LITR 5439 Literary & Historical Utopias

Ayn Rand

websites re biography & institutions

Ayn Rand, 1905-1982

Instructor's notes: Texts like Anthem are taught and studied in American secondary schools and sometimes in colleges for a number of reasons, but her reputation in higher-education literary studies is mixed at best. However, she maintains an insistent demand for inclusion through support from wealthy individuals and well-funded institutions who benefit from her anti-government, anti-regulatory, anti-egalitarian principles. Institutions associated with her provide free texts and lesson plans to a variety of schools, many of them starved for such funding and support.

Literary taste is difficult to define and quantify in any case, but Rand's political orientation may be impossible to disentangle from many critics' negative reactions to her writing.

Why Rand's writings (esp. Anthem enjoy some popularity in secondary curricula and among some students and adults outside schools.

Anthem is brief enough for an adolescent attention-span.

Compared to most literary fiction, ideas expressed by Anthem and other Rand texts are simple, straightforward, contemptuous of disagreement or nuance, boldly embodying some attributes of popular literature.

Her emphasis on creative individuals' unlimited power and the injustice of larger social structures appeals to an adolescent mind-set.

Secondary school teachers in English and Social Studies are likely not as prevailingly liberal as teachers in higher education. (Liberal political orientation generally increases with post-graduate education.)

Outside financial or material support from Rand-associated organizations and institutions.

Being seen reading Atlas Shrugged can serve as a badge of political identity or economic aggressiveness.

Reasons Ayn Rand's status in literary studies is often scathing or at least dismissive:

The Women's Movement / Feminist / Gender Studies reacts against Rand's valorization of swaggering and self-evidently superior male protagonists supported by and submitted to by worshipful women characters

Rand's characterization tends to be superficial and anti-social, and her plots melodramatic and glorifying of conquest. Heroes domineer and dominate, break assumed social rules that cripple innovation and wealth-creation. Community-minded efforts are associated with envious weaklings.

Such judgments of values and taste may be as political as they are literary, but critics might argue that the callousness of Rand's social attitudes determines the crudeness of her style.

Instructor's personal experience and opinion(s): From my limited reading of Rand, Anthem appears to be her most successful text, as its brevity compresses the power of her direct and unflinching style while limiting its tediousness over hundreds (or thousands!) of pages.

My general dislike for Rand's writing is inseparable from my moral offense at its attitudes and values. In high school a family I knew who were active in local conservative politics gave me a copy of The Fountainhead to read. I was initially impressed by how readable the text proved, but by the end I felt offended that adopting the values of the novel would entail rejecting the values by which I was raised. The experience was interesting for its shock, but I didn't really learn much from the text beyond a regret that apparently normal and well-behaved people could embrace its worldview.

As a result, I never wanted anything more to do with its author until I taught Utopias as a summer course and needed a brief dystopian text to fit the course's fast reading schedule. Anthem turned out to be better than I expected, but not good enough to make me want to read all 1200 pages of Atlas Shrugged

See Wikipedia notes on Ayn Rand: Critical Reception

Ayn Rand Institute

Ayn Rand Society (American Philosophical Institute)

Journal of Ayn Rand Studies

Objectivist Reference Center

Ayn Rand in C-Span American Writers Series

Ayn Rand in Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Ayn Rand at Internet Movie Database

Unofficial Passion of Ayn Rand Homepage

Blog review of Anthem by J.R. "Jammer" Smith (UT-Tyler grad English; nephew of Jan Smith, LITR 5439 summer 2015) (Scroll down to entry 13, Wednesday, August 2014)

Campanella's City of the Sun