Why They Wrote Such Good Books

[cross-posted at POT and Facebook]

I’ve just finished up my seminar (the teaching portion, not the grading portion – oh, not remotely the grading portion!) on Nietzsche and Modern Literature, where along with various readings from Nietzsche we also read works by Thomas Mann, André Gide, D. H. Lawrence, and Ayn Rand. I created an “audiovisual companion” website for the course to illustrate the various people, places, and works of art and music that are discussed by all five authors; and I’m posting the link to it here in case my broader readership is also interested.

As many of my readers are likely to have a particular interest in Rand, I’ll note that the pages where I discuss Rand are Weeks 9-14. See the four “horse tamer” statues that Rand describes at the beginning of Part II of We the Living! Hear the “John Gray” song (misidentified by Michael Berliner) that pervaded the streets of Kira’s Petrograd! See the theatres that Kira attended with Andrei, and the restaurant where they ate! Hear clips from the Kálmán operetta that inspired her, and the swingtime version of Wagner’s “Evening Star” that Gail Wynand suffered through during his late-night walk through the streets of New York! See the real-life models for Leo Kovalensky, Essie Twomey, Ellsworth Toohey, Lois Cook, Lancelot Clokey, Dominique Francon, Henry Cameron, Ralston Holcombe, and Austen Heller – as well as the real-life models for the buildings of Roark and Cameron, the coffee shop where Peter says goodbye to Katie, and much much more!

And check out similar sights and sounds for the works of Mann (Weeks 1-4), Gide (Weeks 4-5), Lawrence (Weeks 5-9), and of course Nietzsche (passim).

Virtual Molinari Society Panel on Rights: The Reboot

[cross-posted at POT]

This coming Monday, April 5th, the Molinari Society will be holding its mostly-annual Pacific Symposium in conjunction with the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association (5-10 April) via Zoom.

This panel has some overlap, both in personnel and in content, with the one we did in January for the Eastern APA, but it’s not identical.

Only those who cough up the hefty registration fee will be able to access the session, so no chance of free-riding this time around (the APA’s decision, definitely not ours; the APA is both pragmatically and morally confused about the costs and benefits of allowing free-riding at its conferences, but that’s another story). But there’s a substantial student discount, verb. sap. Anyway, here’s the schedule info:

Molinari Society symposium:
Radical Rights Theory

G2A. Monday, 5 April 2021, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Pacific time

     Roderick T. Long (Auburn University)

     Jesse Spafford (The Graduate Center, CUNY), “You Own Yourself and Nothing Else: A Radical Left-Libertarian Solution to the Self-Ownership Thesis’ Pollution Problem
     Jason Lee Byas (University of Michigan), “Stolen Bikes & Broken Bones: Restitution as Defense
     Zachary Woodman (Western Michigan University), “Extended Cognition as Property Acquisition
     Gary Chartier (La Sierra University), “Natural Law and Socioeconomic Rights
     Cory Massimino (Center for a Stateless Society), “Two Cheers for Rothbardianism
     Roderick T. Long (Auburn University), “How to Have Your No-Proviso Lockeanism and Eat It Too

See the full schedule here.

I’ll be chairing the panel from the road, so let’s hope my motel’s wifi is up to the challenge. Still, can’t be worse than the Eastern session, when my power actually went out in the middle of it.

A League of His Own

I’ve watched the Snyder Cut. I’m neither a Snyder superfan nor a Snyder hater, so I went in prepared for it to be either better or worse than the Whedon-Snyder hybrid version, though obviously I was hoping for better. And better indeed it is; I enjoyed it much more. To be sure, each has elements I liked that the other lacks; still, the tone of the Snyder version is much less uneven than that of the hybrid, as one would expect.

Comparisons between the Whedon and Snyder versions are sometimes surprising, though; a lot of humour one might have thought was Whedon turns out to be Snyder (though of course a lot also doesn’t), and one major montagey scene that looked like pure vintage Snyder turned out to be Whedon.

