THOMAS L. KNAPP, FREE-MARKET.NET'S FREEDOM BOOK OF THE MONTH 1 (JANUARY 1999)
Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand may be the most important contribution to the discussion of Rand and Objectivism since Chris Matthew Sciabarra's Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (Penn State Press, 1995). Sciabarra and Mimi Reisel Gladstein, author of The Ayn Rand Companion (1984), are noted for their contributions to a broader understanding of Rand's approach and the content of her distinctive individualist philosophy. As editors of Feminist Interpretations, they narrow their focus considerably by bringing together disparate analyses of Objectivism and its relationships -- inherent and possible -- to feminism.
Not surprisingly, Leonard Peikoff and Michael S. Berliner, acknowledged leaders of the "orthodox" Objectivist movement, declined to contribute to Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand. In fact, aside from Joan Kennedy Taylor's extensive and useful discussion with David Kelley (head of the Institute for Objectivist Studies) on the validity of feminism as a concept, the book contains only a smattering of material that limits itself to strict Objectivism.
Aside from the absence of the hard-core true believers, though, the book is nearly exhaustive in its coverage of views. It's all there: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Naturally, which is which depends to a large degree on the reader's perspective. The individualist feminist perspective is well represented by contributions from Wendy McElroy and Joan Kennedy Taylor, as well as excerpts from Reason magazine's interview with Camille Paglia, and Robert Sheaffer's "Rereading Rand on Gender in the Light of Paglia." Several of the essays -- notably the separate contributions of Barbara and Nathaniel Branden -- attempt to contribute to an understanding of Rand's personal psychological approach to gender roles. Included is Susan Brownmiller's notorious characterization of Rand as "a traitor to her own sex," and several articles on the disturbing sadomasochistic overtones that characterize sex scenes in her novels. The critiques of Rand's literary style should be of particular interest to would-be novelists. In keeping with the theme of the collection, they focus on her handling of women and, taken together, point to possible directions in which individualist and feminist literature might go, hopefully together.
What's most exciting about Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand isn't the stature of the contributors or the editors. And while the content is brilliant, the particulars are less important than the fact that the book is being published at all, and that Penn State Press chose to include Rand and her work in a series, "Re-Reading the Canon," each volume of which "offer[s] feminist analyses of the theories of a selected philosopher." It's about time for Rand to take her place in the pantheon of intellectual pioneers. Choosing her for this collection -- which will include Descartes, Plato, and Aristotle, among others -- is a giant step in the direction of according Ayn Rand and her pro-freedom philosophy the status they deserve.
o Review and Purchasing Information for Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand from Laissez Faire Books: http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/rad/lfbcordr.html#1
o Chris Sciabarra's home page for the book: http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/femstart.htm
o Background and Brief Introductions to Individualist Feminism: http://www.free-market.net/directory/brief/T29/
o Background and Brief Introductions to Ayn Rand and Objectivism: http://www.free-market.net/directory/brief/T27/
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