Sunday, May 6, 2012

Ayn Rand, Michel Foucault and Atlas Shrugged:The Power/Knowledge Relation

The 45th anniversary of the publication of Atlas Shrugged (Signet 1996) was announced with a new edition and an introduction (1992) by Leonard Peikoff who has wisely let Rand speak for herself in the intro, taking excerpts from her unpublished Journal.

Atlas Shrugged, according to Peikoff's recollections, did not become the title until Frank O'Conner suggested it in 1956. Up until then she had titled it The Strike.

After finishing The Fountainhead and having Nietzsche's quotes scrubbed out of it, Rand probably put her obsessive reading - from age 16 to her late 30's, early 40's - of him aside, as Baudrillard did after he failed his exams on Nietzsche, and Nietzsche went underground in Rand as in Baudrillard. 

The earliest of Rand's notes are dated January 1, 1945, about a year after the publication of The Fountainhead.  Naturally enough, the subject on her mind was how to differentiate the present novel from its predecessor. (p.1)

Theme. What happens to the world when the Prime Movers go on strike....

The theme requires: to show who are the prime movers and why, how they function....

First question to decide is on whom the emphasis must be placed - on the prime movers, the parasites or the world. The answer is: The world. The story must be primarily a picture of the whole. ...

In this sense, The Strike is to be much more a "social" novel that The Fountainhead. The Fountainhead's ...primary concern ... was the characters, the people as such - their natures. Their relations to each other   - which is society, men in relation to men - were secondary, an unavoidable, direct consequence of Roark set against Toohey. ...

Now, it is this relation that must be the theme.  therefore, the personal becomes secondary. That is, the personal is necessary only to the extent needed to make the relationships clear;...But the theme was Roark - not Roark's relation to the world. Now it will be the relation. ...

I start with the fantastic premise of the prime movers going on strike.  This is to be the actual heart and center of the novel.  A distinction carefully to be observed here: I do not set out to glorify the prime mover. ...I set out to show how desperately the world needs prime movers....what happens to the world without them. ...

This must be the world's story - in relation to the prime movers. ...

I don't show directly what the prime movers do - that's shown only by implicationI show what happens when they don't do it. 

Astonishingly Rand is here applying Platt's famous Strong Inference to her fiction in 1946, almost 20 years before Platt published his famous paper in 1964, the basis of which Crick and Watson posited the  DNA spiral

[PDF] Strong inference

JR Platt - science, 1964 -
Scientists these days tend to keep up a polite fiction that all science is equal. Except for the
work of the misguided opponent whose arguments we happen to be refuting at the time, we
speak as though every scientist's field and methods of study are as good as every other ...

Rand has intuitively identified Foucault's power/knowledge relation so laboriously and elegantly recorded for us in The Order of Things, The Archaeology of Knowledge, Discipline and Punish, Madness and Civilization, The History of Sexuality, and all his genealogies published and archived now, his great method taken from Nietzsche. Rand does it in one fell swoop in Atlas Shrugged.

Foucault has relentlessly delineated the relation of power and knowledge. Power does not exist by itself. It cannot be given, taken, conferred, lost, held. Power is ALWAYS in relation to knowledge; the two cannot be separated.

Rand has written a fiction whereby she is removing knowledge from the world. She is saying that the knowledge of the prime movers is what powers the world!

Remove the prime movers and knowledge is removed from the world, but so is power! The world sinks into chaos, starvation, and death. She is saying that  -  understand this in relation to the Foucauldian Grid  of power/knowledge - knowledge and power are relational in the world. She is saying this in her Journal in 1946, when Foucault is 20 years old, long before he studied Nietzsche and applied Nietzsche's genealogy to human behavior.  

And she is saying this fictionally in Atlas Shrugged published in 1957.

Rand has heralded Foucault's lifetime study of the relational necessity of power/knowledge in Atlas Shrugged. Power and Knowledge are FUSED, inseparable, joined, married to each other!

Ayn Rand