenes of rapes of major female characters. John Galt's rough-and-tumble sex with Dagny Taggart in a tunnel of Taggart Transcontinental Railroad has been interpreted by some as rape. Their relationship resumes later in the story with far deeper and gentler intimacy. Roark's [arguable] rape of Dominique in The Fountainhead some would argue was mitigated by compliance on her part, or even provocation, as she had struck the first blow at an earlier meeting. Through fits and starts, their relationship also grows in intimacy following that first encounter. Bjorn Faulkner's rape of Karen Andre in Night of January 16th marks the beginning of their business partnership, and she remains his mistress. If these are acts of rape, none could be called brutal or violent. All are consensual. None entails "objectification" of the woman. Rand described each as acts more of admiration than of assertion or imposition of power, according to Nathaniel Branden (The Virtue of Selfishness, pp. 76-77) Acknowledging that many will find the imagery unpalatable if not offensive, Gladstein (1984) suggests that these are symbolic depictions of ritualized, romantic first encounters. (emph. added, p. 23)

Returning to the question of whether Rand's assertion regarding the impropriety of a woman American president was philosophically based or was an extension of her fictional imagery. My belief is that this was the voice of Rand the artist speaking, not the thought of the philosopher/social critic. Like many historians of the American Revolution, Rand traced America's political-philosophic heritage to classical Ancient Greece. One can conjecture what her image of an American president might have been: If not a dignified version of Apollo, perhaps a more statesmanlike, Jeffersonian version of the character "Mr. Smith" (from the title role of the James Stewart movie). But why in heaven's name disqualify Dagny Taggart?

Years ago, I attended a lecture at the Nathaniel Branden Institute (established to disseminate Rand's philosophy) where Rand was asked by an audience member to choose between reason and personal preference as a moral guide. After noting that "personal preference" could be translated to mean "individual judgment," Rand responded that rationality is essentially a matter of individual judgment. Rand then asked if the questioner's intent was to ask which of the two was the more fundamental guide to action, rationality or personal freedom? Before the questioner could respond, she answered: "Rationality." She was unequivocal, making no mention of how she had painstakingly redefined the term rationality in a way that differs radically from traditional usage. Nor was there any mention of the evolution of her own thinking on this question. As noted by David Kelley (1998), in reference to the recent publication of her journals, Rand's thinking is described as moving "from Nietzsche to Aristotle, from an emphasis on will and the passion to live to an emphasis on reason...." (p. 8)

Rand held rationality to be a primary moral virtue and an essential component of healthy psychological functioning. Rationality is also at the center of Rand's notion of objectivity. The terms rationality and objectivity were given a meaning by Rand that was markedly different from how these terms were used by the Rationalists of traditional Western philosophy. Whereas traditional Rationalists, for the most part, accepted a dichotomy between logical analysis and empirical experience (the "analytic-synthetic dichotomy"), Rand disputed any such inherent disjunction. On the contrary, as noted earlier, she held that logical methods of reasoning are applicable to and properly grounded upon empirical evidence. Rationality was seen by her as contextual and, in practical application, as action consistent with one's best knowledge of circumstances and relevant, available evidence. Clarity of rational thought grounded in sensory-perceptual experience was, for Rand, the hallmark of integrity. But what of romance and Dagny Taggart?

Problems in deriving philosophy from art

When asked, Rand dismissed the question of whether she was primarily a philosopher or a novelist, claiming that "every novelist is a philosopher...[whose only choice is] whether he holds his philosophical convictions consciously or subconsciously." (For the New Intellectual, p. vii) That difference, between holding one's philosophy consciously or not, I take to be crucial to questions of philosophical method. The discipline of writing philosophy, as noted earlier, differs markedly from that of artistic creation in this very respect. Philosophic inquiry requires critical reflection in checking the accuracy and veracity of statements, in editing and re-editing formulations and verifying underlying assumptions. Yet, advocates of Rand's philosophy have rarely questioned her approach of deriving a system of philosophy from (i.e., relying extensively upon) works of fiction, as N. Branden has recently noted. (lOS Journal, ibid.)

This combining of two very different sorts of literary texts, I am suggesting, was a major error in the enterprise that Rand had undertaken in the development of Objectivism. Not only are art and philosophy two very different media of expression, requiring radically different creative approaches, each requires a very different frame of mind on the part of readers/viewers. Historically, these two literary forms have typically been combined for the purpose of proselytizing political or religious doctrine. This is why so-called docudramas often offend our sense of history. I would suggest that it was this combining of fiction and philosophy that made Objectivism susceptible to charges by critics of overstatement and melodramatic simplification. Fictional depictions are after all, dramatizations: "The myth of Prometheus, martyred for heroism, runs through all of Rand's novels.... [H]eroes are punished, if not defeated, by a corrupt society." (105 Journal, 1996) That lOS Journal report acknowledged that this is how many Objectivists respond to Rand's novels, explaining that this was a theme "driven by fiction's requirements for conflict and drama." (p. 2) Writing philosophy, as well as its study, however, requires a different method - one that does not rely upon caricature and melodrama, which are inherent in the process of artistic selectivity.

