Monday, 28 February 2011

3001 The Final Odyssey - Arthur C. Clarke

As a closure the final part of Clarke's tetralogy is a mixture of everything - there is love, renewed friendship after almost 1,000 years, unbelievable jump of the technology, computerized brains, dinosaurs-servants, a star city, spanning in the geostationary orbit of the Earth, and colonization of some of the moons. 3001 The Final Odyssey is still disconnected from the past three parts but Clark sticks to his main point and elaborates on it further.

Technology has reached such levels that communication, studying, politics, and economics have become almost obsolete. Humanity has invented the brain cap - a computerized tool that connects to the human brain, able to transfer knowledge, to induce positive feelings, to cure insomnia and depression, and to be used to communicate with others. Privacy is no longer a luxury - the brain cap is able to read a person's mind and to store it on a little flash disk. All you have ever been, felt, experienced, loathed, or loved is simply turned into a computer chip.

Moreover, space travel is now not limited to the chosen few astronauts. People have colonized some of the moons of Jupiter and have established their little towns there. Four gigantic space elevators are build in strategic places on the equator. They are connected to create the Star City - a space replication of the Earth, where people live an almost earthly life. Flying, dinosaurs, computerized images of everything you might wish, swimming pools, etc are among the few features of this Space City. People act more like machines than like flesh-and-blood species. In this part of the novel I was reminded of Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. In the latter, the author explores a utopian world, where people are conditioned from their birth to certain feelings and expressions. Love and affection are obsolete and sex and drugs are used as recreational activity. This is a rather extreme view, but the similarities with Clark's world in 3001 are obvious. The brain cap is a form of computerized control over the human mind and soul, and the computerized images generated to induce positive feelings can be related to the happiness drug in Huxley's world. In addition, criminals in Clarke's world are no longer put in jails. Instead, they are conditioned to be servants until their punishment expires. At the end, they return to the normal world without any memory of what has happened. Again this form of positive conditioning reminds of extreme forms of human control, one of which can be seen in Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange. As much as a supporter of the advancements of technology Arthur Clarke is, the author insightfully points out that the short-comings of this technological jump in most times outrun the human intentions and imagination.

In this world an old friend from 2001 A Space Odyssey returns. Frank Poole, the tragically killed astronaut by the computer Hal is discovered in the orbit of Neptune. He managed to survive for nearly 1,000 thanks to being frozen to almost zero. Now Poole wakes up a stranger in a strange world. He is regarded as a museum exhibit; even the language he speaks has become ancient. Having spent 1,000 in gravitation levels less than the Earths, Poole cannot return anymore to his home planet. He is living in the Star City trying to comprehend and to get used to the new technologies. Doomed to failure, Frank realizes the only place he feels as home is the space. The astronaut joins a space expedition to the forbidden moon of Europa. People believe that as the friend of Dave Bowman, he is the only that will be allowed to land there. Meanwhile, the Europeans have evolved thanks to the newly formed sun Lucifer. They are though still primitive species and lack any intellect.

After almost 1,000 years a friendship is renewed - Frank Poole and the star child Dave Bowman meet again. A millenium hasn't change much. The monoliths are still in the universe, controlled by unknown superintelligent extra-terrestrial life, looking for species with potential to develop a civilization. After humanity, Europeans are their next experiment, hence the burning of Jupiter into Lucifer to provide their planet with sun. However, the evolutionary push these geniuses have given humans result in a civilization that has reached unbelievable heights. Europeans, on the other hand, remain at their primitive level with no signs of development.

As I mentioned in my previous post, humanity is a feeling highly persistent, even if one spends 1,000 years in space as a form of ultra-intelligent energy. Bowman still feels connected to his previous life and body; he cautions Poole that the Earth is to be destroyed by the same intelligence that has created it. Now humanity has to gather all those biochemical, computer, and bacterial viruses to destroy someone they haven't seen and they don't understand. Ironically, the weapons people created for self-destruction and which have been carefully hidden for the past thousands of years, will be now used for their rescue.

