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Axmann8

Rand's fiction vs nonfiction: which is better?

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So far, the only Rand I've read all the way through is Anthem. I'm starting on Atlas and the Fountainhead now.

I thoroughly enjoyed Anthem and what I have read in Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, as well as some of her speeches I have read in Philosophy: Who Needs It, and while I have always considered myself a freedom-orientated libertarian, I would now consider myself an objectivist neophyte. Reading Anthem truly (and not in the "look at me!" way) changed my life and my way of thinking, even though I already [or so I had thought] accepted Rand's philosophy.

 

I've watched Ayn Rand and the Prophecy of Atlas Shrugged and begun reading Ayn Rand and the World She Made and think she's a fascinating person as well, and I wished I could've met her just once.

 

The problem, not with ideas, but style, came when I began reading the opening section in "For the New Intellectual" (the part that isn't excerpts from her fiction).

As an aside, in the Introduction to Anthem, it says that Ayn rand once told Peikoff that at times she was uncertain when "a point (or an emotion) had been communicated fully and objectively)". We also learn in The Prophecy of Atlas Shrugged that Rand was, at times, wary of nonfiction.

 

At least in For the New Intellectual, these uncertainties become realized. The allegory of Atilla and the Witch Doctor goes on for so long and the point is so drilled in to the point where I want to put the book (but not the concepts and ideas) down. She also revisits Kant and Aristotle again, a recurring topic in her other nonfiction as well.

In Rand's fiction, I've noticed that she likes to restate concepts there, but the reason I think it works there is because we get the opportunity to envision these in the context of her characters, and the point becomes played out in practice.

My question: what do others think about this? Does all of her nonfiction tend to explain in multiple pages what can be explained just as fully, sufficiently, and beautifully in a few paragraphs? Do others experience an exhaustion with her nonfiction that doesn't seem to be present in her fiction?

Edited by Axmann8

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I don't, but I haven't read FTNI in a while.

 

I would say that on the whole her non-fiction is really efficient and dense.  If you think she's repeating things chances are you are missing something.  She did not choose words lightly, and she was capable of being quite tough-minded when editing her own work.

 

But your question is too vague--better for what?  If you mean as a means of learning her philosophy then you can't choose just one.  The novels are necessary, and certain of the non-fiction is also necessary (ITOE in particular).  I would go even further and say that it is unlikely anyone could learn to understand Rand's ideas properly without getting help from other authors such as Dr. Peikoff.

 

The key is in learning to practice the epistemological ideas.   If you don't handle concepts well it is going to be very difficult to really grasp Objectivism.

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Do others experience an exhaustion with her nonfiction that doesn't seem to be present in her fiction?

 

Yes! It took me a long time to get through OPAR- I'm not used to reading dense philosophy texts on my own. It takes a lot more concentration and effort to not only get through non-fiction texts, but to understand, decide if you agree/disagree with what's being said, and eventually try to integrate the concepts you agree with into your life.

 

I generally prefer fiction ('light reading') because it illustrates points in an interesting and easy to understand way, as opposed to dense, dry, textbook-style formatting that I often find in non-fiction books.. but it's definitely rewarding to get through a non-fiction book like OPAR. You really see that Rand's fiction is just the tip of the iceberg, and there's a lot more to philosophy than 'selfishness is a virtue' and 'big government is bad.'

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I don't, but I haven't read FTNI in a while.

 

I would say that on the whole her non-fiction is really efficient and dense.  If you think she's repeating things chances are you are missing something.  She did not choose words lightly, and she was capable of being quite tough-minded when editing her own work.

 

But your question is too vague--better for what?  If you mean as a means of learning her philosophy then you can't choose just one.  The novels are necessary, and certain of the non-fiction is also necessary (ITOE in particular).  I would go even further and say that it is unlikely anyone could learn to understand Rand's ideas properly without getting help from other authors such as Dr. Peikoff.

 

The key is in learning to practice the epistemological ideas.   If you don't handle concepts well it is going to be very difficult to really grasp Objectivism.

You could't possibly be saying that Rand never repeated herself, and that something materially new was presented every time she did? It was well-known, even to herself, that she had difficulties knowing when a point was complete. The problem of density and/or repetition is one that Ayn addressed with Peikoff. She was aware that her writing style wasn't perfect.

 

I am currently speaking exclusively about For the New Intellectual. As I've said, I enjoyed a lot of Philosophy: Who Needs It, and also reading her introductions to some of her novels. It may even be that I enjoy the rest of her non-fiction.

