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Tuesday, March 2, 2010: Ayn Rand and Music


        I remember falling out of love with Ayn Rand’s writings. I had been handed “Atlas Shrugged” when I was in my early twenties, being told I would either hate or love Rand’s writing. I fell instantly in love with her heroines, strong, self-assured and somehow attracting a soul mate never threatened by female strength and conviction.

           Reality of late 1960’s was just beginning to catch up with my girl friends and me: contrary to the belief our parents had instilled in their daughters (that we were intelligent and gifted enough to take on any career we wanted), the world we faced was still filled with closed doors and glass ceilings, at least for women who dreamed of serious careers and families.  I actually had a professor berate me for taking a science course and ruining the grade curve. He took one look at my mini-skirt and proceeded to tell me I obviously was at college to find a husband, had no intention of making science a career and should drop the class to give serious students a break.

          I was primed and ready for Ayn Rand’s heroines. I hunted down Ayn Rand novels, clinging to her heroines as my new role models. (In 2010, I laugh at the naivety: I’d never notice Rand’s female characters were not scientists or engineers but women removed from working society, whose position of power came from the men in their lives.)

           Having exhausted Rand’s novels, I turned to her non-fiction writing, only to quickly lose enthusiasm for Ayn’s ever expanding philosophy. Was she drunk on the success of her novels, applying a fictional ideology to every social issue of the day?  I might have drifted more slowly away from Ayn Rand and her Objectivism had she not set off to analyze music.

          Music was my release from the academic pressures of college. Sensual and spiritual, it could center my attention in the present moment while still expanding my heart to embrace stories of humanity. Imagine my outrage when I read Ayn Rand’s blatant conviction that the ‘noble’ spirit always preferred music written in a major key, since only that mode celebrated the triumphs of human spirit. Music of a minor key was for the downtrodden and dispirited.

          Bull shit, I thought. At that moment I realized her ideology was stretched too thin across a non-fictional landscape. Ayn might have enjoyed listening to upbeat music, but she was no musician.

           Yes, I like music in major keys, but a steady diet of major mode seems superficial to me.  I accept the suffering and struggles as part of life. Songs in minor keys sound softer and sweeter to me, more complex and infinitely more interesting. They are written during and after the pain---sorrow held up to light and turned into something beautiful, emotions sung over and over until old pains become a single thread in the tapestry and richness of life.

          I look back on Ayn Rand, who created heroes and heroines like distant stars, shining and out of reach. Her fictional characters remain inhuman, untouched by the realities and depths of normal life.   Perhaps they would have remained my heroines if they had understood music: strength lies not just in outward battles and defiance to life’s obstacles, but in the inner fortitude that emerges after the battles, dusts itself off and raises its voice to sing.

Posted on Tuesday, March 2, 2010 at 09:45AM by Registered CommenterThe Skeptical Mystic | CommentsPost a Comment

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