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Boydstun

Ayn Rand: Her Life, Her Philosophy

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Shoshana Milgram contributes a chapter to the newly released A Companion to Ayn Rand (Blackwell). It is the second chapter of the volume. It is titled “The Life of Ayn Rand – Writing, Reading, and Related Events.” This chapter is 23 pages, including endnotes (about 10,000 words without endnotes). It is organized into these sections:

Leaving Russia (1905–1926)

Early Career as an American Writer (1926–1936)

The Fountainhead: The Creation of Her First Ideal Man (1936–1943)

Atlas Shrugged: The Mind on Strike (1943–1957)

Objectivism: A Philosophy for Living on Earth (1957–1982)

Appendix: Concerning Biographical Sources

“The most important year of Rand’s youth was 1914: at the age of nine, she decided to be a writer. She had been writing stories for several years at this point. One night, in a London hotel room, when she was entertaining her sisters by inventing a story about the chorus girls she had seen on a theatrical poster, she realized that this task of devising interesting narratives about human lives was a writer’s life work—and the very career she wanted.”

. . .

“On June 8, 1958, she began to make notes for a projected non-fiction book Objectivism: A Philosophy for Living on Earth, . . . . She would work to support and defend the novel [AS] that had been misjudged and misunderstood, and also to crusade for reason (her top value, she said, ever since she could remember). . . .”

. . .

“‘I read a few of those modern philosophy essays that Nathan gave me, and all the questions that Leonard [Peikoff] was bringing home. And my conversations with Leonard. I began to see that what I took as almost self-evident, was not self-evident at all. . . . Leonard began to realize the importance of my statement that “existence is identity,” and he explained to me in what sense no philosopher had claimed it, not in this form. I had thought of it as what I said in Galt’s speech, that it’s merely clarification of Aristotle. I began to realize in what way it wasn’t. And it was that that was the turning point in my decision. I knew then that I could not write another novel for a long time.’ [AR] (Biographical Interviews)”

. . .

“In this chapter I draw on research I have done, much of it in the Ayn Rand Archives . . . toward a book-length study. . . . / For the facts of Ayn Rand’s life, I have relied on primary sources, including . . . an extensive series of biographical interviews conducted by Barbara Branden in 1960–1961 . . . (Biographical Interviews).” 

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The book is interesting in part for what it tells us of the current state of the party line. It's the first time I've seen an orthodox source credit Barbara Branden, not "a biographer", as Rand's interviewer. She, NB and David Kelley get extensive mentions in the index. Lennox and Hunt have both spoken at TAS events.

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It's fun to compare Kira's scene of first lovemaking, which was with Leo, to Dagny's first time, which was with Francisco, and to the lovemaking scene for Dagny and John in the rail tunnel. I'll show text from the Kira scene below. I'm pretty sure the bridge in the scene is the Dvortsovy, which is shown in construction (1912-16) in this drawing by Anna Petrovna Ostroumova-Lebedeva.

construction of dvortsovy palace bridge Ostroumova-Lebedeva-Litografiya-008.jpg

“On the quay, at the Admiralty, Leo stopped the sleigh and they got out and walked along the parapet. The Neva was frozen. A solid coat of ice made a wide, white lane between its high banks. Human feet had stamped a long road across its snow. The road was deserted.

“They descended down the steep, frozen bank to the ice below. They walked silently, suddenly alone in a white wilderness.

“. . . And the golden spire of the Admiralty held defiantly a disappeared sun high over the dark city.

. . .

“They stood alone in the middle of the river. A tramway clattered, rising up the bridge, shaking the steel beams to their roots in the water far below. . . .

. . .

“‘You know what I wanted to tell you’, he said, his face very close to hers.

“And without a thought, without a will or a question, in voice that was someone’s order to her, not her voice, she answered ‘Yes’.

“His kiss felt like a wound.

“Her arms closed around the frightening wonder of a man’s body. . . .

. . .

“Leo took her arm and led her away, on perilous ground, through the deep, unbroken snow, to the bridge.

“They stood in the darkness of the steel vaults. Through the black webbing above they saw the red sky dying out slowly.

"She didn't know what he was saying; she knew that his lips were on hers. She didn't know that her coat collar was unbuttoned; she knew that his hand was on her breast and his hand was hungrier than his lips.

“When a tramway rose up the bridge over their heads the steel clattered convulsively, a dull thunder rolling through its every joint; and for a long time after it was gone the bridge moaned feebly.” (Rand 1936, 106–8)

Edited by Boydstun
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Roderick Long has lately tracked down the song “John Gray” that Rand employed in We the Living. He reports it was written in 1923 by Matvei Blanter (1903–1990). The lyrics coincide with those translated by Rand. They are by Vladimir Mass (1876–1979).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LX7bF5mEBnA

“Petrograd had known sweeping epidemics of cholera; it had known epidemics of typhus, which were worse; the worst of its epidemics was that of ‘John Gray’.

“Men stood in line at the co-operatives—and whistled ‘John Gray’. At recreation hour in schools, young couples danced in the big hall, and an obliging pupil played ‘John Gray’. Men hung on the steps of speeding tramways, humming desperately ‘John Gray’. Workers’ clubs listened attentively to a lecture on Marxism, then relaxed while a comrade showed his skill on a piano out of tune, playing ‘John Gray’." (1936, 178)

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