Showing posts with label The Little Street. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Little Street. Show all posts

Thursday, October 13, 2011

From Noodlefood: On Rand and Hickman

Noodlefood's Diana Hsieh posted a video response about the Rand/Hickman thing; thorough, with many good points. Similarly to my own comparison of Rand's critics with Rand's accusations against sympathetic reviews of Seance on A Hot Afternoon, she points out the critic's own projections onto Rand's early, immature views.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

On Ayn Rand and William Hickman: "Think Twice"

I am not suprised to see the Rand/Hickman thing being brought out as a weapon against Rand's resurgence; it just shows how desperate the Left is right now. There's a certain irony here, too, involving hypocrisy on the Left's part. In Journals of Ayn Rand, Rand is presented as clearly drawing the line at where the "admiration" ends, with the degeneracy and murders. (I'd add that while this was not Rand at her maturity, the Hickman story and her inversion of criminals into heroes in her fiction is best understood in the context of the trickster archetype, and the Nietzschean concept of the "transvaluation of values.") Contrast that with Rand's criticism of the Left's "admiration" for the very same subject, not for the virtues, but FOR the degeneracy. From The Romantic Manifesto:
" escape from guilt and arouse pity, one has to portray man as impotent and innately loathsome. Hence the competition among modern artists to find every lower levels of depravity and even higher degrees of mawkishness–a competition to show the public out of its wits and jerks its tears. Hence the frantic search for misery, the descent from compassionate studies of alchoholism and sexual perversion to dope, incest, psychosis, murder, cannablism.

"To illustrate the moral implications of this trend–the fact that pity for the guilty is treason to the innocent–I submit an enthusiastic review that commends a current movie for arousing compassion for kidnappers. 'One's attention and, indeed, one's anxiety is centered more upon them than upon the kidnapped youngster,' states the review. And: 'As a matter of fact, the motivation is not so clearly defined that it bears analysis or criticism on psychological grounds. But it is sufficiently established to compel our anguished sympathy for the two incredible kidnappers.' (The New York Times, November 6, 1964.)" –"Bootleg Romanticism"
The movie, btw, is A Seance on a Wet Afternoon, and here is the review. But it's interesting to read this in relation to her Hickman comments, almost as if it were written in response to that earlier phase. But with the Left, it's more of a "See? Rand sympathized with psycho-killers, too! She's no better than the rest of us!" Which would be totally wrong, contexts dropped and smashed all over the floor. What Rand took away from the case was not the killer-as-hero, but the idea that the crowd will turn on those who are different and stand alone (despite if they are right to stand alone), while the New York Times review shows her enemy's true motivations (as she showed in her play Think Twice.) When you have people like Bill Maher ask publicly: When we see crazy, senseless deathls like this, we can only ask why,why, why couldn't it have been Glenn Beck?", the motivation is spelled out, crystal clear, plain as day.

I'd be amiss if I didn't mention a parallel here between Rand's take on Hickman and the comment by Maher. And let's not deny the implications. On Hickman, Rand wrote that her character was "very far from him, of course...A Hickman with a purpose. And without the degeneracy." Contrast that with the Maher/Beck comment that is meant to intimidate and silence those who dissent from the Democratic Party. When Rand's heroes kill, they do so in self-defense, in the name of individual freedom. When people like Maher say they are against senseless murders, they mean murder not of their own design, murders that violate individual rights for the sake of the "greater good." They have no qualms about running their own gulags and executions.

(Update 10/8/10): Speaking of "civil war," I don't normally respond to criticisms of this nature from hostile territory, and I don't write to answer to my enemies, but this one, since it brings up contemporary issues, might be good just as an illustration of the divide itself. I see Yves Smith, an economist who favors the "mixed economy" (so I doubt we'd be on common ground via anything "Objectivish"), has taken issue with this post, calling it "intellectually dishonest" in my "movie" reference and faulting me for not quoting the relevant passages from Rand's journal.
This article does not refute the contention. It asserts that Rand did not admire and idolize Hickman, but provides not a shred of evidence (no quotes from her journal, while the Alternet article did). Moreover, its claim that the Left idealized serial killers is based on….a 1964 review of a
horror movie? And one that never got any kind of a following? This is just plain intellectually dishonest. Now there could be a case to be made in Rand’s defense on this matter, but that post most certainly is not it.
Aw, stop it, Yves, you're making me blush...

Smith is just pissed that that the kettle called out the pot...

