Rand's Request

JoeM's picture
Submitted by JoeM on Mon, 2005-12-26 21:57

Hey, all. Still a little occupied. In the meantime, here's an amusing little snippet from AYN RAND ANSWERS, I think we may have all experienced this at some point:

“Speaking of one’s ability to know another’s sense of life, now might be a good time to make a request: Please don’t send me records or recommend music. You have no way of knowing my sense of life, although you have a better way of knowing mine than I have of knowing yours, since you’ve read my books, and my sense of life is on every page. You would have some grasp of it-but I hate to think how little. I hate the painful embarrassment I feel when somebody sends me music they know I’d love-and my reaction is the opposite: It’s impossible music. I feel completely misunderstood, yet the person’s intentions were good. Nobody but my husband can give me works of art and know infallibly, as he does, that I’ll like them. So please don’t try it. It’s no reflection on you or on me. It’s simply that sense of life is very private.”

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I agree

bidinotto's picture

Peter, I agree with you. The complexities of interpersonal attraction -- as well as aesthetic affinities -- owe as much (or more) to personal experiences (what you eloquently call "contingent facts of personal history") as they do to overall "premises."

Because a person, like a work of art, contains so many elements and aspects, they can strike us as personally significant and compelling on many different levels, for a host of reasons. While it may be possible to make some gross generalizations about someone's overall emotional outlook by observing an extensive series of his artistic or personal preferences, to draw psychological inferences from a limited sample of those preferences -- let alone from a single choice in isolation -- is completely unjustified. In fact, it's silly.

Some of what you quote

Reidy's picture

Some of what you quote suggests a remarkable turnaround from the classic Objectivist statements on this topic. Consider the her claim that "In sex, sense of life wouldn’t be as clear to you, since its harder to identify your own sexual reactions." She's not quite saying that love is blind (incomprehensible in principle), but she's acknowledging (correctly) that sexual response is as much a matter of unshared, contingent facts of personal history as of anything that qualifies plausibly as "soul" or "sense of life." This is a long way from what Francisco says to Hank or what Nathaniel Branden says in The Psychology of Pleasure." Could she have been ahead of Peikoff and the Brandens in backing away from the original Objectivist position?

Similarly, the observation that, in practice, we can't know anyone else's sense of life is a long way from her essays on art, where she takes the position that our sense of life is an open book to one who knows how to read it and judge it. One of the most quoted remarks she ever made, in her obituary for Marilyn Monroe (at http://capmag.com/article.asp?...), was:

"To survive it and to preserve the kind of spirit she projected on the screen--the radiantly benevolent sense of life, which cannot be faked..." (emphasis added)

Here she claims to know the sense of life of someone she never met and whom she calls a "brilliantly talented actress" - i.e. one who is especially good at faking.

What is the difference between saying that sense of life is too complicated to determine in practice and saying that the whole concept of it as something that applies in common to works of art and to the producers and consumers thereof, is dubious?


Rand on Sense of Life In AYN RAND ANSWERS

JoeM's picture


“Sense of life is predominant in two realms: sex and art. In sex, sense of life wouldn’t be as clear to you, since its harder to identify your own sexual reactions. So the best and perhaps only way to identify sense of life is by observing your own reactions to art. (This is not a shortcut,; it’s pretty difficult.) Observe what you feel in regard to art and why. Select particular novels, paintings, and perhaps sculpture, because those are easiest to identify conceptually. (Music is very important, but very difficult to translate into firm concepts.) Observe yourself as honestly as you can. You are the only judge, jury, prosecutor, and defender of your esthetic reactions. When you feel a strong emotion about some work of art, ask yourself what you like about it and why. That might give you some idea of your basic metaphysical convictions, because what a sense of life presents is your metaphysics, but in the form of emotions, not conscious convictions.”

“Now, words like ‘happy,’ ‘sad,’ and ‘sensitive’ are superficial. When people speak of a tragic sense of life, that’s a foreshortening. There may be any number of opposite senses of life that could be called ‘tragic.’ You need not characterize your sense of life; what’s important is to ask yourself: ‘Are my subconscious ideas right or wrong? Do I consciously believe them, or have I made a mistake in my childhood?,” and then translate your sense of life into conscious convictions. Once you’ve reached the point where you have identified the essentials of your sense of life, you’ll know you’re succeeding when there is no clash between your conscious convictions and your subconscious, sense-of-life emotions.”

“How much detail is necessary? Sense of life doesn’t deal with details, just as emotions don’t. It deals with philosophical fundamentals. Therefore, if you know in sense-of-life terms what you feel about the nature of reality, cognition, man’s nature, and his morality, that’s sufficient to know your sense of life.”

“In the light of what I’ve said, it is of course impossible to name the sense of life of fiction characters. You might name the sense of life of your closest friend-though I doubt it. You may, after some years, know approximately the sense of life of the person you love, but nobody beyond that. You cannot judge the sense of life of another person; that would be psychologizing. Judge their philosophical convictions, not whether their feelings match their ideas. That’s not for you to judge; it’s of no relevance to you.”

This brings up a

Reidy's picture

This brings up a philosophical question: where does sense of life end and taste begin? Rand wrote as though the former were a matter of fact and could be right or wrong. To say that it's "private" (a euphemism for "subjective") is to go back on a lot of her more formal statements, as well as her willingness to criticize, formally or not, other people's sense of life.


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