Thursday, July 11, 2013

More ragesex

The work of Ayn Rand has such powers of hilarity that it can inspire wit in any writer.

I don't care much for the work of Richard Brody of the New Yorker, especially his recent "The Demise of Physical Comedy" which I thought was completely inane. But there are two notable items in his review of Atlas Shrugged, Part 1. I had to LOL at this:
The preening resentment of the smart social misfit finds its fantasy fulfillment, as Rand’s flamboyant potboiler intensity (and her fascination with the authority of the great loner) gives rise to a tittering knowingness: the words “union” and “guild” are the pretexts for sneers and smears, and an unintentional howler of a business plan may give rise to a new, Tarzan-style pickup line: “My metal, your railway.” 
The second item - looks like I'm not the only one to figure out why Rand made the switch from oil to coal in her story:
The story is set in 2016 in a dystopian America beset by economic depression and a new oil crisis, which is the pretext for rendering rail travel—the core of the novel’s plot—newly central.
But Brody is no match for Dani the Atlas Shrugged Liveblogger in the humor department:
Dagny then “turn[s] with indifferent astonishment” to open the door, whatever that means, and the ringer of her doorbell turns out to be Frisco, who’s come for a sexy, sexy two three-page conversation that is probably meant to sound deeply philosophical but that only sounds obtuse.  So, basically, it’s Atlas Shrugged.
The philsobtuseversation pretty much boils down to this:
Frisco: I can’t believe you went back to work!  You’re such a stupidhead!
Dagny:  Well, I can’t believe you quit work!  You’re the real stupidhead!
Frisco:  Nuh-uh, you are!
Dagny:  Nuh-uh, you are! 
This masterpiece of dramatic dialogue is interrupted by the sudden entry of Hank Rearden, who apparently has a key to Dagny’s apartment.

Have you ever seen a soap opera? This is a soap opera. There’s a highly predictable love-triangle quarrel complete with obligatory slappings of faces, then somebody storms out. It’s so cliche I can’t even be bothered to remember who does the slapping and who the storming. At least when Gone With the Wind did it, we got some shattered porcelain and hoopskirts.
One of the best things about reading the work of other people who have live-blogged Atlas Shrugged is their confirmation that something that you read in Atlas Shrugged really was in there, and that they too experienced the incredulity and frustration that you did. When I was reading the quarrel between d'Anconia and Dagny in the book I remember having the same response - that this was an incredibly inane and repetitive argument.

And I was glad that the other blogger had this response too:
Then Rand pulls the biggest bait-and-switch in literature since Harry Potter discovered Snape wasn’t really trying to steal the Sorcerer’s Stone after all: 
        He stood looking at her, disarmed and smiling.  ”Not yet.  You have a      great deal to forgive me, first.  But I can tell you everything now.” 
I also love the word the blogger gave to Dagny and Rearden's couplings: ragesex. And she's not kidding when she describes the confrontation between Rearden and d'Anconia over Dagny as a soap opera.
(Rearden) made a step towards Francisco; he asked, pointing at Dagny, his voice low and strangely unlike his own voice, as if it neither came from, nor was addressed to, a living person.  
"Is this the woman you love?" 
Francisco closed his eyes. 
"Don't ask him that!" The cry was Dagny's. 
"Is this the woman you love?" 
Francisco answered, looking at her, "Yes." 
Rearden's hand rose, swept down, and slapped Francisco's face. The scream came from Dagny. When she could see again - after an instant that felt as if the blow had struck her own cheek - Francisco's hands were the first thing she saw...
Now mind you, this isn't after Rearden has discovered that d'Anconia and Dagny had sex. He slapped d'Anconia for merely admitting she's the woman he loves. After all this, he still cannot figure it out until...
The sound she made was half-chuckle, half-moan - it was not a desire for vengeance but a desperate sense of justice that drove the cutting bitterness of her voice, as she cried, consciously throwing the words in his face, "You wanted to know the name of that other man? The man I slept with? The man who had me first? It was Francisco d'Anconia!" 
She saw the force of the blow by seeing his face swept blank. She knew that if justice was her purpose then she had achieved it, because this slap was worse than the one she had dealt.
Putting aside the unavoidable, perplexed speculation on the chuckle/moan, you really have to wonder what is wrong with Hank Rearden that he hits d'Anconia without technically knowing that he'd boinked Dagny - but that reminded me of something I'd read about people with Asperger's... but first the ragesex.

That Ayn Rand was a kinkster. It takes Rearden another half-page to process the soul crushing information that Dagny has had sex with one whole other man besides himself in her entire life, and then...
He seized her shoulders, and she felt prepared to accept that he would now kill her or beat her into unconsciousness - 
(and considering that Rearden congratulated himself for not killing his wife when she discovered that he was cheating on her, she might be right)
- and in the moment when she felt certain he had thought of it, she felt her body thrown against him and his mouth falling on hers, more brutally than the act of a beating would have permitted.
(That must be one mofo heavy mouth.)
She found herself, in terror, twisting her body to resist, and in exultation, twisting her arms around him, holding him, letting her lips bring blood to his, knowing that she never wanted him as she did at that moment.
But this is the best part - the Dagster is basically fantasizing about having both of them simultaneously - the two men of her entire thirty-something years:
...his conquest of that man by means of her body - she felt Francisco's presence through Rearden's mind, she felt as if she were surrendering to both men, to that which she had worshipped in both of them...
These people so need to have a three-way.

