• Ou Ming
  • Sunday, March 15, 2009

    The rise of Rand

    Of all the scary things you can get a graph to show, surely the most terrifying is a surge in sales of Ayn Rand novels. Such a graph, with an ECG-like flicker, has recently appeared in the Economist: there are clear peaks corresponding to whenever the US government has tried to rescue the banks. Last October, the time of the big Bush bailouts, sales of Atlas Shrugged, Rand's 1957 thousand-pager, spiked. In January, it was Obama's economic stimulus package; Atlas spiked again. Figures collected by TitleZ, an online tracking service, show that over the past week, it has been the 46th highest-selling book on Amazon, way ahead on its two-year average ranking of 531. In January, it was - albeit briefly - selling more than Obama's The Audacity of Hope. On Thursday, it was at 78, between the movie tie-in edition of The Reader and the latest James Patterson.

    Could this be because Rand's wordy masterwork foretells the collapse of capitalism? That is indeed what happens in the book: machines break, production dwindles, society collapses into riot. And the novel knows exactly where to point the finger: it's all the fault of big government, which is choking the free market under layers of anti-business law. Rand's novel is also clear as to who can save us. Its hero, John Galt, is handsome and virile, a brilliant inventor, and the leader of a revolutionary vanguard composed of all the world's great talents in industry and science, finance and the arts; eventually he will be joined by the beautiful Dagny Taggart, her body "slender", her daddy's railroad the biggest the world has ever known. Soon, more and more of these "superior minds" abandon the "second-handers" - also known as "mediocrities", "parasites" and "mindless hordes" - to join Galt in his mountain hideaway. When Galt and Dagny at long last get together, the sign of the almighty dollar is traced upon the earth.

    Ayn Rand was born Alicia Rosenbaum in 1905 in St Petersburg, and worked in Hollywood in the 1920s before settling in New York in 1934. Her work has never been as widely read here as in America - Ronald Reagan was an admirer, and Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Fed. Of the novels, it's Atlas that really matters to the market libertarians who make up her committed fan-base, but The Fountainhead (1943) is probably better known. The story of a fanatical architect who blows up his own building, it was made into a film in 1949, with Gary Cooper in the lead. Because of contractual problems Atlas Shrugged has yet to make it to the screen. But Angelina Jolie is reportedly "attached" to a forthcoming movie, in the part of Dagny. Brad's name is also mentioned, and that of Russell Crowe.

    Atlas Shrugged was Rand's fourth and final novel. After it, she devoted herself to what her fans consider her "philosophy", and to building the movement she called objectivism, which was, briefly, a presence in 50s American culture before imploding in feuds. Rand was, at her height, quite a figure - bob-haired, Russian-accented, dressed in a cape with a dollar-sign brooch, smoking a cigarette in a long holder - "When a man thinks, there is a spot of fire alive in his mind - and it is proper that he should have the burning point of a cigarette as his one expression," she wrote in Atlas Shrugged.

    Since Rand's death in 1982 - from lung cancer - her heirs have carried the movement forward, with a growing presence in academia: the University of Texas at Austin has a chair in objectivism, endowed by a bank. And it is massive on the internet, where a whole parallel society chats, blogs, runs its own dating agency, in a veritable Galt's Gulch of the mind. Recent highlights include "Anti-Smoking Paternalism: A Cancer on American Liberty" and, most pithily, the Ayn Rand Institute's solution to the current crisis: "Let Them Fail!"

    According to Noam Chomsky, Rand was "one of the most evil figures of modern intellectual history". But this is surely an overstatement, given that during Rand's lifetime, personal muddle and inherent ridiculousness limited her capacity to do harm. Slavoj Zizek gets closer to it when he writes that, though artistically "worthless", her work has a lastingly "subversive dimension". By taking "capitalist ideology" to extreme conclusions, Rand shows up its "fantasmatic kernel" - the babyish fantasies of power without consequence that, one could argue, caused the banks to sink themselves in the sub-prime mess in the first place.

    The question, then, isn't so much why Rand now? It's more whether Randianism can have a long-term future, now that capitalism no longer seems to need any help when making a fool of itself. Though if Brangelina stays on board for the projected movie, the legacy is probably safe for a year or two yet.
    Jenny Turner

    2 Comments:

    Blogger stassa said...

    Έχω την εντύπωση όμως οτι αυτοί που ξαναδιαβάζουν την Rand τώρα δεν είναι ακριβώς οι επαείοντες που φαντασιωνόταν η ίδια. Μάλλον είναι οι γνωστοί βλάχοι με τη Mail παραμάσχαλα. Δηλαδή μακάρι να αποφασίσουνε να πάνε να κλειστούνε σε κάνα βουνό μακρυά μας.

    March 20, 2009 5:57 am  
    Blogger Xilaren said...

    πράγμα που δυστυχώς δε θα γίνει ποτέ

    xxx

    April 08, 2009 1:16 am  

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