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“Ayn Rand” at Chapman:
An American Warning from a Russian Author

New Ayn Rand Exhibit Runs at Chapman University through June 29, 2012

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An exhibit commemorating two literary milestones of novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand is now on display at the Frank Mt. Pleasant Library of Special Collections and Archives at Chapman University’s Leatherby Libraries.

The exhibit is titled We the Living and For the New Intellectual: Celebrating the Drama and Philosophy of Ayn Rand.

The exhibit, which commemorates the 75th publication anniversary of Ayn Rand’s first novel, We the Living (1936), and the 50th publication anniversary of Rand’s first nonfiction book, For the New Intellectual: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (1961), features a display of historical editions, reproductions on paper, realia and original manuscripts.

We the Living and For the New Intellectual: Celebrating the Drama and Philosophy of Ayn Rand examines the continuing relevance of We the Living as a critique of contemporary totalitarianism – a critique whose underlying, mature philosophy came to full literary expression in Rand’s 1957 novel, Atlas Shrugged. Rand later outlined her philosophy in For the New Intellectual, the first of her seven nonfiction books.

Two American Literary Milestones

We the Living is set in 1920s Soviet Russia and was published by Macmillan in 1936. Rand identified its theme as “the supreme value of a human life and the evil of a totalitarian state that claims the right to sacrifice it.” The philosophy implicit in We the Living was later elaborated in her two major novels: The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957). (The full statement of her mature philosophy can be found in Atlas Shrugged.)

We the Living is the story of “a young engineering student, Kira Argounova, who feigns a love affair with an idealistic member of the Communist party in order to save her actual love, a self-destructive son of a Tsarist admiral.” Rand’s novel dramatizes the sanctity of human life. Her story presents this viewpoint in distinctly secular and individualistic terms. She regarded the sacredness of life and the resulting reverence toward one’s own life as one of the “characteristics of the best among men.”

From 1938 to 1957, Ayn Rand developed her theme of “the supreme value of a human life” in novels of increasing philosophical and dramatic scope. In her final novel, Atlas Shrugged, Rand explained “the philosophical, psychological and moral meaning of the men who value their own lives and of the men who don’t.” In her 1959 preface to the re-issue of We the Living, she writes that those who value their lives are “the prime movers of mankind,” while those who exhibit contempt for life “are metaphysical killers, working for the opportunity to become physical ones.” She continues: “In Atlas Shrugged, I show why men are motivated either by a life premise or a death premise. In We the Living, I show only that they are.”

Twenty-five years after the 1936 publication of We the Living, Rand issued For the New Intellectual. In her preface, she described the book as an “outline” of a new philosophical system, which she called Objectivism. For the New Intellectual compiles the major philosophical speeches from her four novels, including Kira’s climactic speech from We the Living. A long title essay opens the work. In this essay, Rand analyzes Western culture and discusses the cause of its progress, its decline, its present bankruptcy, and points the road to an intellectual renaissance.

An American Warning from a Russian Author

Ayn Rand was born in Russia, but she chose to become an American, regarding America’s Declaration of Independence as the greatest document in human history. The 75th anniversary edition of We the Living, published by Penguin in 2010, contains a new introduction by Leonard Peikoff, Ayn Rand’s heir and student of thirty years. The theme of the introduction is the ongoing relevance of We the Living in today’s battle to defend political freedom against totalitarianism.

From the Introduction:

As Ayn Rand says in her Foreword, “We the Living is not a novel about Soviet Russia, which is only the backdrop of the story. The novel’s events, characters, and outcome are selected not by their relation to history, but to philosophy, which means that the book’s theme is universal. The theme is the evil of totalitarianism, a species of depravity not restricted to any country or century. The basic cause of totalitarianism is two ideas: men’s rejection of reason in favor of faith, and of self-interest in favor of self-sacrifice. If this is a society’s philosophical consensus, it will not be long before an all-powerful Leader rises up to direct the faith and sacrifice that everyone has been extolling. His subjects cannot resist his takeover, neither by exercising their faculty of thought nor their passion for values, because these are the two priceless possessions they have given up.”

