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Completing Rand's Literary Theory

Completing Rand's Literary Theory

10 Mins
September 28, 2011

Ayn Rand was that most delightful of philosophers—the philosopher who proposes large and interesting theories, and allows them to remain uncompleted. It's like an intellectual party that began a long time ago and is still going on. Rand, the host, had the fun of announcing her principles; we, the guests, have the fun of developing them—while making sure, of course, to keep asking what she might think about what we're up to.

Nowhere is the interest and the uncompletedness of Rand's theories more evident than in her ideas about literature.

In The Romantic Manifesto and her lectures on writing, she laid out much of the material that could form a literary theory. Some of this material she organized and began to shape. Some of it she simply checked off on her inventory list. But she never collected or inventoried all the material that would be necessary to finish the building. She didn't intend to do that. She left that task to others. So it's interesting to consider what the building might look like, if it ever were completed.

I want to share some thoughts about that. First, though, I want to say a word about the kind of building I have in mind. It's not the palace of artistic principles for which Objectivist aestheticians, most notably Louis Torres and Michelle Kamhi, have located many of the blueprints. Nor is it the cottage of practical tips that aspiring writers want to find in Rand's teaching and advice. Rand left materials for both kinds of structure, but I'm interested in something that comes in between them. I'm thinking about a mid-sized structure. I'm thinking about the structure of ideas that we build when we try to relate artistic principles to literary practices—when we try to understand how the principles actually work. I believe that when we try to extend Rand's literary theory, we identify aspects of literature that we otherwise might not see. We also get a sense of confidence from the realization that literature isn't just a matter of feeling or special inspiration. It's also a matter of logic.

Let's start by looking at the foundation of the structure, Rand's definition of art and her concept of the artist's way of working. Art, she says, is "a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist's metaphysical value-judgments. . . . Out of the countless number of concretes . . . an artist isolates the things which he regards as metaphysically essential and integrates them into a single new concrete that represents an embodied abstraction."1

Notice that the emphasis is on selection, and therefore on choice, judgment, intention. Rand's literary theory is an intentionalist one. But it does not propose to assess works of art in respect to their psychological motives. It makes no difference to this theory whether Shakespeare wrote to make money, to resolve covert sexual conflicts, to preach a theory of naturalism, or simply to have a good time. What matters is the literary result of his motives and intentions. So this is a result-oriented or effect-oriented theory. Rand is interested in the ability of a literary artist's intentions to produce a certain kind of effect—the integration of a multitude of things that exist in reality into a fabrication, a verbal "re-creation," of reality.

Fine. Now, at this point, an Objectivist literary theory needs to answer a couple of obvious questions: How does the "re-creation" happen? And how does anybody perceive that it's happened?

Part of the answer lies in a word and a phrase that Rand never emphasized: pattern and pattern recognition. Both the writer and the writer's audience work through patterns. A fully developed Objectivist theory of literature would be very much concerned with how patterns are formed and detected.

To illustrate: here is the beginning of a little story that I call "Life Was Good."

Life was good. That's what Joey Smallwood thought as he surveyed the neighborhood from the deck of his brand-new skateboard. There it was, all of it—the pizza joint; the liquor store with its glittery rows of bottles; the pigeons at their usual perch; the big japonica bush near the corner; the broad front porch of the family home where Joey loved to sit and watch the sunset, talking with friends; the old Chevy four-door parked in front of the garage. Mom was home from work, he noticed. Then he thought: it's time for my nap.

Are you getting bored? I am! This is a boring story. But what's the matter? Isn't it a re-creation of some kind of reality? Well, perhaps; it has a lot of those "concretes" that Rand mentions, but there's still something missing. The story lacks any sense of an organizing principle. Here are "concretes"—but how are these concretes connected? In other words, what is their pattern? We don't know. And the effect is boredom.

Suppose, now, I add one sentence.

After a long day of skateboarding, even a forty-year-old can use a nap.

