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Anthony Daniels and Theodore Dalrymple

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By now, you’ll have figured out that Anthony Daniels IS Theodore Dalrymple–rather, that “Theodore Dalrymple” is Daniels’s most commonly used pseudonym, taken up so that he could write about the world he was living in while he was still a doctor and at work.

I don’t, however, read the “book review” in the same way Robert does.  First, because I know the kind of “book review” it is, and it’s an approach to writing about books I rather enjoy.   All of The New York Review of Books is written like this–the books are not “reviewed” in the sense of being judged good or bad, but used as part of an article on a larger subject.  In the course of an article about, say, the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, a writer for TNYRB will mention one or two or half a dozen books that have come out on the subject, with only intermittent mention of whether thse are “good” books or “bad” ones, if that’s mentioned at all.

That said, that essay–which I take as an essay about Rand, not about the book about Rand, which is what this kind of thing does (see above)–managed to express a lot of my uneasiness with Rand’s work over the years, and with what I knew of Rand as a person through people I knew who were part of her circle in New York.

Okay, they were a fringe part, and that was the very end, but one of the professors from my college was among the group, and it was interesting to hear what was said.

My first problem with Rand was, from the very beginning, the way in which she portrayed the relationships between men and women.  They say that stylized rape fantasies are common among women, but they were never anything to me but deeply disturbing.  I’ve never had the least inclination to be mastered by a man, sexually or otherwise.

And yes, I may be in a minority here, given the popularity of vampire books these days.

Even so, that sort of thing made me hinky from the beginning, and it hasn’t gotten better with age.

Rand always seemed to me to be a person much more comfortable with ideas than with people, although she could be a pretty good analyst of the core motivations of some people.  Let me stress the some. 

Those particular analyses of core motivations–I’m thinking, particularly, of the attempts of some people to use guilt as a way to control others, which seems to me not only to fit some particular human relationships I’ve known but also to explain a lot of what goes on in present-day European anti-Americanism–

Anyway, the particular analyses of core motivations are not enough to explain individuals, because individuals are rarely emotionally or morally monotonal.  People are not as simple and straightforward as Rand wanted them to be.  People who are very bad indeed–or unholy messes–in one part of their lives can often do extraordinary things in other parts.

It’s said of Thomas Jefferson that he was a great man but not a good one, but the great one got me the Declaration of Independence and a lot of what later went into the Bill of Rights, so I’ll give him a little pass on the good part.

Part of the problem, for me, is that I am not a Romantic.  I do not have a Romantic sensibility, which Rand had in spades, and I don’t have much patience for Romantic thinking.  The artist as genius bores me silly–because I think it is silly.  There is genius in the sense that there are people who are extraordinarily well endowed with talent in one area or another, but I do not believe that this results inevitably in tortured alienation and a lot of self-destructive behavior. 

I don’t think there’s anything attractive about burning the candle at both ends and dying young.

That said, what really struck me about this is what Daniels/Dalrymple said about Rand’s approach to the poor and the destitute.  And I think one of the reasons why I like reading Dalrymple–aside from the fact that he writes really, really, really beautiful prose–is that his take on that is the closest thing I can find to my own.

In the first place, I agree with both Dalrympe and Rand that the problems most people have–I should say most people in Western industrialized societies–are volitional.  That is, they are the result of choices.

And even people who are not very bright can learn to make better choices, if they want to learn and if anybody is willing to teach them.  In the course of the last ten yeas, I have stumbled across extraordinary stories among my students, stories of triumph over not only poverty but violence, abuse, squalor and destitution by people who were not DuBois’s “talented tenth.”  It can be done, and with drive and determination it is done, not often, but often enough to prove that the possibility is there.

But.

It’s not just the people who are old or sick through no fault of their own–the people with cancer and MS and all the other diseases that can knock out any one of us.

It’s not just the people born with handicaps, who can’t walk or see or breath on their own.

It’s also the bottom end of which my students comprise the top, the people they leave behind in ghettos and housing projects and those rural pockets where people still put waxed paper where the window glass should be and use that black tar paper stuff instead of proper roofing.

I think we can teach everybody to live better, if they want to learn.

I also think that we can’t take a seventeen year old girl with an IQ of 98, raised by a crack-addicted other, raped by mom’s boyfriends from the time she was nine years old, turned out on the street before she was fourteen, beaten up and battered on a regular basis by mom, mom’s boyfriends, kids in the street, her own boyfriends–

We can’t take that person and go:  sink or swim.

Because she can do nothing but sink.  It’s all she knows how to do.

Public schools may be good, bad or indifferent, but a good public school is the best shot this kid has got.  Her parents are not going to be actively seeking a good education for her, or any education at all.  She herself is not even aware that a life different than her own really exists.  She’s seen it in the movies, of course, but–well, that’s the movies, and the television, and it might as well be a fairy tale. 

