Monday, June 25, 2012

A Dead Fish Rots from the Head Down: The End of Objectivist Epistemology

What follows is a work-in-progress. 

Alisa Rosenbaum's brief "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology" has too many errors, contradictions, non-sequiturs, and loose ends to critique concisely in a single post. Instead, I will focus on individual premises and post intermittently on the subject.

I begin with her concept of "unit" since that lies at the heart of her ideas regarding the structure of concepts and how a conceptual consciousness proceeds to form them. If her idea of "unit" is found wanting — or, as I see it, found to be unintelligible — much of the system of epistemology that depends on that idea will collapse.

My reference is her "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Expanded Second Edition, Edited by Harry Binswanger and Leonard Peikoff," published by Meridian in 1990.

On Units

Rosenbaum writes:

"A unit is an existent regarded as a separate member of a group of two or more similar members. (Two stones are two units; so are two square feet of ground, if regarded as distinct parts of a continuous stretch of ground.)" [ppg 6-7]

This is her definition of unit, though she spends the next paragraph on additional explanation. Before attending to that, however, we'll look first at the definition itself, especially the beginning in which she claims that a unit is an existent.

If we check what Rosenbaum means by "existent," we find the following:

"The building-block of man's knowledge is the concept of an 'existent', of something that exists, be it a thing, an attribute or an action." [ppg 5-6]

An "existent" is a thing, an attribute of a thing, or an action of a thing. That's certainly a clear enough position. She then writes:

"Since it [i.e., 'existent'] is a concept, man cannot grasp it explicitly until he has reached the conceptual stage. But it is implicit in every percept (to perceive a thing is to perceive that it exists) . . ." [pages 5-6]

That statement, I submit, is gibberish. A human consciousness doesn't grasp the idea of "implicitness" until, again, it has reached the conceptual stage. So the statement that a concept is "implicit" in a percept before one has reached the conceptual stage, is (among other things) blatant concept-stealing: a human consciousness at the conceptual stage can grasp the notion of "implicitness" and claim that, upon perceiving something, the concept "existent" or "it exists" is implicit in its perception of it; one cannot, however, take one's existing consciousness — including ideas about "implicitness" — and turn back the clock to infancy, a time when one did not have a conceptual consciousness — and still claim that any idea or concept is "implicit" in a mere percept.

"Percept" and "implicit concept" are mutually exclusive. nothing is "implicit" in a percept qua percept. A percept merely is.

When you look through a camera at an object — a tree, for example — and carefully focus and adjust your exposure, you — the adult photographer with the conceptual consciousness — might implicitly realize that to see the tree is to also admit that "it exists"; but the camera itself — as an analogy to a human infant who, presumably, only perceives — has nothing to do with "implicitness." Whether the lens of a camera, or the lens of a human eye, "perceiving", per se, is all about the explicitly given of the perception; there's nothing implicit about the percept, per se. 

Observe how idiotic Rosenbaum's position is: if the concept "existent" is implicit in the simple perception of a tree, qua percept, then it must also be so for a non-conceptual consciousness, like a squirrel's. A squirrel perceives the tree, just as the child perceives the tree (how the image of the tree appears in a squirrel's mind is, of course, an unknown, but it most certainly perceives the tree on which it climbs up and down). Would Rosenbaum claim that the concept "existent" is implicit in the percept of the tree in a squirrel's mind? We hope not, because it's a foolish position to hold. Why, then, would she claim that a concept is implicit in the percept of a tree in a human infant's mind? If she is indeed claiming the latter, then it must be because the child is potentially capable of grasping concepts at a certain point in its growth. So, is Rosenbaum saying, therefore, that to a potentially conceptual consciousness (such as an infant's) concepts as such are implicit in percepts as such? If so, is this true for all of its percepts, or only some of them? If true for only some of them, why? If she's going to assert that the concept "existent" is implicit in every percept of a not-yet-conceptual human consciousness, then why not other concepts as well? Why not the concept "generates a gravitational field"? That's a sophisticated higher-order concept — the idea that all masses have the attribute of gravitational attraction — and, of course, we wouldn't expect any consciousness to grasp that concept until it was both conceptual, and had received a good deal of training in physics. But since it is true, is it not also true that it is implicit in the infant's perception of a tree?

What Rosenbaum is doing here is very similar to what she did with the characters of Dagny, Francisco, and Eddie, when she portrayed them as children in Atlas Shrugged; and it shows, among other things, that the method she chose to investigate the subject of epistemology was the method of the creative writer, not the method of the diligent scholar. In Atlas Shrugged, she first conceives of these characters as adults for the sake of her characterizations; then she simply turns back the clock until they become children, but apparently with all the same attributes of adults except they appear "in miniature".

Similarly, in her system of epistemology, she starts with an adult conceptual consciousness that grasps the idea of "implicitness" — an implicitness that is a function of its own thinking about a percept, not an implicitness that is part of the percept itself qua percept — and capable of understanding that when one perceives a tree, there is much more than just pure perception occurring, but also lots of implicit thinking about the tree; thinking that is on the subconscious or unconscious level and can be brought to light either by personal effort, or through an outside agency (like a teacher) making clear and explicit to the perceiver what he may not have noticed about his own thinking about the percepts. Then she simply runs the clock backward and assumes that this same sort of unconscious or subconscious thinking/processing of percepts is occurring in a purely perceptual consciousness assumed to be the normal waking state of an infant. This procedure is a form of concept-stealing: you cannot take an adult conceptual state of awareness that is also aware of the notion of "implicitness" and run it backward in time by assuming that it exists also in a state of awareness that by definition is "perceptual only"; i.e., non-conceptual

If it isn't concept-stealing, and Rosenbaum is claiming that the "implicit concepts" are somehow inherent in percepts qua percepts, then it strikes me as a form Platonism: conceptual knowledge reaching us by way of perception rather than some special mode of intuition. The error here would be in assuming that conceptual knowledge is dormant, sleeping — i.e., "implicit" — within percepts qua percepts. Nothing is implicit in a percept, and nothing is objective about it, either. The fact is, nothing is more subjective than a percept: my percept of a tree is mine; an image that falls on my retina and is transmitted to my visual cortex where it displays in my consciousness. Your percept of a tree is yours: a separate image that falls on your retina and is transmitted to your visual cortex where it displays in your consciousness. There's precisely zero "public verifiability" here. There's nothing objective about a percept qua percept, since the entire process of perception takes place within one's subjective self.

