On perverse fantasies

4 05 2011

The only real Ayn Rand I ever read was the horrible novel, Anthem. However, when I learned recently what the plot of Atlas Shrugged is about, I was more than a little amused. So, as I understand it, the government gets “too big” and all the talented people, the business leaders, actors, etc., go “on strike”, dissappear, sort of the same spirit of “you won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore”. That’s really too damn funny. It reminds me of the anecdote that Zizek tells in the book, The Sublime Object of Ideology, where he mentions how some magnate asked why one of his managers never took a vacation. The manager explained that if he took a vacation, things might fall apart without him. To that, the magnate replied, “Don’t worry, I am sure things will be fine without you.”

“That’s the other reason,” the manager replied.

Perhaps Ayn Rand appeals to people precisely because of that: rich people want to fantasize about how skillfully they control the world, how their subordinates could never get along without them, and so on. They fantasize about this because they know it’s a lie. Yeah, we all like to hear stories about Bill Gates, about kids who started businesses in their dorm rooms, etc. But the vast majority of the bourgeoisie got there because they either inherited what they had or were connected into it. In reality, they know they are about as dumb as a block of wood, but Ayn Rand was cunning enough to try to suck up to their narcissism. Not that it got her very far, at least in this life. It is on the same moral level of those porn films that take place in women’s prisons… you get the idea.

Speaking of women needing men, my wife and I finally saw that god-awful movie Black Swan. AG thought it has some “good parts”, I’m like “whatever”, but the way it portrays ballet made you think that the only people involved in it are catty bitches and sadistic assholes. Really, no one took any joy in dancing, nor did they really portray a lot of dancing really (most of the shots were from the waist up). In the end, it seemed like a parody of a deep-European film (or at least the American idea of what such a film should look like) that didn’t know that it was a parody. “Camp” is what AG finally called it. I think that is an appropriate description.

The more sinister fantasy is how woman as a “tortured artist” always ends in death. To be fair, lots of male tortured artists also end up dead, but there is not so much sex involved as in this movie. Without a man, woman will just wither away and die. Only in man bringing out her destructive energy, only in being the ultimate fantasy of a man, is she ultimately fulfilled, but that fulfillment ends in death, yadda, yadda, yadda, who writes this shit anyway? This is like that Roissy site that John Beeler and his band of man-children are always obsessing about: your woman just wants to be slapped around by you and wants you to make her cook your dinner. The movie itself looks like someone just read every other page of the Cliff Notes to Jacques Lacan and added special effects.

The worst crime that this movie committed was against ballet itself. Like I said, the writers portrayed it as a joyless, obsessive, and sadistic career, and while all disciplines have that stuff, I am sure most ballerinas are bubbly young girls who just want a break in life. Do yourself a favor, actually watch Swan Lake instead of seeing this movie. AG can recommed some good recordings of it if you can’t see it live.



27 responses

17 06 2011

IN AMERICA the cultural transition from a socioeconomic order built on the comfort of a personal relationship with the butcher and the banker to an impersonal commercial world driven by automated credit card transactions and the ATM machine is now nearing completion. For the merchant and for those living at the manic edge, our technological transformation has many advantages. Building close personal relationships, however, is not among them. The cultural influence of this transition is most clearly seen not in the urban centers where the changing technology is immediately felt, but in the towns and villages of rural America. In these remote areas—where for two centuries everyday existence has been inextricably woven with an agrarian economy—the impact on community life has been profound.~Peter C. Whybrow, M.D., American Mania—When More Is Not Enough, p.213


The modern pagan, the child of technology or the “mass man,” does not even enjoy the anguish of dualism or the comfort of myth. His anxieties are no longer born of eternal aspiration, though they are certainly rooted in a consciousness of death. “Mass man” is something more than fallen. He lives not only below the level of grace, but below the level of nature—below his own humanity. No longer in contact with the created world or with himself, out of touch with the reality of nature, he lives in the world of collective obsessions, the world of systems and fictions with which modern man has surrounded himself. In such a world, man’s life is no longer even a seasonal cycle. It’s a linear flight into nothingness, a flight from reality and from God, without purpose and without objective, except to keep moving, to keep from having to face reality. (See Max Picard: The Flight from God.)
–Thomas Merton, Seasons of Celebration

