Part 3—Hortense Briggs and Rita Eksler
Dreiser’s Hortense Briggs and Rand’s Rita Eksler are both femmes fatales, but whereas Dreiser seethes with resentment that such a girl exists, Rand admires her and gives her her due.
Hortense Briggs is Clyde’s first love interest. The courtship is short-lived, but it gives Dreiser the opportunity to set up and knock down the pretty, sensuous, and hard Hortense. Hortense is an energetic thrill seeker—“Gee, I’d die if I had to stay in one night”—who tries to make the most out of her youth and situation, “You gotta have a little fun when you work all day” (American Tragedy 72). Hortense, Dreiser complains, likes to look nice, likes to go out on dates, thinks highly of herself, and likes to draw attention to herself. Readers of Ayn Rand might wonder what the problem is. For Dreiser, the problem was that the ego was a fiction, and Hortense’s self-interest is a fiction too. Hortense’s actions have nothing to do with ego and everything to do with pathology, in keeping with Dreiser’s view of human nature—“an insignificant, will-less machine, buffeted in an inexorable complex of nature along with billions of other heedless machines” (Swanberg 61). Hortense, Dreiser insists, is no better than anyone else, regardless of what she thinks.
Hortense cares about her appearance, a trait that Dreiser ridicules. He describes her efforts to look nice not as a sign of self-esteem but as a sign of conceit. For example, on a date with Clyde,...
Read Article : Her Better Judgment: Ayn Rand, Theodore Dreiser, and the Shape of the American Novel, Part 3
Part 2—Esta Griffiths and Lydia Argounova
The story of Esta Griffiths, Clyde’s sister, and the Griffiths’ elder daughter, is Hobbesian. From the start, Dreiser makes clear that there isn’t much to say. We get details about her character, but not a fully formed individual. While she is musical and plays the organ and sings at the revival meetings her parents hold, she is not interested in music. She does not study it or plan for a career. Dreiser does not give her a mind or afford her a purpose at all. As he sees it, she merely reacts, like a trained seal, to “the attention and comment her presence and singing evoked” (American Tragedy 5). She is not so much a character, Dreiser assures us, as a mood: “[I]n spite of her guarded up-bringing, and the seeming religious and moral fervor which at times appeared to characterize her, she was just a sensuous, weak, girl who did not by any means yet know what she thought” (American Tragedy 14).
Esta is impressionable and romantic. She daydreams a lot, but the plot of her story is smugly conventional. Dreiser derides her interest in clothing and other finery, complaining that she drifted along with “a vague yearning toward pretty dresses, hats, shoes, ribbons and the like” and for “some bright, gay, wonderful love of some kind, with some one” (American Tragedy 15-16).
Instead of finding love, however, Esta is seduced, deceived, betrayed, and abandoned by a young man “who scarcely cared for her at all.” As Esta is...
Read Article : Her Better Judgment: Ayn Rand, Theodore Dreiser, and the Shape of the American Novel, Part 2
It is difficult to think of two American authors more antithetical than Ayn Rand and Theodore Dreiser. According to his 1965 biographer, W. A. Swanberg, Dreiser firmly believed himself morally and intellectually superior to most Americans, especially those in the middle class, which he held in contempt. He was a lapsed Catholic who condemned religion although he remained essentially religious and in a state of continual agonized doubt. He was both morbidly oversexed and tortured by performance anxiety. He idealized women but was in fact a liar and a womanizer. Ambitious, lazy, unscrupulous, and cheap, he was a social climber who complained that American society failed to appreciate his genius (Swanberg 15-41). He became wealthy under capitalism at the same time that he openly defended Russian communism. When Ayn Rand began her career as a novelist, she was already what she would later conceptualize as an Objectivist. She consistently defended American business men and women and the American middle class. A matter-of-fact atheist, she had a theory of sex based in self-esteem. An immigrant from communist Russia, she expected nothing from America but the freedom to use her mind to achieve. She was a free-market capitalist, with a strong work ethic, and a determination to write best sellers.
For a young Ayn Rand, chomping at the bit to be a novelist, Theodore Dreiser’s 1925 novel, An American Tragedy, would have been particularly goading, a literary...
Read Article : Her Better Judgment: Ayn Rand, Theodore Dreiser, and the Shape of the American Novel, Part 1
Douglas Den Uyl is vice president of educational programs for Liberty Fund. Douglas Rasmussen is a professor of philosophy at St. John’s University . They co-wrote Norms of Liberty: A Perfectionist Basis for Non-Perfectionist Politics (Pennsylvania State University Press).
It has often been said that markets are led “as if by an invisible hand” to bring about order and cooperation among people....
Read Article : Visible and Invisible Hands
Gordon Gekko: Stop telling lies about me and I'll stop telling the truth about you.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)
Scams and rackets, hoaxes and frauds … are as old as humanity itself. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that over 25 million Americans lose in excess of $2.5 billion to fraud each year.
Science, the exemplar of the taming of Nature by Reason, is not exempt from swindles. Indeed, the cloak of respectability facilitates longer-running rackets that ensnare the good, the bad, and the ugly (of character).
The Piltdown fossils were claimed to be half ape, half man. If only. The famous Beringer fossils were all pre-planted to fool Beringer. The remains of the ten-foot-tall Cardiff Giant, an exhibition that attracted enthusiasts from afar, were carved out of stone.
Then there was “Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” a prank (known as Sokal’s Hoax) by a physicist—a willfully nonsensical paper that a then-respected journal published. Sokal was only having an inside laugh at his own profession.
But some fields are so open to a corruption of the mind, that the con artists...
Read Article : The Politically Correct but False Economics