Culture Briefs

The October 15, 2002 edition of the Washington Post quoted a Capitalism Magazine article in their “Culture Briefs” section (Excerpts and quotes from the cultural war of words in publications around the nation):



BETTER THAN OTHERS


“Did Columbus ‘discover’ America? Yes — in every important respect. This does not mean that no human eye had been cast on America before Columbus arrived. It does mean that Columbus brought America to the attention of the civilized world, i.e., to the growing, scientific civilizations of Western Europe. The result, ultimately, was the United States of America.


“Prior to 1492, what is now the United States was sparsely inhabited, unused, and undeveloped. The inhabitants were primarily hunter-gatherers, wandering across the land, living from hand-to-mouth and from day-to-day. There was virtually no change, no growth for thousands of years. With rare exception, life was nasty, brutish, and short: there was no wheel, no written language, no division of labor, little agriculture and scant permanent settlement; but there were endless, bloody wars. Whatever the problems it brought, the vilified Western culture also brought enormous, undreamed-of benefits, without which most of today’s Indians would be infinitely poorer or not even alive.


“Some cultures are better than others: a free society is better than slavery; reason is better than brute force as a way to deal with other men; productivity is better than stagnation. In fact, Western civilization stands for man at his best.”



–Michael Berliner, writing on “Did Christopher Columbus ‘Discover’ America?” Thursday in Capitalism Magazine at www.capmag.com

Jimmy’s Appeasement Prize

Today Jimmy Carter has joined the ‘illustrious’ ranks of terrorists like Arafat by his being awarded the Noble “Peace” prize. According to the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel committee, Gunnar Berge, Mr. Carter’s selection “must be interpreted as a criticism of the present U.S. administration.” Now this is enough make me nauseous.


What wanted to make me throw up was Larry King’s second-handed comment praising Carter, which he regurgitated approvingly: “Someone once said about you, President Carter, you’re the only man in history to use the American presidency as a steppingstone to greatness.” As if an award that recognizes the “achievements” of a terrorist and cold-blooded killer like Arafat is greater than an office held by men like Jefferson, Adams, and Washington. Where is my bucket?


On the bright side, I can imagine what Bill Clinton is saying to himself: “That should be me, and not that grinning buffoon. Arafat should have accepted those terms when I handed Israel to him on a silver platter. It should be me up there. That prize is mine.”

The Aristocracy of the Couch Potato

YOUR LIVING ROOM–Many Americans harbor a general feeling of anxiety about the US government–as if something is definitely wrong, yet they can’t quite identify how to fix it. But cable channel FX has. The problem, according to FX’s president of entertainment Kevin Reilly, is that the nation’s abundant resource of lazy, catatonic, couch potatoes (mostly found in the fly-over states and more littered neighborhoods of major cities) hasn’t been adequately utilized.

But that will all change when FX introduces its new series, “American Candidate” in early 2003. “Hopefully, we’ll find some very qualified civil servant who lacks a power base and maybe also a plumber from Detroit who (tells) it like it is,” Reilly explained. Riding a (second-handed) high from the success of “American Idol,” a reality-based television series that recently adorned an aspiring 20-year old singer with national fame, producers at FX hope to coax the country’s television addicts into nominating a presidential candidate for the 2004 election. A panel of “experts” will choose the first 100 show participants, who will deliver drippy speeches, compete in whinny debates, and regurgitate meaningless clichés in response to loaded questions. Winners will then be selected via audience response and telephone/internet voting. All of this fanfare will culminate in a live show from the National Mall in Washington, where the “people’s candidate” will be chosen.

There are still some small islands in the Pacific that can be purchased from their governments at a reasonable price.

{Thanks to Justin Wheeler for shooting straight and speaking the truth.}

White British Woman Rails Against White Zimbabweans

Even I am amazed at what some “people” will go through to justify a “free lunch” obtained involuntarily at someone else’s expense, i.e., theft. According to the UK Telegraph:



A white British woman who formerly worked as a local government officer in Essex is the latest and most unlikely beneficiary of Robert Mugabe’s land-grab policy in Zimbabwe. Anne Matonga and her black Zimbabwean husband, Bright, have been given possession of a 1,500-acre farm after it was seized from a white farmer on the orders of the President. Mrs Matonga’s new home, which the farmer and his family had lived on for four generations, is a reward for her husband’s support of Mugabe, whose dictatorial policies are responsible for Zimbabwe being ostracised by much of the outside world.


