THE RANDIAN-FEMINISM MAILING LIST
SELECTED ARCHIVES FROM THE FOUR MONTH CONFERENCE
The Randian-Feminism Mailing List is a forum for Objectivist and Randian Feminists -- people who share a common interest in Feminist philosophy, issues and perspectives, and in Ayn Rand's ideas and philosophy. Thomas Gramstad created the list on January 14, 1998.
March 22, 1999 (Thomas Gramstad)
Ayn Rand and Feminist Synthesis: Rereading We the Living - Val�rie Loiret-Prunet
Chris Matthew Sciabarra introduces the discussion (Date: 23-Mar-1999 13:53:27):
I'd like to invite Valerie Loiret-Prunet to say a few words
about her provocative essay in
FEMINIST INTERPRETATIONS OF AYN RAND. As we turn our focus to this essay, this
week, I'd be interested in hearing some feedback from our participants on at least two important
1. Is Kira the best example of heroic "synthesis" in Rand's fiction? Better than Dagny?
2. If Rand's dialectical revolt against dualism shares something with the "radical" feminist critique, how might this create tension within "radical" feminism, which is usually connected to a "leftist" politics?
Valerie Loiret-Prunet discusses her contribution to the volume (Wed, 24 Mar 1999 19:06:07):
I respond to Chris' invitation to say a few words about my essay, and I agree with Gerald McLaughlin and his point of view about Kira. I think that Rand's image of synthesis in We The Living is all the more forceful as it stays flexible, because of Kira's uncertainties and humanity. For me, it is synthesis on the move, a dialectical one in a way, prone to possible alterations. Whereas I am less fond of the image of synthesis embodied by Dagny, because there is something which is too "achieved" in it, too "ossified" in abstractions, as if Rand had lost touch with humanity and the role of emotions in cognition, as well as the role of uncertainty and flexibility in thoughts and actions. What I find fascinating in synthesis and ternary figures of speech and reasoning is that it always implies an evolution, thus a movement, an overture, whereas in binary systems, the whole process seems to be blocked and almost frozen between two opposite alternatives.
Sciabarra also contributes to the discussion in this post (Date: 26-Mar-1999 18:09:07):
Bryan Register asks: > This leads to my second question: Is dialectics really this caught up with the number three?
I would say that the notion that dialectics is a rock-ribbed triad of "thesis-antithesis-synthesis" is, of course, fallacious. The reason why dialectics has had some relationship to triadic modes is rooted in its argumentative origins. Aristotle tells us in EUDEMIAN ETHICS, for instance:
"Accordingly a line of argument must be taken that will best explain to us the views held on these matters and at the same time solve the difficulties and contradictions. And this will be secured if the contradictory views are shown to be held with some reason. For such a line of argument will be most in agreement with the observed facts: and in the upshot, if what is true in one sense but not true in another, both the contradictory views stand good."
The point of Aristotle's declarations here is simple: he wants to show that a dialectical perspective is one that confronts the partiality of each one-sided (what Valerie might call "unitary") perspective, and seeks to get beyond each side's limitations. The pattern can be found originally in the Socratic and Platonic dialogues, but it is Aristotle who becomes the first theoretician of dialectic, and who enunciates the principles involved.
Ultimately, of course, the essential characteristic of dialectic is not "anti-dualism" or "anti-monism" -- but pro-context. Dialectic is an orientation toward contextual analysis of the systemic and dynamic relations in any structured totality. A two-person dialogue can be treated as a structured totality, which is why dialectics began in the argumentative arts, but language, philosophy, culture, economics, politics, social systems, and the relations among these can also be treated as structured totalities.
> Hegel's dialectic seems to have reified the rule of 3's into the thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, which is of course a developmental procedure. But no doubt less creative Hegelians applied this system mechanically. Marxism seems to rest on a final 3-point synthesis which closes historical development.
I think these observations pertain more to the "Hegelians" and "Marxians" of tradition. Hegel actually rarely employs the language of the triad -- Kant employs it somewhat, but the thesis-antithesis-synthesis form should be credited to Fichte. And among Marxians, the historical materialists are probably the LEAST dialectical, because they dispense with the fundamental requirement of dialectical analysis, context, embracing a virtual god-like perspective on history.
> My point is very much not to suggest that dialectics should be caught up with the number two instead of the number three, but rather that it seems a little mechanical to suggest that dialectics should be caught up with any particular number, because any number can equally well show a dialectical progression (except maybe '1' 8^).
Point well taken.
