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Monday, October 3, 2011

Reading Ayn Rand Through Nietzsche

1957 Edition
Jorge Luis Borges

“A book is more than a verbal structure or series of verbal structures; it is the dialogue it establishes with its reader and the intonation it imposes upon his voice and the changing and durable images it leaves in his memory. A book is not an isolated being: it is a relationship, an axis of innumerable relationships.”

Arthur Schopenhauer

Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.”

An Object does not exist until and unless it is observed. - William Burroughs

“The hardest thing to explain is the glaringly evident which everybody has decided not to see.”
Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead 

She meant it. Her diaries from that time, while she worked as a receptionist and an extra, lay out the Nietzschean mentality that underpins all her later writings. The newspapers were filled for months with stories about serial killer called William Hickman, who kidnapped a 12-year-old girl called Marion Parker from her junior high school, raped her, and dismembered her body, which he sent mockingly to the police in pieces. Rand wrote great stretches of praise for him, saying he represented "the amazing picture of a man with no regard whatsoever for all that a society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. A man who really stands alone, in action and in soul. … Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should." She called him "a brilliant, unusual, exceptional boy," shimmering with "immense, explicit egotism." Rand had only one regret: "A strong man can eventually trample society under its feet. That boy [Hickman] was not strong enough."

So Rand has been tarred with writing this about Hickman for all her life and even now after her death. See the full article at Slate. It also indicates her study of Nietzsche at the time and her particular emphasis on his thinking and writing. 

Here we see how Rand has been interpreted through Nietzsche by everyone who has written about her. They all start trudging through the swampy sewer of psychological interpretation. And more than just Nietzsche. Freud too is called upon to  have words and quotes torn out of his mouth. 

I am also including her two recent biographers, Jennifer Burns and the much better Anne Heller. But perhaps another time for them.

What Rand wrote with the killer William Hickman was akin in feeling to what Foucault did with Pierre Riviere in the book compiled of Riviere's account of his crime. I, Pierre Riviere, Having Slaughtered My Mother, My Sister, and My Brother.... Foucault's team in a seminar at the College de France spent a year on Riviere's crime, studing the crime , the memoir, the court documents and all the court records including the medical reports by the leading figures in contemporary psychiatry and forensic medicine: Esquirol, Marc, Orfila, etc and an urban physician in charge of a large asylum. They all differed.  Pierre Riviere was twenty years old and by his own admission was almost illiterate. The beauty of his account captured Foucault and students of his at the College de Paris undertook the study of Riviere and his crime as it intersected in time with the criminal system and the increasing foray of the medical profession into crimes of this sort in 1836. The prevailing Discourse, the Dominating Discourse, was the focus. 

The fact that Hickman cut up the body of the child and sent it in pieces to the police authorities links these two crimes.

Foucault's interest in these bizarre crimes were highlighted in his genealogy Discipline and Punish, a genealogical study of crime, discipline and punishment during approximately 300 years of history, up to the modern, in France specifically. Foucault's debt to Nietzsche was Nietzsche's A Genealogy of Morals, which said that God was dead, in which the master genius laid out an original way of re-seeing history discontinuous from chronology. Foucault then continues with discontinuity, the end of linear time, the end of progressive history, and his detailed study of discourse as the dominating factor. He goes on to the grid of power/knowledge in The Archeology of Knowledge, and the dominating role of the prevailing discourse in determining who, what, how, where,when,and the why of saying what will be said and written and thought. in any given era.

Rand changed the Dominating Discourse. No Atlas Shrugged was not a literary masterpiece. It was a "cut" in the Dominating Discourse of political, economic, psychological and aesthetic discourses. Just as Warhol changed the Dominating Discourse 
of art history by breaking with it, and Schoenberg and Stravinsky in music. I have been maintaining that Meyer's Twilight (Tristan and Iseult) has been another such cut in sexual rituals. The far more literary Tristan and Iseult was written by Updike in Gertrude and Claudius, the back story of Hamlet, but it did not affect the Discourse at all.

All this is preliminary to undoing the prevailing discourse concerning Ayn Rand. What lies in the folds of the discourse is hidden until the archivists happen to dig it out. Or not.  This is what Foucault spent his life doing with dusty, hardly legible, poorly written, fading scraps of paper. Changing the way we think, the way we look at all human behavior. Changing the Dominating Discourse of psychology, history, science, economics and language.

Rand did it fictionally, then Nathaniel Branden influenced her to do it in non-fiction form in her philosophy of Objectivism. Both were necessary conditions. In the latter she was less successful intellectually, but much more so financially, until she crashed it. Nietzsche again. Obliterate and disappear it. She did. 

Eric Packer does this to the currency markets in Cosmopolis. He takes down the speculative trading in numbers and crashes his own fortune to do it. Neither is a self-destructive or loser action. It is Nietzchean. Lacan disbanded his Psychoanalytic Institute at his death. He disappeared. No endless interpretive psychological arguing Lacanian theory. We now have his analysis of "floating signs" in its place. 

Did Rand know she was following Nietzsche's strategy made crystal clear by Baudrillard? I doubt it. But Nietzsche was so interfaced with her thinking, with her mind, with her arguments that his thought permeated everything she wrote and did. 

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