The values-beliefs embodied in visual as well as literary images are conveyed tacitly. Readers/viewers do not so much grasp the meanings of artworks as they are touched and moved by them. Aesthetic dramatizations of themes can be quite compelling, depending upon how receptive one is - whether or not the respondent is in agreement with the work's "philosophical" message. Indeed, in fiction, virtue and truth are accepted as depicted. As Broudy (1964) explains: "Artistic means can be used to capture attention and to rivet it... [converting] actions into an experience [that is] framed and outlined... pav[ing] the way for intensified feeling and involvement." (p. 42) Infusing aesthetic qualities with a society's rituals, Broudy argues, can transmute barbaric wars into noble crusades and can convert a brutal rape into romantic ecstasy. (p. 42)

The more refined one's aesthetic attitude and sensibilities, the more receptive one will be to what a work of art is saying, whether any implicit references to objective reality are factually based or not. It is possible, indeed laudable, to be capable of being deeply moved by a work even when its aesthetic themes conflict with one's conscious beliefs on the subject. Evidence or "proof" should carry little or no weight as far as aesthetic response is concerned. The "truth" of the work is subjective, in the sense that we are experiencing our own values in relation to an artist's image of a world - like to explore or be part of. Aesthetic response predisposes us to accept that world-view rather than "check the artist's [or our own] premises." It is an error, of course, to generalize from aesthetic images, to decide, for example, to become architects for no other reason than one's admiration for the fictional character Howard Roark. Attempting to mimic the sort of independence of judgment for which Roark stood would be foolhardy, if not tragic irony. Enright (1992) concurs with this tendency to emulate a fictional character's "temperamental proclivities," suggesting that "some aspects of [Roark's] personality are not necessarily tied to what makes him a morally great person but perhaps to what makes him a great dramatic character." (p. 89)

Though artistic creation and response are recognized by Rand as affective processes of consciousness, which are driven by an individual's "sense of life," Objectivism denies the validity of philosophical subjectivism as a moral and epistemological principle. Yet objectivity - in one's frame of reference and as an intellectual stance - is seen as relational. As noted earlier, truth and goodness are not taken as inherently intrinsic. Objectivity in the Objectivist epistemology refers to a relationship between external (existential) facts/events in connection with prevailing knowledge and the means of acquiring that knowledge. (Binswanger, pp. 345-346; Rand, The Objectivist Newsletter, Feb., 1965, p.7)
Ethically, it entails a method of seeking truth and acting honestly based on one's best understanding. In key respects, objectivity was for Rand as much a psychological as it was a philosophical concept. The Western Rationalist philosophical canon (for reasons discussed earlier), has led us to think of elemental methods or principles of rationality as a priori or immutable. Rand disputed this tradition, especially in her emphasis on the application of knowledge to human affairs, which she held requires personal judgment as well as critically questioning one's beliefs. Response to art, however, tends to disarm us critically. This apparent conflict within the philosophy of Objectivism, I believe, requires critical attention.

Objectivism exemplified in John Galt - and Dagny Taggart?

Rand grounds Objectivism upon concrete reality, being studied, as it were, dispassionately by a philosopher-scientist whose observations are honed into primary laws of nature with a passionate objectivity. Little room is allowed for fanciful, poetic excursions. How, then, can the heroes of Rand's novels - male and female - be said to embody these qualities of objectivity? Few would deny how conscientious they are about being true to themselves. The images capture the focused skill of a craftsman carving into rock or creating drawings envisioning new architectural forms. They are not about putting finishing touches on a classroom lecture. The images of the novels evoke a sense of reality where individuals can succeed in their efforts to form matter, rebuild their surroundings, and remake themselves. These are the themes which are implicit in Rand's novels. But in themselves, these themes are not equivalent to formally constructed, philosophical arguments.

Returning to our (feminist) dilemma, even though in the history of literature few male fictional characters match the strength and courage of Dagny Taggart, when aesthetic push came to philosophical shove, Atlas alone prevailed. With the one exception noted earlier, Mallory's Stoddard temple statue, Rand's philosophic conception of the human spirit was embodied in images of the male gods of Greek myth, rather than Athena or Hera. And despite the fact that the classical ideal of Ancient Greek art sought a complementary, asymmetrical balance of formal rule and (less formal) spirit, Rand the philosopher thought of her embodiments of Atlas as far more thoughtful than they were willful or passionate - an inference drawn from her embrace of the rational Apollo over the sensual Dionysus. (The New Left, 1971) Taking issue, following Eisler's (1988) lead, I see a natural evolution from the archaic nature goddesses of life-birth to the naturalistic individualism of Golden-Age Greek myths, culture, and philosophy which Rand so admired. The evidence rests in remnants of artifacts featuring strong, graceful, athletic individual female forms just as often embracing snakes as infants. (Refer again to Note 2.)

