The Atlas Society


The Objectivist Center (that's the think tank formerly known as The Institute for Objectivist Studies) just launched a new initiative entitled The Atlas Society, directed at people who like Rand's novels but have never gotten into her philosophy. Since the Atlas Society website was announced on the Agora list (just about the only Randian list I'm still on), I figured I'd check it out.

The site stirs me to reflect on what seems to be the established iconography of Objectivism: dollar signs, skyscrapers, factories, trains, men and women in business attire with uplifted glances, and Atlas himself (thankfully no cigarettes on this site) -- all rendered in a style that seems to be a cross between Socialist Realism and Art Deco. I must say that this kind of imagery just does not speak to me -- too many ominous parallels to what in my essay Artist Shrugged I called Objectivist Realism. The idea that one set of imagery can capture a set of ideas is too limiting for me.

Some quotes from Zamyatin seem apropos:

I prefer being wrong in my own way to being right in someone else's.

Dogma, static positions, consonance -- all these are obstacles to catching the disease of art, at least in its more complex forms.

Amy Hayden, who runs the Agora list, noted that her interest in Rand's novels is more literary than visual. I too would say that, if anything, I am a literary fan, not a philosophical one -- in the sense that my appreciation for Rand's fiction is for the writing, not the ideas per se (I'm slowly re-reading The Fountainhead and will have much more to say once I'm done).

These strong associations between something literary and something visual or iconographic make me think of Rand's thoughts on music, or more precisely one of Rand's thoughts on music (it seems to me she is of two minds about music, but that's a topic for another day). Rand talks about the mind, as one listens to music, presenting all manner of images to one's inner eye as it seeks to find visual content that matches the emotional tone of the music. This might be one way of experiencing music, but it has always struck me as exceedingly odd because I have never experienced music this way. And the reason I feel it's odd is that to experience music in a visual fashion is not to engage in specifically musical experience, but visual experience that is triggered somehow by the musical experience.

Similarly, I feel that experiencing images in relation to a novel is not to engage in specifically literary experience. I'm not saying it's wrong to experience literature or musical visually, just that I have never done so (perhaps because I am not visually inclined). To me, literature and music are, as Amy says, "more subtle than that". And it's the "more subtle" aspects of literature and music that attract me to these art-forms -- that is, it's the aspects that I feel are particular or specific to literature and music. With regard to literature, those specific aspects include the author's use of language, the exploration of the charaters' inner lives, the flow of the plot, how the dialogue elucidates the nature of the characters, and so on. And I think it's those aspects of the novels that a literary fan would want to explore, and probably without the non-literary distraction of images.

Though I'm not sure that literary fans and other "culture vultures" are really the target audience for The Atlas Society...

Peter Saint-Andre > Journal