In For the New Intellectual, Rand introduced her antidote to totalitarianism: a systematic philosophy, which includes a defense of reason and a new conception of moral values.

Exhibit Features

The Leathery Libraries exhibit explores the genesis of Rand’s first novel and her first work of nonfiction. Rand’s unique blend of drama and philosophy is evident in ten vignettes featuring a variety of objects from the collections of the Ayn Rand Archives.

Among the objects on display are historic hardcover and paperback editions of each book, reproductions of publication ephemera, and photographs of film and theatrical adaptations of We the Living.

The exhibit’s special feature is the “Airtight” notebook, which is displayed in public for the first time. This notebook contains Rand’s earliest handwritten notes on her first novel. The pages on display – which will be rotated through the run of the exhibit – provide an unfolding and unique glimpse into the creative process of one of the most original thinkers of the 20th century.

Rounding out the exhibit are rare reproductions of images and correspondence from Rand’s personal papers – some displayed for the first time. A series of ten images accompanied by passages from the 75th anniversary edition of We the Living illustrate the personal and biographical background of Rand’s first novel. A sampling of correspondence and artifacts, from Rand’s voluminous correspondence with her family, shows the intimate details of life in a Soviet dictatorship. This correspondence ceased in the late 1930s due to the increasingly dangerous political conditions under Stalin.

In Rand’s words: “For those . . . who have expressed a personal curiosity about me, I want to say that We the Living is as near to an autobiography as I will ever write. It is not an autobiography in the literal, but only in the intellectual, sense. The plot is invented; the background is not.”

We the Living and For the New Intellectual: Celebrating the Drama and Philosophy of Ayn Rand is a dramatic illustration of Rand’s Russian background and her original philosophy defending the sanctity of the individual. Rand’s literary art and philosophy form a warning to America – a warning from a creative artist, a Russian author, who chose to become an American in order to be free to write – a novelist-philosopher whose unique 20th-century defense of the individual and of political liberty are even more relevant in our own day.

We the Living and For the New Intellectual: Celebrating the Drama and Philosophy of Ayn Rand runs now through June 29, 2012. Frank Mt. Pleasant Library of Special Collections and Archives, Leatherby Libraries, 4th floor, Chapman University, Orange, California.

Additional Programming

Film Screenings at Dodge College of Film and Media Arts’ Folino Theater:

Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life - Saturday, June 2, 2012
We the Living - Saturday, June 16, 2012

We the Living (1942) – This wonderful Italian feature film adaptation of Ayn Rand’s first novel follows the story of Kira, a smart and beautiful young woman trying to survive in brutal Communist Russia, while balancing relationships with Leo, the man she loves, and Andrei, the man she needs to love in order to protect Leo. With subtitles in English.

Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life (1997) – This Academy Award© nominated documentary traces the life of Ayn Rand from her birth in 1905 in St. Petersburg, Russia, to her death in 1982. This uplifting documentary shows how Ayn Rand’s own life was as interesting and heroic as the lives of her novels’ heroes. Ayn Rand Archives curator (and exhibit curator) Jeff Britting developed, associate-produced and wrote the musical score.

Ayn Rand Biography

Ayn Rand was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, on February 2, 1905. At age six she taught herself to read and two years later discovered her first fictional hero in a French magazine for children, thus capturing the heroic vision which sustained her throughout her life. At the age of nine, she decided to make fiction writing her career. Thoroughly opposed to the mysticism and collectivism of Russian culture, she thought of herself as a European writer, especially after encountering Victor Hugo, the writer she most admired.

During her high school years, she was eyewitness to both the Kerensky revolution, which she supported, and in 1917 the Bolshevik Revolution, which she denounced from the outset. In order to escape the fighting, her family went to the Crimea, where she finished high school. The final communist victory brought the confiscation of her father’s pharmacy and periods of near-starvation. When introduced to American history in her last year of high school, she immediately took America as her model of what a nation of free men could be.

