Friday, April 19, 2013

Reading Atlas Shrugged

Yep, that's what I'm going to do. I mean, like anybody else with an interest in the literary arts, I've laughed at the lameness of Ayn Rand's novels, but in truth I've only read The Fountainhead, and that when I was in high school. But I'm not going to go through that again just to have it fresh in mind. Instead I'm going to read her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged.

Atlas seems to be more popular with Libertarians anyway, if my former colleague counts for anything. He was a gay, devout Christian Libertarian (yes I can't figure out how that works either) and he would occasionally use the company email system to share information about libertarian predilections. Most memorably, when Farah Fawcett died he had to let us in on the fascinating tidbit that she was once in the running to portray Dagney Taggart in a movie version of the novel.

I can guarantee that he and I were the only people in that mass of blue-shirts who had any idea who "Dagney Taggart" was. And even a friend of mine at that company, a woman in her 60s who had been married to a French man and spent 20 years living in France - and so whom I thought was well-informed, had no idea who Ayn Rand was until I told her.

Although perhaps she can be forgiven for that since Ayn Rand's renaissance only began happening while my friend was living in France. Rand was a fairly obscure cult figure until the late 1990s. To get a sense of how her fame has waned and waxed consider that when you do a search on the name "Ayn Rand" in the New Yorker archives, she is mentioned in the review of Atlas Shrugged in October 1957, and then doesn't appear again until June 1995. Then another five years pass and she's mentioned in an April 2000 article about Alan Greenspan, called "The Fountainhead" - and after that she's mentioned about once a year through the 2000s and then after 2008 she's mentioned monthly, and even more frequently in the run-up to the 2012 election. That's no surprise since the cult she inspired turns out to include presidential candidates Ron Paul, son Rand Paul and Mitt Romney's running mate Paul Ryan. And of course Alan Greenspan, who was not only a member of the Rand cult but as The Fountainhead article explains, was a member of her inner circle.

I've bashed Ayn Rand in a previous play of mine, Christmas Blessings, but I want to really go after her in a new play I'm working on - I portray an Objectivist reading group - and so I feel like I really should read Atlas to get all the details right, even if there is no way I can read anything by Rand impartially.

I expect I will read Atlas one chapter at a time and report back here as I go.

But I couldn't resist reading the New Yorker's review of the book first...