…Despite moving to Zimbabwe only last year after a lifetime in Britain, Mrs Matonga last week spoke angrily, and without a hint of irony, against the “white colonialists who stole our land”…After delivering her diatribe, Mrs Matonga returned to supervising the crop of roses that had been planted earlier this year by Mr and Mrs Schultz…


…Mr Schultz had been arrested by the police for defying the eviction order only minutes before. “Mrs Matonga was screaming at me: ‘Get off our land: we are taking back what you stole from our forefathers’,” said Mrs Schultz. “I thought it was a remarkable thing for her to say since she was clearly white and British.” Mr Schultz, 57, is now virtually penniless.

Pianist Stephen Siek on Rachmaninoff and Ayn Rand

New Romanticist: Who is Stephen Siek?
Stephen Siek: 
I still consider myself primarily a pianist, and I think this is essential for anyone who desires to achieve the full range of musical expression possible at the instrument.

The physical skill demanded to interpret the works of Chopin, Rachmaninoff or other masters is so great that only constant, unrelenting work can enable you to meet those challenges. At various times in my life, I’ve sought to focus exclusively on the piano, pursuing a performance career where the opportunities presented themselves, and I’ve also done a great deal of teaching. I have played the instrument since I was very young, and I began to study it quite seriously when I was in high school, but I didn’t develop an interest in the scholarly side of music until I was in graduate school.

I was fortunate at the University of Maryland to have some excellent music history professors, and by then my interest in Objectivism had convinced me that anyone who neglects the intellectual questions posed by his discipline is at a serious disadvantage, so my enthusiasm to address more abstract, scholarly questions was piqued. When it came time to pursue a doctorate at the University of Cincinnati, I reasoned that since I already had two degrees in piano, I might do myself more good if I chose a Ph.D. in music history, rather than another performance degree. Although it was a lot of work, I’ve never regretted that choice. Today, I enjoy being involved in both areas, but it’s often a tremendous challenge to remain competitive, because both fields are dominated by hyper-specialists.

New Romanticist: How did you get interested in Ayn Rand?
Stephen Siek: 
When I was in high school, I purchased a copy of–and partially read–The Virtue of Selfishness, which had just been published, so that by the time I got to college, I knew the name Ayn Rand. At the time, I don’t remember being totally resistant to her ideas, but I didn’t understand them very well. Unfortunately, through most of my freshman year, I was still fascinated by many leftist, and even mystical, intellectuals. By the spring, I was getting more and more depressed and unhappy–it was becoming painfully clear to me that they were not offering satisfactory answers to any of life’s questions.

Oddly (and fortunately) enough, there were several music students at Maryland who were quite interested in Objectivism, and at the urging of one with whom I became very close, I finally agreed to read Atlas Shrugged. I finished it some time in the early summer, and I went through a fairly intense period of soul-searching and self-examination, but by the fall of my sophomore year, I was committed to Objectivist ideas. I think I knew, even then, that that was to be a permanent commitment because I had finally found the answers which had always eluded me.

New Romanticist: How did you get interested in Rachmaninoff?
Stephen Siek: From the time I was about 16, I was very serious about the piano, and Rachmaninoff was a natural extension of that interest since he wrote so much piano music. About that time, I remember buying an LP of the Second Piano Concerto, and I marveled at it, but I also wondered if I could ever become accomplished enough to play it, since it was obviously such a difficult work.

Shortly after that, I bought a recording of the Third Concerto, and I remember playing it again and again. I didn’t know that music could sound like this-that it could ever mean this much or make me feel so much. To this day, I think I owe a great deal of my decision to remain in music all these years to Rachmaninoff since his work spoke with such an emotional power and intensity that it pointed, like a beacon, to a world that I always wanted to reach.