Now we have a pattern. Now we know why the author has surrounded Joey with skateboards, fast-food joints, liquor stores, front porches, and naps. Now we know why Joey has time to observe the neighboring japonica bush. Now we know why all those things are in this story. They're there because Joey is a lazy, good-for-nothing creep. And did you notice what happened to the mother? She's changed from a mere datum resting somewhere on the periphery of our attention to a significant figure standing near the center of the explanatory pattern. Now we know who does all the work in the family, don't we? And it's not Joey. There is a pattern, and the pattern is complete.

Completeness, or at least consistency, is a sign that we're seeing a re-creation of reality and not just a listing of things that are real. But observe: a re-creation of reality must be even more strongly patterned than reality itself often seems to be. We can throw a story aside at our first suspicion that it lacks a meaningful pattern; the same, alas! cannot be said of every encounter with reality itself. Yet how is the audience enabled to see what the pattern is? How is this revelation accomplished?

Here our Objectivist literary theory would need to posit two alternatives: the pattern can be either explicit or implicit; the audience can either be told about it or be led to discover it through experience. In her writing and teaching, Rand is very much on the side of the implicit and experiential way of doing things. And that makes sense. Consider what would happen if I began my story in this way:

Joey Smallwood was aptly named. He was a lazy, good-for-nothing creep.

Here, my re-creation of reality is doing something that reality itself very rarely does. Reality seldom announces its themes. To find reality's themes, one has to experience reality. In the original version of my story, that is what I forced my audience to do. I let the audience experience Joey's world, and even become a little bored with it, as an implicit judgment on the quality of that world; then I let the audience know the one crucial fact that, once known and experienced, would complete the pattern. The final effect, I thought, was worth the price of the initial boredom. If I had not arranged the story in that way, if I had made the pattern explicit at the beginning, I could have elminated the details that illustrated Joey's creepishness. The story would have moved a lot faster, but the audience would have missed the final gratification of figuring something out. Is the ultimate effect worth the price of the momentary boredom? You decide. But it's clear that a theory of literature that concerns itself with the communication of meaningful patterns must include the concept of literary costs and benefits. These are essential tools of critical evaluation, tools that can be used either by the audience, when it is assessing how good the story is, or by the author, when he is first intending what the pattern of the story will be.

An Objectivist theory of literature would also have to concern itself with a characteristic of reality that bulks very large in Rand's philosophic theory but is not, I believe, explicitly present in her literary theory. The characteristic to which I refer is priority. Reality exists prior to our interpretations of reality. And our interpretations of the patterns that we encounter in works of literature respond to our own prior understandings of reality. If a reader is to recognize the patterns that an author intends to be recognized, the reader and the author must already have met on the ground of some common prior understanding of reality. To make this very simple: if I write "skateboard," and you don't know anything about skateboards and the people who tend to use them, you're going to have a hard time understanding the reality I'm re-creating in my story. If, however, we have a common understanding of skateboards, we have at least one priority point in common.

Should such points be lacking, readers won't understand the story or even what type or genre of story it is. They won't be able to distinguish irony, satire, and parody from words that are intended to be read "straight." If the audience of the Joey Smallwood saga regarded it as perfectly normal for forty-year-old males to take naps in the afternoon and let their moms do all the work in the household, then the audience would still be wondering what the point of the story could possibly be. It's because my audience shares my understanding of what it means to be a decent person and what it means to be a creep that it immediately recognizes the satirical intent in those crucial words, "Even a forty-year-old can use a nap."

An author needs to decide what the priority points are and how far away they lie. If you locate them too close to you, you think that your reader already understands everything you're trying to do—so why do it? If you locate them too far away, you think that your contemporary American reader really needs to be lectured about what a skateboard is. You may also forget that your audience has an organized view of the world—not just a list of concretes—that is already present in its imagination. The audience's worldview, like the author's, results from a wealth of experience and a wealth of explicit and implicit deductions from experience. Any literary theory that fails to recognize that the reader's worldview already has a pattern, a pattern that any competent author has to deal with, is an incompetent theory.

