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At random


I didn’t get that job I applied for. Not even an interview.

Got the word yesterday via a polite thank you note, but I already knew it on Saturday, when I was in the place and the manager (who was legitimately busy, but) clearly went out of her way not to make eye contact with me.

Oh well.

Poly-ticks and decline

It surely a sign of something gone wrong with a country’s culture and political system when showing honest grief for your dead son is considered an important qualification for president.

This, too, speaks of not only a political but a cultural abyss. It’s not just the election of Jeremey Corbyn as Labour leader (there were apparently some perfectly normal shenaniganesque reasons behind that). It’s as columnist Bret Stephens says:

The response to this political highhandedness on both sides of the Atlantic is rage: the rage of people who sense that they aren’t even being paid lip service by a political class that is as indifferent to public opinion as it is unaccountable to the law. …

All this ought to unsettle anyone who cares seriously about the health of the West (if that quaint term is still allowed). A single bad election or even primary result in Britain, France, Italy, Spain or the U.S. could tip us into an unmoored—and unhinged—reality. What happens when President Trump meets Prime Minister Corbyn?

Of course, the rage is merited, the awakening of We the Hoi Palloi overdue. It’s just that when millions (or billions) start opening their sleepy eyes, rationality isn’t the first thing that happens. Generally the last thing, unfortunately.

Books: An Ideal embarrassment

Speaking of rationality, the library recently delivered Ayn Rand’s newly published Ideal. The slender volume includes both the play (published but never performed during Rand’s lifetime) and the novelette (never published until now).

Like millions of others, I owe a huge debt to Rand. If I hadn’t discovered Atlas Shrugged as a lost-and-seeking 19-year-old life wouldn’t have been the same.

But damn, her critics are right when they say she could be a ludicrously bad writer. Not only is Ideal a philosophy lecture rather than a real story. Not only does it foreshadow all the absurd exaggerations and caricatures of her later work. But it’s loaded with phrasings that would get one laughed out of Creative Writing 101.

She stood, her head thrown back, her arms limp at her sides, palms up, helpless and frail, surrendering herself and imploring something far away, high over the blank marquee and over the roofs, as a flame held straight for an insight in an unknown wind, as a last plea rising from every roof, and every shop window, and every weary heart far under her feet.

He stood leaning against the wall, shaking hands, nodding, smiling to an eager crowd that came streaming past him, pausing for a few minutes in a tight whirlpool around him; he stood like a rock in its path, a lonely, bewildered rock, cornered against the wall.

The book’s protagonist is actress Kay Gonda (Dagny Taggart with frizzy hair). She is suspected of murder and seeks refuge with a series of unprepossessing fans who swiftly, unsuprisingly betray her. The would-be hero is Johnnie Dawes (John Galt who hasn’t invented anything yet), who (spoiler) nobly and foolishly sacrifices himself for her (but it’s actually no sacrifice because the very act of living in a world so full of human dross and philosophical impurity is fatally enervating for superior beings like Kay and Johnnie, you know).

All the standard Randian tropes are there: everyday life is 100 percent icky, and lived by icky people; all children are little pigs; ordinary adults aren’t any better; “superior” people have no friends and make everybody around them uncomfortable (and these traits are sure signs of their wonderfulness). But Rand was in a bad place when she wrote Ideal in 1934, so Kay-Dagny and Johnnie-John don’t triumph in this one.

It may not be fair to criticize the novelette. Rand never took it beyond a second draft and (wisely) chose not to publish it. Her laughable “intellectual heir” Leonard Peikoff is only putting it out it now to make a buck complete Rand’s literary legacy. The play is slightly better, dramatically, but otherwise more of the same.

Gawdawful stuff. From another writer, a flawed early work like this might serve to show her creative and intellectual development. To me, it shows that Rand didn’t develop much — just built on the same collection of snobberies and pathetic personal resentments over the years. Reading Ideal left me feeling sad.


  1. Joel
    Joel September 15, 2015 8:39 am

    Somebody sent me a copy of For Us, The Living by Heinlein not long ago. When I heard the book had been published (reportedly about 30 picoseconds after the death of Virginia Heinlein, who had forbidden it) I was kind of angry because a “deliberately lost” novel should probably stay lost, and also guiltily happy because I’m a Heinlein completist and would read Yellow Pages entries if he wrote them.

    And true to all the reviews, For Us, The Living is utter laughable drek and it’s a darned good thing for Heinlein that he failed to find a publisher. Like Ideal, it contains the seeds of a lot of elements Heinlein spent the next decades developing. Unlike Rand, though, Heinlein actually did grow as a writer and thinker and he later took those elements to interesting and entertaining places.

    Ayn Rand makes me sad. She came so close to being an interesting person. But she took one good thought, wrapped it in her various pathologies, and turned it into a sick little religion. That the only high priest she could find “worthy” to carry the dregs of Objectivism forward was a creature like Peikoff tells me everything I would need to know about it, even if I didn’t know anything else.