31 05 2011

The material in “Black Swan” needed John Waters as a director. Several scenes are just so close to going full throttle into camp, and it would have been thrilling if they had. With Waters, the movie could at least have been a cult classic. Instead, the movie hit laugh-out-loud stupidity around the time Nina spies the Swamp Monster (von Rothbart/Ballet Director) having sex with free-spirit California chick with a large tattoo on her back. I think this is one of those movies that will make the list of “Embarrassing Oscar nominees and wins” just a few years down the line. Great review from one of my favorite dance critics: http://www.artsjournal.com/tobias/2010/12/they_lost_it_at_the_movies.html

For “Swan Lake” on video, the Royal Ballet’s Makarova/Dowell recording in the early ‘80s is the gold standard for me. (You can watch both this and Makarova/Nagy in an ABT production on youtube.) Makarova was The Odette/Odile in the West of her generation, and she well-represents one of two common interpretations of the character, and the one that has become dominant since. Her interpretation of the role (bird-woman), her approach to the tempi (so slow as to be dirge-like), and her cantabile line have been hugely influential, although it is debatable how much of what she did was taken from her Kirov background, and how much was her personal style.

The Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet has released two more recent recordings: Makhalina/Zelensky and Lopatkina/Korsuntsev. Zelensky’s great, but for me Makhalina’s star power isn’t transferred in this medium – she isn’t compelling to watch. Lopatkina’s take on Odette/Odile is adored by some, but I’m not part of that crowd. See review here: http://aguillory.blogspot.com/2006/11/kirov-november-2006-chicago.html

Avoid ABT’s Murphy/Corella.

Former great Odette/Odiles: Plisetskaya, Ulanova, but the Soviet “movie-like” recordings of them are painful to watch. Critics argue whether Fonteyn (can be seen in a very odd Nureyev production from the 60s) was a great Odette/Odile or merely serviceable, but I think her interpretation has become nearly extinct, and her use of her back is unparalleled.

Ulanova Act II PDD in recital, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBh3AOGJhb0

Fonteyn Act II PDD in studio, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Swsawea9CVg&feature=related

Plisetskaya Act III PDD and solo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mC26g0yHz_k&feature=related

Makarova Act II PDD, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-8aDgDOuBs&feature=related

Lopatkina Act II PDD http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScJ4g2L2Zro

There are many many more, but that’s where I’d start. As in so many things, it’ll come down to what you prefer.

21 05 2011
Paul Goings

I see that Mr Beeler has lost another load over Roissy…


10 05 2011

It’s possible that Rand formulated her philosophy because she actually believed it. Hell, I believe it, and I don’t have half of her idiosyncrasies, although my Randianism could appear to be a singularly nifty counterpoint to the Orthodox folks who’re one small step removed from being atheistic communists.

The most unrealistic aspect of Rand’s later novels is the marriage of brains and ability in the protagonists. Life tells us that the two are often separate. Lots of incompetent smart folks, like Marxist professors, resent their intellectually inferior, but competent, business counterparts.

7 05 2011

I had never even heard of Ayn Rand when suddenly, some years ago, on the Google objectivist forum I read that she was one of the world’s bestselling authors. At the time that forum was peopled by all kinds of highly educated folks, and yet some believed that she was the greatest thinker since Aristoteles.
And when they examined a political issue, they very seriously tried to figure out what Ayn Rand might have thougt of it.
It was very strange to see that.

6 05 2011
Paul Goings

Clearly you, at least, care a great deal, Miss Sorrentino. I confess that I will probably never be “cool in the bloggin world,” but I do believe that rational arguments should be responded to rationally, and not with childish name-calling.

6 05 2011
C. Wingate

Turmarion, you are absolutely right about that–I know all the same people, being in the computer business and being the only math major in a family of engineers.

And in a sense I tend not to worry about either dogma. The Aspergers-ish Objectivists are too politically dense to get into power, and at least in my lifetime, people will still remember Stalin and Pol Pot, and shudder, and move on.

6 05 2011

Your way off base but yet then again no one online cares what you have to say anyway.So give up your lame attempt to be cool in the bloggin world!

6 05 2011
C. Wingate

I dunno, the Chinese are teaching the Beijing subway riders to queue instead of shove, so there must be something to it.

