I’m back from NYC. Dylan Delikta unfortunately couldn’t make it to our Molinari Society anarchist panel, but otherwise the session went well; Jason’s and Alex’s papers were great, and we had a decent turnout (which for me means: the audience outnumbered the presenters).
I went to some good sessions, had some good meals, and got to hang out with some of my favourite people. I got to both Harlem and Brooklyn for the first time; and I got to spend more time at the Met than my previous, frustrating 90-minute dash, though still not seeing more than a small fraction of the whole: exhiliratingly, exhaustingly endless rooms of stunning beauty.
The book I took with me to read in idle hours (well, idle minutes) was, appropriately, Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140, in which the half-sunken (owing to global warming) but still-vibrant Manhattan that figures peripherally in some of Robinson’s other science fiction takes center stage. I’m about halfway through, finding it excellent so far (even if the economic views it dramatises are not precisely to my own Austro-mutualist taste).
Clouds had wrapped the sky and had descended as fog to wrap the streets below, as if the sky were engulfing the city. She could see the whole of Manhattan Island, a long, triangular shape cutting into an invisible ocean. It looked like the prow of a sinking ship; a few tall buildings still rose above it, like funnels, but the rest was disappearing under gray-blue coils, going down slowly into vapor and space. This was how they had gone – she thought – Atlantis, the city that sank into the ocean, and all the other kingdoms that vanished, leaving the same legend in all the languages of men, and the same longing.
– from Ayn Rand’s review of New York 2140
The Rand passage you quote at the end reminds why, after everything, I still have a soft spot for her.
It’s amusing that while you were reading New York 2140, my bedside reading was an ancient book, written by James and Margaret Cawley (b. 1892 and 1897 respectively), called “Along the Delaware and Raritan Canal,” part memoir, part guide book, and part regional history of the Delaware-Raritan Canal of west-central New Jersey.
That has any relevance at all because if Robinson’s book called Rand’s NYC to your mind, the Cawley book called Isabel Paterson’s New Jersey to mine: Paterson lived just alongside the Delaware-Raritan canal in the New Jersey town of Rocky Hill, just north of Princeton. In 1999, when Stephen Cox was writing his book about Isabel Paterson, he had me scout out Paterson’s homes in New Jersey (one in Montclair, the other in Rocky Hill), to photograph them for the book.
Neither photo made it into the book, alas, but the project got me thinking about the radical differences between Rand’s and Paterson’s everyday experiences of the world: Rocky Hill is maybe 50 miles from midtown Manhattan, but it may as well be in a different world. Rand frequently drew on images of New York skyscrapers and the like in her writing, whether or not she was writing in a given instance about New York; I’ve sometimes wondered whether Paterson’s allusions to “circuits” and the like in “God of the Machine” came as much by reflection on electrical circuits as by reflection on the barge/canal/lock system that was right in front of her house.
The next time you’re in Manhattan, I highly recommend taking the official guided tour of Rockefeller Center if you haven’t done it already. Carrie-Ann and I did it about a decade ago. Having lived in this area my whole life, I assumed that I knew all there was to know about Rockefeller Center, but the tour pleasantly proved me wrong:
It feels like walking through an Ayn Rand novel. In the meantime, I recommend this book as a good second best to taking the tour:
And if ever you have time for a trip to Jersey, I’ll have to drag you to the nineteenth century world which Paterson called home.
Thanks! I am indeed a Paterson fan — both of her fiction (very un-Randian; have you read her novels?) and of her nonfiction. Paterson makes a disparaging reference in God of the Machine to skyscrapers as “misdirected energy projected upwards” that must have annoyed Rand; she also said it would be a good idea to tear down a bunch of them to build parks and parking lots.
In addition to the Rand passage I should have quoted the lyrics to Billy Joel’s “Miami 2017.”
I’ve read God the Machine, but none of Paterson’s fiction. I actually made a point of looking for her fiction in the public libraries of the towns she lived in, but neither library had a single book by her, whether fiction or non-fiction. To be fair, the Rocky Hill library is about the size of my living room, but the Montclair library has a staff of 36 and a budget of $3.4 million. Still, not a word. They loudly celebrate Paul Robeson’s life and career in Princeton, Amiri Baraka’s in Newark, and even Grover Cleveland’s in Caldwell, but Isabel Paterson seems to have slipped through the cracks.
Speaking of fiction, I’m about 100 pages into LeCarre’s “Little Drummer Girl.” It’s engaging, but not as well written as “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” “Tinker, Tailor” gives the sense of an insider’s command of the subject matter. So far, “Little Drummer Girl” doesn’t. But I still have about 300 pages to go.
Three of her nine novels are online:
The Magpie’s Nest: https://books.google.com/books?id=aO1EAQAAMAAJ
The Shadow Riders: https://books.google.com/books?id=wagPAAAAYAAJ
Never Ask the End: https://mises-media.s3.amazonaws.com/Never%20Ask%20The%20End_2.pdf?file=1&type=document
The Magpie’s Nest and The Shadow Riders are her two earliest novels, and while they’re enjoyable, they’re fairly weak compared to her later work. Never Ask the End, by contrast, is from her mature period and is really excellent.
P.S. – Paterson writes:
(Of course Rand, by contrast, grew up in St. Petersburg.)
Thanks for those.
It belatedly occurs to me that my conjecture about Isabel Paterson, canals, and circuits founders on a single inconvenient truth: The God of the Machine was published in 1943, but Paterson moved to her farmhouse on Canal Road in Rocky Hill, NJ in 1949.
The thesis can of course be saved if we put aside issues of chronology and causation, or perhaps adopt backward causation. Surely the wholesale revision of my beliefs about metaphysics is a small price to pay to accommodate a fleeting surmise about Isabel Paterson’s circuit metaphors. Alternatively, I could claim that, being the prudent sort, Paterson surveyed the property for years, well in advance of actually buying it.
I’m glad we’ve gotten this straightened out.
Well, Paterson has often been described as “a woman ahead of her time.” Perhaps that just turned out to be more literal, than we realised.