Rosenbaum writes the following:

"A unit is an existent regarded as a separate member of a group of two or more similar members"

We've already seen that a "unit" is NOT an existent; at least, not according to the way Rosenbaum defines "existent", which is an entity, an attribute, or an action. A "unit" is a relation between consciousness and existents. Without consciousness, there's no such thing as a unit.

Rosenbaum parenthetically cites examples of what she means by units:

"(Two stones are two units; so are two square feet of ground, if regarded as distinct parts of a continuous stretch of ground.)"

As a kind of afterthought, she tepidly admits that "unit", indeed, requires an "act of consciousness" but that it is not an "arbitrary" act of consciousness. Her idea, apparently, is that since one actually perceives the attribute of length of an existent — the attribute being objective, existing independently of consciousness — any unit of length that consciousness might invent, though optional (i.e., the foot, the meter, the yard, the inch, etc.), is nevertheless rigidly determined by the objective nature of the attribute itself. And I suppose the idea here is that whatever applies to the attribute "length", must also apply to a unit of length.

It is trivially true that what applies to "time", per se, applies to any unit of time; what applies to mass, per se, applies to any unit of mass; etc. And although trivially true, Rosenbaum unwittingly brings up a point that undercuts much of her theory about units, and therefore, of concepts, and therefore, finally, of her entire epistemology.

To understand why this is so, a brief digression into grammar is necessary.

There's a lot of misunderstanding about a construction we all know as the "prepositional phrase". Most of us were taught that it comprises a preposition — e.g., "over" — and the noun or pronoun coming after it, called the object of the preposition — e.g., "rainbow". A preposition, however, is a kind of connecting word, similar in certain ways to a conjunction ("and", "or"), and to understand fully a phrase with a conjunction requires that we acknowledge the terms on both sides of it, and not just the term appearing after it; i.e., "bacon and eggs", not just "and eggs." Similarly, we need to be aware of both terms that are being related to each other by means of the preposition. So the full prepositional phrase is not just "over the rainbow" because we don't know what word "over" is connecting to its object "rainbow." The complete, intelligible phrase is "Somewhere over the rainbow." "Somewhere and "rainbow" are brought into relation with each other by means of the preposition "over," which specifies how the two terms are to be understood together.

And to be perfectly clear about it, we can call the word that comes before the preposition, the "antecedent", and the term that comes after it (usually called the "object of the preposition"), the "consequent."

Thus, in "Somewhere over the rainbow," we have:

antecedent = "somewhere"

preposition = over

consequent = the rainbow

Very often, one and the same preposition may be used with very different meanings, depending on the terms being brought into relation with each other. Take the preposition "by", for example:

"He walked by the lake."

"He read a novel by Hemingway."

The first "by" makes reference to a spatial relation between "walked" and "lake"; the second, an authorial one between "novel" and "Hemingway."

Now, the preposition "of" is quite interesting in that it has many meanings:

"A chain of gold" means, A chain made of the metal gold. The "of" connects "chain" and "gold" by means of the idea of "material composition."

"An age of reason" means, An age whose distinctive and memorable quality was that "reason" was the guiding cultural idea.

"A symphony of Beethoven" means that Beethoven composed the symphony. "Of" connects "symphony" and "Beethoven" by means of the idea of creator.

"A quarter of the population" means a certain part considered apart from the whole.

This last example is of special relevance to this discussion. The preposition "of" is said to be partitive in this construction; i.e., it considers the whole of something to be, for example, a pizza pie, which appears to the right of the preposition as its object; the individual slice appears to the left of the preposition, and represents the part. The part is then grammatically related to the whole by means of the preposition "of" according to the schema,

antecedent / preposition / object


antecedent / OF / object

For example:

Slice of pizza;

Piece of pie;

25% of the population;

or more generally,

Part of the whole

Now, we see that this grammatical construction shows the logical relation between the antecedent and the consequent (i.e., the prepositional object). And in the partitive relation, it is always the case that the antecedent is of the same "stuff" as the consequent. In other words, a slice of pizza is itself a little piece of pizza; a piece of pie is itself a little bit of pie; a quarter of the population is itself a little population; etc. If we apply this same schema to the idea of a unit, we get:

"A meter of length" or "A lightyear of distance."

A meter is itself length; a lightyear is itself distance.

"A liter of volume"

A liter is itself volume.

"A gram of mass."

A gram is itself mass.

"A second of time."

A second is itself time.

Now, this all becomes extremely relevant when applied to Rosenbaum's statement above. To repeat:

"(Two stones are two units; so are two square feet of ground, if regarded as distinct parts of a continuous stretch of ground.)"

We see at once that her second example, "two square feet of ground", fits the partitive schema above, and exhibits the same logic as "Slice of pizza", "Piece of pie", "A second of time", and "A gram of mass." (To be precise about it, instead of "two square feet of ground," we ought to say "Two square feet of area" instantiated in, or mapped to, "a continuous stretch of ground.") So far, so good.