What I don’t believe in is Order. That is, I don’t believe that society is organic or systematic. Therefore I as a rule find social and political ideology unpersuasive, and I don’t believe in the kind of solutions that -isms offer up. It’s a waste of time to ridicule that as “too cool and cynical” or to come back with generalizations about what Americans are or believe in.

6 05 2011

Objectivism and Marxism both share the same “everything will be fixed if/when my group of intellectuals ends up running things and all those problem people are out of the way” fault, which is why both of them appeal to the sophomore stage of college students.

Maybe, but…

Any Rand is not an author even for the petit bourgeois, much less the capital class. I suspect that her major appeal is to members of the college-educated section of the lower/middle-middle class, the kind of people to whom Dilbert is written. And particularly to the engineers…

…who are often eccentric, borderline (or full-blown) Asperger’s, and often find humanity frustrating because it is not as logical and well-programmed as a PC. I’m a math major and count many engineers, computer geeks, and physicists among my friends. Trust me on this.

Btw, if you’ve read Scott Adams’s recent misogynist diatribes or his cute little habit of using sock puppet identities to laud himself and call himself a genius (not making this up!) in online forums, that might give some insight into what kind of people make up the Dilbert (and a fortiori the Rand) demographic. I think I’d tend to take the Marxists, at least on their politics….

6 05 2011
Arturo Vasquez

“Dude, I am just way too cool and cynical for ideology.”

Usually such a sentiment ends up being the best defense for any ideology. I mean, you don’t even have to believe in it. You can denigrate anything you want and still accept the dominant order more firmly than any illiterate peasant believed the sermons of the country priest.

American are fundamentalists in that they believe in bureacracy and “fairness” way more than any Wahhabist believes in the literalness of the Koran. I once knew a supposedly traditional American Catholic guy who became aghast when some ethnics cut in line when he was at a bullfight. Somehow I just wanted slap the comment “epic fail” on that one.

I am not stupid and I am not crazy. I know how many Marxists out there are posers for academic purposes. If I am a Marxist, I am an armchair one, precisely because everyone is an armchair whatever at this point. Politics is an echo chamber in general, the same product of the consumerism that dominates the rest of our lives. Still, there are better choices than others. But more on that later.

5 05 2011
C. Wingate

That’s even more true of The Fountainhead, where the Mary Sue-ness of the Galt’s Gulch sequence is not allowed to intrude. Howard Roark is only a bit less unrealistic than John Galt, but the decline and fall of Peter Keating is to me the most interesting dimension of the book.

Any Rand is not an author even for the petit bourgeois, much less the capital class. I suspect that her major appeal is to members of the college-educated section of the lower/middle-middle class, the kind of people to whom Dilbert is written. And particularly to the engineers, the same way that Marxism appeals to liberal arts and econ majors. Objectivism and Marxism both share the same “everything will be fixed if/when my group of intellectuals ends up running things and all those problem people are out of the way” fault, which is why both of them appeal to the sophomore stage of college students. Real members of the bourgeoisie who manage to stay there do so either because they are so rich and so incompetent at squandering it that they simply run out of time to fall into ruin, or because they do actually learn something about managing their affairs and devote themselves to that. That aspect, at least, is captured pretty faithfully in Atlas, not to mention the stupid venality of the nationalizers and other assorted redistributionists.

5 05 2011
Josh S

Stinginess won’t make you rich.

If you think John Galt represents the middle class guy in Atlas Shrugged or that she idolizes the wealthy, you obviously haven’t read the novel. Eddie Willers represents the typical middle-class working guy. As for the wealthy tycoon, Orren Boyle, Tinky Holloway, James Taggart, and Paul Larkin aren’t the heroes of the story…they’re the villains.

Pretty much every criticism of the book as a novel is true (flat characters, stilted dialogue, idealized everything), but IMO, its enduring popularity comes from how life appears to imitate it from to time. She was able to express the way politicians, populist rabble-rousers, and corporations collude to promote their own interests in way few authors before or after ever could, partly because “progressive” ideology blinds them to it. Jeff Immelt could have been lifted directly from the book’s pages.