  2. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau September 15, 2015 9:24 am

    I call her Ayn “Never Say In Ten Words What You Can Say In One Hundred” Rand. “Atlas Shrugged” was a book it took me three attempts to read to the end. Why people are given this as an introduction to libertarianism is beyond me.

    I agree with you, Joel, on Heinlein and his “For Us, The Living”. It is shockingly statist and socialistic. However I suspect that socialism was the big new in thing back in those days and a lot of people were beguiled by it. They should have known better. Hell, Mike Vanderboegh was even a communist.

  3. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty September 15, 2015 10:49 am

    Kipling, Twain, Shakespeare, and a great many more came long before Rand, for me. Before my sister and I were able to read, mother read the classics to us daily. Once we could read and then access the library, the gloves were off! 🙂 After 65+ years reading, I have to admit that there are very few even of the most respected classics that I fully enjoy, now or then, but I just bought a new hard copy of “Kim.” Wore out the old one. I simply hated Shakespeare, and I couldn’t tell you exactly why. I do not like most poetry, even though I wrote some as a young girl. It’s complicated to explain.

    And I don’t care for several of Heinlein’s stories, blasphemous as that is to so many. 🙂 At the same time, Heinlein’s “The Door Into Summer” is my all time favorite. The SF that I appreciate most now is from L. Neil Smith, “The Probability Broach” being the best, but I don’t like all his stuff either. 🙂

    I read “Atlas Shrugged” late, probably 1980 or so, and found it uninspired and tedious. After discussing it at length with Libertarians at that time, I did try to read it again to see if I’d just missed all the good parts. Got about half way through and decided – like you Joel – that she got close a few times and had a some interesting ideas, but it wasn’t worth reading because I’d absorbed the non-aggression and anti-altruism things long before.

    I’ll gladly skip both these books. I’m actually having much more fun writing, and the writing makes me examine the depths of my own thinking and principles.

  4. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty September 15, 2015 10:51 am

    Oh, and sorry about the job thing… A mixed blessing either way. 🙂

  5. Laird
    Laird September 15, 2015 12:39 pm

    Joel beat me to it: I was going to comment on For Us, the Living (and say basically the same things). I probably won’t bother reading Ideal, even though I did enjoy both Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead (have read them both more than once, in fact) and, to a lesser extent, Anthem. It’s funny the most people consider Rand a poor writer (I won’t disagree; it can be quite a bit turgid) because for many years she made her living as a screenwriter in Hollywood.

    Incidentally, if anyone is interested in an insider’s (rather funny) view of the Ayn Rand personality cult phenomenon, as well as the beginnings of the libertarian movement, I’d recommend Jerome Tuccille’s “It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand”.

  6. MJR
    MJR September 15, 2015 2:27 pm

    Claire I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t get the job. One can only hope the person who did get it will turn out to be a dud and you will have another chance.

    Ayn Rand’s works, like Heinlein had a major impact on the way I viewed society and I do believe that I’m a better person for having read them. Unlike Heinlein, Ayn Rand’s works were a chore to read. Where a book the size of Atlas Shrugged would normally take 4 days to a week it took the better part of 3 months to plow through. Sad to say that I think in today’s market Ms Rand would have never had anything published and ended up a nobody.

  7. LarryA
    LarryA September 15, 2015 3:12 pm

    Hillary Clinton hasn’t yet presented a clear formation story.

    Uh, wrong. She has. It just isn’t one she wants to live with.

  8. Pat
    Pat September 15, 2015 3:38 pm

    Sorry you didn’t get the job. Maybe another, better one is on the way.

    I think a lot of Rand rejection is disappointment in what she was as a person. We expected at least consistency if not perfection, and when she was exposed as a faulty human, many took it out on her writing. (I remember an increase in rejection of her ability and denial of her supposed stature after The Fall.)

    There is a lot of good “libertarian” content and insight in all of her books (in spite of the fact she never called herself a libertarian). “We The Living” was written in a more “normal”, knowledgeable style and, to me at least, “Anthem” is written like a poem of inspiration. But by the time she got to “The Fountainhead”, she was full-on into her preacher mode. And subtle or otherwise, many if not all “libertarian” writers are preachers. That’s why they write on libertarian topics – they’re reaching beyond the choir.

    Maybe I don’t see this from a writer’s POV, but – as much as I appreciate good style – style is not the only, or even best, consideration. I’ve waded through many poorly-written and/or boring books which had memorable content. And that’s what counts. It’s up to the reader to root it out.

    OK. My contrarian view is over.

  9. Shel
    Shel September 15, 2015 5:39 pm

    I’m also very sorry to hear about the job results. I have to believe they wanted someone who would stroke their egos, especially since the woman didn’t have even the courtesy to look you in the eye. Office politics are pretty much the same everywhere.

  10. Claire
    Claire September 15, 2015 7:13 pm

    Thank you for the condolences on the job, guys. Part of me would really, really like to have gotten it, but part of me is perfectly okay with how things turned out.

