The Early Days of a Better Nation

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Snark of the week

From the Times Higher Ed.:
There are also persistent rumours that a film company is looking into a big production of Atlas Shrugged for a television series, and this could bring in new Objectivist converts, such as those who do not read.

Labels: ,


I feel sorry for the poor bastard writing the adaptation.

Apropos of your last post on the 'two cultures' divide I found this judgment by the Times writer significant of the attitude displayed by the traditional literary type to SF:

A characteristic peculiar to Rand that detracts mightily from her works in a spectacular way is her enthusiasm for such inanimate objects as machines, trains, high-tension wires, factories and industrial areas of cities. Her unstinting praise of the so-called geniuses of entrepreneurial bent is difficult enough to swallow; but her paroxysms of delight as she ponders smoke-belching steel mills or grease-covered railroad bridges, page after page, will cause thoughtful readers to experience feelings of profound and abject embarrassment.

A Tolkien couldn't have expressed loathing and disgust at the modern world's most visible achievements any better. How could Rand rhapsodize about skyscrapers, suspension bridges and streamlined trains when any educated and sophisticated man of taste can only regard them as inconsequential or abhorrent? I recall the observation made by Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier that one objection to socialism stemmed from its association in people's minds with the ugliest features of industrial urbanity ('smoke belching steel mills'). Its great opponent displayed too much enthusiasm for that sort of thing as well which I suppose situates this kind of Englishmen in the 'neither New York City nor Magnetogorsk' camp regarding modernity. I'd expect this sort of attitude from a pipe and tweed jacket intellectual of the 1930s but not in the 21st century.

Unfortunately, most people's immediate acquaintance with the architecture of High Modernism is in the form of the public housing schemes whose tragic failures can be observed anywhere, from Edinburgh to Belfast, to points west and points east. . .

Then there's H. G. Wells (not exactly an ideological confrere of Rand's), who said he found the hydroelectric plant at Niagara Falls far more beautiful than the falls themselves.

hi D.J.P.--I've had some experience with public housing schemes. You are right to speak of "tragic failures," but these had both architectural and ideological causes. In my experience with public housing, the latter was always the major factor leading to failure. My old neighborhood of NYC was changed intentionally, by arranging things shortly after WW2 so that failure was almost guaranteed to happen. The plan took around 25 years to fully succeed, but it did. The successive NYC governments were mostly "liberal."

Very OT
Mr. Macleod,
I'm trying to find the source of one of the things one of your characters says in... I think it's the Cassini Division.

Did you get "Mankind's natural environment is artificial" from an outside source, or should I attribute it to you?

Steven, I wouldn't presume to answer for Mr Macleod, but there's a good riff on that theme in Tom Standage's Edible History of Humanity. Dealing with food rather than skyscrapers, he picks apart many lazy assumptions about what's 'natural'. He takes as his starting point an ear of corn - what better embodies the bounty of nature? - and goes back through the millennia of genetic engineering. "A cultivated field of maize, or any other crop, is as man-made as a microchip, a magazine, or a missile."

Excitement about modernity spanned political divisions - from Marinetti and the Futurists, Wyndham Lewis and the Vorticists (both flirted with fascism at some point) to George Bernard Shaw, Beatrice and Sydney Webb and other Fabians. Set against this movement one finds the English traditionalists, happiest while strolling through the cloisters of a medieval university, fearful of the clanking encroachment of modern civilization (hale and hearty William Morris and G K Chesterton raising a tankard of ale).

The Times critic didn't merely focus on a specific style (Modernist architecture was suggested above) as aesthetically flawed he objected to any admiration expressed by a writer for the technology of the modern age in any form.

I wonder if he writes with quill and ink.

One can participate in these aspects of the modern age without enjoyment (one would not live without plumbing; however one doesn't write lyrical poetry about it). Only an artist elevating them as something worthy of aesthetic approbation merits a rebuke.

Further to Roderick T. Long's comment about H. G. Wells finding the hydroelectric plant at Niagara Falls far more beautiful than the falls themselves, Oscar Wilde noted that "I was disappointed in Niagara - most people must be disappointed in Niagara. Every American bride is taken there, and the sight of the stupendous waterfall must be one of the earliest, if not the keenest, disappointments in American married life." Apparently they and other things were widely over-rated.

Steven Alleyn - the source of the quote is some note4s by Engels: 'The normal existence of animals is given by the contemporary conditions in which they live and to which they adapt themselves — those of man, as soon as he differentiates himself from the animal in the narrower sense, have as yet never been present, and are only to be elaborated by the ensuing historical development. Man is the sole animal capable of working his way out of the merely animal state — his normal state is one appropriate to his consciousness, one that has to be created by himself.'

I've always found this paragraph a rather deep and heartening reflection.

It's alluded to near the end of the first chapter of The Cassini Division, and more explicitly paraphrased (by Jon Wilde) in The Star Fraction.

PS and on topic: Someone with more time on their hands than I have could amuse multitudes by selecting quotations from Marx, Engels and their followers that could have been said by Ayn Rand.

e.g. 'Nature builds no machines, no locomotives, railways,[...] etc. These are products of human industry; natural material transformed into organs of the human will over nature, or of human participation in nature. They are organs of the human brain, created by the human hand; the power of knowledge, objectified.'

:) Thanks so much. I've found that quote unbelievably useful (with the addition a brief introduction to social evolution) in shutting down creationists touting the "if man evolved, how come he needs so many artificial aids to survive?" trope. Also, like yourself, I've found it (at least your paraphrase of it) to be very comforting and, as you say, heartening.

I think the word that has been ignored in that review is "unstinting". Anyone can praise a mode or style, but to insist that it has no flaws and that anyone who does criticise it is morally or temperamentally deformed is in fact obnoxious and fiction has traditionally included some of the better and more prescient critiques of technology around.

Going back to the quote supplied by Our Host, I must say I sympathise with anyone, Objectivist or not, who is unable to read Ayn Rand---I cannot comfortably do so, liking neither agit-prop nor romance novels, and I don't find the Stalinist universe of producers and parasites, creators and thieves, believable just because its casting choices have been inverted. (Someone once said something, 'Catholicism should be something more than The Black Mass recited backward."

blueprint includes avant-garde features and simple computations appliance congenital registers provided by a DUKES OF HAZZARD DVD
commitment account is a acceptable antecedent for added information.

blueprint includes avant-garde features and simple computations appliance congenital registers provided by a DUKES OF HAZZARD DVD
commitment account is a acceptable antecedent for added information.

Post a Comment