Thursday, 2 March 2017

The Marginalia of Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand's Marginalia: Her Critical Comments on the Writings of over 20 Authors
Edited by Robert Mayhew

Ayn Rand’s Marginalia has a collection of the comments that Ayn Rand made on the margins of several books and articles. These comments are a treasure trove of information on her method of judging the texts that she read.

Majority of Rand’s comments are negative but she has left a few positive comments also—for instance, in case of Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative, she writes terms like “good,” and “these are good statements.” But in reference to another text in the book she writes on the margin: “Total nonsense!”

In his Introduction, Robert Mayhew says: “Ayn Rand wrote these comments for her own eyes only, and never imagined that they would be published. They should be read accordingly—i.e., the marginalia are in no way to be taken as her final, considered viewpoint. Nevertheless, they provide fascinating and important insights into Ayn Rand.”

Her comments include colourful gems like: “Danger”; “Total Disaster”; “Good God”; “Double-danger”; “The God-damn fools”’ “God no”; “Cheap BS”; Boy, oh boy, oh boy”; “Are we ghosts”; “Really, dear pragmatist”; “Hello neo-mystic”; “Green-gremlin premise”; Sloppy thinking”. But in most cases, she has left comments comprising of one or more sentences.

Rand had the capacity to quickly identify the fundamental premises of the author, but many of her comments are sharply critical. It seems that she has left these words on the margins to trigger her thoughts. But we can't have a picture of the entirety of her thoughts from these short comments. I think if she had done a critical review of these texts, she may have given an entirely different perspective in many of the cases.

She has too many disagreements with Human Action by Ludwig von Mises. Here’s one comment: “What has he explained? Only that a lot of socialists and fools are attacking his pet science, economics, which he treats as a primary in a vacuum. Does this constitute an objective explanation for the establishment of any new system of categories for science?”

Here’s her response to the text on parexology in Human Action: “What becomes of ‘praxeology’ if he makes a perfect case for it, except that philosophers prove to him that there is no knowledge and no realty and no causality, and therefore, everything is a “subjective” delusion, including his ‘praxeology’?”

This is an interesting book for having a glimpse into Rand’s thoughts on important intellectual literature. But as Mayhew has pointed out in the Introduction, Rand never imagined that her comments on the margin of the texts will be published. Therefore these comments must not be taken as her final, considered viewpoint. 

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