But her first example doesn't apply at all. If "Two stones" are two units, then we must be able to put the phrase into the usual partitive phrase schema as above with the preposition "of":

"Two stones of ____"

"Two stones" are two units of what?

A unit of length must itself be a length; unit of time must itself be time; a unit of mass must itself be a mass; etc. If "two stones" are "two units", then it follows that "one stone" is "one unit", and again we must insist that Rosenbaum or her acolytes answer the question: "a stone" is a unit of what? Of itself? Can we say, "A stone is a unit of a stone?" That's gibberish. We would never claim that "A foot is a unit of a foot."

Rosenbaum is either using the word "unit" in a highly idiosyncratic way, and then immediately using it in the standard way when speaking of "two square feet of ground" (indicating an equivocation on her part within that sentence), or she was just plain wrong.

To give her the benefit of the doubt, what she appeared to have in mind was the idea that the divided concept — the object of the preposition "of" — was the general idea of "stone"; the antecedent partitive concept to the left of the preposition was "a stone"; thus, "a stone of stone." Meaning, an individual, concrete instance of a general concept.

If this is what Rosenbaum intended by her statement that "Two stones are two units", then she is confused. "Two stones" are not two units of "the general concept stone"; they are concrete instances, or instantiations, of the general concept "stone." She has confused the idea of a "concrete instance", or the concept of "instantiation" of a general concept, with the idea of "unit."

The relation between "an individual physical stone" and "the general concept of stone" is not the same as the relation between "an inch" and the general idea of "length". An inch is itself length. "Inch" is an abstract idea; "length" is an abstract idea. "Inch" is a creation of consciousness by means of considering the abstraction "length" combined with abstractions like "limit" and "convenience " (an "inch" is "length limited for convenience" to a certain arbitrarily small size.). "Inch" is then instantiated in a physical medium (e.g., notches on a piece of wood). "Stone" is an abstract idea, but "A stone" is not. "A stone" is not "stone" considered in a certain way by a consciousness. "A stone" is not a creation of consciousness by considering "stone" in a certain way.

In fact, even according to Rosenbaum's own theory of concept formation, it's the other way around: she claims that the general concept of "stone" is arrived at by first observing and considering concrete stones, and then integrating them to form the general concept. By her lights, the concrete particulars come first; the abstract concept comes later. There's nothing wrong with that assumption; but if we tentatively accept it as true, then we must also accept that it is the exact opposite of the partitive relation that applies to units; for in such a relation, the whole pizza pie comes first; its division into slices or "units" ("Slice of pizza"; "Piece of pie"; "Gram of mass"; Year of time; etc.) comes later. 

"Concept formation" and "unit formation" not only have nothing to do with each other, but in fact, proceed in opposite ways. Concept formation — at least, according to Rosenbaum's lights — starts with individual concrete instances of something and then through a process of differentiation followed by integration, builds an abstract concept; unit formation reveals itself in the partitive phrase "unit of X", where "X" is some attribute that exists first, followed by a limitation of the attribute that is convenient.

(We will leave for a later post a discussion of the intelligibility of Rosenbaum's position that concept formation requires differentiation, followed by integration that blends what was just integrated into a new single whole, and which then must "unite" this new integration by means of a linguistic definition. If something is a "single, blended whole," then there's nothing to "unite" by means of language. Conversely, if one actually does "unite" that which was differentiated, then it proves they could not have been integrated or blended into a single new whole.")

To Summarize:

1. Rosenbaum commits a fallacy of the stolen concept" by starting her psycho-epistemological investigations with an adult, conceptual consciousness (hers, of course), and running the clock backward until she arrives at what she imagines to be the percept-only consciousness of the human infant. She then sneaks into that imagined percept-only consciousness notions like "implicitness", which is a notion that could only exist in a consciousness that is not percept-only, but fully conceptual.

2. If we deny that Rosenbaum is committing the fallacy of the stolen concept, then we must assume that she believed certain concepts (e.g., "existent") were somehow contained "in" a percept qua percept (e.g., "tree"). That's not only wrong but vexing: it suggests that since we all, presumably, perceive the same things in the same ways, and therefore have "access" to the same implicit concepts tucked away in our percepts (because concepts, by her lights, are implicit in percepts), objective truth, by her lights, is "manifest"; it's "objectively out there", just waiting to be acknowledged. And if one doesn't acknowledge these implicit truths when one is able to apply language to them and make them explicit, the reason must be that our thinking has gone awry. The idea that "truth is objectively manifest in perceptual data", and that it simply awaits our conscious acknowledgment upon reaching a certain stage of development, and that failure to acknowledge these truths must therefore be traceable to some deficit of consciousness — bad premises, evil intentions, wrong ideas, bad philosophy, etc. — is truly the basis of rationalism at its worst.

3. Rosenbaum confuses the idea of "unit" with that of "concrete instantiation." That is apparent from her own examples: there is nothing in common between "two stones" and "two square feet." The acid test of this is a simple grammatical substitution: the latter can be put into a prepositional phrase that explicates the partitive relation between the antecedent term and the consequent one: Slice of pizza; Piece of pie; A second of time; A gram of mass; A pound of weight; A liter of volume; a square-foot of area. The former phrase — "two stones" — does not fit into that scheme: "Two stones of _____?" Two stones of what? The grammatical substitution test fails with the phrase "two stones"; ergo, "two stones" are NOT two units of anything. They are concrete instances of a general idea, "stone".

4. Rosenbaum reverses cause and effect within her own theory. She claims that percepts come first and that concepts are built on top of them and derived from them. Thus, according to her lights, first we perceive individual concrete stones; then we can form the abstract concept "stone." Fine. But if "two stones" are, indeed, two units (as she claims), then the consequent term (the object of the preposition "of") must be "stone"; and it must precede its units, just as "length" precedes "inch", "time" precedes "second", and "mass" precedes "gram"; indeed, just as an entity, attribute, or action, necessarily precedes any unit of such entity, attribute, or action.