New Romanticist: What is the relationship between Rachmaninoff and Ayn Rand?
Stephen Siek: Like many people, shortly after I became interested in Objectivism, I became somewhat curious about the person who had originated the ideas to which I wished to commit my life. Decades before it was possible to do internet searches, I remember going to the library and for hours poring over the Reader’s Guide to Periodic Literature in hopes of finding occasional magazine articles about Miss Rand. I was always filled with glee when I found one–even though they were generally uncomplimentary.

One evening–I must have been about 19–I stumbled on a lengthy piece in an old Saturday Evening Post, and read with interest about her enjoyment of Hugo and Spillane. But since, at that time, I had read neither author, the discussion remained a bit abstract. However, I could scarcely believe my eyes when I read that her favorite composer was Rachmaninoff.

I still remember feeling, at that moment, one of the deepest senses of satisfaction I’ve ever experienced, and all I could do was smile and say to myself, “Of course.”

At that time, I don’t think I even knew the term “sense of life,” but on some level I think I knew that we were questing after the same universe and since I also knew that she did not allow contradictions in her thinking, I took away an unprecedented confidence that my kind of universe was obtainable. If that confidence one day becomes conviction, I think there are few values in life that can be greater.

New Romanticist: What is the value of your course on Rachmaninoff to Objectivists?
Stephen Siek: Over the past decade, I’ve been privileged to give a number of courses for Objectivist audiences on music and musicians, but the course I’m most often asked to repeat is a course I gave some years ago on the music of Rachmaninoff.

I’m delighted that this time I not only have an expanded format of 6 hours, but also the opportunity to offer a full-length piano recital of some of Rachmaninoff’s most wonderful solo works. It’s my hope that people will feel that the experience of hearing this magnificent music is an end in itself–an indispensable end–for it provides the kind of emotional fuel required to achieve one’s values.

But an intellectual examination of Rachmaninoff’s personal and musical development achieves several important additional values: 1) it offers a portrait of the last great Romantic composer, and places his work in a meaningful historical context; 2) it surveys the intellectuals’ resistance to Romanticism and provides intellectual ammunition for those who may find their deepest, most personal values attacked in today’s world; and 3) whether or not one embraces Rachmaninoff as his favorite composer, this course provides an insight into the music which most consistently reflected Miss Rand’s sense of life. Within the limits of what is possible without a comprehensive aesthetics of music, we will examine some of the elements that give Rachmaninoff’s music its distinctive emotional power.

New Romanticist: Thank you Stephen. I look forward to your conference lectures and courses at the Summer 2002 Objectivist Conferences.

Dina Schein on Ayn Rand, Victor Hugo, and Analyzing a Work of Fiction

New Romanticist: Who is Dina Schein?
Dina Schein :
I will be getting my Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Texas in the fall. My dissertation is on the topic of egoism. I was a member of the first graduating class of the Objectivist Graduate Center of the Ayn Rand Institute in the mid 1990s. A number of years ago I have read all the correspondence that Ayn Rand’s Russian family wrote to her in the 1920s and ’30s. This was an ARI Archives project; I summarized each letter and translated some of them (I am a native speaker of Russian). I’ve given a number of courses at Objectivist conferences on ethics, on Ayn Rand’s life, and on her fiction.

New Romanticist: How did you become interested in Ayn Rand?
Dina: When I was 16, I had a conversation with someone I had just met, during the course of which I attacked communism, the lack of standards in education, and people who did not think and care about the sorts of ideas they were spouting. At the end of that conversation, this person said that he had some books by an author “who thinks just as you do,” and that he would like to give them to me. The books he gave me were Anthem, We The Living, and Atlas Shrugged. I read Anthem first – and was never the same afterward. It was completely my kind of universe. I had previously read many things with which I agreed, but none about which I could say, “this is me.” Her books gave me that.

New Romanticist: How did you become interested in Victor Hugo?
Dina: One day, when I was four years old, my mother took a thick book off the shelf and read me a scene from somewhere out of its middle. I didn’t know what novel it was, but listening to this scene was a completely new experience. Instead of the boring children’s stories I had previously been used to hearing, I was suddenly transported to a world where important things happened to people, where a single event could radically change a person’s life. It was a tragic scene, but one of grandeur. Some years later I learned the title of this book that so engrossed me in early childhood. It was Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. I read it from cover to cover at age 12 – couldn’t put it down – then reread it at 20. Incidentally, that scene that introduced me to a world of grandeur at age 4 was the scene where little Cosette suffers constant abuse at the hands of the Thenardiers, then Valjean appears and rescues her.

