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"Petrograd was not born; it was created. The will of a man raised it where men did not choose to settle. An implacable emperor commanded into being the city and the ground under the city. . . . No willing hands came to build the new capital. . . . It rose by the labor of soldiers, . . . regiments who took orders and could not refuse to face a deadly foe, a gun or a swamp. (WL 226)

[Petrograd] was a monument to the spirit of man. / Peoples know nothing of the spirit of man, for peoples are only nature, and man is a word that has no plural. (WL 229)"

If Petrograd was a monument to the spirit of man, it was an evil spirit, the spirit which in the modern history could be compared only with that of Stalin. Stalin just loved Peter the Great, kept his picture in his office and ordered to create the full length feature movie about him. As Stalin sacrificed millions of Russians for sake of his "great" enterprises of the building of communism, so Peter the Great sacrificed hundreds of thousands of Russian peasants for the building of Petrograd. I doubt that this was the spirit which Ayn Rand admired.

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Leonard, her focus is on how it is a "planned city" that had a unity of design rather than a typical old city that grows in twists and spurts and "local optimization". Rand isn't admiring the way in which people were forced to build the city, but acknowledging that part of its history as well.

I'd forgotten all about that description of Petrograd. Those three pages have a very Victor Hugo-esque touch.

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Leonard, her focus is on how it is a "planned city" that had a unity of design rather than a typical old city that grows in twists and spurts and "local optimization". Rand isn't admiring the way in which people were forced to build the city, but acknowledging that part of its history as well.

I'd forgotten all about that description of Petrograd. Those three pages have a very Victor Hugo-esque touch.

No, her focus is "[Petrograd] was a monument to the spirit of man." The question is who is this man and what is his spirit? If Ayn Rand meant Peter the Great, then the whole piece has not Hugo's but Nietzsche' touch.

Edited by Leonid

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Leonid,

In America there is a saying by people who love New York City: “New York, New York, is there any place else?” In those pages of We the Living under discussion, Rand recalls a similar saying about Petrograd, whose residents “wonder, sometimes, at the strange bond that holds them. After the long winter, they curse the mud and the stone, and cry for pine forests; they flee from the city as from a hated stepmother; they flee to green grass and sand and to the sparkling capitals of Europe. And, as to an unconquerable mistress, they return in the fall, hungry for the wide streets, the shrieking tramways and the cobblestones, serene and relieved, as if life were beginning again. ‘Petrograd’, they say, ‘is the only City’” (229).

Rand and her character Kira loved the city Petrograd. That she spoke without much criticism of and with some favor in its manner of creation is not an unqualified approval of Peter and his project. “‘Petrograd’, its residents say, ‘stands on skeletons’. / Petrograd is not in a hurry; it is not lazy; it is gracious and leisurely, as befits the freedom of its vast streets. . . .” (226–27). The city as a directed basic construction and its resulting feel, particularly by the early twentieth century, are things the author clearly loved. That the massive construction project be planned and directed by Kira, with willing workmen executing her orders, rather than directed by Peter in his historical manner, would bring at least as well what was essential in its character: the spirit of man.

As you know from my essay, love of city and technology was a permanent difference between Rand and Nietzsche. Kinship with Nietzsche on these pages of We the Living would include Rand’s side with masculinity (of Petrograd) in contrast to femininity (of Moscow). Also in kinship (with Nietzsche, but also with Emerson) would be Rand’s siding here with man the individual, as against men the collective.

I recall you have said that English was your third language, Russian your first. I do not recall where you lived in Russia nor your age there. Did you ever live in or visit Leningrad? Have you read We the Living? Your perspective on it could be quite fresh for us to hear, and anyway you might find this novel a real experience.

At the time Rand wrote this novel, she would not have known that Stalin was a strong fan of Peter. (I say strong fan, putting mildly. I was a fan of Peter myself, when I read a child’s biography of him in the fifth grade.) As you know from my essay, Rand eliminated reference to the fact that in post-revolutionary Russia there were no subways (such as that in New York) in her final draft of the novel. I suggested that that was in part due to Stalin’s big-propaganda opening of the Moscow subway just in time for the final draft. Had she known of how Stalin was comparing himself to Peter, she might have had second thoughts about her use of Peter in We the Living.