 

I can point out some repetition in FTNI, in which no new concepts are presented: let's start with Atilla.

 

"Atilla, the man who rules by brute force, at the whim and mercy of the moment"

"Atilla—the type of man who long to... act on the whim and range of the moment"

"The physical conquest of men is Attila's method of survival."

"If Atilla's method of survival is the conquest of those who conquer nature..."

Referring to Atilla: "The man who lives by brute force..."

"Atilla ... the man of force"

"An Atilla never thinks of creating, only of taking over."

"Atilla ... feels confident only when he smells fear in his opponents."

"Atilla's blank check on brute force"

"[Atilla] approaches men as a beast of prey"

"Atilla extorts [men's] obedience by means of a club"

"[Atilla's] only skill and purpose, that of material extortion"

"Atilla rules the realm of men's physical existence"

"Atilla conquers empires."

"Atilla loots and plunders"

"Attila... the looter of wealth"

"Atilla... the looter"

"Atilla slaughters."

"Atilla rules by means of fear"

Or the relationship of Atilla and the Witch Doctor:

"Thus they come to need each other."

"Thus Atilla and the Witch Doctor form an alliance"

"Just as the Witch Doctor is impotent without Attila, so Atilla is impotent without the Witch Doctor"

"...The Witch Doctor, in a firm, if mutually jealous, alliance with Attila"

"Atilla and the Witch Doctor and to their primordial existential relationshp"

This goes on for nearly 30 pages. I both appreciate and understand the allegory Rand employs. What is not necessary here is the need to describe what Atilla represents everytime he name is brought up. One or even a couple of characterizations of Atilla were perfectly sufficient. Even the Witch Doctor doesn't get as much attention as Atilla, and when he does, usually new information about him is presented. Much of the space used to re-confirm Atilla, the brute and the looter, as the brute and the looter [Atilla is the brute and the looter] could've been used to explain concepts relating to them.

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Might I add another thing, from Ayn Rand and the World She Made:

"She was on the phone with Paterson, expressing her frustration with slow sales and inane reviewes. Paterson pointed out that readers might be confused by encountering serious ideas in a novel, and why didn't she write a nonfiction book explaining her individualist philosophy? 'No!' she said. 'I've presented my case in The Fountainhead. .... If [readers] don't respond, why should I wish to enlighten or help them further? I'm not an altruist.'"

 

This was actually the exchange that gave her the idea for Atlas Shrugged, therefore the exchange was profoundly important to Rand.

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If you read other philosophy books or any non-fiction book or listen to any lecture, you may find that many authors repeat themselves often. The point of doing so is not only to make sure you understand the particular point they are making, but it is also to serve as a reminder and an integration technique. There is a whole psychology behind this idea and it is done so in part to help the reader remember the main points.

 

I haven't read any of Rand's fiction works so I can't offer an opinion on this. I haven't read FTNI or PWNI, but I have read ITOE, VOS, and CTUI.

 

I agree some of it is repetitive, and in some parts, I wish she would expand more.

Edited by thenelli01

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If you read other philosophy books or any non-fiction book or listen to any lecture, you may find that many authors repeat themselves often. The point of doing so is not only to make sure you understand the particular point they are making, but it is also to serve as a reminder and an integration technique. There is a whole psychology behind this idea and it is done so in part to help the reader remember the main points.

 

I haven't read any of Rand's fiction works so I can't offer an opinion on this. I haven't read FTNI or PWNI, but I have read ITOE, VOS, and CTUI.

 

I agree some of it is repetitive, and in some parts, I wish she would expand more.

Perhaps I have good memory, I suppose? lol

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Perhaps I have good memory, I suppose? lol

 

Perhaps, but I don't think she was writing for you. :stuart:

 

I do think there is a benefit to this technique and Rand's writing style. She usually presents an idea, explains/qualifies it, then presents the idea again, and then makes reference to it throughout the rest of her work. When you are trying to learn and understand a new concept or idea, this is very helpful.

 

However, when you understand and follow what she is saying, it can get repetitive and become hard to read sometimes.

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I think The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged truly serve best as Art, i.e. they provide the sum which represents a sense of life, at the core of man's need for Art.

