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Ilya Startsev

Ivan Yefremov's aesthetics

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Has anyone read Ivan Yefremov's Razor's Edge? I am reading it right now and finding that much of aesthetics expressed in the beginning of the first part resonates and in parts joins with Rand's objective aesthetics. Here is a quote to consider (my translation from the Russian original):


If you simplify the definition, which is actually much more complicated, like everything else in the world, then it must be said first of all that beauty exists as an objective reality, and is not created in the thoughts and feelings of a person. It's time to turn away from idealism, hidden and obvious, in art and its theory. It is time to translate the concepts of art into the common language of knowledge and use scientific definitions. Speaking in this common language, beauty is the highest degree of expediency (целесообразности), the degree of harmony and combination of contradictory elements in every structure, in every thing, in every organism. And the perception of beauty cannot be imagined other than it being instinctive. In other words, entrenched in the subconscious memory of a person thanks to billions of generations with their unconscious experience and thousands of generations with an experience that is realized. Therefore, each beautiful line, form, combination is a rational (целесообразное) decision, developed by nature for millions of years of natural selection or found by man in his search for beauty, that is, the most correct quality for this thing (the main character is arguing against the criticism of the aesthetic virtues of the statue of a naked woman in front of him that feels alive). Beauty is what's leveling chaos, that general pattern, a great middle in expedient universality, comprehensively attractive, like the statue. (Razor's Edge, Part One, Chapter 3).

Yefremov, being a professional scientist (paleontologist, geologist, and biologist), is also an artist of words who wrote science-fiction in beautiful and rich prose. He was inspired by Jules Verne and Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, but he also shares many elements from other scientists and philosophers. In this paragraph, you can find an amalgamation of diverse elements merging toward the same goal, the meaning of beauty. Here you can see Darwin's biological evolution, Aristotle's golden mean, and Democritus's principle of expediency, but beneath it all, as I judge, hides the most basic and favorite principle of Aristotelian art: the Golden Ratio. I think this perspective on art is closer to Rand's objective one than, say, to Kant's subjective one. Here is another quote, in which Yefremov criticizes the art in the Soviet Union at the time of his writing (1963-1965):


Fragmentation and distortion of form, perspective and color transitions represent a natural tendency in the schizoid psyche to distort the surrounding reality. ("Five paintings" short story)

It's unfortunate that his little known works in which he expresses his aesthetical views are not translated into English yet. However, you may have heard of his most famous work: Andromeda Nebula (in my opinion a work comparable to the classics by Stanisław Lem, especially his The Magellanic Cloud). Although Yefremov chose utopian Communism over nuclear-weapon-proliferating Capitalism, his focus on human spirit, competency, and beauty is all so surprisingly similar to Rand's.

Edited by Ilya Startsev
corrected some verbs' forms

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