5 05 2011

For those of you who want to understand Ayn Rand’s philosophy without having to actually read her books, I would recommend “Ayn Rand and the World She Made” by Anne C. Heller. It’s a fascinating biography that puts her ideas into context, many of which have roots in her Russian childhood, such as her antipathy towards religion (the role of the Russian Orthodox Church in encouraging pogroms) and her love of square-jawed, Anglo, heroes (apparently, she had a childhood obsession with a pulp fiction hero named Cyril that never really ended). As for “Black Swan,” I’m not a ballet fan so I can’t speak to the accuracy of the film. But I don’t think it was ever billed as an accurate depiction of the ballet world, so much as a “psycho-sexual thriller,” whatever that means.

5 05 2011
Paul Goings

“John Beeler and his band of man-children”

To be honest, I thought this to be a very accurate description of a rather common on-line phenomenon. There is a certain type of man who enthusiastically reads and quotes ‘bloggers like Roissy, but would fall to pieces in a real day-to-day relationship, sobbing hysterically in a corner the first time they were asked to go out and buy a box of tampons. Let’s face it, if you can’t handle dissent in the combox, you’re not ready for a real woman.

Whether this is what Mr Vasquez intended to suggest I am not sure, but that’s what I took from it. That, and the fact that Miss Sorrentino is in desperate need of a remedial course in spelling and grammar.

5 05 2011

Man why don’t you just find something better to do with your time, then to write stuff about other people.Your wasting alot of online bloggers time!

5 05 2011

This goes out to Brian B. who keep talking his lame and no nonesense thinking.He has no clue what he is saying.Anyone who listen to him will get sucked into his whiny pants world! And this is referring to ur being block post.Which if that guy did block u deserved it so move on and cry some place else!

4 05 2011

I have pretty much the exact same experience with Rand. I figured I should probably read something by her because I severely detested her and wanted a reason. I chose Anthem because it was short. I heard her other novels were no better, but were at least ten times as long, so I skipped them.

4 05 2011

I love Fight Club and it had a nice message at the end. I hate Credit Card companies.

4 05 2011
brian m

“John Beeler and his band of man-children”

If you call Beeler on his macho posturing in his combox for long enough, he will ban you from accessing his blog via Toolshell. True story.

4 05 2011

Yeah, but Fight Club was funny.

4 05 2011

Black Swan was a schlock exploitation drama disguised as an Oscar winner – a meta-joke on normal movie viewers. Camp in the extreme, on purpose.

It was also Fight Club for girls.

4 05 2011

Ayn Rand took an assumed name to get Medicare to treat her lung cancer. If she were a real trooper she would have shunned the government and let the disease take its natural course or have her rich friends pay for the treatment. There is a reason that rich people are rich, they are stingy with their money. Go figure. Look at the bright side, at least there will not be a sequel to this movie because it was so awful.

Here is my favorite podcast on Atlas Shrugged:


As for Black Swan, I would watch this movie for all the wrong reasons.

4 05 2011

“Yeah, we all like to hear stories about Bill Gates, about kids who started businesses in their dorm rooms, etc. But the vast majority of the bourgeoisie got there because they either inherited what they had or were connected into it.”

Ha. Bill Gates’ father was a name partner at one of the most prestigious law firms in the US. Jr. isn’t exactly a rags-to-riches story.

4 05 2011

I would like that recommendation from AG. What is her site again or perhaps she will post it here?

I found out after the film that it was on that set that the main actress met her boyfriend to whom she is now betrothed and carrying his child.

4 05 2011

I came across this blog post on tag surfer, and I just want to say “nice job.” I thoroughly agree with your take on Black Swan, which was a downright silly movie. Its biggest failure was that it never even attempted to ask the question, why is she even doing this? What does she get out of this self-torture? I know it’s all for art, but… come on, it’s Swan Lake. I had a bit of trouble feeling much for a character who breaks down under the intense psychological demands of performing in Swan Lake.

Also, as to Ayn Rand, you hit the nail on the head. Here’s my take: http://gynostar.wordpress.com/2010/10/25/pulitzer-prize-for-wrongness/

4 05 2011

Totally agreed about Black Swan. I’ve known a few dancers, and none of them had remotely these sorts of pathological personalities. I imagine that, in order to be successful at something so demanding, a certain amount of eccentricity is demanded, but also a certain amount of sturdiness and common sense. Ballerinas remind me more of med students than art majors.

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