In his tetralogy about space travel Arthur Clarke aided in the understanding of the human universe, prompted some experiments yet to be implemented, and forecasted discoveries not yet made. His imagination is vivid, his knowledge about the effect of technology on humanity is insightful, and his talent is extraordinary. Deservingly named one of the Big Three of science-fiction. His novels are sometimes purely science, sometimes fiction, but overall they are novels that bring this course of literature to unmatched heights. Arthur Clarke's genius helped me realize I judged science-fiction far too quickly and far too severely. It is not merely a fantastical world - all of the author's suggestions and descriptions are backed up by technology so far. They are just visionary thoughts and expectations to where humanity might reach to if progress continuous at such a rapid pace. I loved Arthur Clarke, I loved Space Odyssey and I am sad that the space century of the world seems rather over, or at least stuck in one place.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

2061 Odyssey Three - Arthur C. Clarke

There are no boundaries for human curiosity and imagination. Even after the unequivocal warning of the Europa extra terrestrial life not to land there, people were even more fascinated and impatient to explore the forbidden land. It took them half a century to successfully land on Jupiter's moon and to come closer to understanding the hostility of its natives.

Thanks to the advancement of technology, which allows him to live in an environment with a g 1/10 of the Earth g, Heywood Floyd, the famous scientist from the first two parts of the tetralogy, is still alive. At the age of 103 (but looking like a healthy 70-years-old grandfather) Floyd is among the 6 famous people invited to a space journey to the Halley's Comet. The purpose of this revolutionary initiative is to make Universe the first space ship to land on the comet. Meanwhile, investigations around the newly formed Sun, Lucifer (former Jupiter) continue. People have managed to build bases on some of its moons but still keep on a safe distance from the forbidden Europa.

That is until the scientist Van der Berg makes an unbelievable discovery of what actually constitutes mountain Zeus, the biggest mountain on Europa. This discovery, if known to the larger public will result into political and economic conflicts over supremacy. The essence of mountain Zeus is able to make its controller one of the richest people in the universe. Unfortunately, other people also discover that information. When the spaceship Galaxy is sent to analyze the space around Europa, a traitor forces its landing on the forbidden moon. People have outraged the warning given them by the extra terrestrial life. Galaxy cannot return to Earth and the crew spends its time floating in Europa's sees and hoping for rescue. Scientist Van der Berg and Floyd's grandson Chris go on a journey to the foot of the mountain to prove the discovery - the whole Zeus is a big diamond, which at the end of the novel disappears into the soil. However, scientists investigate the theory that the core of Jupiter and its moons also contain pieces of the precious metal. Will humanity be able to use this abundant resource or will the other civilizations hinder that. We just have to wait and see.

As for David Bowman, the Star Child, his continuing presence in space, and especially around the Earth missions proves his ever-lasting connection to the human civilization, Even though together with Sal, Bowman vanquishes to some unknown powerful civilization, he manifests personality and free will. The strange couple of energy is to be joined by one of the main characters at the end. What are the three up to and are they going to continue helping the strange black monolith spread knowledge in the galaxies?

What I like mostly about the tetralogy so far is Clarke's interpretation of the dawn of human civilization. The author portrays an alien form of life, which existed long before any life on earth. This civilization used the resource of reason and mind to develop, ultimately leaving behind its imperfect material part and living as energy in the universe. Then it started looking for worlds with the potential of hosting the emerging of another civilization. The strange black monoliths these energy-creatures positioned in various places in the universe prompted the species to evolve. One of this black blocks helped our ancient ancestors the hominids discover tools and eventually win supremacy over the rest of the species on Earth. This theory doesn't in anyway undermine Darwin. Indeed, it strengthens it since it shows only the strongest will adapt and survive. Clark just gives an idea about the initial push humanity needed to start the path towards progress that is lasting more than 3 million years now.

Definitely out of superlatives about Arthur Clarke. What I will just say is that the third part so far was the most enthralling. A nice break from talking about Jupiter and its moons and focusing on a largely unexploited topic - the Halley's comet and its eventual return in 2061. Most importantly, Clarke doesn't forget about the main line of narration and gives the reader bit by bit more information about the mysterious intellect that closely monitors the Earth and affects its development.

Friday, 25 February 2011

2010 Odyssey Two - Arthur C. Clarke

When writing a science-fiction novel of the calibre of Arthur Clarke's Space Odyssey it is totally understandable, if not absolutely expectable, that the sequel would not follow exactly the events that preceded it. As the author himself points out, the four parts of Space Odyssey MUST be regarded as separate pieces of literature. They indeed feature common characters, but not necessarily in the same universe. How great a statement and how perfectly it fits into the whole grand concept of Clarke's masterpiece.

