Quote of the week...please share your favourite line from Ayn Rand's writings

“Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values.”

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Best Reason To Read Atlas Shrugged

Objectivists and admirers of Ayn Rand’s fiction realize that there couldn’t be a better time or a more urgent need to advocate Atlas Shrugged to new readers. The novel is being promoted and talked about everywhere. In the same vein, I read a piece in an American Objectivist campus magazine, The Undercurrent, titled ‘The Value of Atlas Shrugged’. It is a well-written piece, and gives a fairly good introduction to the philosophical foundations of the novel, and what makes it so unique. However, while it suggests exactly why the novel is so pertinent in the current crisis, there is a missing element in that introduction, as there is in most of the current publicity campaign – a very important missing element.

And that is, a fair treatment of the story. When a novel is presented to new readers, it is generally done so by means of a snapshot of the plot and the characters. It is implicitly understood that the primary reason why someone should pick up a story is because they are intrigued by it. Ayn Rand herself would probably not have liked someone to read Atlas just because it has crucial economic and philosophical lessons to offer, which have changed the lives of so many people, and are immediately relevant. These could be powerful motivating factors, but she would have wanted people to read it, first and foremost, for the pleasure of the story. Of course, the immense knowledge that the novel demonstrates must be mentioned, but it is not meant to be a treatise. That is not how it is written, and that is not the impression that should be conveyed to potential readership. This does not mean that one must go into a detailed elaboration of the plot, but certainly a clear mention of what makes it so exciting is called for, especially since Atlas Shrugged has such an original and spell-binding plot, and such dramatic characterization!

As far as the article in The Undercurrent is concerned, it seems to suggest that the plot of the story revolves around a corporate battle, with barons of industry and science fighting against an antagonistic corporate landscape. There is no mention of the fact that it is a mystery story about an unknown man, operating in secrecy (John Galt), who is trying to stop the motor of the world, and a woman (Dagny Taggart) trying desperately to discover his identity and defeat him. As one by one, the greatest men and women of America quit their professions and vanish, and the world crumbles in their wake, the battle between Galt and Dagny Taggart becomes more intense, thought provoking and gripping. As far as the characterization goes, the heroes of the novel are all fearless, independent, rational human beings, heroic in the sense that no other author has really been able to capture. What motivates them (and what motivates the villains), and the crucial difference that has put Galt and Dagny on opposite sides, is where every philosophical, moral and political answer is contained. This is really why someone should pick up Atlas Shrugged.

When any objectivist advocates the novel, whatever the time and space they use for it, they must seek to advocate it in its entirety. And that means, conveying not only the value that the story offers, but also the idea of the story itself.

Click here to access the fall 2009 edition of The Undercurrent, which contains the article. In spite of the limitations of this article, it deems mention that The Undercurrent publishes some excellent analyses of the current political and cultural scenario in America from an Objectivist perspective.

1 comment:

  1. Coincidentally, I just received this link to a YouTube video that's titled:
    "Why Atlas Shrugged Changes Lives"


    In it, Debi Ghate of ARI ends with the view that in Atlas Shrugged "presented in the form of a riveting story, we can be inspired by her (Ayn rand's) new ideas, see their concrete meaning, and apply them to our own lives. This is the reason Atlas Shrugged has had a lasting impact on so many people for the last fifty years."

    Readers of this post might be interested.