Monday, October 31, 2011

Sense Of Life

Sense of life:

A sense of life is a pre-conceptual equivalent of metaphysics, an emotional, subconsciously integrated appraisal of man and of existence. It sets the nature of a man’s emotional responses and the essence of his character.

Long before he is old enough to grasp such a concept as metaphysics, man makes choices, forms value-judgments, experiences emotions and acquires a certain implicit view of life. Every choice and value-judgment implies some estimate of himself and of the world around him—most particularly, of his capacity to deal with the world. He may draw conscious conclusions, which may be true or false; or he may remain mentally passive and merely react to events (i.e., merely feel). Whatever the case may be, his subconscious mechanism sums up his psychological activities, integrating his conclusions, reactions or evasions into an emotional sum that establishes a habitual pattern and becomes his automatic response to the world around him. What began as a series of single, discrete conclusions (or evasions) about his own particular problems, becomes a generalized feeling about existence, an implicit metaphysics with the compelling motivational power of a constant, basic emotion—an emotion which is part of all his other emotions and underlies all his experiences. This is a sense of life.

Ayn Rand, "Philosophy and Sense of Life"

Monday, October 24, 2011

Subject & Style In Art & Psycho-Epistemology

Subject and style in art:

Whatever the case may be, it is the subject (qualified by the theme) that projects an art work's view of man's place in the universe.

The theme of an art work is the link uniting its subject and its style. "Style" is a particular, distinctive or characteristic mode of execution. An artist's style is the product of his own psycho-epistemology—and, by implication, a projection of his view of man's consciousness, of its efficacy or impotence, of its proper method or level of functioning.

Predominantly (though not exclusively), a man whose normal mental state is a state of full focus, will create and respond to a style of radiant clarity and ruthless precision—a style that projects sharp outlines, cleanliness, purpose, an intransigent commitment to full awareness and clear-cut identity—a level of awareness appropriate to a universe where A is A, where everything is open to man's consciousness and demands its constant functioning.

A man who is moved by the fog of his feelings and spends most of his time out of focus, will create and respond to a style of blurred, "mysterious" murk, where outlines dissolve and entities flow into one another, where words connote anything and denote nothing, where colors float without objects, and objects float without weight—a level of awareness appropriate to a universe where A can be any non-A one chooses, where nothing can be known with certainty and nothing much is demanded of one's consciousness.

Style is the most complex element of art, the most revealing and, often, the most baffling psychologically. The terrible inner conflicts from which artists suffer as much as (or, perhaps, more than) other men, are magnified to catastrophic proportions in their work. As an example: Salvador Dali, whose style projects the luminous clarity of a rational psycho-epistemology, while most (though not all) of his subjects project an irrational and revoltingly evil metaphysics. A similar, but less offensive, conflict may be seen in the paintings of Vermeer, who combines a brilliant clarity of style with the bleak metaphysics of photographic Naturalism. At the other extreme of the stylistic continuum, observe the deliberate blurring and visual distortions of the so-called "painterly" school, from Rembrandt on down—down to the rebellion against consciousness, expressed by a phenomenon such as "Cubism" which seeks specifically to disintegrate man's consciousness by painting objects as man does not perceive them (from several perspectives at once).

A writer's style may project a blend of reason and passionate emotion (Victor Hugo)—or a chaos of floating abstractions, of emotions cut off from reality (Thomas Wolfe)—or the dry, bare, concrete-bound, humor-tinged raucousness of an intelligent reporter (Sinclair Lewis)—or the disciplined, perceptive, lucid, yet muted understatement of a represser (John O'Hara)—or the carefully superficial, over-detailed precision of an amoralist (Flaubert)—or the mannered artificiality of a social metaphysician (several moderns not worthy of mention).
Style conveys what may be called a "psycho—epistemological sense of life," i.e., an expression of that level of mental functioning on which the artist feels most at home. This is the reason why style is crucially important in art—both to the artist and to the reader or viewer—and why its importance is experienced as a profoundly personal matter. To the artist, it is an expression, to the reader or viewer a confirmation, of his own consciousness—which means: of his efficacy—which means: of his self-esteem (or pseudo-self-esteem).