2010 Odyssey Two obviously takes place 9 years after the tragic destiny of Discovery, the space ship sent to examine Saturn, which found the same strange monolith structure, as the one on the Moon. In this novel, however, the monolith is now floating around Jupiter. Between the publishing of the two novels, technology increased at amazing rates. Observations and conclusions from viewing space objects, and especially Jupiter, added more to the human understanding about the universe. Thus, Clarke chose to focus on Jupiter, instead of Saturn, as in the first part. There are also other minor difference but contrary to expectations they do not disappoint the reader. In fact, the change of scenery contributes to the immerse power of the tetralogy. In every part Clarke takes us to different parts of the galaxy, still not deviating from his main theme of the great, yet dangerous consequences of the increasing human presence outside the Earth.

The joined US-Soviet space ship Alexei Leonov (named after the great Russian astronaut) travels to the orbits of Jupiter not only to investigate the strange monolith, but also to bring back Discovery and to find out what has happened to David Bowman. On board is again doctor Heywood Floyd, the scientist who assisted in the observations of the first strange monolith discovered on the Moon. Unfortunately for the US-Soviet crew, a Chinese ship, Tsien, also aimed at Jupiter, manages to arrive there quicker. Upon trying to land on one of its moons, Europa, the spaceship is destroyed by a strange creature and all of the crew is killed. Meanwhile, the reborn Star Child David Bowman returns in the form of spirit (or power, or...whatever your imagination tells you) to visit some of his most beloved people. Moreover, through the computer Hal, it warns the Leonov crew that they are to leave immediately the orbits of Jupiter or else be subject to an unknown danger. Finally, at the end of the novel a New Sun is born through the explosion of what used to be the biggest planet in the Solar system. Discovery is destroyed and Leonov is saved only thanks to the weird message from the Star Child. And the humans receive a message that won't be soon forgotten: "ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS EXCEPT EUROPA. ATTEMPT NO LANDINGS THERE". The terrestrial life has admitted its existence, acknowledged the presence of the humans, and warned them to stay away. However, as we know, the boundaries of human curiosity are endless. Will the people honor this warning or would they soon return to examine Europa and the life that openly has declared war to humanity? And what about the strange black monoliths that seem to have a strong connection to the other civilizations. Every time they appear, humanity is faced with a deadly situation. What will the monolith do next? Arthur Clarke will give answers in 2061 Odyssey 3

Contrary to many examples in world literature, the first part of Space Odyssey doesn't in anyway surpass in excellency the second. In fact, the genius of Clarke is yet to show its great potential. The author once again proves he has a vast imagination and an ability to accurately predict the paths technology is going to take in the years to come. Keeping in mind Clarke was 65 years old when he wrote his second part, the reader feels admiration and respect to his forward vision. After all, this is the guy who predicted the invention and use of satellites long before they were actually implemented to study the Universe. This fact speaks for itself for the talent of Mr. Clarke.

Monday, 21 February 2011

2001 A Space Odyssey - Arthur C. Clarke

A real odyssey is upon to hit ReadWithStyle. For the next four blogposts I am going to take you on an amazing journey through our galaxy and beyond. I have already made the first step, with Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968).

Arthur C. Clarke is a British science-fiction writer, inventor, and futurist. Together with Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, he is one of the "Big Three" of science-fiction. Two somewhat contrary views make up the basis to understanding Clarke's literature - religion and paranormal phenomena. Although themes of religion and spirituality indeed appear in his works, the author's view is somewhat unconventional. He regards the path to knowledge as the path to God (or to reality). Combined with his long life fascination with paranormal phenomena, Clarke creates a Utopian world, where the evolution of intelligent species would make them closer to gods. In his novels, the British genius depicts a world with highly developed technology, ecology, and society. The author's ideals are clear - only highly intelligent individuals are able to understand the complexity of the Universe and its endless power. In that complicated sense, religion and paranormality interact to arrive at one of the most fascinating chef doeuvre of world literature - A Space Odyssey.

2001 A Space Odyssey is the result of a collaboration between two great minds - the mind of the science-fiction writer Clarke and the mind of the director Stanley Kubrick. The novel was actually published AFTER the movie screening.