These subjects, of course, greatly interest me, as RUSSIAN RADICAL makes clear. My forthcoming book, TOTAL FREEDOM, presents a rereading of intellectual history with an aim toward recovering dialectic as a rational concept in defense of libertarian social theory. But that's another story... :)
Loiret-Prunet adds (Fri, 26 Mar 1999 16:05:46):
I think Susan Love Brown understood exactly my analysis of Kira's humanity, even beyond her feminity; humanity which I find lacking in the other heroines, Dominique and Dagny. As to some of Bryan's questions, I would like to say:
1. That I was quite careful to indicate in my essay that the ternary rhythms and images in three perhaps did not function on the same deep philosophical level as the triadic organizations in the plot and between the characters. I think that Rand, having read Aristotle a lot, must have been quite sensitive to rhetorics and oratory patterns in style, and ternary rhythms are a characteristic of rhetorics. Anyway, I still think she has a natural affinity in style and thought with the number three. Consider the French classical writer Rene de Chateaubriand. Ternary rhythms abound in his novels and essay, 'Le Genie du Christianisme' because he had read all the classics, yet on a deeper level, they also illustrate his innate belief in the triad of Christianity.
2. I do not think that dualism and synthesis are "opposed"; they are just two different ways of thinking, one acknowledging death, the other not. Even if originally, I still think that synthesis contains a possibility of evolution and overture because of its organization in three, any system of thought, even the most accomplished one, can always be freezed, be it for political or psychological reasons. There are in fact three different modes of thought, just as any system of language is based on the "I-You-It" organization: the unitary mode (so perfectly illustrated in Samuel Beckett's works, and in the essay of the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, "Le pli" (the "fold"), also found in the "chiasms" of Merleau Ponty, and the idea of self-reference in linguistics and performative speech in Austin; the binary mode, and the ternary one.
Robert Dufour, in another essay "Folie et Democratie", says that man has always been haunted by the unitary thought, because perhaps of his fascination for the "I", the self; and that binary thought and ternary thought are man's answer to it, to try to fight the idea of 'vertige' man feels within the unitary mode of thought, face to face only with himself. Yet, any ternary and binary systems are always on the verge of reverting to the unitary thought, and there are no movements in the unitary thought, only the 'abyss', the philosophical equivalent of a black hole in astronomy. I think that Rand must have felt the attraction of unitary thought, because she had such a powerful mind, and that synthesis is her answer to it. Ternary and binary thoughts are not opposed, they are just two different ways of not yielding to the chasm of unitary thought, and trying to keep a certain control.
3. I do hope all this does not sound too abstract, and makes sense. It is difficult for me to explain simply what I mean at midnight, after a long day of work and a very time-consuming, lively baby daughter...
On another point, Loiret-Prunet adds the following (Fri, 26 Mar 1999 16:10:10)
To make a long story short, let us take a concrete example of what I mean by unitary thought. Of course Rand knew about it, because one of the basic axioms of her philosophy is unitary thought: 'Existence exists', "A is A". This is what Deleuze calls 'the fold", the mind folded on itself, the definition which defines itself, you cannot explain it, and when you start trying to think beyond it, the 'abyss' starts. It resists any explanation, especially the binary one. It is a mode of thought which does not explain, or describe, or demonstrate; on the contrary it implies, operates on the basis of monstration only. Dufour sees it as a kind of madness that we all have in us, an eternal ping pong play between two terms which mirror themselves, the mind at work, the mind itself in action. When Rand suffered from depression when she worked on Atlas, I wonder if she did not suffer from the exhaustion of getting too close to the unitary thought, a little like Icarus. I think synthesis was her answer and her stronghold. And if this idea is relevant, this would be for me her humanity.
Sciabarra adds the following to the discussion (23-August 1999):
In the forthcoming Art of Fiction (a book based on Rand's 1958 "Lectures on Fiction Writing"), Rand seems
to acknowledge the imagery in three -- and the organic unity of these elements -- as it pertains to Atlas
Shrugged. She cites the following passage from the novel:
"It was like the beat of three instants -- this was the first -- and in the next, she felt a stab of
ferocious triumph at the knowledge that his effort and his struggle were harder to endure than hers -- and
then he moved his eyes and raised his head to look at the inscription on the temple."
Rand then analyzes the passage: "Here I want the reader to think that he experienced the whole
sentence as one. But he cannot experience it as one; I have to give the steps. So I start by unifying the
steps into one whole -- 'It was like the beat of three instants' -- and then I break it down into the three
instants, which add up to the kind of progression that in real life would be experienced as one emotional
[The Art of Fiction is excerpted in the August 1999 issue of The Intellectual Activist; it was published in 2000;
See Sciabarra's review of the book from Full Context.