Andrew Corsello’s The Bitch is Back article from GQ on the boorish subject of Ayn Rand Assholes is probably the best takedown of Ayn Rand’s followers (and Alan Greenspan and Wall Street) I’ve yet seen and certainly the funniest (other than Stephen Colbert’s). It was about time for an article like this to appear and I am glad it was Corsello who wrote it.
I myself became an unabashed Ayn Rand fanatic when I was in 7th or 8th grade. I’d been reading the works of Victor Hugo and so I was totally primed for discovering another “Romantic” (note capital “r”) writer like Ayn Rand next, but it wasn’t via her well-known fiction that I discovered the Russian-born novelist and philosopher, but rather a more obscure volume called Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, which I read extremely slowly so I could take in the complexity of the thought. It’s a very dry, technical book, but made a huge impression on me (more on this below, it merits special mention).
The next thing I read was Anthem, which is interesting enough, but slight compared to her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged which I read after that. Eventually I would go through nearly ever word of hers in print up to about 1979. I mean everything. Via mail order I collected single issues of The Objectivist and The Ayn Rand Letter until I had them all and I kept them in bound cases like holy relics. This is what can happen when bright kids read Ayn Rand, they get obsessed, but hopefully, like me, they will grow out of it. Discovering Lenny Bruce, Marx, Marcuse, Crowley, Burroughs and the Firesign Theatre deprogrammed my teenage ass but good and by the time I was 14 and I soon stopped caring about Ayn Rand altogether. (In my case I was young enough not to have had any shameful, reactionary moments to cringe about and regret, not like young Marty Beckerman)
By the time I was in my twenties and living in the Wall Street area of Manhattan, I’d see young, obviously Republican, stock broker types reading Atlas Shrugged on the subway and I’d feel silent contempt for them. Discovering Ayn Rand after high school is bad enough, but to discover her post-college is true pathetica. Her strident greed is good moralizing about the ‘virtues of selfishness’ (one of her best known non-fiction titles) would have an appeal to would be Gordon Gekkos, of course, but… yuck. Talk about an impoverished intellectual diet.
Many people who loathe Ayn Rand tend to go on about what a cack-handed writer she was, but this is not strictly true because her books, even the 75,000 page Atlas Shrugged are real page turners. I can absolutely see why Atlas Shrugged is still one of the all time best selling books in history—I was captivated by it myself, of course. The characters are vivid. The book’s plotting—which has tons of relentless momentum despite the novel’s legendary heft—is a tour de force. It’s Rand’s dialogue that seals her reputation as an author you just can’t take seriously. To be fair, she was writing in her second language, but the problem with her books is that no one actually speaks to one another, they just make speeches at each other. Hectoring, long-winded speeches. It’s fine to read stuff like that as a teenager, but when I crack open one of her books today, I shake my head in disbelief at how bombastic and horrible her writing is. It’s Dan Brown level tripe.
If you don’t believe me, try this one for size, the trailer for King Vidor’s screen version of The Fountainhead with a script by Rand herself. Can you imagine how difficult it was for the actors to get their lines out and try to sound convincing saying them?!?! (It’s one or the other!)
Here’s a clip of Ayn Rand on Phil Donohue’s talkshow that I recall seeing at the time it originally aired. She got really peevish with both Phil and the audience at points. Check her out. Who talks like that?
*One quick thing I wanted to say about Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology is that it is an unfairly ignored and misunderstood work on how concepts are formed, shunned by academia simply because it was written by Ayn Rand. Had it been written by Bertrand Russell, Alfred North Whitehead or Wittgenstein, it would be (rightfully) celebrated as an important philosophical treatise.I may think Ayn Rand sucks as a novelist, but I highly recommend this book.