The novel begins nearly 3 million years BC when an extraintelligent alien race uses a mechanism in the form of a crystalline monolith to search and encourage the development of life across the universe. One of these monoliths prompts the ancient predecessors of the human race, the hominids, to discover tools and to put the beginning of the dominance of the people over the rest of the species on the Earth. Clarke then takes us to 1999, when a group of scientists discovers a weird magnetic disturbance on the Moon. The large black object, upon contact with the Sun, sends a signal transmission to the Universe, most specifically to Japetus, one of Saturn's moons. What petrifies the discoverers of the object is that its dimensions are in the perfect ratio of 1:4:9 and it is dated more than 3 million years ago. The conclusion is implacable: the monolith is a proof of the existence of extraterrestrial life long before the human beings populate the Earth.

2 years later, a space ship is sent on a secret mission to Japetus to search for life or any remains of it there. After tragic incidents the only survivor is the captain of the ship, Dr David Bowman. Upon reaching Japetus, Bowman discovers another monolith, similar to the one of the Moon. This monolith is a Star Gate to other galaxies. Absorbed by its power, Bowman is taken through a pathway of stars into a universe far away from the Solar system. After falling asleep in an artificially created calm and familiar atmosphere, Bowman is reborn a Star Child, an immortal species with abilities to live and travel through spaces. All of his memories are carefully stored in the galaxy and he is returning to the Earth with new, unknown and unbelievable powers. His arrival coincides with the greatest disaster upon to hit the world, a disaster caused by the USSR and the USA which nearly destroyed the world as we know it. After preventing it ( I sense you all know what I am talking about), the Star Child is up to anything. And I can't wait to see where Arthur Clarke is going to take us.

The British author has an imagination as vast as the universe itself. Clarke takes us from ancient to present times with a steady hand, explaining vividly the course of evolution not only so far but in the years to come as well. The perils of technology and the nuclear race, the importance of knowledge and development, the dangers of creating uncontrollable technology and the capacities and shortcomings of the human mind are all themes that make 2001 A Space Odyssey a science-fiction novel hard to be forgotten. Immersed by Clarke's world, I travelled million of kilometers only by sitting comfortably in my couch. I sense the journey is just beginning as the three novels to follow are surely to be as provocative, as enthralling, and as intellectually stimulating as the first one. Do not miss this experience.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

The Beat Generation and Jack Kerouac

The Beat Generation of the post-war 1950s is the Lost Generation of disillusioned rebellious young men looking for freedom and self-expression. It is a religious generation on a spiritual quest back and forth in the lands of America. It is a generation that questions the validity of the so-called 'American dream' by trespassing both legal and moral boundaries in the search of personal freedom and exuberant means of living and being. It is a generation about jazz, sex, generosity, and drug abuse. It is an anti-conformist generation, which provoked many Americans to abandon their secure and boring existence and to go 'on the road', to experiment, to talk, to desire, to like, to burn, to dig...The most prominent and famous writer of this Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac, portrays his journeys through America in his autobiographical novel On the Road, a novel that deservingly finds its place among the classics of American Literature.

The origin of the "beat" may be related to "beaten" or "tired" but may as well be connected to the beat of jazz music, which largely influenced the generation of the 1950s.

Sal Paradise, the literary equivalent of Jack Kerouac, is a writer outsider in the search of a place under the sun. He is bored, disillusioned, and unhappy. Upon meeting his hero, Dean Moriarty, Paradise goes on a journey through the lands of America and Mexico, experimenting with drugs, sex, and alcohol, hitchhiking, stealing, sleeping under the sun, starving, yet engaging in exuberant and memorable experiences. In that sense, Moriarty is Sal's alter-ego - a man who lives beyond any moral or legal law, a man all about 'digging' life and its endless possibilities. Both friends rebel against the conformist American dream and go on the road to break with conventions and rules, with heightened expectations of what life should be and what life could actually offer.

Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassidy

Rebellious and unconventional, the Beat Generation was largely criticized and misunderstood during the 1950s. Formed by Jack Kerouac and his friends in Columbia University, it sets a 'New Vision' of writing and expression, contrary to the conservative literary views at that time. Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and many more are the beat writers interested in people "the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yearn or say a commonplace thing...but burn, burn, burn, burn like roman candles across the night'. Most of their works are autobiographical, featuring the exuberant unbelievable experiences they had on the road.

Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road for exactly three weeks, but he spent more than sever years travelling and thinking about the novel. Most of the characters are real and the character of the famous Dean Moriarty is inspired by Neal Cassidy, together with whom Kerouac went on his road journeys. When the book was published, critics were only interested in the provocative nature of the new literary movement, the beat generation. They didn't care about Jack's life or motivation to write the book; they wanted a clear definition of "beat". Yet, Kerouac's life is very important to the nature of his novels. Just like Sal Paradise, the author hitchhiked the road, abused drugs and alcohol, and partied under the fascinating sounds of jazz, and even spent time in jail. Feeling his family was disappointed, Kerouac wanted to write a novel to redeem himself, to explain the nature of his rebellion and quest, and to make his relatives proud. On the Road, his most famous novel, helped him do that and place him among one of the most influential writers of 20th century American literature.

I have mixed feelings about On the Road. I enjoyed the reading something so different and controversial. I felt as if I was also on the road with Sal, Dean, and the others. I travelled with them through the lands of the US, I met whores, hipsters, young men and women, all looking for something outside their homes. I identified with them and their religious quest. I enjoyed literature about the exuberance and richness of experience, literature that is all about feelings and expression, literature about the struggle to confront socially acceptable norms and to live and enjoy everything, just for the sake of it. Yet On the road is a difficult novel. It jumps from event to event, without time to think or explore the idease. At one point Dean and Sal are on the road; at the next one they are digging and dancing with jazz under the influence of drugs and alcohol. The novel races through the road, giving you no time to take a breath and relax. I felt as if I, as well, was racing. To finish it, to understand it, to accept it.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

10,000 Pageviews and Counting

More than 9 months ago, inspired by a friend of mine, who ran her own blog about cosmetics, I decided that I wanted to have a blog as well. I started thinking about topics on which to write about. I disregarded the option of simply pouring staff that come up in my mind because I wanted a specialized blog, which will attract a certain niche. I asked myself the question: "What do I know enough about and I am passionate as to produce something really worth reading?" The answer was in my question. Reading.

Firstly, the purpose of my blog was for my own sake (such an egoist I am). I wanted to write reviews on books I have read so that months later I can come back and remember what fascinated me, what irritated me, what provoked me, what made me cry or laugh in a certain novel. As the blog progressed though, the narcissist side of my character wanted more and more audience and more and more followers. I spent more time searching for the right words to express my views, thinking about how to get more people interested, changing my reviews from boring summaries of the novels into more untraditional and provocative ideas. Nine months later, as I have hit 10,000 pageviews, I look back and I am happy with what I have achieved.

I have written 73 posts, 59 of which are about novels I have read. The other 14 are just random thoughts, news, or trivia about novels, authors, writing, etc. Surprisingly for me, the most read reviews were not the ones I like the most. I am sad that some of the books I wrote most passionately about do not find their place in the following list. Still, here it is.

Top 5 most viewed reviews:
1. The Bronte Paradox - Wuthering Heights VS Jane Eyre - 2,260 views
2. L'Homme Qui Rit by Victor Hugo - 673 views
3. Charles Bukowski's Alter Ego in Post Office - 345 views
4. Life of PI by Yann Martel - 297 views
5. Stephen King - The Dead Zone - 122 views

The ultimate winner, the Bronte sisters argument, is an absolute surprise to me. I didn't really like Jane Eyre, I really liked Wuthering Heights, but I wasn't really sure whether I wanted to write this exact comparison. Maybe because it is an unorthodox view or maybe because it is a popular google search, this article steadily takes the number 1 place.

As for visitors:
Top 5 visitors from countries:
1. USA - 2,800 views
2. UK - 1,459 views
3. Bulgaria - 1,422 views
4. Canada - 387 views
5. India - 224 views

The first three are of no surprise but the last two make me proud. I am happy that people from so distant countries and from different cultures and backgrounds spare some of their time to read my thoughts.

I am mostly proud from the following graph, which is pretty self-explanatory. I hope I will continue upwards in the months to come.

Thanks to starting a blog and researching other sites of that matter, I stumbled upon my favorite Bulgarian website about reading. Thank you, Alex, for the opportunity to share my thoughts with a greater audience.

1. Life of Pi by Yann Martel in BG
2. Shogun by James Clavell in BG
3. Interview about my reading habits

As for you, my dear readers, I am happy to have you here in my blog. I will continue reading and sharing my thoughts with you. I will try to read different books, to comment on interesting facts about the authors, and to help you choose the right book for you.

As for me, I benefitted a lot from the blog. I met many new people who share my passion, I discovered other blogs for book reviews, I read so many influential and great novels, and most importantly, for the first time in my life I started something and I didn't give it up in only several months. I am proud of myself ( I rarely say that) and I am proud of Read With Style.