New Romanticist: Wow! Isn’t this the same way Ayn Rand was introduced to Victor Hugo?
Dina: Sounds similar, doesn’t it? In her case, she overhead a scene from “93” read to another person when she was 7.

New Romanticist: What is the relationship between Ayn Rand and Victor Hugo?
Dina: Ayn Rand called Hugo the greatest novelist in world literature. She discovered his novels as a child; he had been the fuel sustaining her spirit in her early years in Soviet Russia. In his novels he created a world of grandeur populated by heroic individuals. So did Ayn Rand. She regarded herself as owing him “an incalculable debt that can never be computed or repaid.”

New Romanticist: Can you tell me about your Summer 2002 East course, “Analyzing a Work of Fiction: Victor Hugo’s The Man Who Laughs“? What is its value to Objectivists?
Dina: Esthetics is the field that is perhaps most overrun by subjectivism today. Any smear is called a painting, any glob of solids is called sculpture, and any string of words on a page is called literature. Objectivists know that there are objective standards for esthetics, just as there are for everything else. But how many people can explain and defend the standards by which a given work of literature can be judged as good and another as bad? How many feel confident that they can correctly apply those principles to a novel, and analyze it in detail?

This course aims to teach the principles of literary analysis as Miss Rand identified them in the Art of Fiction. However, you will not gain these skills simply after having read that book. You have to actively practice them. This is what we will do in this course.

Another benefit of this course is that knowing how to analyze stories enables you to derive greater enjoyment from the good ones you read – because greater knowledge leads to more intense emotions. You will enjoy something much more if you are competent at it. You will suddenly grasp new levels of meaning in a novel.

New Romanticist: Why did you pick Victor Hugo’s novel as the work of fiction to analyze?
Dina: For two reasons: First, in teaching the principles of literary analysis, we need a model to apply these principles to, an example to practice on. Victor Hugo is the greatest novelist in world literature, not counting Ayn Rand, and The Man Who Laughs is his greatest novel. The wonderful thing is that The Man Who Laughs is both a literary masterpiece and at the same time a very clear model on which to teach these principles to a beginner.

The second reason is the sheer joy of immersing yourself in a great story and going on a treasure hunt. This is one of my very favorite novels and I want to share its grandeur with the class. Understanding Hugo’s choices, from the events of his plot, to the broader meaning behind his characters, to particular elements of his style, will help you find gems on each page – because we will see how everything he includes has been carefully selected to convey that grandeur.

New Romanticist: Thank you Dina, it was a pleasure speaking to you, and I look forward to your course at Summer 2002 East.

Sandra Shaw on Sex in Sculpture

New Romanticist: Who is Sandra Shaw?
Sandra Shaw:
I am a professional sculptor who specializes in portraiture and the nude figure. I am largely self-taught but also received invaluable instruction at the National Academy School of Fine Art in New York City. My Masters from the University of Toronto was in philosophy, along with studies in art history. Of great interest to me is the relationship of philosophical ideas to the human form in sculpture.

Outside my regular studio work, I study the nature and significance of the changes that have taken place in figurative sculpture throughout history. The material I present at conferences reflects my observations about these historical changes. I have recently completed four female nude sculptures. My works can be viewed at my website www.SandraShaw.com.

New Romanticist: Yes, I have seen your work, and it is fantastic. How did you become interested in Ayn Rand and Objectivism?
Sandra Shaw:
I first became interested in studying Objectivism in my freshman year at York University where I encountered Dr. John Ridpath and his teachings on the history of ideas. Atlas Shrugged was on the required reading list for his course.

I was a socialist at that time and had no understanding of philosophy, let alone of Objectivism. Prior to my university experience, I had read part of Atlas Shrugged as a high school assignment, but dismissed it as unreal. I was so unaware of Rand being a serious thinker that when I saw Atlas Shrugged on Dr. Ridpath’s reading list, I went to his office and asked that he explain himself. That encounter marked the beginning of my adult intellectual growth.

New Romanticist: How and why did you become a sculptor?