Though this critique is a work-in-progress, our conclusions so far don't augur well for Rosenbaum's system of epistemology. Randroids venerate her system because they believe epistemology is the "head" of the social organism called "civilization" or "human culture", and that what they claim to see as the latter's corruption must be traceable to thinking errors on the part of non-Randroids (a/k/a normal people). As we see, though, the head of the Objectivist organism (which we compare to a big fish) — Rosenbaum's system of epistemology — is rotten with notions that both confuse and conflate the distinctly different ideas of concept-formation, unit-formation, and instantiation, accomplished mainly by means of a simple equivocation: "two stones are two units; so are two square feet of ground..." If much of the body of Objectivist opinion on cultural matters such as sex, music, painting, literature, psychology, etc., appears rotten to many normal people (perhaps secretly even to a few brave-but-silent Randroids), they'll know that much of it is traceable to her system of epistemology. Once the head of a philosophical system rots, the body inevitably follows.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Cosmopolis Review: DeLillo and Ayn Rand - Eric Packer and Francisco d'Anconia

Eric Packer:
When he died he would not end. The world would end. (C p.6)
Freud is finished. (dead) Einstein is next. (to die)Their worlds are dead.(C p.6)

Ayn Rand liked to say:
"It is not I who will die, it is the world that will end,"  It is a favorite quote of hers her fans like so much.

Eric PackerThis was the nuance of every poem, at least for him, at night, these long weeks, one breath after another, in the rotating room at the top of the triplex. (C p. 5 )

Gail Wynand in The Fountainhead has his bedroom at the top of his penthouse where it is glassed all around. 

"When she entered his bedroom, she found it was not the place she had seen photographed in countless magazines. The glass cage had been demolished.(F p. 482)

Recognizing that the movement of the system itself is  irreversible, that there's no possible get-out within the logic of the system. That logic is really global, in the sense that it has absorbed all negativities, including the humanist, universalist,  resistance, etcPushing to the limit means acknowledging this irreversibility and pushing it to the limit of its possibilities, to the point of collapse. Bringing it to saturation point, to the point where the system itself  creates the accident. Thought contributes to this acceleration. It anticipates its end.  This is the provocative 'commitment', but giving all it's got to imagining the end. (Baudrillard - Paroxysm p. 23)

There is no outside. - Foucault 

Vija Kinski - "But these are not the grave-diggers. This is the free market itself. These people are a fantasy generated by the market. They don't exist outside the market. There is nowhere they can go to be on the outside. There is no outside." (C. p. 90)
"The market culture is total. It breeds these men and women. They are necessary to the system they despise. They give it energy and definition. They are market driven. They are traded on the markets of the world. This is why they exist, to invigorate and perpetuate the system."  (C. p. 90) 
To defy the system with a gift to which it cannot respond save by its own collapse and death. Nothing, not even the system, can avoid the symbolic obligation, and it is in this trap that the only chance of a catastrophe for capital remains. ...For it is summoned to answer, if it is not to lose face, to what can only be death. The system must itself commit suicide in response to the multiplied challenge of death and suicide. (Jean Baudrillard - Symbolic Exchange and Death p. 37)

It is the terrorist model to bring about an excess of reality, and have the system collapse beneath that excess. - Baudrillard 

My idea was to end this era not over a period of weeks and months as happened, but in one day. - DeLillo /Krasny you tube interview

Here DeLillo is mistaken as he and everyone else regard the 2001 crash (which did take time) as the stock market catastrophe "predicted" by Cosmopolis. My opinion, and others are either following me or changing on their own are now seeing the derivative crash as the "predicted" catastrophe on Wall Street. That weekend during the 2008 presidential election campaign.

But there's something you know. You know the yen can't go any higher. And if you know something and don't act upon it, then you didn't know it in the first place. There is a piece of Chinese wisdom, she said. To know and not to act is not to know.

...That wants you to believe there are foreseeable trends and forces. When in fact it's all random phenomena. You apply mathematics and other disciplines, yes. But in the end you're dealing with a system that's out of control. Hysteria at high speeds, day to day, minute to minute. People in free societies don't have to fear the pathology of the state. We create our own frenzy, our own mass convulsions, .......(C. p85)

You have to understand.”

He said, “What?”

“The more visionary the idea, the more people it leaves behind. This is what the protest is all about. Visions of technology and wealth. The force of cyber-capital that will send people into the gutter to retch and die. What is the flaw of human rationality?”

He said, “What?” (C. p. 91)

“It pretends not to see the horror and death at the end of the schemes it builds

Testifying before Congress Greenspan admitted a flaw in his system. The flaw is rational self-interest (Ayn Rand). Why would these financiers destroy their financial empires? 

“How will we know when the global era officially ends?”

He waited.

“When stretch limousines begin to disappear from the streets of Manhatten.... “(C. 90-91)

......It took them a moment to realize that the panic had reached the power stations - and that the lights of New York had gone out.

She remembered the story Francisco had told her: "He had quit the Twentieth Century. He was living in a garret in a slum neighborhood. He stepped to the window and pointed at the skyscrapers of the city. He said that we had to extinguish the lights of the world, and when we would see the lights of New York go out, we would know that our job was done. (AS p. 1060)

It was exhilarating, his head in the fumes, to see the struggle and ruin around him, the gassed men and women in their defiance, waving looted Nasdaq T-shirts, and to realize they’d been reading the same poetry he’s been reading.”