Individualist feminist writers are today redefining feminism along lines which I take to be fully consistent with the spirit and substance of Rand's individualist depictions of women - and men - in her novels. Regrettably, contrary to my claim, Ayn Rand the artist, philosopher, and woman placed traditional male icons of heroism and philosophic rationalism on higher pedestals than the romantic individualism of her inspiring literary creations. A truer synthesis of Rand's art and philosophy can, I believe, come from the searches and researches of contemporary individualist-feminists for what Gloria Fenman Orenstein (1990) calls a vision of a secular spirituality which "affirms both women and men in all [their] life-nurturing, life-supporting capacities" (p. xvi) - a theme underlying Rand's major literary works and the ethics of Objectivism.


1. Harry Binswanger's Ayn Rand Lexicon is comprised almost entirely of direct quotations of statements taken from Rand's more technical philosophic writings. The excerpts range from single sentence definitions to extended passages. The Lexicon is, in effect, an annotated index of the body of Rand's non-fiction writings, also including excerpts from her fiction that she had herself referenced or quoted in her commentaries and theoretical essays.

2. Feminist historians attribute this subordination of the goddess to a cultural transition toward political hierarchy (presaging monotheism and the Roman legal system) and, more ominously, a move away from secular naturalism. Traditional art history texts as well as those authored by contemporary feminist historians have traced the naturalism of classical Ancient Greek imagery to an earlier Archaic period emerging in (Minoan) Crete and Mycenae circa 2,500 to 1400 B.C.E., or earlier. (Eisler, 1987, Chap. 3; Platon, 1966) Archaeologists have in recent decades uncovered sculptures and wall paintings depicting athletic figures, male and female, engaged in dance, sport, and games. This imagery is seen to be a distinct departure from Ancient Egyptian figures which tended to be geometrically stylized, frontal, and static. In contrast, the Archaic Greek forms are remarkably agile and graceful, moving more freely, often standing with their weight and balance shifted off center. (Much of this same sort of analysis applies to depictions of land and sea animals as well.)

The term naturalistic, in this context, refers to imagery based upon careful observation of the natural world, to be contrasted with geometric, iconic, stylized representations. Naturalistic representations in early (Archaic) Ancient Greek visual art indicate careful study of anatomy and biology, revealed particularly in the representation of movement and proportions of figures. This sense of the terms "naturalistic" or "naturalism" is distinct from its use as a reference to a style of visual and literary art depicting renderings of ordinary, everyday (genre) subject matter.

3. In her discussion of the historical origins of myth-making, Powers (1991) offers a (non-technical) definition of the function of art that bears a striking resemblance to Rand's. Human beings are said to be "the only species which has cerebral encounters with abstract issues,... which asks metaphysical questions... [which] are potentially overwhelming.... [From a] drive for life, the species [evolved]... religious rituals and mythmaking. Thus imaginative defenses were created... envision[ing] spirits which they might placate,... and subsequently evolved a conception of divinity... conceptualiz[ing] themselves as heroic, as chosen." (pp. 201-202) And for an excellent summary of Rand's ideas on how art serves a basic human psychological requirement, see M.F. Enright's "Why man needs approval," in Objectivity (1:2), pp. 68-71).


Binswanger, Harry (ed., 1986). The Ayn Rand Lexicon, NY: New American Lib.

Branden, Barbara (1986). The Passion of Ayn Rand, NY: Doubleday.

Branden, Nathaniel (1962). Who is Ayn Rand?, NY: Paperback Lib.

__________ (1983). Honoring the Self, Los Angeles: J.P. Tarcher.

__________ (1989). Judgment Day: My Years with Ayn Rand, Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Broudy, Harry (1964). "The structure of knowledge in the arts," in Education and the Structure of Knowledge (S. Elam, ed.), Chicago: Rand McNally.

Downing, Christine (1981). The Goddess, NY: Continuum.

Eisler, Riane (1988). The Chalice and the Blade, NY: Harper & Row.

Enright, Marsha Familaro (1992). "Why man needs approval," in Objectivity (1:2).

Gibran, Kahlil (1970). The Prophet, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

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_________(1978). "Ayn Rand and feminism: an unlikely alliance," in College English (39:6).

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10S Journal (Inst. for Objectivist Studies newsletter). N. Branden reference in Feb.1997 issue, p. 12; Bidinotto quotation appearing in a summary of his lecture entitled "The case for cultural optimism," June, 1996, p.2.

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McElroy, Wendy, ed. (1991). Freedom, Feminism, and the State (2nd ed.), NY: Holmes & Meier.

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__________ (1957). Atlas Shrugged, NY: Random House.

__________ (Nathaniel Branden, co-author, 1964). The Virtue of Selfishness, NY: New American Lib.

__________ (1968). Night of January 16th, NY: World.

__________ (1968). "An answer to readers: about a woman president," in The Objectivist (Dec.) (or Peikoff, ed. op cit., 1989).

__________ (1969). The Romantic Manifesto, Cleveland, OH:World.

__________ (1971). "Apollo and Dionysus" (Chapt. 2), in The New Left: The Anti-industrial Revolution, NY:New American Lib.

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Sciabarra, Chris Matthew (1995). Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, PA: The Penn State U. Press.

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