Sandra Shaw: I became a sculptor naturally: by developing my talents from early childhood. I have drawn the figure since as far back as I can remember, about 3 1/2 years of age — my archived drawings date from then. Around 9, I became interested in Master drawings by such artists as Leonard da Vinci and Michelangelo. By 13, I began more serious studies of human anatomy and portraiture.

Drawing has always been my preoccupation, but I never planned on a career in fine art — throughout my adolescence I did not regard fine art as a viable profession. When I started university (in preparation for a career in writing), I got a summer job sculpting for a museum. That job turned into a three-year training session in which I completed nine life-size human figures in clay. I loved it and did a great job. By the end of that project, I knew that I had to at least try to make a go of sculpting for a living, and I haven’t looked back since. The reason why I became a sculptor is because I love the human form, and three-dimensional sculpture most satisfies my desire to recreate Man.

New Romanticist: How does philosophy help your work as an artist? Of what value is philosophy to an artist?

Sandra Shaw: Big question. I can’t properly answer it here. Some extemporaneous thoughts on this: understanding Objectivism does not train anyone to be a good artist. Technical skill in art is developed from childhood and depends on the artist’s psycho-epistemology and character — which includes their rationality, their interest and ability to focus intensely on certain aspects of reality, and their work ethic. If an artist’s psycho-epistemology from childhood is rational enough, and they are disposed to constantly view certain things with great sensitivity and habitually recreate what they see, then they have a chance of becoming a good artist.

When it comes to the quality and content of art, the question is really: How does Reason help an artist’s work? In my adult years, Objectivism has served me primarily as inspiration. Objectivism has given me the immeasurable value of understanding myself and my world. That understanding is what saves an artist’s soul from an irrational culture and clears the way, psychologically, for their achievements. It is also important for me to know that an artist like Ayn Rand existed. Her life is an inspiration for all artists.

New Romanticist: Speaking of inspiration, can you tell me about your Summer 2002 course, ‘Body & Soul: Sculpture as a Vision of Man’s Romantic, Sexual Potential’?

Sandra Shaw: Body & Soul is an extended, revised version of a talk I gave at the Valentines Weekend conference in 1998. It was very well received then, but I thought it was too short. I had to cut a lot of material to fit the short time slot. This time around I can delve into more issues in greater detail and with more examples. Sex in sculpture is the topic — how sculpture translates Man’s view of himself as a sexual/romantic being, from the ancient world to modern times. I don’t want to give too much away here. I’ll just say that it’s a sexy story, for an adult audience.

New Romanticist: What is the value of your course to Objectivists?

Sandra Shaw: Understanding our sexual/romantic potential is important for us as conceptual beings. Sexuality is crucially important for our ability to celebrate our very existence–to enjoy our lives and to establish a personal identity as such.

Sculpture embodies a metaphysical view of Man’s nature, and it uses the human form to concretize certain views about Man’s potential — including his romantic potential. So by studying sculpture, we can see how different views of sexuality get translated into sculptural form. This kind of study helps us see how different philosophical views affect Man’s vision of himself, and so it helps to ground our knowledge of philosophy in general.

It also affords one an opportunity to see some great and inspiring art and to hone our skills in evaluating sculpture. My course is a good combination of abstract knowledge grounded with visual concretes.

New Romanticist: Thank you Sandra Shaw. It was a pleasure as always. I look forward to taking your course, ‘Body & Soul: Sculpture as a Vision of Man’s Romantic, Sexual Potential‘ this year at Summer 2002 West.

Tore Boeckmann on Drama

New Romanticist: Who is Tore Boeckmann?
Tore Boeckmann:
I’m a Norwegian fiction writer. I’ve wanted to write novels since I was a kid, but until now the results haven’t been good enough to publish, although I’ve sold a few dozen short stories. To make money while learning the craft of writing, I have launched various business ventures, with moderate success at best. More to the point, I’ve been thinking about the art of fiction. Some of that thinking resulted in the article “Conscious vs. Subconscious Motivation in Literature” which appeared in The Intellectual Activist in 1993 — an excellent article, if I may say so myself. I also edited Ayn Rand’s 1958 fiction course, which was published as The Art of Fiction. And now I’ve actually finished a novel that I’m pleased with and hope will be published. The hero is a policeman and the heroine a jewel thief.