And to end with wisdom (as I always try in my reviews), as John Waters said: "If you go home with somebody and they don't have books, don't fuck them"

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The Different Faces of Love in Marquez's World

Can there be different types of love? According to Gabriel Garcia Marquez in Love in the Time of Cholera, yes, there can be.

There is the romantic, unrequited, ideal love of Florentino Ariza for the beautiful but proud Fermina Daza. At the age of 21 she rejects Florentino realizing the naivite of her first childish romance and marries the successful doctor Juvenal Urbino. For 51 years, 9 months and 4 days Florentino never forgets his first and only love. The poor boy turns into a successful man, passes through more than 600 sexual affairs for half a century, but remains faithful to his life purpose - to be reunited with Fermina some day. This idealistic and obsessive sort of love gives a reason for his existence and a constant struggle for self development so that he is worthy of his angel.

There is the practical, calm, and balanced love of Fermina Daza and her husband doctor Juvenal Urbino. They marry not because of passionate and burning affection but because of practical needs. Fermina Daza has decided to marry by the age of 21 and the doctor is attracted by her pride, strength, and attractiveness. The family builds a stable life, learning slowly to love and appreciate each other for who they are, to overlook and live with each other's shortcomings and to adapt to the difficulties of being a husband and wife. Their love story is not heartbreaking, tragic, or passionate. It is not a disease that eats the heart and soul, but a cure for tranquility and understanding. Juvenal and Fermina pass through the inevitables reefs of betrayal, lies, and jealousy but manage to secure their friendship and support till Juvenal's death.

And there is the love of Florentino and Fermina. After her husband's death, Fermina starts remembering her young love. Florentino's feelings haven't changed for more than half a century. He still idealizes his beloved and begins once again to write her letters. This time, his letters are not romantic confessions in love but wise thoughts about life, adulthood, age, and growth. Both in their seventies, Fermina and Florentino have nothing really to expect from life. Except to live the love they never had the change to when they were young. Sensing death knocking on the door, the two take a journey down the river to rest in each other's arms, old bodies with young hearts. After 53 years, 7 months, and 11 days, with the nights, they are finally together. Under the flag of cholera forever and ever.

What about the cholera, you might ask? The author uses cholera both literally and metaphorically. The disease that kills millions of people around the world in the 19th century. The endless civil wars that dislocate Columbia and leave families broken. The cynicism of life, the loss of the tremulous idealism, the decadence of human values and virtues in a world where people no longer believe in pure and sublime love. And of course unrequited love. Florentino's lovesickness is a literal illness, an emotional and physical disease comparable to cholera.

I was deeply touched by Gabo's (as they affectionally call him in Latin America) Love in the Time of Cholera. The author's first novel after his noble prize for literature in 1983 is about the kind of love all of us want to experience. Somehow the overcynism of contemporary society has made us believe it is nonexistent. Love in the Time of Cholera takes second place in my most favorite love stories of all times. I will reread this book over and over again just to touch one more time the magic of love that conquers time and age.

PS: Maybe I will give 100 years of Solitude yet another change. Although, I know that its magical realism is still not a bite for me.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Ayn Rand and the World She Made Pt II

Atlas Shrugged - the intelectual peak of Ayn Rand's work turns the author into one of the most celebrated thinkers of the 20th century. It takes 14 years to complete the novel about radical individualism in a conformist world. It takes 2 years and a half to write the famous speech of John Galt, which summarizes Rand's philosophy of objectivism: 1)reality is objective and cannot be changed by desires and emotions; 2)the biggest moral is the rational personal interest; 3) knowledge is achieved through reason and not through feelings; 4)politics is about individual rights; 5)economics should be based on the free markets concept. Cold, rational, and insensitive, Ayn Rand constructs through Galt's eyes a philosophy that translates into a cult towards her personality even years after her death.

Atlas Shrugged's success gives a rise to a group of loyal followers, who in parts of their life become fanatical about Rand. Ironically, as Ayn detests communism, they call themselves The Collective. Rand is charming, magnetic, and powerful. Her unshakable logic wins every conflict; she is able to change her opponent's opinions in only one conversation. The controversy is that the biggest individualist, Rand, denies any form of individualism in her followers. She doesn't accept any ideas but her own; she wants a world where everyone is the same and thinks the same, like her. Her loyal followers become a family, where origin, temperament, and personal preferences are eradicated. As for her protagonists, for Rand other people that do not share her views do not exist and in fact she doesn't see any reason for their existence whatsoever. Thus, the author surrounds herself with artificially made super humans, so she doesn't need to leave the fictionality of her novels.

