Ladders

2001-06-22

My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them -- as steps -- to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.) He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.
-- Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 6.54

I like Wittgenstein's image of climbing the ladder and then discarding it. I'm beginning to see such ladders in many aspects of my life -- not just intellectually (my early Randianism) but also creatively (e.g., the songs and guitar music I've written, the last of which I composed in 1995). Unfortunately my life is too busy right now to let go of these ladders completely, because I just don't have time to record my music or complete the purgation of Randianism from my mental life (which I feel will happen by writing the two books I've planned about her ideas). So I am hanging on to the top rung of these ladders, waiting to let go -- which is rather frustrating for me.

Specifically with respect to Rand, I feel that I am no longer holding onto the ladder emotionally, and I must say it is a wondrous feeling to be free of Rand after all these years. Although the whole Randian outlook is still part of me in some sense, I feel quite free of it now (politically, ethically, emotionally, aesthetically), and that freedom presents new vistas to me. As noted in recent entries, I have been re-reading Whitman recently and venturing far afield in my thinking and reading (everything from gnosticism to the works of Zamyatin), which has definitely contributed to this sense of freedom.

A few months ago I started (and then stopped) re-reading The Fountainhead for the first time since I was 19 (I'm turning 35 this summer). Actually I have started to re-read this novel several times in the last 15 years and each time I have stopped after a few chapters. This time I felt myself more disturbed than ever by what I was reading. Here on display for all the world to absorb are some incredibly damaging false dichotomies such as reason vs. emotion and self vs. world. Oh how deeply I fell into Rand's worldview, and more than that her angry sense of life, when I was a teenager! Were it not for my desire to document some of my own thoughts on Rand (in large measure in order to save others from some of the things I went through), I would never re-read Rand again. But I still feel within me the seed of The Tao of Roark and what that book could be, so I keep on keeping on. I really would like to share my perspective on Rand, since I feel that few people have written about her sympathetically but critically (it's all either slavish devotion or implacable enmity), and certainly not with any aesthetic sense.

Part of the challenge is that Rand was a master of rhetoric, which is much of what gives the Rand meme is virulence. I often compare Rand's style with that of Nietzsche. Rand the arch-rationalist is highly emotional and "sneaky" in her literary appeal (you just swallow her whole, hook line and sinker) whereas Nietzsche the supposed irrationalist writes in a way that practically forces you to think. A friend recently mentioned to me that Hiram Haydn (Rand's editor at Random House) once said that she was "a crackpot, though of a noble sort". That certainly captures it if you ask me....


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