Saturday, July 20, 2013

What happened to Ragnar Danneskjold?

As I was reading the first two chapters of Part 3 of Atlas Shrugged, it hit me how often Rand had good opportunities to spice up the book and how she failed because her priority was the message of bad moochers/good Supermen.

For example - Ragnar Danneskj√∂ld is a pirate, stealing US foreign aid supplies constantly - but Rand doesn't describe a single act of piracy. We get tales of his piracies second hand. And it turns out that Rand actually wrote about it - and then took it out of the novel, according to one of her former sycophants Barbara Branden:
Q: I heard that she wrote a whole section of Ragnar Danneskjold's adventures that were cut out, is that true? 
Branden: It wouldn't be a whole section. There were certain things that were cut out. At one point she had a priest as one of the people who goes on strike, but it just didn't work. She wasn't happy with it. He was too much like another character; so she took that out. But there weren't really long sections. I think that was probably the biggest thing she cut out.
Perhaps even Rand realized, after she'd written it, how absurd it was, with Ragnar and his men robbing a US government supply ship without any trouble at all. Also, Rand wasn't as interested in ships as she was in trains, and so couldn't be bothered to learn about them well enough to write about them. Kind of like how she had no clue how the US government worked and so made the moocher government a foggy inscrutability.

The screenwriters for the 3-part movie version of Atlas Shrugged appear to have realized how absurd the pirate scenario was because they left the Nordic hottie out of both parts one and two, and given that part 2 ends with Dagny crashing into Galt's Gulch, it seems unlikely he will suddenly be introduced in part 3.

And then there is the dramatic tension that Rand completely wastes with d'Anconia's search and rescue mission for Dagny. Instead of beginning Part 3 after Dagny crash lands in Galt's Gulch by immediately showing us that Dagny is OK, Rand could have shown us a scene from d'Anconia's point of view as he desperately searched for the woman of his dreams - it could have been exciting and poignant and dramatic. And Rand completely wasted it.

I've already noted the simplistic, fairy tale nature of Atlas Shrugged. That nature is nowhere better illustrated than in an unusually brief speech that Galt gives to Dagny:
"Did it ever occur to you, Miss Taggart ...there is no conflict of interests among men, neither in business nor in trade nor in their most personal desires - if they omit the irrational from their view of the possible and destruction from their view of the practical. There is no conflict, and no call for sacrifice, and no man is a threat to the aims of another - if men understand that reality is an absolute not to be faked, that lies do not work, that the unearned cannot be had, that the undeserved cannot be given... the businessman who wishes to gain a market by throttling a superior competitor, the worker who wants a share of his employer's wealth... they're all wishing facts out of existence..."
Wishing facts out of existence. Talk about lack of self-awareness. Several times denizens of Galt's Gulch refer to the world outside as "hell" which makes the Gulch heaven - and it is - it's a place where everybody behaves themselves and nobody is ever envious and there is never any romantic rivalries.

Rand compared her book to the Bible and in a way she was right - her tale is every bit as plausible as the story of the Flood and Jesus walking on water.

Rand liked to believe that she herself lived in the most rational way possible, and when she and Nathaniel Branden decided to have an affair:
They defended the rightness and the rationality of a full-throttle sexual affair in a series of conversations that went on for weeks. Each was the embodiment of the other's highest values, they pointed out in the language of Atlas Shrugged, and because neither suffered from an irrational mind-body split, they naturally felt sexual longing for each other.
Both spouses gave permission, and then Rand's husband turned to drink and Branden's wife started to have panic attacks. During one attack...
Barbara called Rand's apartment from a pay phone, choking with anxiety and pleading to come over for a little while... In a rage Rand took the phone and railed: "Do you think only of yourself? Am I completely invisible to you?" The older woman refused to let her join them, pointing out that no one had helped her in times of trouble.* "Why should I be victimized for Barbara's problems?" she said to Branden afterward. 
As always, Rand defines "rational" as not giving a shit about anybody else's feelings but her own. It is truly appalling that so many otherwise sane, non-evil people take this woman's novels as the Word of God - much like she herself did.
*Completely untrue - Rand was helped by many people, which is detailed throughout the two biographies, including Cecil B. DeMille who gave Rand a job in Hollywood when she showed up with no work experience; Rand's Chicago relatives who let her live with them rent-free for six months when she first came to America; and even the Bolsheviks. Thanks to their policy of allowing women and Jews into university - and making universities tuition free - Rand was able to go to college. But claiming nobody helped her is exactly the kind of thing Ayn Rand would do, especially while denying comfort to someone in emotional distress because you're screwing her husband.