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Romantic Art And Volition

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Someone here linked to a book review site (www.strongbrains.com), which under the Literature section, had the following comment:

The Illiad by Homer, translation by Rieu. A heroic epic centered on the hero Achilles, his values, character, decisions and consequences. This is the first work of literature to emphasize volition and personal values. Also available in audio, The Iliad . (bibliography)
I find this absolutely astonishing. If I had to pick one message which I certainly did not receive from the Iliad, it would be that man is a volitional being. Pretty much every single action performed by a character, from a major thing such as deciding whether to prolong a quarrel, to minor events such as who to attack in battle, was micro-managed by a god to some degree. Not only was the general course of the war mapped out in advance (Zeus describes precisely how Hector is going to die, and so on), but almost all the small-scale events leading up to this are determined by either fate or divine intervention. Man is seen to have very direct little influence on the course of his life, and the role he plays essentially comes to down stoically accepting whatever hand the gods have deemed to deal him.

My question is this: where would a work like the Iliad fit into Rand's division of art into the Romantic and the Naturalistic? If Romantic art is defined in terms of 'the recognition of man's faculty of volition', then I simply don't understand how the Iliad could be included. But on the other hand, the book seems to be an almost paradigm case of what I would personally class as 'Romantic' art - it is full of larger than life characters portraying an idealised vision of what was, to the Greeks, man's greatness. On the other hand, to class it as Naturalistic seems absurd.

This is part of a more general problem I have with Rand's aesthetic views; namely by what criteria can we decide whether a work 'recognises volition'? There are some obvious cases where a book is based upon volition (eg Atlas Shrugged), and some where it isnt (Shakespeare), but in most cases it doesnt seem clear. For instance, Rand classified Flaubert as a romantic artist, yet I'm not entirely sure why a work such as Madame Bovary is less based on volition than (eg) the Hunchback of Notre Dame. It would certainly be more 'journalistic', but this isnt involved in the fundamental classification.

The problem increases when it comes to other forms of art - take music for instance. I havent the faintest idea what is meant by the claim that a piece of music 'recognises volition', nor do I know how to even begin deciding in a particular case whether this criteria is satisfied or not. Is volition recognised in the music of the Beatles for instance? What about Aphex Twin?

How would you go about classifying these sorts of cases, and why?

Edited by Hal
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The answer to your (Hal’s) question ”where would a work like the Iliad fit into Rand's division of art into the Romantic and the Naturalistic” is that she did not so divide art. These are nineteenth-century schools, and Ayn Rand regarded it as anachronistic to apply the terms to earlier works of art. This is why she classified Shakespeare not as ”a Naturalist,” but as the ”spiritual father, in modern history” of Naturalism. (The Romantic Manifesto)

In regard to Homer, she definitely regarded him as an exponent of determinism, not an upholder of volition, for much the same reasons you give. (She discusses this in one of her university radio interviews from the 1960s. I think it is for sale by the Ayn Rand Bookstore.) Yet she did not regard Homer as a ”Naturalist,” and she recognized the heroic stature of his characters. The line of hers that I remember, quoting from memory, is ”If a man is in chains, he may still be a hero – but he is not free.”

In general, it is a mistake to reduce Romanticism to merely ”an idealized vision of man’s greatness.” There is a lot more to Romanticism than that – as the case of Homer shows.

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