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Rand, Ayn

Entry updated 29 November 2021. Tagged: Author.

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(1905-1982) Russian-born US screenwriter, critic and author, born Alyssa Zinovievna Rozenbaum, using that name for early work like her first book, Gollivud: amerikanskiĭ kino-gorod ["Hollywood: The American Cinema City"] (1926 chap), a moderately ecstatic study of American film and the architecture of the skyscraper as sharing a future-thrusting sublimity. Her third novel, The Fountainhead (1943), which is nonfantastic, can be seen as this vision translated into fiction.

Rozenbaum changed her name to Ayn Rand after coming to the US in 1926. Her Objectivist philosophy, as expounded in most of her work, was initially influential during the 1950s among college students, who were perhaps attracted by her instructions to heed one's self-interest, to abjure altruism, to treat almost all governmental activities as impertinent intrusions on the paramountcy of the individual self, and to maximize the Superman potential within each of us, the latter imperative quite clearly derived from her lifelong immersion in the works of Alexandre Dumas, specifically The Count of Monte Cristo (1844-1845), though the Count eventually abjures his messianic prowess on moral grounds. The Nathaniel Branden Lectures (later the Nathaniel Branden Institute) was founded in 1958 to promulgate her views, and during the 1960s she reached her greatest fame. Although Objectivism has never incorporated itself as a religion under American law (Rand was an eloquent atheist), its theological reclusiveness as regards opposing argument, and the Star Chamber arbitrariness of its internal workings during its pomp some decades ago, mark this belief as unmistakably analogous to Scientology in its relationship to sf culture in general.

Rand's first and better sf novel, Anthem (1938; cut 1946), is a Post-Holocaust Dystopia set after a devastating war. Individualism has been eliminated, along with the concept of the person, but the protagonist discovers his fully autonomous selfhood (emblematized by his recovery of the word I) after escaping with a beautiful woman to the forest, where he christens himself Prometheus. In Atlas Shrugged (1957), which is also sf, John Galt (Rand's mouthpiece) and his Objectivist colleagues abandon an increasingly socialistic USA, where the development of more than one technologically-innovative Invention, including a new alloy and a motor capable of changing Transportation across the country, has been bureaucratically frustrated. As civilization begins to crumble, they retreat to Galt Gulch in the mountains of Colorado, prepared to return only when they will be able to rebuild along the lines of Objectivist philosophy. Her work has had a continuing influence on Libertarian SF, and it has been influential on twenty-first century intellectual politicians of the right, for whom her unrelenting insistence that self-fulfilment trumps any negative side-effects has valorized their adherence to the unregulated free market; the vision of the entrepreneur as Hero has had a correspondingly warm reception from the founders and owners of the capital-intensive tech firms that came to dominate the Media Landscape in the twentieth century. The Comics artist Steven Ditko was strongly influenced by her ideas. Two Girls, Fat and Thin (1991) by Mary Gaitskell systematically caricatures her and her work; an AI recreation of Rand is mocked but also receives some sympathy in Sewer, Gas, and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy (1996) by Matt Ruff. [JC]

see also: Bioshock; Economics; Politics; Social Darwinism; Sociology; Women SF Writers.

Ayn Rand

born St Petersburg, Russia: 2 February 1905

died New York: 6 March 1982

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