He sat down long enough to take a web phone out of a slot and execute an order for more yen. He borrowed yen in dumbfounding amounts. He wanted all the yen there was.(96-97) c 96-97

He thought Kinski was right when she said this was a market fantasy. There was a shadow of transaction between the demonstrators and the state. The protest was a form of systemic hygiene, purging and lubricating. It attested again, for the ten thousandth time, to the market culture's innovative brilliance, its ability to shape itself to its own flexible ends, absorbing everything around it. (Marcuse's apt metaphor of Pac-Man here.)

Now look. A man in flames. Behind Eric all the screens were pulsing with it. And all action was at a pause, the protesters and riot police milling about and only the cameras jostling. What did this change? Everything, he thought. Kinski had been wrong. The market was not total. It could not claim this man or assimilate his act. Not such starkness and horror. This was a thing outside its reach. (C. pp. 96-98)(Kathy Chang(e) was a performance artist whose outrageous public performances and leftist politics were largely ignored by the University of Pennsylvania students she performed for, until she set herself on fire. Her 1996 self-immolation prompts an inquiry into the effectiveness of public suicide as a mode of political performance.)

This is Eric Packer's Epiphany. The Burning Man is the pivotal point in the novel.

The car was parked outside the hotel and across the street from the Barrymore where a group of smokers gathered at intermission, tucked under the marquee. He sat in the car borrowing yen and watching his fund's numbers sink into the mist on several screens. Torval (lav-rot/rat) stood in the rain with arms folded. .....

The yen spree was releasing Eric from the influence of his neocortex. He felt even freer than usual, attuned to the register of his lower brain and gaining distance from the need to take inspired action, make original judgments, maintain independent principles and convisctions, all the reasons why people are fucked up and birds and rats are not.

The stun gun probably helped. The voltage had jellified his musculature for ten or fifteen minutes (and here we have the "near death" experience where your life before and after separate and diverge, growing farther and farther apart. His Double now is more separated in time than it has been, as we will see in the end.)and he'd rolled about on the hotel rug, electroconvulsive and strangely elated, deprived of the faculties of reason. (Sylvia Plath's Bell Jar is echoed here as she writes a first person narrative of suicidal depression, the electro-convulsive experience and its immediate and long term aftermath.)

But he could think now, well enough to understand what was happening. There were currencies tumbling everywhere. Bank failures were spreading. He found the humidor and lit a cigar. Strategists could not explain the speed and depth of the fall. They opened their mouths and words came out. He knew it was the yen. His actions regarding the yen were causing streams of disorder. He was so leveraged, his firm's portfolio large and sprawling, linked crucially to the affairs of so many key institutions, all reciprocally vulnerable, that the whole system was in danger. 

He smoked and watched, feeling strong, proud, stupid and superior. He was also bored and a little dismissive. They were making too much of it. He thought it would end in a day or two .....and looked more closely at one of the women standing there. (C. p. 115-6)
!IMPLOSION! - Baudrillard through Nietzsche

After seeing Elise outside the theater, eating dinner with her.

He knew he was going in. But first he had to lose more money. ...Then he went about losing the money, spreading it systematically in the smoke of rumbling markets. He did this to make certain he could not accept her offer of financial help. …..but it was necessary to resist, of course, or die in his soul....He was making a gesture of his own, a sign of ironic final binding. Let it all come down. Let them see each other pure and lorn. This was the individual’s revenge on the mythical couple. ….The number seemed puny....But it was all air anyway. It was air that flows from the mouth when words are spoken. It was lines of code that interact in simulated space.

Great financiers know that money does not exist.Gamblers know that money does not exist.
The Jesuits know that God does not exist.- Baudrillard

Didi Fancher - "Money for paintings. Money for anything. I had to learn how to understand money," she said. "I grew up comfortably. Took me a while to think about money and actually look at it. I began to look at it. Look closely at bills and coins. I learned how it felt to make money and spend it. It felt intensely satisfying. It helped me be a person. But I don't know what money is anymore." (C. p. 29)

Vija Kinski - ....Because money has taken a turn. All wealth has become wealth for its own sake. There's no other kind of enormous wealth. Money has lost its narrative quality the way painting did once upon a time. Money is talking to itself. (C. p. 77)

He watched the president of the World Bank address a chamber of tense economists. He thought the image could be crisper. Then the president of the United States spoke from his limo in English and Finnish.....He knew they would figure it out eventually how he'd made it happen, one man, bereaved and tired now.(C. p. 140)

Eric Packer will end up in Hell's Kitchen where he grew up, where he goes for a haircut, where he is hunted by his assassin where Gail Wynand was when he was young and prey and where he goes when he caves in to save The Banner, betraying Roark. Eric Packer will die there and Gail Wynand will have Roark build the skyscraper with his name there.
But it was the threat of death at the brink of night that spoke to him most surely about some principle of fate he’d always known would come clear in time.

Now he could begin the business of living.“(C 107)
Dagny has gone to the Wayne-Faulkland Hotel to confront Francisco as the San Sebastion Mines have been seized by the People's State of Mexico.

I came here to ask you a question. ...The San Sebastian disaster....You did it consciously, cold-bloodedly and with full intention.

What was it I did with full intention? he said.

The entire San Sebastian swindle.

What was my full intention?

That is what I want to know.

...Don't start telling me that you gained nothing. I know it. I know you lost fifteen million dollars of your own money. Yet it was done on purpose.

You didn't give a damn about that Mexican government,...because you knew they'd seize those mines sooner or later. What you were after is your American stockholders.

...That's part of the truth....It was not all I was after. ...They thought it was safe to ride on my brain, because they assumed that the goal of my journey was wealth. All their calculations rested on that premise that I wanted to make money. What if I didn't?

...If you didn't want to make money, what possible motive could you have had?

Any number of them. For instance, to spend it.

To spend money on a certain, total failure?

