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Monday, January 29, 2007

Humor In Ayn Rand's Non-Fiction

Recently Harry Binswanger of HBL (Harry Binswanger List) posted on some humor he experienced with Ayn Rand and her husband Frank O'Connor.

It reminded me of a passage I re-read recently in her non-fiction in which she achieved humor, with me at least, even though the achievement of humor was not her primary goal.

For example, in her essay "Don't Let It Go" (Philosophy Who Needs It) she compares Americans' respect for authority to that of Europeans by writing: "In England, the freeest country of Europe, the achievement of a scientist, a businessman or a movie star is not regarded as fully real until he has been clunked on the head with the State's sword and declared to be a knight."

Obviously the words 'clunked on the head' were meant to convey to her readers her disdain for the ritual of knighthood. Now she could have used the word knighted or even dubbed or some such concept. But she was able to project that disdain by conveying just the right amount of intellectual disrespect for the institution with those four words. I smile every time I read that sentence and marvel at how good she was at that art.

Now that I have looked at that phrase more closely, I get another impression: that a lesser writer might even have devoted an entire sentence such as "By the way, I have no respect for the institute of knighthood" and that she was saying in essence, "I will use only these four words because I don't want to waste any more time on the frivolity of ritual."

I have decided to margin note any more examples of this technique that I may find. I know there are lots more but offhand I don't remember where.


Kriegsgefahrzustand said...

Qualities such as wit used to be common among writers. Today? Not so much.

mkfreeberg said...

I have started a collection. Much of what's in it overlaps with this precision-selection of adjectives & nouns you admire, because I share that appreciation. Some of the items were included for other things, but I thought I'd just toss in the whole set.

Mike N said...

Thanks Morgan. I checked out the list. Good witticisms. Keep up the good work.

Daniel Rigby said...

I dont get it?