BEAST philosopher-at-large Michael Caigoy reads Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, so you don’t have to
“What is it with you and rape? No one’s raping anyone!”
— Dexter Morgan
I’ve always found Rand objectionable as a philosopher. Specifically, her uncredited middle-school re-writes of Nietzsche’s hits, and personal revelations based on really obvious tautologies. Seriously, “A” is “A”? It’s a symbol, you dingbat. It’s what we say it is. Is somebody spreading rumors that an abstract symbol isn’t itself? A legit problem is determining its relationship with our experience of reality (e.g. Wittgenstein’s language games if you’re ready for the real shit). And existence exists? Are you fucking kidding me? We’ve gone from Hume and Kierkegaard to this? Listening to her impatience at other ideologies reminds me of a five year-old considering the world’s problems. Can’t get the Chilean miners out? “Why not just build a robot?” she’d say, handing over a sketch; herself pictured overseeing the operation from a unicorn. When kids do it, it’s cute (theoretically), but seeing a brusque Russian author do it — not so much.
Luckily for her, it’s not hard to peddle a lowbrow philosophy to a brain-dead cult. Read Hubbard if you’re an Objectivist; and Rand if you’re a Scientologist. It’ll be like recognizing yourself in the mirror for the first time since being checked out of the Fort Harrison Hotel by your new and improved family. Not that it’ll help. Faith-heads always think their particular mythologies and superstitions are somehow more relevant and less stupid than the rest.
Another wonderful thing about positioning yourself as an infallible demigod is that you can help yourself to some sweet cult family tail. Heir apparent, Nathaniel Branden was committed enough to the religion–oops, I mean philosophy, to fuck Rand for several goddamn years. Adding garnish to that shit sandwich, his wife was told about it before it even started! A rational decision, Ayn’d determined. Eventually, he committed meta-infidelity (a student this time, and presumably a woman less reminiscent of a totem pole). The indignant author exclaimed:
“You have rejected me? You have dared to reject me? Me, your highest value?”
That cracks me up every time. Clearly, I’m prejudiced against Ayn Rand. She was unsightly, mean, simple-minded, selfish, hypocritical, and full of unwarranted self-importance. The readers I’ve consulted either relegate her work to a shameful phase in high school, don’t remember her books at all, or have degenerated into libertarian knuckleheads who can’t put two sentences together without citing Alex Jones or Ron Paul. But should I be allowed to prejudge her ideas based on her repulsive character and ideals (and face)? A lot of the west’s favorite writers likely remain so through the impossibility of actually meeting them. Céline — that arrogant fascist? Hunter Thompson, the mumbling, bitter drunky? Poe, the incestuous, emo pedophile? Wilde, the proto-NAMBLA spokesman? If I only read work by decent people, I could start keeping condensed soup and a 9mm on my bookshelf.
Onward and awkward.
Here’s the abstract: This book is terrible. If you’re curious whether it’s worth reading just for the fuck of it, it’s not. If you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, reading it will explain nothing. I’m trying to spare you. Only critical integrity (i.e. an inferiority complex and OCD) made me start this project. I’m subjecting myself to this, just to get myself off my own back — kind of like Jesus as the personification of Yahweh, sacrificing himself to himself, to save humanity from himself.
Beyond the social problems Objectivism shares with a twenty-two year-old’s vision of anarchy, or moral imperatives inspired by child-killer William Hickman, this is still the worst book I’ve ever read in my entire fucking life. I audibly groan through every agonizing chapter, and I’m not even past book one. It’s not a novel so much as an endurance test, determining how long I can stand the Randiness of it all. I use the word pointedly, as I regret to inform all the woofing Joe and Sally Galts out there that this is a fucking romance novel. That’s right, the kind of shit your spinster aunts kept on their nightstands. Pay attention to the rape–er, I mean, love scenes. This sort of book is called a bodice ripper. The guy holding up the globe on the cover? That’s Fabio. Get the edition with the train on the cover? That’s Fabio’s cock. Your philosophical treatise is ASCII porn for lonely, antisocial old women who have (justifiably) given up. You could just imagine Rand proofing her twaddle, pleasuring herself with an angle grinder. Illustrating another problem: the reader risks thinking of Ayn Rand and sex in the same moment, and that’s just wrong, and one more reason to resent it. I defy you not to wince, shudder, or flinch at the thought.
Ayn’s heroine, Dagny, is all the things the author’s not: pretty, talented, coveted — though the two do have stupid, made-up names in common (isn’t that right, Alisa Rosenbaum?). Her apocalyptic male heroes all lust after Dagny, and the inevitable consummation of their awkward relationships dully thud with the passion of a Philip Morris acquisition. Or maybe a hostile takeover, considering the persistent rapiness of these physical transactions.
She describes her characters in great (i.e. tedious) detail. The bad guys: altruists, looters, and people guilty of not owning factories, appear paused in the act of melting. They’re walking eczema flare ups with permanent smell lines. Her protagonists fit Ayn’s special (as in “special”) aesthetic; all pointy and jagged, stinking of petroleum, and glowing with the moral superiority, and raw sex appeal innate to commodity moguls and transportation CEOs. In spite of the rigid, geometric precision attributed to their alleged faces, I naturally imagine Dagny as an auger bit in a filthy wool pantsuit; Hank Rearden as an upholstered Hugo Boss three piece job encompassing a sturdy brass hat rack.
Even as children and adolescents, they talked like Tony Robins seminar-goers; obsessed with chairing corporations to the preclusion of human contact, and presumably personal hygiene. If my theoretical children went on like that, they’d be getting Zyprexa for Christmas.
A prominent figure in the early years of Dagny and Jim Taggart’s lives is Francisco d’Anconia, or should I say, Francisco Domingo Carlos Andres Sebastian d’Anconia. Sheesh. He’d be right at home in “Animaniacs,” with Dot’s Princess Angelina Contessa Louisa Francesca Banana Fana Bo Besca The Third.
Francisco is good at everything: boating, tennis, marbles, inexplicably acquiring factories, and rape. Everything but imitating a human being. I propose building a drinking game around his interactions with Dagny. Every time there’s a mocking glance, you take a shot. You’d be dead from alcohol poisoning by the end, if not for the fact that this is the longest, slowest, most mind-numbing brick of preposterous fiction ever written. You’ll probably be waiting at Jiffy Lube the following Sunday when the second Cuervo is due. You’ll be at your granddaughter’s wedding by the third. If you’re reading faster than that, chances are your thoughts had involuntarily meandered through sorting your laundry, when “Law and Order” comes on, your German Shepherd’s runny stools, your eighth grade sweetheart, the bowline hitch, and Katy Perry’s stupid nose. That’s a biological defense mechanism against stultifying horse shit.
Sadly, this is to be continued.