Here's another experiment. Suppose I replace the last line of my story, the one about Joey's being forty years old, with a new line:

It was good to be out of jail. As usual, the charges had been dropped because of insufficient evidence.

There isn't a reader in the world who won't immediately conclude that, no matter how hard it may be to convict Joey in a court of law, Joey is an habitual criminal. What's the proof? No proof, just the reader's experience of reality, an experience that has already convinced him that people who are always getting arrested nearly always deserve to get arrested.

Now, this idea may not be true. It's possible, indeed, that I intend to use my story to show my readers how wrong public opinion can be. My success in showing them that, however, would depend on my ability to identify and dramatize some point of prior agreement with them about the dangers of hasty assumptions, the vindictiveness of police officers...whatever. Here's how Rand deals with a similar problem in The Fountainhead.

As you know, Howard Roark, the hero of this novel, is an atheist. Rand does not wish her audience, which is largely composed of nonatheists, to mistake him for a nonhero. Neither does she want to get into a fight with her audience about religion. If she did, the audience would probably misidentify the kind of story she's writing, because it would appear to be patterned as a story about religion rather than a story about individualism. This is where it all comes together: intention, genre, emphasis, subject—all these vital elements have to be established by patterning and pattern recognition.

To guide her audience's pattern recognition, Rand begins her references to religion at a point where she and her readers already have a common view of reality. On the second page of the novel, she describes Roark walking into town. "The road," she says,

led past the first houses to a church. The church was a Gothic monument of shingles painted pigeon blue. It had stout wooden buttresses supporting nothing.2

And so on, as she describes the church. Rand's audience may not agree with her about theology, but it will probably share her understanding of Gothic monuments painted pigeon blue. In the literal sense, she hasn't even touched on the topic of religion, but the blue Gothic monument gives her a place to start in creating a pattern of antireligious associations and therefore of antireligious experience.

Rand denied that her primary goal in writing was to persuade her readers that she was right and they were wrong. She said that "[t]he basic purpose of art is not to teach, but to show—to hold up to man a concretized image of his nature and his place in the universe." 3 Of course, showing is often teaching. But you can see the close relationship between this statement and her idea that art is a "re-creation of reality according to an artist's metaphysical value-judgments." The re-creation, however, must be correlated in some way with the normal reader's pre-existing vision of reality. There's no point in showing people an image if they're not going to understand it.

This argues for the importance of two other concepts that need to be incorporated in an Objectivist theory of literature—the concepts of perspective and control. The author needs to control his creation so as to identify his perspective and enable the audience to share it or at least not mistake it for something else. If my readers believe that Joey Smallwood is the hero of my story, something is seriously wrong with the image I'm offering them. Probably I have provided my work with inadequate control devices.

Suppose that 50% of the bureaucrats in Atlas Shrugged had been presented as ruthless, power-hungry incompetents, and the other 50% as normal, decent people handicapped by some silly political ideas. Any reader would conclude that the author viewed people's ethical character as only distantly, if at all, related to their politics. That's not what Rand wants you to conclude. She controls the reader's perspective by making sure that there is a visible, recurrent pattern: people who act unethically also think incompetently. That pattern is a control device.

Here is another example. Because most of the heroic figures in Atlas Shrugged are industrialists, there is the danger that readers will conclude that they are heroes because they are industrialists. To keep her readers' perspective in line with her own, Rand makes sure that her novel includes industrialists who are abject fools, as well as people from other segments of society who are exemplary in ethics and intelligence. It's a technique that goes back at least as far as Homer's Odyssey, where the exemplars of right thinking include a goddess, a king, a queen, a garrulous old man, a callow young prince, a nurse, and a swineherd; and where the exemplars of psychoepistemological criminality include a god, various members of the ruling class, maidservants, and a goatherd. It should be emphasized that, despite Rand's heavy emphasis on plot, it is often pattern, not plot, that controls the reader's perspective. Both Odysseus and his enemies kill people, but so what? That's a matter of plot. But how shall we regard all this killing? That's a matter to be decided by the pattern of contrasting moral characteristics, a pattern which indicates that killing is allowable, even laudable, if it's bad people who get killed.