How was I to know that those mines were a certain, total failure?

How could you help knowing it?

Quite simply. By giving it no thought. 

...Did you intend for me to notice that if you think I did it on purpose, then you still give me credit for having a purpose?

...didn't you enjoy the spectacle of the behavior of the People's State of Mexico in regard to the San Sebastian Mines? Did you read their government's speeches and the editorials in their newspapers? they are saying that I am an unscrupulous cheat who has defrauded them. They expected to have a successful mining company to seize. I had no right to disappoint them like that.....

He laughed lying flat on his back: his arms were thrown wide on the carpet, forming a cross with his body; he seemed disarmed, relaxed and young. 

It was worth whatever it cost me. I could afford the price of that show....

And that's not all they didn't know, he said. They're in for some more knowledge. There's that housing settlement for the workers of San Sebastian. It cost eight million dollars. Steel-frame houses, with plumbing, electricity and refrigeration. Also a school, a church, a hospital and a movie theater. A settlement built for people who had lived in hovels made of driftwood and stray tin cans. My reward for building it was to be the privilege of escaping with my skin, a special concession due to the accident of my not being a native of the People's State of Mexico. That workers' settlement was also part of their plans. A model example of progressive State Housing. Well, those steel-frame houses are mainly cardboard, with a coating of good imitation shellac. They won't stand another year. The plumbing pipes - as well as most of our mining equipment - were purchased from dealers whose main source of supply are the city dumps of Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro. I'd give those pipes another five months, and the electric system about six. The wonderful roads we graded up four thousand feet of rock for the People's State of Mexico, will not last beyond a couple of winters; they're cheap cement without foundation, and the bracing at the bad turns is just painted clapboard.  Wait for one good mountain slide. The church, I think, will stand. They'll need it.

Francisco, she whispered., did you do it on purpose?

...Whether I did it on purpose, he said, or through neglect, or through stupidity, don't you understand that that doesn't make any difference?

...She looked at him blankly. What are you trying to say?

I am saying that the workers' settlement of San Sebastian cost eight million dollars,...The price paid for those cardboard houses was the price that could have bought steel structures. So was the price paid for every other item. That money went to men who grow rich by such methods. Such men do not remain rich for long. The money will go into channels which will carry it, not to the most productive, but to the most corrupt. By the standards of our time, the man who has the least to offer is the man who wins. That money will vanish in projects such as the San Sebastian Mines.

...Is that what you're after?


Is that what you find amusing?


I was thinking of your name, she said....It was a tradition of your family that a d'Anconia always left a fortune greater than the one he received. (Here's the "gift" and the "counter-gift".) 

Oh yes, my ancestors had a remarkable ability for doing the right thing at the right time - and for making the right investments. Of course, 'investment' is a relative term. It depends on what you wish to accomplish. for instance, look at San Sebastian. It cost me fifteen million dollars, but those fiftteen million wiped out forty million belonging to Taggart Transcontinental, thirty-five million belonging to stockholders such as James Taggart and Orren Boyle, and hundreds of millions which will be lost in secondary consequences. That's not a bad return on an investment, is it, Dagny.?

She was sitting straight. Do you realize what you are saying?

Oh, fully! Shall I beat you to it and name the consequences you were going to reproach me for? First, I don't think that Taggart Transcontinental will recover from its loss on that preposterous San Sebastian Line. You think it will, but it won't. Second, the San Sebastian helped your brother, James, to destroy the Phoenix-Durango, which was about the only good railroad left anywhere. 

..Do you _ you know Ellis Wyatt?


Do you know what this might do to him?

Yes. He's the one who's going to be wiped out next. (AS pp. 115- 121)

There are more resonances for the reader to find if she wishes. After reading this does anyone dare to say that Francisco d'Anconia was a self-destructive loser who lost millions? No? I thought not. And if anyone had dared say that, Rand would have chopped her up in teeny tiny pieces. 

Why then have all the reviewers, all the academics, Cronenberg, and all blogs on Cosmopolis said that Eric Packer is a self-destructive loser? Are there really that many people out there who have misread DeLillo's book?

Yeah. I guess so.

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 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Atlas Shrugged, Part II (Not Showing at a Theatre Near You)

Yay!!!! Atlas Shrugged, Part II, is filming at this very minute! I can't wait for it to appear in theaters this coming fall so that I can save $14 by not buying a ticket to see it!

The Reason Magazine article linked to above is unintentionally hilarious. Read the following excerpt, especially the statements by co-producer Harmon Kaslow:

“In a move that might prove controversial to fans of Part I, this new movie has been entirely recast—not a single actor reprises their role . . . 'The message of Atlas is greater than any particular actor, so it’s one of those pieces of literature that doesn’t require in our view the interpretation by a singular actor,' Kaslow says. “But just from a practical standpoint when we set out to make Part I we had a ticking clock where if we didn’t start production by a certain date John’s interest in the rights could lapse." 

Wow! LOL! First of all, this is an unbelievably cutting and insulting remark toward the hard-working actors who appeared in Part I ("This movie is bigger than you are, Taylor Schilling! ") Nice one! Actors love hearing that! (We all know how small their egos are!); and then he adds salt to the cut: "Besides, uh, we were in a rush when we cast you. You see, baby, we had this legal deadline we had to beat regarding the option we held  on the novel; so casting you was sort of like . . . like . . . like a shot-gun wedding. We had to do it quickly or not make the movie at all. We really had no choice."

Sure you had a choice. You could have started the project much earlier and given yourself more time to do things right. If it was true that there was "drop-dead" date for the option to run out, the producers could have done a workaround, for example: cast one actor only, let's say, a supporting role such as Eddie Willers. Just shoot some of the scenes requiring Eddie Willers and nothing else: by definition, you've fulfilled the terms of the option (you have, after all, started production) and now you're under less of a time constraint to do the other things right, like casting the right talent for the leads, polishing the screenplay, etc.