New Romanticist: How did you become interested in Ayn Rand?
Tore Boeckmann:
When I was fourteen, I was looking for a philosophy. I was very right wing politically, but I knew I needed something wider. The only clues I had to what I was after were Kipling’s “If” and a long quote I had read on idealism by Theodore Roosevelt. (I only later learned he was a villain!) I had come across some brief references to this author called Ayn Rand — and then one day I was leafing through an intellectual magazine in a bookstore, and there was a picture of Ayn Rand, and I thought: Oh, it’s a woman! The article was about her meta-ethics. I was enormously intrigued by it. Only The Fountainhead had been translated into Norwegian back then, so I got it from the library and read it just before I turned fifteen. It was more than I had ever hoped to find: the idealistic sense of life given a real intellectual basis and pro-capitalism in politics on top of it!

New Romanticist: What is Drama? How did you become interested in Drama?
Tore Boeckmann:
Drama is “any event or series of events having vivid, conflicting elements that capture one’s interest.” That’s from the dictionary, and it’s a good definition. So you can have drama in real life, as in a shoot-out between bank robbers and the police, or in fiction, as when Howard Roark blows up Cortlandt Homes. The difference is, in real life you want as little drama as possible, but in fiction you *must* have drama. Dramatic actions are what fiction is all about. And that’s why I’m interested in drama. First, it’s essential to literature. Second, it’s undesirable in real life, since it entails conflict. So why do we want to contemplate something in art that we don’t want in our lives? This is especially puzzling since, according to Aristotle and Ayn Rand, the most important principle of literature is that it portrays “things as they might be and ought to be.” But this is only a paradox, not a contradiction, as I hope to show this summer.

New Romanticist: Can you tell me about your Summer 2002 East course, ‘The Principle of Drama’?
Tore Boeckmann:
Sure. The course is the culmination of a decade of thinking about questions like the one I just mentioned. In fact, when I started to think seriously about fiction, I found that a lot of what Ayn Rand said about literary esthetics I simply did not understand. To take just one example, she said that Romantic novels were distinguished by plots, yet there are plot-less Romantic novels, like Ian Fleming’s James Bond books. Now, I could sort of see that she was right, but I couldn’t really explain the issues involved intellectually.

But it finally dawned on me that Ayn Rand was talking about distinctions *within* the art of literature, whereas what I really didn’t understand was what distinguishes literary actions as such from (most) non-literary ones — or, in other words, drama from non-drama. Once I could explain that, everything else fell into place for me. So in my course, I present my thesis about drama, I apply it to different schools of literature, and I show how it relates to what Ayn Rand said.

New Romanticist: Why did you choose to analyze the plays of Edmond Rostand in your course?
Tore Boeckmann:
I analyze some of Rostand’s plays toward the end of my course, when I’m discussing Romanticism. The essence of Romanticism is the independent, creative projection of an individual artist’s values. But again, while this effect is easy to grasp emotionally, it can be tricky to explain intellectually. Take music. Romantic composers like Tchaikovsky give you an overwhelming sense of their individual personality or values. You don’t get that from, say, Mozart — yet Mozart projects his values too. All artists do. So what’s the real difference? What is it *technically* that Romantic artists do that non-Romantics don’t?

In regard to music, I don’t have a clue; but I do in regard to literature. (It’s not *just* plot; for example, Greek tragedy has plot, but is not Romantic.) And I take Rostand as my prime example because he is the greatest Romantic playwright, he has very distinctive values, and apart from Cyrano de Bergerac, his work has not been discussed much at Objectivist conferences. Yet he wrote marvelous plays like The Far Princess and Chantecler.

New Romanticist: What is the value of your course on ‘The Principle of Drama’ to Objectivists?
Tore Boeckmann:
My course is targeted at Objectivists who enjoy fiction.

Whenever we understand more about that which we value, our pleasure in it becomes more sophisticated and refined — and also more comprehensible to ourselves. We not only enjoy; we know *why* we enjoy. And in regard to art, where our response is of a profoundly personal nature, it is of particular interest to us to know the causes of that response. You learn interesting and important things about yourself that way.