She certainly has no idea, on her own, how to get to a life like that, or even just a life better than her own.

I think it’s leigitimate to ask how much of this problem we have created ourselves, through well-meaning but ill-advised welfare and social service policies.

I don’t think it’s legitimate to conclude that we can or should do nothing, that the kid’s mess of a life is “her own fault,” and that it’s just a matter of willpower and determination and that will solve everything.

Rand always seemed to me to divide the world into two kinds of people, and to leave too many kinds of people out.

She seemed to me to worship a “strength” that was fundamentally inhuman. 

I know it was a strength she didn’t possess herself.

Written by janeh

February 13th, 2010 at 7:43 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response to 'Anthony Daniels and Theodore Dalrymple'

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  1. OK, I suspected Daniels was a pen name. But as a reader, I can only say that Mary Westmacott is not Agatha Christie, Earl Stanley Gardner is not AA Fair, and, for that matter, when I need an Orania Papazoglou, a Jane Haddam does not satisfy. The Heller/Rand review was not the quality of work of which Dalrymple is capable.

    The NYRB style, in the right hands, can be a good way to address a topic, but it’s always a dreadful way to review a book. For that matter, to properly address a topic in the manner, you need multiple books.

    As for the critique of Rand, I sometimes wonder how much some of her critics read, or how much attention they paid. Rand wrote a whole essay–a good one–on environment permanently warping the young. And she was only binary in a moral sense. For someone who obviously never spent much time in church, she understood that the there was a single right path, and that it was straight and narrow–but then, try plotting a trajectory and making only one mistake in your math.

    And she did a nice short story with references to critics who weren’t paying attention to the book they were criticizing.

    She expected people to take resoponsiblity for their own lives, to make the best of them their abilities would allow, and never to pass moral responsibility or judgment off to anyone else. If you did that, she was on your side, and the list of her fictional people with less intellectual ability than her primary characters, but morally first rate and treated sympathetically would look like the closing credits of WAR AND PEACE. Take a good look at Eddie Willers, who gets, I think, more pages in ATLAS SHRUGGED than anyone but Dagny and John Galt. Take a good long look the boys and old men–retired Taggart employees and the sons of present ones, guards every milepost of the John Galt Line.

    Authors should be criticized for their real faults, and not the faults the critc thinks they ought to have had.

    As for Rand sometimes being unable to live up to the ideals depicted in her fiction, I don’t see a lot of true crime solved by members of the MWA. Would anyone care to check the divorce rate among RITA winners, or see how many Spur winners can rope a calf? No one lives constantly as the best they can depict.

    As for the specifics Daniels mentioned, I’m sure she was hard to live with or to work with. Two geniuses under one roof is a serious problem. Frank Lloyd Wright quarrelled with all his best apprentices, and John W. Campbell kept having to find new writers bvecause the old ones wouldn’t submit to ANALOG any more. Does anyone know a pleasant, easy to work with genius?

    And her husband’s mental deterioration must have been heartbreaking. She was invested, remember, almost entirely in the life of the mind, and in this world, and here was her life’s partner falling apart in front of her. And remember how much less was understood about the hysical afflictions of the brain a generation ago. If poor Frank deserved more sympathy than he got, Rand might be due a little as well.

    As for her sister fleeing back to the Soviet Union, Daniels doesn’t mention that it took Rand 50 years to pry her last surviving relative loose from the Soviets. What came over was an old woman who had spent most of her life under Stalin’s rule. She didn’t speak the language, and was utterly baffled by the West. Barbara Brandon has a touching scene of her confronted with shopping choices: all these brands of toothpaste, and no one would tell her which one she was supposed to buy! After some weeks, she went back to her familiar bland poverty, where no choices were expected of her.

    And someone who complains about the warping effects of 20 years of poverty might contemplate 60 years of poverty, propaganda and oppression before calling her sister’s decision Ayn Rand’s failing.

    Now, did Heller not mention these things, and Daniels “single source” his essay? Or was Daniels just kicking dirt over any evidence which diminished his interpretation? Either way, not up to the Dalrymple standard. Perhsps he uses the “Daniels” name when he can’t get his usual rate?

    The importance of schols is a whole different topic, as is architecture, and I’ve nattered on long enough already. But fiction should be criticized for real, and not imagined faults. And an author’s behavior refutes their ideas only when they show that the author didn’t believe what he wrote: not when they just can’t live up to their own ideals.

    Of course, you can always get around that by not having any ideals. Otherwise, the attack embodied in Daniels’ essay is easy–and cheap.

    robert_piepenbrink

    13 Feb 10 at 2:47 pm

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