No. This workaround is too obvious for them not to have considered it. What imposed a time constraint was not the option deal, but the producers' fat egos: their desire to make a political statement by getting Part I out in time to premiere on April 15, Tax Day. That was the real deadline.

Always the apologist for cult mind-control, Ed Hudgins of The Atlas Society recently blogged this on SOLO regarding the role of his boss, professor David Kelley, in the film's production: 

"David Kelley [h]as spent time in California on the set to make sure the script is consistent with Objectivism."

LOL! Kelley was in California not to ensure that the script was dramatic and exciting and something that would hold an audience's attention; not to ensure that the shooting schedule is maintained; not to ensure that everything is on budget; no, he is there as an ideological, Soviet-era political cadre officer, ensuring compliance with the Objectivist canon.  See the blog post in Around the Randroid Belt titled "Objectivism in One Word."

In the 1950s, producers of certain Hollywood films were concerned about public demonstrations against provocative content (mainly because it would hurt box-office). They therefore willingly submitted their films for review and "vetting" by a Catholic censor board calling itself The Legion of Decency. Stanley Kubrick's excellent early film, "Lolita," with James Mason, Shelley Winters, Peter Sellers, and the young and very seductive Sue Lyon, actually has some opening text — appearing before the title crawl if I remember correctly — that says something like, "This film has been approved by The Legion of Decency."

David Kelley is a one-man compliance officer for the "League of Objectivist Decency." Shame on him for assuming the role of judge and jury.  He should stay off the set and let the people whose job it is to make the movie, do their job of making a movie.

Following the example of "Lolita," perhaps AS-2 should begin with a still frame of text saying "This film has been cleared by The Objectivist League of Decency." (In other words, "It's safe to watch, Randroids. You won't be offended by seeing some personal statement by the director or screenwriter that might deviate from your preconceived expectations regarding a novel you've read 20 times and have memorized.")

The rest of the Reason Magazine article continues in the same unintentionally funny vein, especially the quotes from Harmon Kaslow:

"We didn’t have the luxury at that moment to negotiate future options with the various cast members."

LOL! Wow! Apparently, Harmon Kaslow assumes we all just fell off the turnip truck! Um, Harmon, it isn't solely up to you and the production team  to negotiate future options with the talent. This is Hollywood, remember? All working actors have agents, and it will be up to the agents to make very serious inquiries and proposals regarding future options on behalf of their clients, especially in multi-film projects. That's how agents make their living!

We "didn't have the luxury . . . ?" Can you imagine, for example, Taylor Schilling's agent telling her "Listen, honey, take the AS-1 gig. I have no idea if this will lead to more work for you in Parts II and III — I asked, but Harmon Kaslow told me he was in a rush and just doesn't have the luxury of thinking about the future, or negotiating an option for you. Don't worry about it; whatever happens, happens."

No actor would accept excuses like that from an agent; no agent would accept excuses like that from a producer; which is why I don't believe a scene like that ever occurred . . .  which means I think Harmon Kaslow is bullshitting us.

"Their eagerness to keep the project moving made arranging schedules with the dozens of speaking roles in Part I hugely impractical, so they chose instead to concentrate on making sure the look of the movie created the world they needed it to create. As Kaslow put it, “we just gave ourselves a clean slate put together what we think is a real terrific cast."

I'm sorry, but I've read this last paragraph about 12 times and I still can't determine what it's about. Let's parse it:

"Their eagerness . . ." This refers to the eagerness of the producers.

"to keep the project moving . . ." This refers to the supposed option deadline; i.e., apparently, if the producers did not start production by a certain date, they would lose the option to the novel; meaning, they would lose the right to make the movie in the first place. OK, let's assume we are being told the truth about this.

"made arranging schedules with the dozens of speaking roles in Part I hugely impractical" — For the life of me, I can't figure out what the fuck this sentence means! "Made arranging schedules" — what schedules? Does the writer mean auditions? Talent auditions for the leading roles in Part I? If so, does it strike anyone else other than me as weird that the producers claim they didn't have time to complete a proper audition phase to cast their film? And are they talking about Part 1 or Part 2? The sentence seems to specify Part 1; if so, then it seems to be saying that the producers were so concerned with simply getting the film out — any sort of film, so long as it had the right "look" — that they took an unbelievably cavalier attitude toward the casting. Indeed, even if this is simply an excuse for justifying the re-casting in Part II, that first statement of Harmon Kaslow is indicative of the level of cavalierness:

"The message of Atlas is greater than any particular actor, so it’s one of those pieces of literature that doesn’t require in our view the interpretation by a singular actor,"

Hey, Harmon! That's assuming that only you (and a few other Randroids) will comprise the ticket-buying public! What about everyone else? Do they believe that Atlas Shrugged The Movie, for which they've just spent money buying a ticket, is greater than any particular actor? Or is it more likely (as I believe) that they will find it jarring to have Dagny portrayed by one actress in one film and another actress in its sequel . . . with no dramatic explanation in the screenwriting permitted, of course, because the narrative is so tightly constrained by Comrade David Kelley and his Compliance Squad.

The Reason Magazine article goes on to mention how encouraged Aglialoro was by the sales of DVDs. Usually, in Hollywood, these sorts of numbers are published and available somewhere; not here, though. So I suspect that the only people purchasing these DVDs are members of the Randroid Belt who waft in and out of sites like The Atlas Society, which peddles the DVDs, as well as other merchandise ("Who Is John Galt?" t-shirts, for example).