While there are Objectivist intellectuals who disagree with my central thesis, I can only take myself as the standard. And I myself have certainly found the ideas presented in my course to be very illuminating. I think others will too.

Shoshana Milgram on Ayn Rand’s Plays

New Romanticist: Who is Shoshana Milgram?
Shoshana Milgram: I’m a teacher-scholar in the field of literature, based at Virginia Tech since 1978.  In my courses and publications—on such writers as Victor Hugo, Fyodor Dostoevsky, E. L. Voynich, and Ayn Rand—I’ve tried to be like Austen Heller in The Fountainhead, a man who “sees greatness and says so.”

I’ve presented talks on Ayn Rand at the major national professional conferences and at the Smithsonian (an eight-lecture series on “Ayn Rand’s Fiction and the Human Ideal”).  Back at the university, I’ve taught all of Ayn Rand’s novels, two of the plays, and Philosophy: Who Needs It. At Objectivist conferences, I’ve offered courses on several of Hugo’s novels (Les Miserables, The Man Who Laughs, and Ninety-Three) and on the films of Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks.  My recent publications include an article on E. L. Voynich for Late-Victorian and Edwardian Novelists, a two-part article on Ayn Rand’s drafts for TIA, and the introduction and afterword for an edition of The Man Who Laughs; I’m a cheerleader for values.

New Romanticist: When did you become interested in Ayn Rand?
Shoshana Milgram:During the winter break of my freshman year of college, I read, and admired, The Fountainhead. I loved not only the story, but the style; without even trying, I memorized some of my favorite passages. That year, I also met some Objectivists and learned more about Ayn Rand and her ideas. As soon as spring semester was over, I opened Atlas Shrugged. Two days later, I reached the last page.  I immediately began rereading the novel, taking breaks only to find, read, and consider Ayn Rand’s other books. I’ve been rereading Atlas Shrugged ever since.

New Romanticist: What is a play?
Shoshana Milgram:A play is a dramatic composition or performance—but an Ayn Rand play is a tight, intense, elegant structure built on the foundation of life-and-death issues. No one but Ayn Rand could have written her plays.

New Romanticist: Can you tell me about your Summer 2002 course “Ayn Rand’s Plays”?
Shoshana Milgram:I’ll be looking mainly at Ayn Rand’s three published plays: The Night of January 16th (originally entitled Penthouse Legend), Ideal, and Think Twice. I’ll begin by examining the importance of theatre throughout Ayn Rand’s writing. When she adopted for her own purposes Aristotle’s statement about art (“things not as they are, but as they could and should be”), she was drawing on his Poetics, which deals specifically with plays. (This was no accident.) We will then study the plays individually, studying the elements—structure, theme, dialogue, etc.—in isolation and in integration. Finally, I will point to the specific situations and ideas that Ayn Rand introduced in these plays, and developed more fully in The Fountainhead.

New Romanticist: Which of Ayn Rand’s plays is your favorite (and why)?
Shoshana Milgram:That’s a hard question! Think Twice, in my experience, is the easiest to teach to college students.  When students understand what one character means when he tells another, “This is the only humanitarian act I’ve ever committed—the only one any man can ever commit,” they grasp the whole play; then they need to think about what they’ve grasped. The Night of January 16th is clever, colorful, and suspenseful.  Ayn Rand said that her opinion of the play’s merit was “very high—as high, relative to its scale, as my opinion of any other work of mine.” I agree.  But Ideal is the play that most haunts me.  Ayn Rand once wrote in her journal that “the worst curse on mankind is the ability to consider ideals as something quite abstract and detached from one’s everyday life.”  The play Ideal struggles valiantly against the worst curse on mankind—and wins.

New Romanticist: What is the value of your course to Objectivists?  (Why should they take your course?)
Shoshana Milgram:In my courses, I try to do what Ayn Rand called “giving full conscious value” to the wonderful works we are studying: to understand the whole by paying attention to the integration of the parts.  Howard Roark told his former Dean that an architect gives a building its soul, and every wall, window, and stairway to express it. Everything Ayn Rand ever wrote has that sort of integration. We can, and should, see it. Where Ayn Rand’s art is concerned, the closer we get, the better it looks.  By observing and cherishing all aspects of Ayn Rand’s achievement, we become active readers, on whom nothing is lost.

