Thursday, May 29, 2008

Anthem by Ayn Rand

The following is the only part of Anthem I liked:

"This would wreck the Plans of theWorld Council," said Unanimity 2-9913," and without the Plans of the World Council the sun cannot rise. It took fifty years to secure the approval of all the Councils
for the Candle, and to decide upon the number needed, and to re-fit the Plans so as to make candles instead of torches. This touched upon thousands and thousands of men working in scores of States. We cannot alter the Plans again so soon."

Think of your favorite dystopian novel (1984, Animal Farm, Brave New World, We) and extract the barest bones of the plot (we now live in a Communist society; we are not allowed to love; etc). Now imagine the protagonist is a first person narrator with less personality than Ben Stein, and that the author thinks you, the reader, are a complete dolt. That's what reading Anthem feels like. The pot is this: dull protagonist finds ancient (read:modern) technology in an underground bunker, tries to show his fellow men, is punished, triumphs by giving a long speech to himself about himself, the end. Oh, also, there's a forbidden word. It isn't "I" if that's what you're thinking.

I'd never read any of Ayn Rand's books, but, what can I say, I'm behind in books and Anthem is mercifully brief. I'd heard that Rand was a poor writer and that her books were basically skeleton plots to spread her philosophy of Objectivism (i.e. selfishness), but it didn't prepare me for the utter ineptitude of this book.

Not much happens in the book to begin with, but when something does (Person 12422494934843's capture for breaking the law, his presentation of electricity to the Council of Scholars), every effort is made to eliminate any trace of tension or importance. For example, Person 12422494934843 is beaten and placed in prison for breaking some laws. To escape, he just... knocks down the door and walks out. There are no guards, no pursuit, no sense of heroics. An infant escaping from a roomful of dead paraplegics would be more dramatic. Virtually the same thing happens when he "escapes" from the Council of Scholars: he goes out a window into the forest where he lives until Person 489023984, his love, finds him.

The book has a philosophical and a material climax, both of which are boring. The material climax occurs when the recently renamed Prometheus (SWM/21) and Gaia (SWF/18) discover a house from the old times, decide to build an electric fence, and live happily ever after. The philosophical climax occurs about 15 pages from the end of the book when Rand forgets that she's writign a story and has Prometheus speechify about Objectivism, which, if I understand correctly, is this: I am the most important person in the universe, everything revolves around me, I shouldn't help anyone, etc, etc. Objectivism is strongly opposed to etcetering.

The forbidden word? EGO. Objectively, this book sucks.


Carlton said...

"Dead paraplegics" should really be a tag.

Elizabeth said...