Saturday, 9 January 2010

The Romantic Manifesto

I have been asked to recommend a work by Ayn Rand, so I recommend The Romantic Manifesto, which would stimulate anyone with an interest in the arts.

It has a purist thrust and an intellectual vigour and integrity that is admirable. I do not agree with everything she argues, for instance, her disapproval of the historical novel, which she dismisses as a work by a writer who does not possess volition; a writer incapable of abstract projections and confined to "representations of concretes" because of his (she uses the male pronoun throughout) crippled intellect. This is not a universal truth that should be applied to a historical novelist, or playwright for that matter. Any historical figure acting as a muse becomes an abstract projection; it does not necessarily follow that a historical novel denotes a biographical or journalistic style that will diminish both its subject and the reader, offering only second rate metaphysics.

The Romantic Manifesto doesn’t discuss the make-up of the imagination at length, but Ayn does talk about a subconscious process of emotional abstraction that gives man his individual sense of life. If his value judgements develop in the integral, rational manner Ayn believes they should, then this sense of life reaches maturity in the form of a conscious philosophy where the mind leads and emotions follow. This should have happened by the end of adolescence. Sadly, Ayn believes only a few of us achieve a conscious integration of reason and emotions, of mind and values. All sorts of neurotic afflictions cloud the minds of those who don't. Many of us are walking around tortured by contradictions or guilt or delusions. An example of a work of art created by a man whose mind has not reached a normal, fully focused, mental state with a clear-cut identity is the recreation of a fog of feelings in which A is not A but any non-A one chooses; where nothing can be known with certainty and nothing is demanded of one’s consciousness.

I have challenged the idea that a rose is a rose is a rose, or A is A is A, in this blog before by pointing readers in the direction of Rachel Campbell-Johnston's review of this year's Turner prize winner (Ayn would have loathed Richard Wright’s work anyway because she despised all genres of modern art). Yet you can even find the building blocks of the “A is B” argument played out in The Romantic Manifesto. In an anecdote, Ayn writes that when she was 16 she attended an art class where she fell in love with the artistic style of her teacher who taught that every curve must be drawn, not as a curve, but as broken facets of intersecting straight lines. So, a curve is not a curve, but a tapestry of intersecting straight lines; A is B.

Read this book for its attack on mysticism, its insightful definitions of art forms, the images used to describe literary experiences, its love of America, but most of all for Ayn's definition of love.

4 comments:

Strawsonian said...

Many thanks for that. I've added The Romantic Manifesto to my Amazon wish list, along with The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Rand is one of those authors I've long meant to check out. Hopefully this will be the year I do so. How did you come to start reading her?

Karen Burke said...

Via Pola Negri.

Strawsonian said...

Rand wrote her first book about her, right? When I looked her up on Wikipedia I thought she might have been in the two Italian films that were made of We the Living without Rand's knowledge...

Karen Burke said...

I see why you might have thought that but, no, she was on her way back to the States by then...