Friday, May 11, 2007

Review: Anthem by Ayn Rand

Get it here
This is a dystopian science-fiction novel. That's something of a genre nowadays, but I get the feeling that this an original. The problem now is that one is constantly reminded of the many followers who borrowed its ideas. Within no time you get the idea - no names, just numbers, horrid ruling class doling out extreme punishment for crimes of individuality, etc etc.
I was reminded of the first half of Jane Eyre, with its shrill, hysterical self pity: our hero is treated very badly for no good reason.
The novel works better in context with its time: it was published in 1938 when powerful contrasting forces seemed to be competing for the future of mankind, and Rand had experienced Stalinism at first hand. By contrast, western capitalism must have seemed heaven sent.
I expected this to be a change from Tolstoy, but was not prepared for this. In 'Master and Man' Tolstoy theorises that human happiness is only possible by losing the self, and giving oneself entirely to others. Ayn Rand seems to think that happiness can only be possible by forgetting others, and concerning oneself only with one's own happiness.
In my very humble opinion, both views are right, wrong, and out of date. It seems that there is no one answer to the problem of human happiness - who said humans had a right to expect to be happy in the first place? And, speaking personally, I am made happy by different things at different times; sometimes by being selfless, sometimes by being selfish, and following either extreme for any length of time is a recipe for unhappiness.
Chapter 11 is the heart of the philosophy of the book - a hymn to the word 'I', and a hate-filled diatribe against the word 'We'. I am sure I would have agreed with every word as a teenager - when being asked to turn the music down seemed like a huge infringement on my human rights. But as a parent, I know that the greatest joy I ever experience is through the joy of my children. So 'We' is greater than 'I'. To 'Me'.

This is read by Chere Theriot, who has a truly lovely reading style, and voice. She would sound charming, and would command attention, if she just talked about the weather. I hope she records some more, and she is to be thanked for recording such an interesting book, which, although I disagreed with it, provoked a good deal of soul searching.

Next: Typee by Herman Melville


Anonymous said...

thank you for your kind words about my reading and i am glad to have inspired the soul searching -- chere

Anonymous said...

thank you for giving me a voice to keep me awake at night so "I" can stay awake at night... ben

James C said...

Just one thing...

"who said humans had a right to expect to be happy in the first place?"

Certainly not Ayn Rand, who said humans have a right to –pursue- their own happiness. This is very different from expecting it to be given on a plate as you imply/think she says (and which she explicitly condemns in practically every other work she ever wrote).

Either way good review, I liked the book myself too, happy reading! :-)

Anonymous said...

It's a shame I can't find any other audiobooks read by Chere Theriot. She's outstanding. Please narrate more books. I'd be happy to listen to the dictionary if read by Chere!