Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand

Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand



In her Full Context interview, Mimi Reisel Gladstein was asked by Karen Minto about Robert Tracinski's condemnation of Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, a condemnation "based on the editor's preusal of the volume's website, not on the basis of any actual acquaintance with the text of the book.  How do you respond to this?"

Gladstein answered:  "I teach research and critical writing and if students ever write evaluations of books without reading them, I fail them.   It is the first rule of criticism.  You must read a work before you can evaluate it.  Writing an evaluation from a website is like using Cliff Notes instead of reading the text.  It is intellectually dishonest at best, lazy at least. 

"May I add that you can't have it both ways.  If Ayn Rand is to be part of the canon, her ideas, as they are embodied in her works, both fiction and nonfiction must be subject to discussion.  She wrote fiction and essays, not holy writ.  Analysis and interpretation is what are done in English and Philosophy classes.  I'll restrict my comments to literature, because that is my field.  If we are discussing The Grapes of Wrath, for instance, we can use any number of critical approaches . . . Approaching the work from each of these perspectives enriches rather than restricts our appreciation.  We can admire how Steinbeck took what many considered a strictly temporal political situation and layered it with meaning, informing the particular with a universal significance. . . . I don't know what the Intellectual Activist means by deconstruction and dishonest methods.  There are fourteen new essays and the introduction in the book.  [Tracinski] has decided, without reading any of them that all use dishonest methods and deconstruct the text?  This is a champion of reason?

"Times change and even The Bible had to be reinterpreted in response to changing time.  Rand's work, too, has to be viewed in light of changing history.  Let me use Rand's own criterion to analyze her art.  In her essay on art and sense of life, Rand explains that in real life if one sees a beautiful woman with a cold sore on her lips, it is just a minor blemish.  However, she explains that if an artist paints it, then it is a 'corrupt, obscenely vicious attack on man, on beauty, on all values--and one would experience a feeling of immense disgust and indignation at the artist.'  When I read Atlas Shrugged and Rand has all the heroic characters putting cigarettes in their mouths, I find it disgusting.  In my perception, cigarettes are cancer sticks, coffin nails, disgusting, nasty.  However, I don't discard all of Rand because I think she used an unfortunate symbol in this case.  I understand that times changed and we have different knowledge now.  That's part of what happens in criticism.  One doesn't judge a '50's text by '90's standards.

"One group cannot control the discussion.  They can participate in the give and take of academic discourse, point out what they see as the fallacies in this or that argument.  Pointing out the deficiencies of previous critics is a time-honored way of beginning a scholarly article.  But it is the height of absurdity to condemn something you have not read."

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