A lot of people are rolling their eyes about the four-hour runtime, but I greatly preferred the measured pace and slow burn that gives the story and characters more time to breathe. In particular, Cyborg, Cyborg’s father, and the Flash get a lot more to do. Also, although Snyder continues to operate better at the “moment” level than at the “scene” level (to quote one perceptive YouTube analyst I can’t seem to find now), that vice is less in evidence when he’s allowed more time.

Plus: in this era where people demand to bingewatch an entire season it’s a bit odd to complain about a movie’s length, especially since it’s online rather than in a theatre so you can pause whenever you like, and in any case Snyder has broken the movie into six chapters so you can treat it as a six-episode miniseries and watch one episode at a time if you’re so inclined.

The “Knightmare” flashforwards in this movie finally make sense of the earlier ones in Batman v. Superman; if you put them all together you get a fairly clear picture of what happens in the future that Barry wants Bruce to avert.

Not everything is better in the Snyder cut. I like Whedon’s Steppenwolf better (Snyder admittedly gives him better motivations and backstory, but the Whedon version gives him more personality and more menace). Wonder Woman’s now-familiar theme music gets used only once; instead there’s a new Wonder Woman leitmotiv that, while I like it, I’ve gotta say is overused. And a couple of her new scenes make no sense (I won’t go into details, because spoilers). The Snyder version also asks us to believe that one of the villains just forgot the location of the thing he desires most in life. Snyder’s ending to the Lois/Martha scene completely undercuts it; one of the new characters is just shoehorned awkwardly in; and I’m not crazy about the aspect ratio (which I gather Snyder chose mainly in the hope of future IMAX showings).

And in both versions, the Apokoliptians all look like rough-hewn CGI video game monsters rather than actual characters. That can only make things difficult for the upcoming New Gods movie, at least if that’s supposed to be in continuity with the earlier movies – though the likewise upcoming Flash movie may hand DC a get-out-of-continuity-free card.

One final note: in the hybrid version, the narration over the flashback scene of hiding the motherboxes seems to be a direct homage to the opening of Fellowship of the Ring; if you were wondering whether that was Snyder’s idea or Whedon’s, lo, it was Whedon’s – the Snyder narration is much less Fellowship-y. Though of course the idea of three major peoples each receiving a perilous magical gifty remains.

The Strastnoy of Ayn Rand

[cross-posted at POT and Facebook]

Ayn Rand’s Red Pawn, written in the 1930s, takes place on the imaginary Strastnoy (“Passion,” in the Christian theological sense) Island, in “the Arctic waters off the Siberian coast,” where a Christian monastery has been converted into a Soviet prison camp.

In real life there actually was, during the 1920s and 30s, a Christian monastery that had been converted into a Soviet prison camp, on a remote island in Arctic waters – though on the western side of Russia, not the eastern, Siberian side – namely Solovki Prison on Solovetzky Island, which was actually the nucleus of the entire Gulag system. (Appropriately enough, the Gulag Archipelago began on a literal archipelago.)

Solovki Prison is not as forbidding-looking as the one described in Rand’s story (Rand’s version has a bit more the flavour of the Château d’If), but I still suspect it influenced the tale. (During World War II, Solovki became a military base. Today it is a monastery again.) (There was also a Strastnoy monastery in Moscow that was demolished by the Soviets, and might have influenced Rand’s choice of name.)

Would Rand have been aware of Solovki Prison? I think likely yes, since two books had been published on it in the west during the 1920s, by former inmates – S. A. Malsagoff’s An Island Hell: A Soviet Prison in the Far North, and Youri Bezsonov’s Mes vingt-six prisons et mon évasion de Solovki.

Sewer Song

In my latest YouTube video, I share a totally authentic song from the mean streets of Gotham City (and below).

Thanks to Alicia Homer for introducing me to the Wellerman song!

Apologies for the change of key and tempo toward the end. If you’re looking for musical competence, you’ve chosen the wrong YouTube channel.

Maxwell’s House of Books!

Continuing the San Diego bookstores series, I chat with Craig Maxwell of Maxwell’s House of Books (good to the last drop of ink!) in La Mesa, featuring titles in philosophy, history, science, law, literature, poetry, drama, literary criticism, science fiction, mystery, and more.

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