New Romanticist: Any final insights that you would like to share with our readers?
Shoshana Milgram:The last time I was at Lincoln Center, I visited a newly enhanced research division of the New York Public Library (the Billy Rose Theatre Collection). When I checked the card catalogue for books by Ayn Rand, I noticed that the library had a copy of The Night of January 16th, available for viewing only in a restricted area.  I ordered the book.  When it arrived,, I was initially disappointed at what appeared to be the standard 1971 Signet.  Why would the standard paperback be treated as if it were a rare book?  But this was no ordinary paperback. The book was identified as a “gift of the author.” Inside, I found revisions–some in Ayn Rand’s hand, some typed and taped in. For a production in 1973, Ayn Rand had made some minor changes (reflected in the version now in print); although she did not, at the time, plan to re-issue the play with the revisions, she wanted the library to have the definitive version.

Forty years after writing the play, Ayn Rand turned her attention, yet again, to its details. We can do likewise—for this play, and for them all.

The U.S. Should Withdraw from the Geneva Convention

IRVINE, CA–The investigation of a marine for the suspected “crime” of killing an unarmed Iraqi terrorist is a moral and judicial travesty, said Dr. Yaron Brook, executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute.


“The accused marine was completely right to kill a terrorist who he suspected was setting up a booby-trap by faking death–a common terrorist technique used in Iraq. For the marine to do otherwise would have been to risk his life and the lives of his fellow marines to preserve a committed murderer. Yet this is exactly what the U.S. government says he should have done, in the name of the ‘rules of war’ of the Geneva Convention.”


“Throughout the War on Terrorism,” explained Dr. Brook, “America has sacrificed its military objectives and the safety of its soldiers in the name of adhering to the Geneva Convention accords, which are based on so-called Just War Theory. Monsters like Osama bin-Laden and his deputies are still alive because we hesitated to bomb them out of their hideouts, for fear of hitting so-called innocents. Hundreds of American soldiers have died unnecessarily due to crippling rules of engagement requiring them to place the lives of Iraqi civilians above their own.”


“Now,” said Dr. Brook, “we are telling our soldiers that if they kill a terrorist who happens to be wounded or unarmed, they could be court-martialed!”


“America must assert its right to defend its citizens–including its soldiers–by any means necessary,” said Dr. Brook. “And as a first order of business, we must withdraw from the suicide pact that is the Geneva Convention.”

Spamming for Freedom

For anyone looking to defend property rights and make money at the same time, here’s an interesting business model I discovered: 



The Tabloids, an Oakland-based rock band… recently launched stopnapster.com, urging people to sabotage Napster by mislabeling songs posted to the site. Music entrepreneurs and Internet saboteurs have already started circulating fake versions of popular songs on Napster. 

Stopnapster.com also calls for releasing songs into Napster that have anti-piracy speeches inserted randomly into the music. For instance, you may be listening to Eminem when suddenly Charlton Heston begins reading a public interest message opposing song theft…  “We’re looking at the big picture here. Intellectual property is intellectual freedom,” says Michael Robinson, the band’s leader, a freelance writer and a marketing consultant. “The U.S. Constitution and the Internet are on a collision course. We don’t want our rights ripped off,” he adds. The Tabloids seek government regulation of technologies like Napster’s.  (From Digital Music Weekly,

You could probably get this funded as an Internet business model. Get permission from bands to use their songs, and thirty seconds in start mixing in voiceovers of interviews with the band, etc. Then create all kinds of bogus music servers and spam the hell out of Napster, Gnutella, etc. with the fake mp3s. (Actually, I hear the Nettwerk label just did this with the new Barenaked Ladies single.) 

The band gets advertising and fights theft, you make a little money selling the ads, and the Net gets clogged with so much music spam that it gets difficult and costly to find intact pirated tracks. If Napster raises technical barriers, you have a financial incentive to overcome them. And the pirates can’t very well call on the law to protect them, can they? 

Personally, I find something deliciously satisfying in the image of some young thug, smugly expecting to marinate his brain in the latest Eminem tirade he’s swiped off the net, getting an earful of Charlton Heston.