Monday, November 21, 2011

Art And Cognition

Art and cognition:

The development of human cognition starts with the ability to perceive things, i.e., entities. Of man's five cognitive senses, only two provide him with a direct awareness of entities: sight and touch. The other three senses—hearing, taste and smell—give him an awareness of some of an entity's attributes (or of the consequences produced by an entity): they tell him that something makes sounds, or something tastes sweet, or something smells fresh; but in order to perceive this something, he needs sight and/or touch.

The concept "entity" is (implicitly) the start of man's conceptual development and the building-block of his entire conceptual structure. It is by perceiving entities that man perceives the universe. And in order to concretize his view of existence, it is by means of concepts (language) or by means of his entity-perceiving senses (sight and touch) that he has to do it.
Music does not deal with entities, which is the reason why its psycho-epistemological function is different from that of the other arts, as we shall discuss later.

The relation of literature to man's cognitive faculty is obvious: literature re-creates reality by means of words, i.e., concepts. But in order to re-create reality, it is the sensory-perceptual level of man's awareness that literature has to convey conceptually: the reality of concrete, individual men and events, of specific sights, sounds, textures, etc.

The so-called visual arts (painting, sculpture, architecture) produce concrete, perceptually available entities and make them convey an abstract, conceptual meaning.

All these arts are conceptual in essence, all are products of and addressed to the conceptual level of man's consciousness, and they differ only in their means. Literature starts with concepts and integrates them to percepts- painting, sculpture and architecture start with percepts and integrate them to concepts. The ultimate psycho-epistemological function is the same: a process that integrates man's forms of cognition, unifies his consciousness and clarifies his grasp of reality.

Ayn Rand, Art and Cognition, The Objectivist, p. 1010

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Isle Of Lost Ships

Letter to Henry Blanke from Ayn Rand.

Well, this is a long introduction in order to tell you what an exceptional plot value you have in The Isle of Lost Ships. If this story is given your kind of beautiful production—I will go on record, here, on paper, to predict that it will be a multimillion dollar hit.

This story has the same elements of appeal as The Fountainhead. No, not literally the same in specific surface detail, but the same in general principle—and that's what counts. It is not "realistic" (the audiences are sick of sordid realism), it belongs to my school and style of writing—romanticism. It is not a story of trite, homey, "everyday" people and events (and are audiences sick of that!)—it is a story of strong, unusual characters in unusual, exciting events and in a real, dramatic conflict. Its sex angle is, in spirit, exactly the Roark-Dominique romance—sex through antagonism, the love story of a society girl and a convict. Of all forms of romance, this is the most powerful one and the surefire one. This form is difficult to write—that is why we don't see it often on the screen nowadays. But the audiences are starved for it. People are sick of the lukewarm, sentimental, "mushy" treatment of most love stories on the screen. That is why they now laugh at love scenes. Observe that they did not laugh at our "rape" scene. The time is right for a real, strong sex story. But few stories have the elements needed for it. The Isle of Lost Ships has them all. As a sex story, it's tops.

I saw the silent version of The Isle of Lost Ships (with Milton Sills and Anna Q. Nielsen) when I was a child in Europe, and I have never been able to forget it. It was a tremendous hit and I remember the delighted excitement with which everybody talked about it. A good story is timeless. It cannot be dated. Its essential appeal will always remain the same. One merely has to modernize the surface details, such as the dialogue. A good story is like a beautiful body. A beautiful body is beautiful to any audience in any day, age or century; the only thing that changes is the fashion in clothing. The Isle of Lost Ships needs a writer to modernize its clothing, which is its treatment, technical details and dialogue. The body is there.

Needless to say, I am most eager to be that writer. This is the kind of story I love and can do well.

"Letters of Ayn Rand", Michael Berliner, editor. p. 430.

The movie was not re-made.

Monday, November 7, 2011


On humor:

Jean Kerr, the author of Please Don't Eat the Daisies, is a benevolent humorist. She is allegedly complaining about the hard lot of a mother and the difficulty of coping with children. For instance, when her children eat the daisies, that is supposed to be a great evil on their part. But is that in fact what she is saying? No; she is really conveying the adventurousness and imagination of her children—their high spirits, which she has such a "hard" time controlling. At one point, when she describes how impossible it is to talk to one of her boys who is very literal-minded, I fell in love with that boy. She tells him to throw all of his clothes into the washing machine, and their conversation then goes something like the following. He says: "All my clothes?" She says: "Yes." "My shoes, too? .... Well, no, not your shoes." "All right, but I'll put in the belt." What comes across from their dialogue is an extremely intelligent, rational child. What Jean Kerr is actually laughing at is the kind of mother who would really consider this bad or difficult. She is negating the difficulty of the situation, and she is glorifying the good qualities of her children.

O. Henry is a benevolent humorist, as is Oscar Wilde in many of his plays, particularly The Importance of Being Earnest. Cyrano de Bergerac contains a lot of comedy, all of it aimed at destroying the pretentious or the cowardly. Cyrano laughs at villains, not at values or heroes.

Ernst Lubitsch was the only screen director famous for romantic comedies. Ninotchka, the Greta Garbo picture he directed, is a good example: it is comedy, but also high romance. What is laughed at is the sordid, undesirable aspects of life—and what comes across by means of the humor is the glamour, the romance, and the positive aspects.

In the benevolent type of humor, something good is always involved, as in Ninotchka, where the hero and heroine are quite glamorous. They are not funny—some of their adventures are; or they are acting humorously toward certain things, but not in a way that undercuts their own dignity, value, or self-esteem.

Ayn Rand, "The Art Of Fiction", p. 167-168.