As I have suggested, re-creations of reality need to be more patterned, more controlled, than reality usually appears to be. When I see a skateboard whizzing past me, I usually see only one frame of the action. I don't see where it started; I don't see where it ends. I don't have access to all the patterns of knowledge that might indicate whether I should cheer the skateboarder on, or call the cops. It was the importance of patterning that Aristotle had in mind when he said that imaginative literature is better than history. He didn't mean that imaginative literature is organized to represent an ideal; he meant that imaginative literature is more thoroughly or clearly organized than history, more capable of revealing instructive patterns. 4 I want to emphasize the fact that this theory applies to literature in general, not just to the kind of literature that Rand herself produced. Even a writer who intends to project a highly ambiguous view of the world will have to pattern that world so as to exclude the unambiguous. In this sense, an ambiguous work of literature is just as controlled and patterned as the most dogmatic work you can think of.

There are, of course, many types of literary patterns. A finished literary theory would distinguish patterns of action, patterns of character, patterns of imagery, patterns of values, and patterns of perspective—the kind of patterns that appear, for instance, in a story that contrasts one perspective with another. The more one thinks about the possibilities of literary patterning, the more one sees how right Rand was to say that the artist re-creates the world. She could have used the word "creates," but she didn't. She didn't want to convey the impression that art is a merely subjective thing, without cognitive or experiential relevance to a real world outside it. But notice also that she could have used the traditional language of literary theory and said that the author "imitates" the world. She didn't do that either, because she knew that art is capable of embracing an indefinite number of individual perspectives on reality.

A fully realized Objectivist theory of literature would follow this idea in a number of directions. One would be a reconsideration of the literary methods that Rand herself had the most trouble with, comedy and tragedy.

Rand was wary of tragedy because of its tendency to project a world in which man is doomed to failure. She was wary of comedy because, if you're not careful with it, it will project a world in which all values and accomplishments—the best parts of "man" as Rand used that term—are debased and disparaged. Her fears were largely misplaced, I believe, but by thinking about what she said we can gain some insight into a distinction that ought to be emphasized in any Objectivist literary theory. It is a distinction between two ways in which authors work with perspective, two ways in which they effect changes in their readers' perspectives. I'll call these two ways of working cognitive transformation and emotional transformation. They often occur simultaneously, but for analytical purposes they can easily be distinguished.

To produce a cognitive transformation in a reader's perspective, an author adds a fact or an argument that alters the way in which reality appears and is understood. Sophocles provides a pair of convenient illustrations. In Oedipus Tyrannos, the protagonist discovers a fact—he has killed his father and married his mother. Not surprisingly, his perspective on reality changes. He comes to believe, as the final chorus puts it, that no man can be counted happy until he is dead. In Antigone, no new facts are introduced, but the arguments of Antigone and her antagonist Creon show what it is like to view the individual's relationship to law and social order from two radically different perspectives. I would suggest, indeed, that the quarrel is never resolved. The plot, which involves Creon's political defeat and repentance, seems to indicate that it is, but when two opposing arguments of approximately equal cogency are presented, the reader may be inclined to look more at the pattern than the plot, and to surmise the presence of a subtext in which the author implies the unresolvability of the problem—in this case, a tragic unresolvability.