I concur with Nerd in the feel of Hugo in these pages of the novel. I shall always associate the name Ayn Rand when I think of St. Petersburg. When I have visited Paris, I have begun and ended at Cité in front of Notre Dame. Forever it is Hugo’s city to me.

Edited by Boydstun

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No, her focus is "[Petrograd] was a monument to the spirit of man." The question is who is this man and what is his spirit? If Ayn Rand meant Peter the Great, then the whole piece has not Hugo's but Nietzsche' touch.

Man, as in man, not a man. If you look at the context it was written in, as your quote drops, especially the very paragraph that line was written in, it might help to expalin the meaning of what she said to you. I'd quote it here, but I can't copy/paste it, I'm looking onAmazn at it, since I lost my O'ism research CD-ROM at the library yers ago, accidentlly puttng that in the place of an Emily Dickinson DVD. Turned that it, but never got the CD-ROM back.

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Boydstun: "I recall you have said that English was your third language, Russian your first. I do not recall where you lived in Russia nor your age there. Did you ever live in or visit Leningrad? Have you read We the Living? Your perspective on it could be quite fresh for us to hear, and anyway you might find this novel a real experience."

It's amazing that you are telling me how Petrograd/Leningrad/Peterburg's dwellers love their city. I was born in Leningrad and spent first 26 years of my life in this city. Since I left Russia I've seen many countries and cities. Petrograd, or "Peter" as we affectionately used to call it, is part of my soul. Yes, I've read " We the Living" many times, and every time it caused me a paroxysm of nostalgia. I love this city passionately. But this is beyond the point. Petrograd is a monument to the spirit of man, but not the man who ordered to build it on skeletons. It is a monument to the spirit of architects and sculptors (mainly Italians) who created this marvel. It is also a monument to the spirit of Russian intellectuals, poets, composers and writers like Pushkin, Tchaikovsky, Dostoevsky, Mandelstam and many others who created Russian culture as we know it and whose life was inseparable from "Peter".

Edited by Leonid

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A song that perfectly describes a lot of stuff in We The Living: "Three Evils Embodied in Love and Shadow" by Coheed and Cambria.

Could you describe how you think this song relates to We The Living?

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At the Objectivist Summer Conference 2011, Shoshana Milgram, Robert Mayhew, and Onkar Ghate will discuss new chapters they have written for the forthcoming expanded edition of Essays on Ayn Rand’s We the Living.*

My own discussion of We the Living is here: 1, 2, 3, 4

The unfortunate thing—now that I have heard some of what these three new contributions will amount to—is that I will have to get the second edition of this book into my library alongside the first.

Shoshana Migram’s new chapter is titled “Educating Kira and Leo.” In this essay, Prof. Milgram argues that Rand had studied two particular texts being used in courses at university in 1921, the setting of the students in We the Living. These texts have not been previously identified. One is N. I. Bukharin’s Theory of Historical Materialism: Popular Textbook of Marxist Sociology. (Bukharin was also a coauthor of the well-known ABC’s of Communism.*) The other is A. I. Vvedenskij’s Lectures on Ancient Philosophy. (Vvedenskij also supervised the Russian translation of Windelband’s History of Ancient Philosophy. Chris Sciabarra [1995] mentioned Vvedenskij in connections apart from Rand’s early education in ancient philosophy.)

Robert Mayhew is contributing a new chapter “The Sacred in We the Living.” This is an examination of the attitudes of Kira, Andrei, and Leo towards sacred values, in their secular sense crafted by the author in this novel.

The new contribution from Onkar Ghate is a study of Leo. It includes comparisons of the ways various souls in the novel are destroyed: Kira’s father, her sister Lydia, her uncle, her cousin Victor, and Andrei. And Leo, Kira's love. Kira’s end is in contrast: “broken, but not conquered,” as Rand described her in a journal entry.

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