Her points are easy enough to contend with; First of all, it's not an article meant to refute the matter as much as it was a blog post of my observations on the matter. To ignore that context while making her claims is, I submit, intellectually dishonest. Not every post here will be an academic treatise with full citations, and this particular post didn't claim to be. Besides, since everyone making the claim against Rand is such an expert on the matter, there was no need for me to repeat it, right? You want citations? Go read the damn book for yourself; I trust people can find the source and make up their own mind without my holding their hand. If you can't, I can't help you there. But for the sake of illustration, let's quote the journals and see Rand's description of her supposed "hero":
Hickman served as a model for Danny only in strictly limited respects...Danny does commit a crime in the story, but it is nothing like Hickman's.

[My hero is] very far from him, of course. The outside of Hickman, but not the inside. Much deeper and much more. A Hickman with a purpose. And without the degeneracy. It is more exact to say that the model is not Hickman, but what Hickman suggested to me.
For those smearing Rand as a lover of psycho-killers to ignore her qualifying comments is, I submit, intellectually dishonest.

As for the comparison to the situation with Seance on A Wet Afternoon...who the fuck cares if it had a following? Relevance? (Hell, Rand's book in question was never even published.) Besides, Rand's enemies (as witnessed in that thread's comments section) love to claim that she's obscure and mediocre, unnoticed outside of academia/American/high school, but they still attack her, don't they? But is it even true that it has/had no following? (And to use my Smith's own logic, that criticism only asserts, but provides no evidence...). If the critic doesn't mind my quoting Wikipedia as a source (or am I required to call in Leonard Maltin as an expert witness?):
Critical reaction in the British and American media was overwhelmingly strong. The London Express called the film "superbly atmospheric" while The Sunday Telegraph dubbed it "compassionate, intelligent and absorbing." The New York Herald Tribune called Séance on a Wet Afternoon "the perfect psychological suspense thriller and a flawless film to boot" while The New York Times stated "it isn’t often you see a melodrama that sends you forth with a lump in your throat, as well as a set of muscles weary from being tense for nigh two hours."[4]
Such reactions seem rather strange for a mere "horror movie." And if she wants to counter, re the film's "following," that "that was then, this is now," that would be to ignore (a) the fact that Rand wrote her critique then, and (b) that regardless of whether or not the film had a following, the values that these reviewers focused on and celebrated were what Rand described in her comments in The Romantic Manifesto, namely, sympathizing with depravity. Furthermore, Smith seems to miss the contrast between her description of Hickman's depravity and the depravity depicted in the movie. To ignore that would be intellectually dishonest.

The review of the movie not only reveals how the liberal sympathy for degeneracy shows through, but the comments of Maher and Co. are reflected in the recent 10:10 "No Pressure" video. Rand inverts criminal behavior in a context to show how morality has been inverted and made anti-life; the liberals portray degenerate behavior as deserving of sympathy. For Rand's critics to harp on her Hickman comments, while denying that, is, I submit, what's intellectually dishonest.

To be fair to Smith, it would be intellectually dishonest of me to leave out this: "Now there could be a case to be made in Rand’s defense on this matter, but that post most certainly is not it." But to be fair to myself, it wasn't meant to be the "unanswerable argument" she makes it out to be (which was her reaction to someone else's posting this blog post in reaction to others on that thread smearing Rand). But I stand by my observation, with no reservations.

I'd say "stick to economics," but she seems to be intent on sticking it to others, given her own wish for the Left to start its own "Pitchfork Party" as an outlet for "lefty anger" à la the Tea Party; she's revealed her own penchant for violence to change minds:
In the stone ages of my youth, the left was feared (some of that was due to the violence of the 1960s: riots, demonstrations, the SDS, the Weather Underground, to name a few), in fact so feared it led to the concerted right wing push that started in the 1970s. But then again, the left was also much further to the left.

...Some of my colleagues were having fun by e-mail coming up with the name for a leftie movement to oppose the Tea Partiers. This was all in good fun, but they came up with Cammomile, which per Bill Black could stand for “Creative Anti-imperialist Majoritarian Movement Of Morally Illuminated Liberal Enterpreneurs.”

How about something more to the point, like the Pitchfork Party? In all seriousness, why has no movement emerged on the left to channel the considerable disappointment and anger of progressives?
Well. No wonder she take offense to my analogy to the horror movie. She says my refutation is intellectually dishonest; I say it hit her a little too close to home with her "fear-inducing" methods...

Anyway, Smith talks a big deal about corporate "transparency," and I thank her for hers. The line in the sand is cleary drawn.