Whatever one thinks about Antigone, however, it is clear that the play is constituted largely by a play of perspectives, and that the perspectives are established and manipulated by means of argument. The assumption is that we are learning something new, whether that something is a new insight into the individual's rights and duties or a new insight into the difficulty of defining these things. Fine. But what new things does one learn from Shakespeare's tragedy of Macbeth? Do we learn for the first time that murder is wrong? If so, then my life is in danger from any people in my audience who may not happen to have read Macbeth. But of course, what occurs in Macbeth is an emotional, not a cognitive, transformation. Macbeth allows us to experience what the world looks like from the standpoint of a great man who is gradually betrayed by his ambition.

Yet here is the most significant thing: our perspective may be transformed, at least temporarily, but we still keep our grip on our own cognitive processes. We don't automatically assume that Macbeth represents every great character in the world, and that greatness is therefore doomed to defeat and degradation in the malevolent universe in which we live. We know it's not, and furthermore, we suspect that Shakespeare has the same prior understanding of the world. Why?

Because there is plenty of evidence that he knows at least as much about the world as we do. Besides, and this is the crucial point, we know that tragedy is a literary method that he has chosen to employ, perhaps for the purpose of identifying human problems that would be harder to dramatize in an heroic play. We know that he is re-creating the world, not merely imitating it. For this reason, we also know that anyone would be wrong to suggest that tragedy automatically presents a malevolent universe. It doesn't.

The same logic can be applied to comedy. Some comedy goes to work on our perspectives with fact and argument. Moliere argues about religion; Aristophanes shows what's wrong with Athenian democracy. But that's not what Wilde does in The Importance of Being Earnest. He shows how amusing life can be when you refuse to take it seriously. Now, why would anybody want to do that? Perhaps to enjoy the experience of standing above life, of reaching a perspective similar to that of Howard Roark at the beginning of The Fountainhead, when he laughs and "dive[s] down into the sky below." This experience, the experience of viewing life from a distant pinnacle, is at least remotely analogous to the experience one can gain from tragedy. As sad as Oedipus Tyrannos may be, as guilty as it may be of suggesting the malevolence of the universe, it is doubtful that anyone ever went home from a performance of that play and committed suicide. Actually, people enjoy it. The enjoyment seems to come from the pleasure of seeing aspects of life that one might not have seen if one refused, even in play, to entertain a tragic premise.

And there is another thing to remember. When watching a play, one always knows that one is watching a play. As Samuel Johnson observed, some over-serious literary theorists would lead you to believe that when a person goes to a history play by Shakespeare, he "really imagines himself at Alexandria, and believes that his walk to the theatre has been a voyage to Egypt, and that he lives in the days of Antony and Cleopatra." "The truth is," Johnson continues, "that the spectators are always in their senses, and know, from the first act to the last, that the stage is only a stage, and that the players are only players." 5 We can go farther. What one enjoys in a work of literature isn't simply the reality that is being re-created; it is the consciousness that someone is re-creating it.

It is this play of consciousness that Rand misses in her theories of comedy and tragedy, which describe those forms as if they were simply delivering a verdict on reality and not providing people with new ways of enjoying it. In discussing comedy, indeed, Rand generally speaks as if it were simply directed at something. But consider one of her own uses of comedy. Here is Isabel Paterson in her literary column of January 31, 1943:

We heard this story from an author, Ayn Rand, who has just finished a novel she's been writing for seven years, "The Fountainhead." We remarked that she looked tired, and had a right to. She said she felt like the mouse which met an elephant; and the elephant said to the mouse: "How can there be such a poor little miserable creature as you?" To which the mouse replied: "Why, you see, I'm not feeling very well today."6

Ayn Rand comparing herself to a mouse? Sure, why not? She wasn't laughing at herself. She wasn't saying that she had no value, or that The Fountainhead was the product of disease. She was enjoying the experience of looking at herself from an unusual perspective, a perspective from which she could see herself, as from a distance, and—if you want to use some solemn terms for this small but revealing incident—enjoy her ability to transcend her apparent weakness or insignificance by self-consciously re-creating and laughing about it. A similar transcendence appears in Rand's use of tragedy. When she created the tragic figure of Gail Wynand, I'm sure she did not feel that she was succumbing to the dark side of the Force. Nor should she have, even if such characters had been the only ones in her stories. Her ability to adopt the tragic point of view would still argue for her ability to transcend the tragic situation by re-creating and assessing it. Preston Sturges, the film director, planned to call his autobiography The Events Leading to My Death. Was he succumbing to a malevolent view of the universe—or was he doing something exactly the opposite?

