In The Romantic Manifesto: A Philosophy of Literature, published in 1971, Ayn Rand articulated a simple framework for classifying art. Using literature as the primary exposition tool, Rand constructed a dichotomy which addresses the making of art in a most fundamental way—which she designated as Romanticism vs Naturalism. It does not mean that every artistic work is completely one or the other; most, in fact, are mixed. There is a spectrum, not two boxes; nevertheless, it assists us to identify the two bookends of the spectrum. Rand redefined Romanticism, then a pre-existing literary movement, while also defining its opposite as Naturalism, thus: “Romanticism, which recognizes the existence of volition---and Naturalism, which denies it.” One could say that it is Romanticism if it showcases well the efficaciousness of purposeful action by which men and women try to shape the world around them as against being shaped by it. Of special interest to Rand was Romantic Realism, which showcased the real world as it could be, as opposed to a fantasy world from which we could derive allegorical lessons and a few thrills. The medium of film is tailor made for showcasing the effects of purposeful action, so let’s look at a few illustrations from the world of screen stories. Note that we are not primarily concerned with good beating evil here, but human efficaciousness. In other words, it’s better to showcase events constructed by human action, even if virtue doesn’t win in the end (e.g. We...
Section II features autobiographical reflections on Branden by his friends and associates Roger E. Bissell, Mimi Reisel Gladstein, Tal Ben-Shahar, Deepak Sethi, and Michael E. Southern. Limited space for review necessitates that I roll my thoughts on these reflections into one sketch. Compressing several autobiographical accounts into one summative analysis does not mean the accounts are unimportant or uninteresting. In fact, they are among the most enthralling contributions to the collection—in particular, Southern’s highly detailed tribute that contains a wealth of insight and information. But the appreciative tone, personal nature, and intimate recollections in this section are difficult to fully and justly convey as a secondhand report. I thus urge readers interested in Branden’s private friendships and relationships to consult this part of the collection for themselves. I hope that highlighting a few anecdotes will suffice to show the depth and quality of the stories involved. In one, Bissell relates that, while he was in high school, at the suggestion of his band and choral teacher, he read an essay by Branden. He then read Atlas Shrugged. Testifying to the transformative power of these experiences, he claims that the two texts “irreversibly changed” his life. He suddenly knew he should pursue music, ideas, and writing rather than mathematics. Southern had a similar experience: He read Branden’s The Psychology of Self-Esteem, Breaking Free, and The Disowned Self, and...
A few years ago, my mother called me to ask me if I’d heard of her new favorite writer. “Ayn Rand. She was a philosopher. I thought, of course Catherine will know her. Do you know her? Have you read The Fountainhead? Atlas Shrugged? Of course you have.” Of course I had. Mom was a total convert. “It just makes sense, sweetheart.” She went on at enthusiastic length about the virtue of selfishness and the value of prioritizing one’s own happiness. Rand was a light on the grey landscape of her semi-rural Canadian life. Imagine if you didn’t have to pretend to want to volunteer at the community center, or to bring potato salad to the arts board meeting? Imagine putting yourself first! Finally, she was validated in wanting to reject the empty communalism of shared duty, the posturing around selflessness and sacrifice in service of the community that can be particularly intense in small towns. She could be selfish and feel good about it, and she loved it. I loved her newfound spark, but to be honest, at the time I didn’t think that it would amount to much. She’d skip a few board meetings, refuse to volunteer at the community center, and reference Dagny Taggart to the neighbors (who would have no idea what she was talking about), but that would be it. As a former philosophy scholar I was happy to be able to talk theory with her, but I didn’t think that it would really stick. I certainly didn’t think it would ever prove useful. But I was wrong. It turned out Ayn Rand would prove immensely...
After two weeks of unrest at St. Olaf College in rural Minnesota, during which a group calling themselves “The Collective for Change” shut down classrooms and barred access to campus buildings, the casus belli -- a note using the “n-word” left on a student’s windshield -- has turned out to be a hoax.   Andrew Morales, an economics major at St. Olaf’s reached today for comment is not surprised.  After voicing reservations last week over what he saw was a rush to judgement, he’s been ostracized: “I’ve been called every name in the book: bigot, sexist, racist, homophobic — everything. It’s silly.” In a scene reminiscent of recent violence at the University of California at Berkeley, Morales describes how his roommates Andrew Salij and Dionicio Luna were locked inside the main Buntrock building on campus by protesters.  Another student was punched in the face for trying to escape.  Students later rallied to another building preventing  people from coming and going and in the process manhandled an elderly lady. You can listen to my full interview with Morales here. Interestingly, The Collective consistently downplayed the importance of the notes from the beginning of the entire charade.  They went to great lengths to emphasize that the focus should not be “individual incidents or students, but an ideology that is continuously supported by the administration’s lack of action and the student body’s...
My first night as an Airbnb host was a near disaster. I thought I was prepared.  Glamour shots of the house -- check.  Coffee maker -- check.  Linens, towels, toiletries -- check.  Hit “go live,” and boom, I’ve got a booking.  That afternoon two guys arrive in a vintage Ferrari on their way to an antique car show.  They were looking for a place to spend the night. I show them to their rooms, give them the keys, and they’re off to dinner.  That night I “hit the books” on how to become a better host.  There’s an article on how it’s good to bake your guests something to welcome them.  Recriminating myself over the failure to bake cookies, I can’t get to sleep. I can’t stop thinking about cookies.  So I take an Ambien. The next day I get up and go into the kitchen…..and there are cookies, everywhere.   And I don’t just mean on the counter.  I mean everywhere.  On the floor.  On the stairs leading up to the third floor where the guests were sleeping.  And I wasn’t dreaming.  This was real.  It was a total nightmare.    I had sleep baked.   Forget about cleaning it up before the guests woke up.  The guests had already gone.  It was past 10 am.  They had checked out. So there I was, amidst the crumbs and debris of an Ambien-fueled baking binge, thinking my Airbnb career was over before it even began.  Well, that’s the way the old cookie crumbles, I thought.  Then I notice that my guests have left me a note.    “Dear Jennifer, thanks for the cookies.  We know this is your first time...

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