Ayn Rand, "Art And Sense Of Life", The Objectivist, p. 38-39.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Rand Letter To Fan: Roark Did Not Rape Dominique

Letter from Ayn Rand to fan about relationship between Roark and Dominique:

Dear Mr. Coleman:

Here is another letter to leave to your heirs, since you say that is what you intend to do with my first one.

Your confession about your personal problem made me feel that I have to lecture you a little bit. I am afraid that you have misunderstood the relationship of Roark and Dominique in a very improper way. You write as if you thought that the lesson to be derived from it is that a man should force himself on a woman, and that she would like him for that. But the fact is that Roark did not actually rape Dominique; she had asked for it, and he knew that she wanted it. A man who would force himself on a woman against her wishes would be committing a dreadful crime. What Dominique liked about Roark was the fact that he took the responsibility for their romance and for his own actions. Most men nowadays, like Peter Keating, expect to seduce a woman, or rather they let her seduce them and thus shift the responsibility to her. That is what a truly feminine woman would despise. The lesson in the Roark-Dominique romance is one of spiritual strength and self-confidence, not of physical violence.

In regard to the girl who sent you The Fountainhead, I would guess that sex was not the point she wanted you to see in the book; sex is only a minor aspect of a much wider theme—which is man's integrity—and that is probably what she wanted you to see.

Thank you for saying that the twelve editors who rejected The Fountainhead were "out of character in the publishing business." I got a kick out of hearing that.

"Letters of Ayn Rand", Michael Berliner, editor. p. 282.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Why Plot Is Important

Why plot is important:

For instance, the meaning of the Dagny-Rearden romance in Atlas Shrugged is that their shared ideas, values, and struggle is the root of their love. Consider what a non-plot writer would have done with this material, Dagny would come to Rearden's office, they would start talking, and suddenly he would draw her into his arms and they would kiss. This is realistic, it can happen—but it does not have much dramatic value. The same scene could have happened between any two people, including villains such as James Taggart and Betty Pope.

By contrast, in Atlas Shrugged I bring about Dagny and Rearden's love scene at the height of their mutual triumph, in connection with the achievement which unites their careers: the opening of the John Galt Line. I make them admit their love during an event which presents in action the ideas and values they have in common. This is an example of presenting an issue in plot terms.

Or take the quarry scene in The Fountainhead, where Dominique meets Roark. She is an extreme hero-worshiper; she has declared that she will never fall in love except with someone great; and she does not want to find a great man because she thinks he would be doomed. If, while researching tree of her newspaper columns, she had met Roark as a rising architect, that would not have been dramatic. But it is dramatic for her to meet the ideal man at the bottom, as nothing but a quarry worker. She had feared that the world would crush a hero—and the scene brings her face-to-face with the fact that no matter what the world does to him, a hero is a value, and one she cannot resist.

Ayn Rand, "The Art of Fiction", p. 26-27.

Monday, October 3, 2011

One Emotion For Which They Had No Equivalent

Dagny Taggart and the railroad:

She never tried to explain why she liked the railroad. Whatever it was that others felt, she knew that this was one emotion for which they had no equivalent and no response. She felt the same emotion in school, in classes of mathematics, the only lessons she liked. She felt the excitement of solving problems, the insolent delight of taking up a challenge and disposing of it without effort, the eagerness to meet another, harder test. She felt, at the same time, a growing respect for the adversary, for a science that was so clean, so strict, so luminously rational. Studying mathematics, she felt, quite simply and at once: "How great that men have done this" and "How wonderful that I'm so good at it." It was the joy of admiration and of one's own ability, growing together. Her feeling for the railroad was the same: worship of the skill that had gone to make it, of the ingenuity of someone's clean, reasoning mind, worship with a secret smile that said she would know how to make it better some day. She hung around the tracks and the round-houses like a humble student, but the humility had a touch of future pride, a pride to be earned.

Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, p. 54