This Rand obsession, in the face of a young 20-years old boy, turns into one of the most scandalous love affairs. Nathan Blumental is so fascinated with the great individualist that he changes his name to Nathaniel (as the founder of Tagart Transcontinental in Atlas Shrugged) Brandon (anagram of the Jewish formula with the meaning of "son of Rand"). The young man and the 25-years older author spend days and nights discussing her philosophy and ideas. The result is a subversive love affair lasting more than 20 years with the knowledge of their spouses. Rand, great logician, gathers her husband, Frank, and his wife, Barbara to explain why the two of them must have a sexual relationship. According to the author, she and Nathaniel represent the same intelectual virtues. As perfect rationalists they do not have disuinion between mind and body their attraction is logical, understandable, and must be incarnated. Thus, Rand and Nathaniel engage in an open affair, which logic seems rather absurd for everyone but Rand and the people who follow her blindly.

This love affair is predestined to a tragic end. Rand has turned Nathaniel into one of her perfect protagonists, but the man soon discovers that he was never in love with his patron. He admired Ayn for her rationalism, mind, and passion, but after 20 years he wants out. As with other people in her life, Rand accepts this as a rejection and erases him completely from her life. Once she has proclaimed him to be her legal follower but now the author claims Nathaniel shows signs of imperfect mind. She judges his infatuation with other women as a betrayal to herself and to objectivism. Unfortunately, as with all of her other relationships, Rand fails to see her mistakes.

What about her husband, Frank, you might ask? Subversive, invisible, and patient, he was there for her throughout 50 years of marriage. Rand always claimed he was her role model for a man and her inspiration (despite her affair?!). In the last years of her life she stands by his side as he slowly loses his mind. She still draws on her fame from Atlas Shrugged but the number of her fanatical followers has declined. Many of them are expelled from Rand's entourage for real or unreal signs of deviations from objectivism. Still, even after her death, many people around the world continue the cult towards her personality.

Ayn Rand's life strikingly resembles the stories she created in her novels. The author with a remarkable mind aimed at world governed by rational, purpose, and self-respect. She appealed to people to live for themselves and for their own rational principles. Rand favored the limitless power of the human mind against the ignorant and passive marauders. Her philosophy of objectivism was extreme and so was her life. Rand failed to see any shadows of gray; she was only able to see in black and white. Infinitely self-destructive and talented, Ayn created doctrine, which in its moderate use presents a world-view where people get what they deserve, where the human mind and abilities flourish, and where no political doctrine has the power to control lives; a world where people live for themselves and according to their own moral principles. Isn't that what we all want?

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Ayn Rand and the World She Made - Pt I

I look at the blank blogger page and I do not know where to start. I am about to talk about the greatest author ever born. Whatever I say about her will not be enough. Ayn Rand - genial, purposeful, relentless, talented, and self-destructive. The woman that created a whole new doctrine that praises the power of the human mind, the benefits of egoism, and the individualist as the greatest human being, is a role model and a life changer for many generations. Her life story is as brutal and controversial, as socially unacceptable and as madly praised as her novels. Ayn Rand - the woman whose novel Atlas Shrugged is the most read piece after The Bible.

I've had Anne Heller's Ayn Rand and the World She Made for quite a long time on my shelf. I always postponed reading it for a time, when I will be relaxed, calm, and free to enjoy it. I didn't know that this is going to be the most difficult thing I have read so far. That is why I decided that for the first time I am going to split my comment on a novel in two. As I keep reading about Rand's life, thoughts come up in my mind constantly that I am afraid I would have forgotten by the end of the novel. This is my first impression of the biography of one of the most controversial authors in world literature.

Anne Heller presents a thorough description of Rand's life from her birth as a Russian from a Jewish descent to her rise as one of the most powerful and influential writers. In 1905, when Alisa Rosenbaum is born, Russia is stil under the tsarist rue. In her early childhood, however, Rand experiences the painful transformation into the communist rule. As a jew, the child is a witness to the terrific anti-semitic movements in her home country. Whatever the political reality is, in Russia the jews at that time are scapegoats for everything. Her father, a clever and successful pharmacist, slowly loses his property and the family is forced to change homes constantly and to live in poverty and deprivation. Due to her descent, Rand is even expelled from university in the first years of the communist rule.