So it appears to this lone-wolf movie critic that the producers of the AS trilogy decided early on — probably when they saw the collapse of the box-office for AS-1 less than two weeks into its run — to market a cinematic version of their Bible specifically to their acolytes; a ready-made audience, as it were. In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Atlas Shrugged The Movie, Part III were made direct-to-DVD; for as long as Randroids are going to be almost the sole market for the film, why bother negotiating all those irksome licensing deals with theatre-owners for public exhibition? Who cares about the public? Just market the film directly to Randroids!

(The one propagandistic advantage to letting the two sequels have public runs rather than marketing direct to DVD is that, when they inevitably fail at the box office and get panned mercilessly by critics, the members of the Randroid Belt can sniffle and point their fingers at the critics and complain how corrupt the critics' premises and aesthetic sensibilities are, and blame the sequels' failure on them. That, of course, might actually help boost DVD sales to members of the Randroid Belt, since the movies will now have romantic "battle scars" inflicted by the moochers and looters.)

Nothing wrong with any of this, of course, and by doing so, one now has the liberty to re-cast again and again, to one's heart's content; for acolytes will be looking at the movie not as a movie — the way the normal public would experience a film, i.e., as a stand-alone entertainment experience — but as a simulacrum; they will judge the movie by how well it mimics a literal reading of the novel. 

The implication of all this, however, is that it makes the AS sequels no different from the special feature films made by and for explicitly religious groups. Just as there's a genre of popular music known as "Christian Rock" so, too, there are specifically Christian films (as well as specifically Orthodox Jewish films), specifically illustrating Biblical themes that often go direct-to-DVD and are meant only for a small, select, religious audience. These are true "niche films" produced for, and marketed to, "niche audiences."

Atlas Shrugged, The Movie is a niche film. The project may not have started out that way, but that's what it became. And it took the collapse of the box-office of Part I to convince producers to continue with production of parts 2 and 3 with the explicit intention of making them niche films and marketing them to a ready-made niche audience, i.e., members of the Randroid Belt.

Again, there's nothing wrong with any of this, but it does point up the closed, cult-like nature of the Objectivist movement — or what's left of it.

The one person who must be extremely saddened by all this is Ed Hudgins at The Atlas Society, and frequent blogger on Sense of Life Objectivists (SOLO).  He PROMISED readers at that site to keep them apprised of "breaking news" regarding production when he boasted of the following:

"Linz, et al. -- I’m planning to provide insider updates on the film as they become available . . ."

"Insider updates," eh?  We actually got nothing from Hudgins since that boast on 5 February 2012 at Sense of Life Objectivists. Instead, we learn from a completely different source — Reason Magazine — that Atlas Shrugged, Part II, is already more than ten days into lensing! 

Hudgins also made the following asinine statement regarding Yours Truly:

"Of course, Darren apparently has far more detailed and reliable insider info than me on the exact nature of David Kelley’s contributions to the first film and his current and future tasks concerning the second film"

He made that statement after I had pointed out on SOLO that David Kelley's role in AS-1 appeared to have been that of an ideological compliance officer, ensuring that the production (including the screenplay, and without doubt, the creative choices made by the director and the editor) complied with, i.e., was consistent with, a canonized body of opinion by Alisa Rosenbaum. At the time, Hudgins chuckled at my suggestion, but as pointed out above, he now admits to the following regarding Atlas Shrugged, Part II:

"David Kelley [h]as spent time in California on the set to make sure the script is consistent with Objectivism."

Thanks for admitting I was right, Hudgins, you fat-headed dolt. But I'm going to expand on this last statement of yours a bit, because you're so fucking ignorant about filmmaking that you're blind to the uncomfortable implications of what you've just admitted: 

If Kelley really is acting as Chief Compliance Officer, then his footprint cannot be constrained only to the screenplay, because everyone involved in the creative team (the director, the actors, the editor, the production designer) is constantly engaged in making creative choices during the production of the movie. 

What if — as happens all the time during the shooting of a movie — the director decides to take a few creative liberties with the screenplay? What if the director says to the talent in some particular scene, "You know something? I thought it was simply your delivery, but now I see that these lines themselves are stilted and just don't work. We'll throw them out, and I want you to say this, instead . . ." And then gives the actor some ad hoc lines to say that, in his creative judgment, work better? What if the director — as Sidney Lumet did in his excellent '70s film "Dog Day Afternoon" with Al Pacino — throws out parts of the script entirely and tells two actors in some particular scene, "Look, you two have worked together and done scenes together for years. You understand what this scene is about, emotionally and psychologically on the part of the characters you portray. Make up the dialogue as you go along; I want to see how it works." And in that film, the way it worked was so good in Lumet's judgment, that he kept the impromptu, off-script scenes in the final cut . . . and what was even funnier, was that the screenwriter — whose original work had been greatly altered by both Lumet and the actors by the time it reached the screen — nevertheless won an Oscar for "Best Screenplay"! In his creative autobiography, Lumet claimed that they all had a good laugh over that, but what are you going to do . . . turn down an Oscar?

The point is, Kelley's involvement as Compliance Gestapo cannot stop merely at the stage of the screenplay; it must bleed over into the director's choices and the editor's choices, too, because personal judgments and choices on the part of these key creative team members can (in principle, at least) greatly alter the meaning of events in a film, as they might have originally been intended by the screenwriter. This happens all the time in filmmaking.

The upshot of this is that we will be seeing David Kelley's tone-deaf, ham-fisted influence throughout Atlas Shrugged, Part 2, just as much as we did in Part I. (Can't wait . . . !)

Anyway, sorry, Hudgins! Maybe the honchos at The Atlas Society will let you break exciting "insider updates" to the rest of us outsiders by keeping you in the loop on Atlas Shrugged, Part III . . . when they re-cast the film yet again.
Until then, Eddie, we hope you enjoy Part II.