Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Onkar Ghate on Ayn Rand's Fiction

Recently there was short piece in FEE from Sarah Skwire in which Ayn Rand's novels were criticized as didactic sermonizing. Skwire called Rand's novels “moralizing fiction” or “message fiction." She also said that the primary function of this type of fiction is to instruct the reader rather than to entertain.

In reference to Rand's novels, Skwire wrote: "It is a conference talk, a classroom lecture, a sermon disguised as a novel."

In response to Skwire’s piece, Onkar Ghate has written an excellent article, which explains why it is wrong to classify Rand’s novel as didactic. His article concludes with these lines:

Now one might still object that a fiction writer should not invent stories in which the discovery of new philosophical ideas is integral to the action. But to this I think the appropriate response is: why not? The objection reminds me of the esthetic opposition Roark faces in The Fountainhead. In real-life terms, it is rather like telling Beethoven that since the classical symphonic form was good enough for a genius like Mozart, it should be good enough for him. Beethoven could not express what he wanted to express in the classical form, so he invented new forms. Similarly, Rand has a very definite purpose as a fiction writer: to present a new conception of the ideal man. She offers it to us in the form of the character and actions of Howard Roark, John Galt, Dagny Taggart and the other heroes of her novels. To present what she wants to present, she cannot rely on the philosophical bromides or platitudes of the present or past, because in her estimate none of these produce the ideal. To make her new moral vision concrete and real, she invents a new kind of story, one in which the protagonist’s discovery of new philosophical knowledge drives his actions and the story’s conflicts. This is what makes Anthem, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged so unusual, and this is how we should approach these novels — not as didactic lessons to be endured but as unique stories worth enjoying and contemplating for their own sake.

Ghate's article is particularly illuminating as it provides many interesting insights into the nature of Ayn Rand's fiction. 

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