One could describe great literature as being like great architecture: all the elements pull together and buttress a central theme. Characters, plot, setting, style and the other aspects of a story contribute to an idea or sensibility that lets us experience something important about the world in a concertized yet subtle way. A great work of literature is rich with telling details, compelling language, and pregnant motifs. This richness is in keeping with two related major functions of art: to heighten our discernment of the world and to stylize experience. The degree of complexity and/or subtlety of a work is what separates “literary” fiction from “popular” fiction (which of course has its place but is not as beneficial to an sensitive person as literary fiction is). Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead is an outstanding example of this kind of integration. Its central theme, according to its author, is “individualism versus collectivism, not in politics, but in men’s souls.” This is a philosophical theme and the book could reasonably be classified as a “novel of ideas,” but The Fountainhead is not a tract and is not a vehicle for communicating Rand’s philosophical beliefs. Rather, is a means of creating an experience for the reader. Like any great work of art, The Fountainhead has its subordinate themes. Most of these sub-themes are never made explicit, but exist as systems of motifs, reinforcing the main theme and lending it texture and ornament. In this essay...
In 2011, the New York Times posed this question as a headline, “Can a novelist write philosophically?” drawing on the work of novelists Iris Murdoch, teacher of philosophy at Oxford, and Philosophy PhDs such as Rebecca Goldstein and Clancy Martin, as well as David Foster Wallace (a one-time philosophy PhD candidate at Harvard). Among famous philosophers, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote plays, and George Santayana wrote poems. But the New York Times misses the point entirely. All narratives express a philosophical...
The holidays will pile on many more “shoulds” on your already full plate. I should do this… I should do that… I should be doing this faster. It is easy to get so overwhelmed by the things we should be doing that we are much less effective on what we actually are doing. Here’s how to avoid the “I should be” ambush and keep your holidays and your life more relaxed and effective. Don’t Beat Yourself Up - It’s Bad For You “I should plan for Friday’s meeting”, “I should be working out”, “I should catch up on my emails", "I should get the house decorated”, “I should get my holiday shopping done”, “I should see my grandmother”, “I should find a financial planner…”  If we let these type of “should be” thoughts regularly run through our minds we can keep ourselves in a constant state of distraction and guilt. This “should do” guilt triggers a release of negative stress hormones that undermine the clarity of and eagerness for our immediate intentions and efforts. When you are on a constant guilt or stress trip - you get tense, uptight, dull, unfocused, burned out. Your productivity, creativity and joy in life go down. Obviously not good things! This type of gnawing stress can peak during the holidays. If that happens to you here are four proven ways to help shut down your should-do’s.  Use Your To Don't List I should do this, should do that…maybe; maybe not. Recognize all your should do’s are actually could do’s. You can choose to do them, or not. There are an infinite...
I stand outside the temple, waiting. Is it holier to be inside? I wonder. My friends are inside. Outside, I sit on a park bench. I ponder. Now a gust of wind forces my eyes to shut out the dust. I pull myself inward. I feel like a river is channeling my boat. Suddenly we are in the sea, and it rocks my boat. It is getting dark. Still alone, I search for my friends, my four life-long companions: Purpose, Reason, Goodwill, and Resilience—where are they? There’s turbulence in the water, but I must find the treasure.  In the darkness, I see a glimmering light—Purpose, he has found me. The storm whips us around. A whisper echoes in my ear: “Ahoy, hoist the sails”—Reason, he shows me how. I am shivering with cold and fright. Will the storm ever end? Someone holds my hand—Resilience, now I feel her. Finally, dawn breaks out. I see land. I see the future. I see myself showing others where the treasure is. Goodwill, I can’t even see her, she is inside of me. There’s violence in the air. A sail breaks. I am adrift again. Whiplashed into facing the past, I turn to resentment and despair. I have nothing. I am nothing. But wait, I have four friends I cannot see. Then exhaustion becomes sleep. The storm subsides. Where are we? Now on a lake so serene, my oar-less boat cannot move. The sun sparkles. A thin waterfall of steam rises upward as water bubbles play in the sun. Now I know that the treasure is real. My eyes close to capture a mental picture. Alas, it does not last. In the...
What would you rather be remembered for: “Read my lips” or “Dodge my hands”?  Breaking the tax pledge was once considered the low point of the George H. W. Bush presidency.  But now even that low moment has competition, as the 93-year-old, wheelchair-bound former President fends off accusations of inappropriate touching of women during photo ops. As a researcher and then speechwriter for George H. W. Bush, I don’t remember any untoward gestures on the part of the President and all his men. The White House of Bush 41 was surprisingly, refreshingly gentlemanly and dignified. I do remember being sent home to change one day because our office manager felt my skirt was too short.  She was right.  And it was the maintenance of that kind of decorum that kept the administration largely sex-scandal free. But beyond that haven of waspy restraint, I have dodged enough hands at Harvard, the State Department, private equity, think tanks, and the food industry to not be surprised by the past couple weeks’ multiple eruptions of sexual harassment scandals.   The social media #MeToo campaign has further illuminated the scope of the problem, but it doesn’t shed light on a solution. Among solutions which have been tried:   Well, we could try feminizing men.  Encouraging boys to play with dolls, not guns, the manipulation of gender-confused children with cross-sex hormones, even obliterating the very idea of gender by introducing an entire alphabet...

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