Friday, December 16, 2011

"Ayn Rands abysmal aesthetics" a short essay

Ayn Rand’s abysmal aesthetics




It was only her overweening narcissism that kept Rand's tongue from lambasting the idiot Warhol upon his insipid creation "a pack of Rands," not a painting so much as four photocopies of Rand -- she's not much to look at! -- each ran over with a different color highlighter  Rand had some sense of art, but her justification of it is notoriously bad. Nevertheless, of her books, the most useful to me is her is her "Romantic Manifesto." Like the work of Kant, her writings an aestheticism are scandalously unaesthetic. She manages to write entire essays without the use of one interesting trope -- I doubt she ever wrote poetry on the side, which inexcusable of anybody who fancies herself a writer -- and even her definitions lack eloquence:


Language is a code of visual-auditory symbols that serves the psycho-epistemological function of converting abstractions into concretes, or, more precisely, into the psycho-epistemological equivalent of concretes, into a manageable number of specific units.


            Repulsive, just like all her work, just like herself. How to fix it up?


Language is a code for converting abstracts into concretes.


            The rest is uninteresting to the definition -- and that she used the ugly phrase "psycho-epistemological" is no credit to her sense of aesthetics. That she plows the term "psycho-epistemological," which is not only ugly, but also cognitively empty -- it adds nothing to her argument -- and that insists on her abortion "concretized" makes the reader grunt every time one of these stones falls from her mouth. How about this one:


Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist's metaphysical value-judgments.


            Ugly. Okay, what to do?


Art physically represents the artists values.


            Much better. And again:


The basic purpose of art is not to teach, but to show -- to hold up to a man a concretized image of his nature and his place in the universe.


            The use of italics is unnecessary in this sentence, and if there is any sort of image other than a "concretized" image, I can't imagine it. Her distinction between teaching and showing shows a misunderstanding of how education works in the first place. Showing is precisely what teachers do. The students then must engage the materials. Where, if anywhere, does the relish of literary fervor bleed from her pen? Maybe here:


Consider the difference it would make if—in his need of philosophical guidance or confirmation or inspiration—man turns to the art of Ancient Greece or to the art of the Middle Ages. Reaching his mind and emotions simultaneously, with the combined impact of abstract thought and of immediate reality, one type of art tells him that disasters are transient, that grandeur, beauty, strength, self-confidence are his proper, natural state. The other tells him that happiness is transient and evil, that he is a distorted, impotent, miserable little sinner, pursued by leering gargoyles, crawling in terror on the brink of an eternal hell.


            Notice where Rand places her emphasis. Rather than painting the art of Ancient Greece in a sublime language that fully evoked the savor and cadence, the heroic magnitude and moral apex of a Greek God, worthy of his bolts, bold as the sun, and contemptuous of the coward's flight, she lists a bare set of adjectives: "grandeur, beauty, self, self-confidence" -- boring! But when it comes to what Rand focuses on night and day, the things she hates, then she indeed has the words of abuse that stop their rant only to spit: "miserable little sinner, pursued by leering gargoyles, crawling in terror on the brink of an eternal hell." It is clear in this which images got her off: she loved ugly art because she loved to hate.


            Likewise, her language throughout this essay begs redaction, and what's worse, she dared publish a style guide on how to write nonfiction! Why she would write "art is a concretization of metaphysics" rather than "art renders metaphysics concrete" I can only guess, but I would recommend her style guide--which I read to no benefit--to nobody.

            Of course, the very structure of the book is a sort of Frankenstein's monster of essays jammed together. Perhaps a scholar, too lazy to reunite his essays into one style and progression, can get away with this -- professors do it all the time -- but to do so for a book on aesthetics in unpardonable.

            Amidst the essays, the reader is ever tempted to quit in disgust. Her reasoning that metaphysics makes the basis for ethics, followed by examples of ugly and hideous metaphysics, suggests -- and who could doubt? -- that there must first be an ethical way to do metaphysics before the "right" metaphysics can be chosen. She calls "naturalism" an "antivalue orientation," though how can a metaphysics have a value in itself, if values are derived from metaphysics?

            Her use of the terms "romanticism" and "naturalism" have no place in history. The Romantics were reacting against the reason of the Enlightenment; they emphasized feelings, dreams, madness, the daemonic -- everything that made Rand red in the face. I think she chose the word to describe her own art because she thought it was pretty. She wants it to stand for art that emphasized the efficacy of human volition. Unfortunately, she can find only one artist who resembles what she wants (Hugo of all people) -- Shelley and Wordsworth aren't mentioned, and Byron is discredited due to the term 'Byronic universe" -- living in a hostile atmosphere -- as if that term summed up Byron's work or temperament. In other words, she never read Byron. Nevertheless, she has very strong opinions about Byron, just as she strongly dismissed Einsteinian physics apparently because he used the term "relativity" to describe physics (it wasn't objective enough). Her work can make no comment on the actual history of art, for she's on grinding her ax as always.. She does not balance her term of "romanticism" against "classicism," but against "naturalism." It is also striking that every book she chooses to praise or decry are merely period pieces from popular literature -- she wasn't fond of reading literature, but read mostly mysteries, and though she had a lot to say about Kant, Hegel, and Nietzsche, never read a word of what they wrote--and so her quotes and comments regard books mostly out of print at this time, with no keen look at the classics or the important models. Shakespeare she gets completely wrong -- she thinks that his characters lack volition or agency -- and did she see his plays?

            Reading a book by Ayn Rand written about aestheticism would be like reading a book by Beethoven on etiquette. I suppose philosophy has a long tradition of ugly books written on beauty. Doesn't mean we have to read them.