On immature philosophers

15 06 2010

St. Petersburg in revolt gave us Vladimir Nabokov, Isaiah Berlin and Ayn Rand. The first was a novelist, the second a philosopher. The third was neither but thought she was both.

This is how Corey Robin begins his reflection on Ayn Rand and her influence on the modern ideological landscape. I only read one book by Ayn Rand, Anthem, predictably as an impressionable teenager. Back then, I liked Sartre and Camus a lot: but I was young, not stupid. I found her dystopian novel to be melodramtic and over-written. It is astounding, but perhaps not too shocking, that so many dilettantes in the U.S. find her profound. The essay analyzes this phenomenon well. It wasn’t that Rand influenced Hollywood bringing it a philosophy that it could sink its teeth into. Her philosophy was a “Hollywood production”: the perfect melodrama of American narcissism staring back at its own reflection.

I get the same feeling reading Nietzsche. As I have said before, the only people who can read Nietzsche with a straight face are anti-social loners in late adolescence, and those who would indulge the egos of these people. I suppose one way to gauge the value of a philosopher is if you would invite him or her to a party. I think Nietzsche and Rand are not getting invited to mine. Hadot was pretty down to earth, Ficino could play the lyre, and Plato probably could hold his liquor pretty well (if the Symposium is indeed indicative of real life). Iamblichus is a question mark. Proclus could do some neat party tricks. Pico della Mirandola was a wet blanket, but he would get invited anyway just because of his 900 Theses: there’s some crazy shit in there. I would seriously have to look into the lives of Mircea Eliade, Ioan Couliano, Robert Fludd, and others.