 

So, even though these works serve as an excellent introduction to a philosophy including metaphysics, and epistemology, ethics, including values, principles, virtues, etc. and in fact can be a way for the uninitiated and mislead to see the way to reality and morality, the real value of these works of fiction is reaffirmation/validation of already held knowledge and understanding.

 

As much as you appreciate these the first time around they get better and better the more you know.

 

 

For learning Objectivist Philosophy I suggest getting lectures on CD or getting audiobooks.  OPAR by Blackstone audiobooks is truly wonderful and its on Audible (Amazon).  There are other titles available as well such as Q&A with AR etc..

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I personally read all her nonfiction before even starting Atlas Shrugged. I think it depends on a persons interests. If you like the particulars of philosophy, I recommend the 1976 Lectures The Philosophy Of Objectivism. I consider them superior to OPAR for several reasons. There are subtle differences and Ms Rand was present during the lectures. If you need motivation to persue the nonfiction, I would start with Philosophy: Who Needs It?

Edit: should have read the whole OP.... Sorry

Edited by Plasmatic

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I honestly had the opposite problem. I found most of the first 3/4ths of Atlas Shrugged to be tedious and repetitive (I was in 9th grade, so it was probably a little over my head.) I've since reread it a few times and enjoyed it. I picked up OPAR and loved every second. That said, it's super dense. I had to keep stopping to underline stuff and think about it, make mental maps, notes, etc.

 

If you've taken some philosophy classes then you'll know that all philosophers who devise a new system do so in an incredibly repetitive, often difficult to understand way. I'm not sure there's any other way possible if you're going to write in nonfiction. For instance, each pivotal philosopher has to come up with their own terminology. Rand's definition of the words; selfishness, ego, evil, sacrifice, and greed are substantially different than those you'd get if you asked a few dozen people on the streets. In fact, some are almost opposite their colloquial definitions (sacrifice and selfishness). Philosophers also need to explain how their works and ideas differ in relation to what's come before. If Rand spends a huge amount of time on a less important concept for seemingly no reason, it's often because the philosophical consensus of the time was the opposite and she had to tread carefully/make herself clear. The zeitgeist has changed since then, so sometimes what you'll read seems like a moot point, when at the time it was very relevant and informative.

 

Once you get past all that, the payoff is wonderful. Even if you end up rejecting all of Rand and becoming a communist Kantian, I'd argue it's still worth your time to try to struggle your way through her books. I completely disagree with Hegel, but working through his thoughts made me grow intellectually. It also allowed me to read a few academic papers, which are nearly always easier to read than the volumes of philosophy. 

 

Remember, too, that you have the benefit of reading Rand only 40-70 years after she wrote her books (in impeccable English, no less). Half of investigating Aristotle is trying to figure out what he REALLY said and what the translator THOUGHT he said. It's a nightmare sometimes. Nietzsche wrote in German, and his discussions only make sense if you've read all the strange pulpy philosophy he had lying around on his shelves. Ancient Chinese philosophers constantly reference poetry and stories that have been lost to history, so we may never really know what they were talking about.

 

If I can give you some advise, I'd suggest you slow down just a little bit. If Rand's nonfiction is boring or repetitive, try OPAR. It covers most concepts in a few pages or less. Try reading some pages of the Lexicon. Read around on the forums, listen to some of her interviews. Try reading some people's objections to her, then go to the source and see if they've misinterpreted her or not. What I wouldn't do is approach reading nonfiction philosophy like it's a novel. It's not. It's much harder but the payoffs can be much greater.

 

To answer your title question, I don't particularly adore Rand's fiction. Her nonfiction is presented in a way that's better than the average philosopher, but still could be much better. They were written for different purposes, so I'd argue that saying one's "better" than the other is pretty much impossible. If your goal is to read Ayn Rand, I think I'd stop with her fiction. If your goal is to understand her philosophy, then you'll need to work through a lot of what she wrote.

Edited by Mushroom

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Her fiction was simply a dramatization of her non-fiction, which makes sense as her passion was as a writer.  Most people discover and grasp her philosophy through her art for a very real reason - It put's into concretes very complex abstractions.  It dramatizes the philosophy in story form.  If anything, for most people I have met, her non-fiction starts as a cliff notes to better grasp her fiction.  For those who really want to grasp the philosophy thereafter they move on to wider circles of non-fiction as the issue moves from art to education.

 

But honestly - Which indibidual books have you reread the most?  A non-fiction or a fiction book from Rand?  For me it is the fiction. 

Edited by Spiral Architect

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