So a little later, Dagny's loyal thankless flunky Eddie Willers shows up to take dictation from Dagny, in her bedroom, while she's packing her suitcase to go on a roadtrip to find the Superman she assigned to figuring out the magic machine, when poor Eddie has a revelation:
He knew what was wrong with him, he thought; he did not want her to leave, he did not want to lose her again, after so brief a moment of reunion. But to indulge any personal loneliness, at a time when he knew how desperately the railroad needed her in Colorado, was an act of disloyalty he had never committed before - and he felt a vague, desolate sense of guilt.  
"Send out orders that the Comet is to stop at every division point," she said "and that all division superintendents are to prepare for me a report on -" 
He glanced up - then saw his glance stopped and did not hear the rest of the words. He saw a man's dressing gown hanging on the back of the open closet door, a dark blue gown with the white initials HR on its breast pocket.
He remembered where he had seen that gown before, he remembered the man facing him across the breakfast table at the Wayne-Falkland Hotel, he remembered that man coming,  unannounced, to her office late on a Thanksgiving night - and the realization that he should have known it, came as two subterranean jolts of a single earthquake: it came with a feeling that said "No!" so savagely that the scream, not the sight, brought down every girder within him. It was not the shock of the discovery, but the more terrible shock of what it made him discover about himself.
If you think Hank Rearden was slow on the uptake in figuring out who was schtupping whom, Eddie makes him look psychic in contrast.

But even more amazing is his lack of insight into his own feelings for Dagny. He's known her since they were children, and he has never ever had a single thought in the book that was not directly related to Dagny or her railroad. Not a single one. And he doesn't know he is in love with her until he sees Hank Rearden's dressing gown?

I'm not forgetting of course that the only reason for Willers' existence is to worship Dagny and the railroad, which is why Rand can't be bothered to give him a family or a social life or any other interests, but the idea that somebody is not aware of his own feelings comes straight out of standard diagnostics for people with Asperger's:
Although Theory of Mind is typically seen as referring to the ability to assess other people’s mental states, there is strong evidence that the processes of assessing one’s own and other’s mental states are closely related (Frith, 1989; Frith & Frith, 2003). This suggests that Theory of Mind deficits might also lead to difficulties assessing one’s own mental states (e.g., Moriguchi et al., 2006). It is important to note that this may not only hold for cognitive states, but also for emotional states. If this is correct, Theory of Minddeficits should be related to difficulties reading and labeling one’s own emotions, as well as those of other people.
Both Eddie and Hank seem to be created to illustrate the inability to assess one's own emotional states.

I should point out here that I'm not attacking people with Asperger's by suggesting that Ayn Rand had Asperger's Syndrome - I'm sure there are plenty of people with Asperger's who don't consider their condition to be a sign of superiority and neurotypicals to be the parasites that need to be exterminated. Like neurotypicals, people with Asperger's are individuals and vary greatly. But like neurotypicals they are not all saints either. And Ayn Rand isn't the only (probable) Asperger who hated non-Asperger traits
Yes, yes I hate them all without reservation.  
This includes people I love - their NT traits make me sorry for them and I cannot ever fully trust them because of those NT traits. But I make do.
I really do think NT's are 'less evolved', and for all their struggles and occasional briliance, they nonetheless present a difficult and philosophical choice: Is it possible to ever truly, fully trust an animal, or a stupid person?
No, I don't think it is.  
So while its not necessarily necessary to like, dislike, hate, or even 'love' them, its very necessary to keep one eye on them, and be prepared to squash when necessary.  
Yes, I hate NT's, and I wish there were less of them in the world and more A's.
As an advocate of autism rights, I sometimes dream of autism-only spaces. I’m sure other advocates have had that exhaustive moment of “Oh fuck it, I want to buy a private island and invite all my autistic allies to come live with me alone.” It’s pretty easy to feel that way, when the mainstream conversations about autism conveniently forget the disability rights credo of “Nothing about us without us” and prioritize the experiences and “knowledge” of parents and doctors over that of autistic people, effectively silencing them. 
It’s also easy to fantasize about that when you are in a group where autistic people outnumber the neurotypicals, and the conversations are rich, interesting, and feel safer somehow, more free, because you are not constantly wondering whether what you say will be used to prove you are too smart or too high functioning to comment on this or that. I’ve participated in autistic-majority conversations when discussing projects, and the amount of smiles, laughter, and mutual understanding involved made me feel a cheesy kodak moment of, “So this is what it feels like to be accepted.”
And a commenter named Spacemonkey on an Atlas Shrugged forum on makes some excellent points in favor of the proposition that Rand had Asperger's - my favorite point is number 6, especially because I missed calling out the first train wreck in my own analysis - and it's funny:
6) Human life and the emotional/existential experience of others seems bizarrely undervalued. In two of the most unwittingly hilarious sections of the book, trains crash, giving intriguing insights into Ms Rand's psyche as they do so. 
In the first TERRIBLE TRAGEDY of the book, a train carrying copper collides head-on with a passenger train on a hillside, spilling PRECIOUS COPPER everywhere. Hank Reardon surveys the terrible tragic waste of PRECIOUS COPPER spilled over the tracks, before gritting his teeth at the hellish awfulness of it all, and heroically organising alternate transport so his PRECIOUS COPPER can get there on time, without so much letting an emotion slip out because of all the tragedy of the PRECIOUS COPPER. Because that's the kind of heroic guy he is. 
The time people DO get killed in the train, of course, in the collapse of the tunnel, they have pretty much asked for it, by dint of being teachers, social workers, journalists, humanitarians, mothers etc. They knew the risks of living in a society that wasn't based on fascistic capitalism, so screw them, right? They're only useful to make a point. Screw them.
The rest of Spacemonkey's commentary on the novel is equally incisive. And then somebody else on the board named A Capitalist jumps in to basically embody every point that Spacemonkey has made about Rand. 

This Onion parody Autistic Reporter: Train Thankfully Unharmed In Crash That Killed One Man seems to be about Ayn Rand as much as anything else.