Her sufferings as a child are one of the first reasons for the formation of Ayn Rand's famous worldview. Raised to witness how the clever and capable people are robbed in favor of the needy and the mediocre, Alisa begins to detest all political systems that preach equality. Only 21 years old, Ayn is disillusioned and she emigrates in the USA - the country she believes is the land of free will, rationalism, and capabilities.

Her career begins as a playwright and screen writer. However, Rand doesn't receive the admirations she believes she deserves. The US in the 40's is mostly pro-communist. World War II has assembled the West and the East against their common enemy - Hitler. Rand's ideas about the virtues of capitalism, the powers of the human capacity, and the benefits of egoism are widely critiqued. Alisa is in a constant battle with producers, directors, and publishers in order to publish her works and to make her ideology known to the world. We the Living, her first novel and intellectual autobiography, doesn't provoque admiration and worship. People do not understand Rand's philosophy. Even her masterpiece, The Fountainhead, remains largely misunderstood. However, the latter still makes her one of the most talked-about authors of her time. Rand forms a circle of loyal followers, who are obsessed with her personality and her philosophy.

My thoughts on the first 300 pages of Rand's biography are numerous. I admire Heller for taking a neutral view on the great author's life. I expected a one-sighted story. A story that praises Rand and equalizes her even to God. Instead, Heller uses different sources to clearly portray that Rand is a human being with her flaws and contradictions. Throughout her whole life Ayn searched for the perfect human being. For her this transforms into a person, who accepts her philosophy as the absolute true, who is clever, intelectual, and most importantly an egoist and a capitalist. A single word is enough for Rand to proclaim an individual as unworthy of her company. Thus, she loses many friendships and acquaintances for the mere reason that once a person disappoints her with a simple thought or a word, she rejects him/her completely.

A second flaw of Rand's character is that she tends to underestimate the influence of other people on her writing and to overestimate the problems she faced when publishing and propagating her philosophy. Heller's investigations show that Ayn's descriptions of a certain event or a person change as their relationship evolves. If Rand is disappointed of someone, she rejects his influence or importance in her life completely. Thus, her memories and reflections differ largely throughout the years.

Do not get me wrong. I am not writing this to criticize Ayn Rand or to imply that I have been disappointed by her life. I am writing this to show that I am no blind admirer of her talent. Rand searched for the perfect human being - an individual with an incredible mind, who achieves everything in life thanks to his/her own capabilities. An individual who doesn't care about social opinion, charity, or altruism. An individual who works, develops, and invents for the sake of his own satisfaction. An individual, free of social norms or morals, who expresses his/her own sexuality freely. An individual, who is a capitalist, who doesn't do anything for the greater good but for his/her own individual happiness and enjoyment.

Rand was a severe perfectionist. She didn't meet ("surprisingly") any individuals who met her criteria. So she created them. She created a world she wanted to see. Howard Roark, Dominique Francon, Dagny Taggard, and John Galt are all the super human-beings, who Ayn wanted to see in the world. People with a perfect mind, with a strong heart, and with a great intelectual power and potential. Rand believed herself to be that kind of a person. Heller shows us that the author is not a fictional superhero as many of her followers and admirers thought or are still thinking. Rand created a philosophy of the flawless human mind but she exhibited positive and negative characteristics just like every normal individual. Ayn felt to see her mistakes. She identified herself with the fictional characters she created - the rationality that strikes. Heller saw this. In Ayn Rand and the World She Made she portrays objectively the life of the great woman, with her successes and downfalls, showing all of us that even though her characters might be perfect, Rand is not. Even though she claimed to be.

This reasoning doesn't in any way undermine the fact that Ayn Rand created one of the most influential theories in world history - objectivism. Based on the idea of individualism, rationalism, and capitalism, this world view gives an image of how a society where individuals receive only what they deserve might function. In contrast with communism, where people receive goods according to their needs, Rand's objectivism claims that the engine of the world is the mind of its most intelligent and capable individuals. Thus, the main theme of her most praised novel Atlas Shrugged is the disaster that occurs when rationality strikes and the world is left in the hands of mediocre and weak followers, who do not create but copy. These marauders live off the inventons of the people that surpass them both in mind and in abilities. So what happens when this engine stops? To be continued...