But Rand's aversion to comedy and tragedy raises an interesting question—a question that is of perennial concern to literary theorists. The reason for her aversion is the belief that tragedy and comedy are likely to convey a false idea of reality. So the question is: What is, or ought to be, the relationship between art and truth, between the re-creation of reality and reality itself? To put this in another way: Are there certain literary practices that are aesthetically wrong or infeasible, simply because they project a false view of reality?

To see what an Objectivist literary theory might do with this issue, let's start with our idea that the author's conception of the world must correlate somehow with the audience's conception of the world. There are some conceptions of the world that are so false, and so obviously false, that almost no one entertains them. If they appear as crucial premises of a work of literature, the work will very likely fail of its intended effect. I'm sorry, you cannot write an effective Aristotelian tragedy about the Martians imprisoned in the pyramids of Gizeh. Of course, one could say, as Rand says of Tolstoy, that from a technical, "purely literary viewpoint," such a tragedy might be good, but that reading it would be a "boring literary duty."7 Boring or worse. But how can something be good from a "purely literary viewpoint" if its literary effects are that bad?

You may be thinking, oh, she just means that Tolstoy is not to her taste. Maybe. But you don't want to say that literary theory has nothing to do with literary judgment, do you? Or that judgment has nothing to do with taste? Or that taste is neither good nor bad? Or that bad taste can't be educated? Oh, no! Then shouldn't literary theory say something about the conditions, if any, under which a literary work may fail for (reputedly) extra-literary reasons?

From here on, I am speculating. But one promising avenue of speculation is suggested by the place where Rand's aesthetic begins, the idea that art is a "re-creation of reality according to an artist's metaphysical value-judgments." If that's true, then we may infer that a re-creation that ceases to be a re-creation of reality ceases also to be art.

That doesn't mean you couldn't write a story about Martians imprisoned in a pyramid. And it doesn't mean that such a story couldn't be art—depending on the type or genre of the story that you chose to write.

The topic of genre, to which I have now returned, is something with which Rand as a theorist was very little occupied. But every work of literature must be assessed in accordance with the type of literature it is supposed to be. The Fountainhead would be assessed very differently if it were regarded as a history of architecture instead of a novel. Embedded in that work, however, and in every other competent work of literature, are signs indicating what genre it belongs to. If the signs embedded in the Martian story indicated that its genre was symbolic narrative or screwball comedy, it might meet the reality test after all; its relationship to reality would simply be metaphorical or ironic. If, however, it were cast as an historical novel, it would not meet the reality test, and anyone with taste enough to understand what literature is would reject it as literature. It might be "art" in some purely nominal sense, in the sense of something that aspires to be art and can therefore be classified as failed art or, perhaps, as bad art. But it would not be a re-creation of reality.

A work can be tested against reality in a number of ways. One way is to test the author's perspective. Let's go back to my story about Joey Smallwood. Suppose I changed that story from a little Objectivist satire of a free-loading jerk into an intransigent, industrial-strength version of that great antagonist of Objectivist art, the "naturalist" novel. Suppose I turned it into nothing but a list of all the idle, unconnected things that Joey did and saw in a normal day, without the faintest indication of an ironically unfavorable assessment of the consciousness that could fasten on and appreciate such things. Suppose that the list was 1000 pages long. Ghastly! you say. But suppose that all the things in the list were evoked with great verbal skill. Would that be literature? My answer, at least provisionally, is No—or, as Joey would say, "Not."

