Not shrugging it off

We’ve received remarkably few intemperate responses to “Atlas Shrugged at 50,” and even received a few responses that are worth sharing with readers. One such is from George O’Har, a novelist and Boston College English teacher. Professor O’Har writes:

As literature, Atlas Shrugged, in its weakest moments — and there are enough of them to satisfy readers of all stripes — can veer between softcore porn and a wild romanticism. The sex scenes are hilarious, although that is not what Rand intended. I would argue, however, that Rand is a pretty fair writer, and that much of her prose is good. The plot of the novel is strong. More importantly, what Rand anticipated happening in America some 50 years ago has long since come to pass. In effect, she is practically a prophet. Atlas Shrugged is by no means my favorite book, and Rand by no stretch my favorite writer (that would be Proust, Joyce, Beckett, Nabokov, Borges, Faulkner, Melville, Flaubert…). But to dismiss her strongest literary work as “sophomoric” is wrong.
Technically, the novel is grounded in Rand’s study of Aristotelian logic. This provides the backdrop, as well as the sum and substance, of the John Galt monologue (which gets tedious). Rand’s attempt to link logic and human affairs, her tendency, both in life and in literature, to sacrifice emotion on the altar of reason rubs most of us the wrong way. People are rarely logical. We are weak. Rand would have us all be gods, or heroes, which is a big flaw in her work, an abiding flaw. Most of us most of the time are mundane.
And while Atlas Shrugged may be flawed, and somewhat typical of writing at the time in which it was published, it is by no stretch “sophomoric.” Now, I have myself railed against her novel, especially when confronted by true believers who rank it with the Bible. But Rand’s ultimate philosophical positions, which get worked out quite effectively in Atlas Shrugged, are hardly sophomoric. We may disagree with them, we may find them abrasive, even utopian (they are). But when you pare away the romance and the excess, what you are left with is the truth, or at the very least, a kind of truth — which has endured.

Professor O’Har’s intriguing book list for the Boston College class of 2006 is accessible here.
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