    Shel, I appreciate your chivalrous defense, but I don’t think it was a lack of courtesy that she didn’t make eye contact. I think she was very busy, in any case, and felt awkward about potentially having to say “no” to me in person.

  11. Claire
    Claire September 15, 2015 7:22 pm

    “I think a lot of Rand rejection is disappointment in what she was as a person. We expected at least consistency if not perfection, and when she was exposed as a faulty human, many took it out on her writing. (I remember an increase in rejection of her ability and denial of her supposed stature after The Fall.)”

    Pat, there’s definitely some truth there. But Rand set herself up for those unrealistic expectations. She did, after all, position herself (and Branden and even poor Frank O’Connor) as a shining example of her own ideals when the reality was vastly otherwise. Nobody ever dissed Hemingway or Faulkner or J.D. Salinger or (god knows) F. Scott Fitzgerald for not being some sort of saint in real life. Nobody cares whether Danielle Steele or Michael Connelly is a shining hero.

    I remember “The Fall” (LOL!) and recall St. Ayn and St. Nathaniel suddenly airing all their dirty laundry about each other in most embarrassing (and entertaining) ways. I expect that did prompt a lot of young idealists to question everything Rand had ever said. But I don’t think that caused people to question Rand’s talent as a novelist; those questions were already out there.

  12. R.L. Wurdack
    R.L. Wurdack September 16, 2015 7:44 am

    My father, an old fashioned, German gent, now deceased had a reading list of 100 books. Children were ‘required’ to read before passing into adulthood. Rand was not among them, but I read her early on anyway, and Heinlein too.

    All philosophical positions are to be found somewhere in the currently published science fiction, some are just difficult to recognize.

  13. J Lyn Morris
    J Lyn Morris September 16, 2015 7:56 am

    Claire, I am so sorry that your interview turned out badly. But, I think your first impression with the interviewer’s no-eye-contact told you clearly that wasn’t a place or person with whom to be associated. MamaLiberty is right…a blessing, clearly.

    Ayn Rand’s only book I liked was Atlas Shrugged; the others I really couldn’t accept ….almost like the woman hated too much …of something!! But, back in the day …80s and 90s…I listened to the likes of her followers that it was MY intellectual failings preventing me from appreciating Ayn Rand’s true brilliance. Okay, now that I know better…. LOL

  14. Matt, another
    Matt, another September 16, 2015 8:12 am

    I never could read Rand. It was the “in” thing to do among the “gifted” kids I got to hang out with in HS. I still don’t understand the cult like following to this day. The same sentiments can be found in many other writers both historians and fictionalists that are actually enjoyable reads. My taste for freedom was fed by the likes of Orwell, Tolkien, Fast and others. Not traditional libertarian fare, but I read what I like and don’t care if it is on someone elses reading list. I am a firm believer that reading should entertain, inform and give you something to think about other than how bad the author is.

  15. Ellendra
    Ellendra September 16, 2015 8:58 am

    Am I the only one that finds it amusing when “libertarians” tell you what books you’re required to like?

  16. jc2k
    jc2k September 16, 2015 2:18 pm

    Of all the times I’ve read the rest of Atlas Shrugged, I’ve never been able to get through Galt’s speech. I think the book appeals more to young people because it’s so unsubtle. If I’d read Hunger Games at 14 I probably wouldn’t have recognized the libertarian themes – with Rand it’s impossible to miss. For that, I appreciate Ayn Rand’s books, though the writing is terrible and I haven’t been back to read any of them in years.

  17. Claire
    Claire September 16, 2015 2:27 pm

    “I think the book appeals more to young people because it’s so unsubtle.”

    ROFLMAO. Ain’t that the truth? At 19, I even liked Galt’s zillion-page monolog. Skipped it every time since. I do still like Francisco’s money speech, though.

  18. Andrew
    Andrew September 16, 2015 2:52 pm

    I think the difference between We The Living and the later works is that We The Living fits solidly within the genre of Russian Realism, whereas rest are all basically political science fiction. I would have to read it again to see if it was too purple. I haven’t read The Fountainhead, but of all her other books, I enjoyed We The Living most. Then again, I remember The Brothers Karamazov fondly, so maybe I’m just weird.

  19. old printer
    old printer September 17, 2015 9:39 pm

    Barbara Brandon said that after becoming part of the Collective she hid her admiration for the writing of Thomas Wolfe because of Rand’s disapproval. I’ve read most of his novels, reveled in the beautiful prose that seems to flow effortlessly, and can agree with Brandon that he was a writer of exceptional talent. His writing skill puts Ayn Rand to shame.

    For the life of me though, I can’t remember a single story line or bring back a character. But I can quote parts of Francisco’s speech, remember vividly Dominique throwing that priceless work of art out of the skyscraper window, and the moment in Anthem when I is uttered. But yes, Rand was hack writer. Piss on her memory.

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