When her family returned from the Crimea, she entered the University of Petrograd to study philosophy and history. Graduating in 1924, she experienced the disintegration of free inquiry and the takeover of the university by communist thugs. Amidst the increasingly gray life, her greatest pleasures were Viennese operettas and Western films and plays. Long an admirer of cinema, she entered the State Institute for Cinema Arts in 1924 to study screenwriting. It was at this time that she was first published: a booklet on actress Pola Negri (1925) and a booklet titled Hollywood: American Movie City (1926), both reprinted in 1999 in Russian Writings on Hollywood.

In late 1925, she obtained permission to leave Soviet Russia for a visit to relatives in the United States. Although she told Soviet authorities that her visit would be short, she was determined never to return to Russia. She arrived in New York City in February 1926. She spent the next six months with her relatives in Chicago, obtained an extension to her visa, and then left for Hollywood to pursue a career as a screenwriter.

On Ayn Rand’s second day in Hollywood, Cecil B. DeMille saw her standing at the gate of his studio, offered her a ride to the set of his movie The King of Kings, and gave her a job, first as an extra, then as a script reader. During the next week at the studio, she met an actor, Frank O’Connor, whom she married in 1929; they were married until his death fifty years later.

After struggling for several years at various non-writing jobs, including one in the wardrobe department at RKO Radio Pictures, Inc., she sold her first screenplay, Red Pawn, to Universal Pictures in 1932 and saw her first stage play, Night of January 16th, produced in Hollywood and then on Broadway. Her first novel, We the Living, was completed in 1934 but was rejected by numerous publishers, until the Macmillan Company in the United States and Cassells and Company in England published the book in 1936. The most autobiographical of her novels, it was based on her years under Soviet tyranny.

She began writing The Fountainhead in 1935 (taking a short break in 1937 to write the anti-collectivist novelette Anthem). In the character of the architect Howard Roark, she presented for the first time the kind of hero whose depiction was the chief goal of her writing: the ideal man, man as “he could be and ought to be.” The Fountainhead was rejected by twelve publishers but finally accepted by the Bobbs-Merrill Company. When published in 1943, it made history by becoming a best seller through word of mouth two years later, and gained for its author lasting recognition as a champion of individualism.

Ayn Rand returned to Hollywood in late 1943 to write the screenplay for The Fountainhead, but wartime restrictions delayed production until 1948. Working part time as a screenwriter for Hal Wallis Productions, she began her major novel Atlas Shrugged in 1946. In 1951 she moved back to New York City and devoted herself full time to the completion of Atlas Shrugged.

Published in 1957, Atlas Shrugged was her greatest achievement and last work of fiction. In this novel, she dramatized her unique philosophy in an intellectual mystery story that integrated ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, politics, economics and sex. Although she considered herself primarily a fiction writer, she realized that in order to create heroic fictional characters, she had to identify the philosophic principles which make such individuals possible.

Thereafter, Ayn Rand wrote and lectured on her philosophy – Objectivism, which she characterized as “a philosophy for living on earth.” She published and edited her own periodicals from 1962 to 1976, her essays providing much of the material for six books on objectivism and its application to the culture. Ayn Rand died on March 6, 1982, in her New York City apartment.

Every book by Ayn Rand published in her lifetime is still in print, and hundreds of thousands of copies are sold each year, so far totaling more than 25 million. Several new volumes have been published posthumously. Her vision of man and her philosophy for living on earth have changed the lives of thousands of readers and launched a philosophic movement with a growing impact on American culture.

Jeff Britting, Guest Curator

Jeff Britting is curator of the Ayn Rand Archives. He is author of the short, illustrated biography Ayn Rand. He developed and associate-produced the Academy Award© nominated documentary Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life and the feature film Take Two; he co-produced the first stage productions of Ayn Rand’s play Ideal, and her novella Anthem. As a composer, he has written incidental music for twelve stage productions and five films, and is writing an opera based on an original libretto set in the Middle Ages. His most recent work was an Equity production of Rand’s novella Anthem, produced by Austin Shakespeare, which featured his original stage adaptation and incidental music.

For more information on Objectivism’s unique point of view, go to AynRand.org. The Ayn Rand Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.

Press release provided by Chapman University on Apr 14, 2012

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