Here I don't have to argue that certain subjects or certain means of developing them are inappropriate to literature or to the genre of fiction. I can argue, instead, from the difference between works of literature and things like, say, tomato sauce. You can love or hate a work of literature, and you can love or hate tomato sauce, and you can call your reactions matters of "taste" in all these cases, but here's the difference: you can love or hate tomato sauce without reference to the people who made it, but you can't do the same thing with literature. If we are in our senses, as Dr. Johnson said, we are always conscious, in reading a work of literature, of the shaping perspective of its author. Indeed, our evaluation of the author's perspective is a part, and ordinarily a crucial part, of our evaluation of the work itself.

I do not mean this in any crude sense. One may know that Wagner was a political crackpot and still appreciate the aesthetic vision that informs his operas. One is aware of the crackpot element, but it does not fully constitute his perspective. Now consider the perspective of an author who could write the 1000-page story that I just mentioned (and you would have to consider it, and consider it very closely, as you struggled through those 1000 pages). That perspective is wrong, and it is not wrong in the comparatively venial sense of suggesting opinions that aren't right. It is wrong because it is hopelessly inadequate to the re-creation of reality. It's not a matter of being false to the concretes of reality. An ant perceives the same concretes that I perceive. She perceives the same world; but she lacks the capacity to penetrate its depth and significance. An author who took the ant's view of human life, or who, for instance, wrote "novels" solely about the daily life of ants and grasshoppers, might be able to write a good sentence, but he would be out of touch with reality. What is more, the reader would know that, and the reader's knowledge would be inseparable from his experience even of the author's fine sentences. There are not two worlds of art, one in which the reader appreciates fine sentences and one in which he sneers at the perspective of the sentence-writer. At some point, the reader stops reading the sentences. He may say, "This story isn't real to me." And if he says that, he's right. It's not real.

You've noticed, by now, that I keep talking, and very confidently, too, about "the reader" and "he" and "one" and so forth, as if there were only one reader in this world, and that reader is a well-educated American male, much like myself, who must have precisely the reactions that I've summarized here. Perhaps, somewhere, there is a reader who would say, "I love this story about grasshoppers; it is very real to me." What then? And what about the problem of time? Is there literature that met the Sumerians' reality test but doesn't meet ours, so that works that were once art no longer are?

I have answers to these questions, and more. Whether the answers are right or not is another matter. But I'm not going to divulge my answers now. Remember, I said at the start that I thought of the effort to complete Objectivist literary theory as a long conversation involving many people. It can involve you too. Now's your chance.

Editor's Note: The following lecture was delivered by Professor Stephen Cox at the 2002 Summer Seminar of The Atlas Society, and is published here with the gracious permission of the author. Copyright 2002 by Stephen Cox. All rights reserved. This presentation may not be downloaded, reproduced, or circulated in any medium or form without the prior written permission of the author. For information about the author and his other works, see the end of this posting.


1 Ayn Rand, The Romantic Manifesto : A Philosophy of Literature (New York: World, 1969), 22-23.
2 Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1943), 10.
3 Rand, Manifesto, 26.
4 Aristotle, Poetics, 1451b.
5 . Samuel Johnson, "Preface to Shakespeare," Rasselas, Poems, and Selected Prose, 3rd. ed., ed. Bertrand H. Bronson (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston), 275, 276.
6 Isabel Paterson, "Turns With a Bookworm," New York Herald Tribune "Books" 19 (January 31, 1943), 19.
7 Rand, Manifesto, 55.

Dr. Stephen Cox is Professor of Literature at the University of California, San Diego. Among his works are Love and Logic: The Evolution of Blake's Thought (University of Michigan Press), The Titanic Story (Open Court Publishing Company), and many articles and essays, such as the biographical introduction to Isabel Paterson's The God of the Machine (Transaction Publishers). Dr. Cox's essays, "The Literary Achievement of The Fountainhead," and " Films of Ayn Rand " are also posted on this Web site.

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