Randian Ranting

Northwestern English professor Bill Savage, who taught me plenty about noir and Chicago literature (not at the same time) in classes at the Newberry Library, is apparently enduring a steady stream of Ayn Rand enthusiasts walking through his office door. Two years ago, he agitated in the blog of Seattle alt-weekly the Stranger (edited by his sex-columnist brother Dan) that such students require quick correction: “I will teach them that any philosophy which cannot differentiate between Hitler or Stalin and Mother Theresa or Jane Addams is not just a system of thought in need of tweaking and elaboration, it’s objectively in need of ridicule, rejection and righteous anger,” he wrote.

That rant earned Savage a Rand poster for his office, but apparently it’s done little to diminish the number of teaching moments. Last week he returned to the blog to chastise the new batch of undergrad Randians: “The young readers who buy into Rand’s nonsense share two features in common: immense narcissism and utter cluelessness. They see themselves as heroic inviolate individuals, owing nothing to anyone, since everything they’ve achieved is due to their own genius and hard work.”

Fine by me—much like J.D. Salinger, Ayn Rand is rite-of-passage reading, a philosophy to get excited about in your teens and then quickly get over. Though Salinger was more nuanced, and unlike with Rand, nobody is paying universities money to preach Salinger’s gospel to students.

9 thoughts on “Randian Ranting

  1. >>>Though Salinger was more nuanced, and unlike with Rand, nobody is paying universities money to preach Salinger’s gospel to students.

    That’s because they were already forced to read Salinger in high school.

  2. In much too in vogue to speak of the wonders of Randian thought. If you’ve ever suffered through her work, and I have / continue to if only in the hopes of making a stronger argument against her brand of “thought,” and are able to discern any perceptible difference in writing of Salinger-caliber (for instance) and Randian fluff-speak, then you’ve got to be sided against her. I’m glad to hear about Bill Savage, who is certainly fighting the good fight. The latter Savage quote sums up one of my primary issues with her very well. Say no to Objectivism.

    1. What’s driving it, do you think? Is it coming straight from members of campus Objectivist societies, or are there just a lot of free-agent undergrads out there who just love The Fountainhead? (Which, I should say, I was very smitten with when I was 15, hence my curiosity.)

  3. I have so far read neither Salinger nor Rand. In the former case I feel like I’m missing out a little, because it’s a book that everyone reads and I have a feeling it’s at least a little good. Rand, however, I have no desire to try.

  4. You ask: “What’s driving it, do you think? Is it coming straight from members of campus Objectivist societies, or are there just a lot of free-agent undergrads out there who just love The Fountainhead?”

    I’m not really sure. Perhaps a backlash against general postmodern malaise, and a raging against the now overused and cliched notions of infinite personal truths. Desire to reclaim objective worldview in the face of death of god/man/author, Lyotardian loss of Grand Narratives?

    One of my students thinks her language is beautiful and powerful, has an almost estranging (Shklovskian) effect.

  5. Side-thought: this reclaiming of objectivism by the seems related to the overuse of the words “literal” and “literally” not only by my students, but by myself, the media, politicians, etc. As though we’re groping for some tangible, empirical reality. We really want to say what we mean, stabilize and materialize the message. Maybe I’m just imagining it, but I feel like this proliferation of “literally” is a fairly recent development in the zeitgeist.

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