Where Alice Rosenbaum Went Wrong
I took the time to read her most-famous novel again, as I had only done so once before. I also came across a biography of her life written by one of her former disciples, Barbara Brandon. Considering the circumstances, I found the book to be both forgiving of the subject’s flaws and utterly uncompromising in identifying and demonstrating them. My impression is that the book is remarkably fair, addressing both virtues and vices, strengths and weaknesses. Given the author’s background, it might have been expected that she be bitter and spiteful, and it’s impressive that she avoided that state.
As for AR’s books and her philosophies: she’s mostly right. But as Samuel Clemens said, the difference between the right word and the wrong one is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. It only takes one error to invalidate a logical argument, and if you don’t recognize and correct that error, your conclusion is invalid — even if it’s correct.
Recognizing one’s own error is problematic. Rosenbaum was never capable of it; she seems to have accepted the correctness of her perceptions and judgments as axiomatic. And they were correct – mostly. But unchecked errors accumulate. She had little of a sense of humor, possibly because humor requires switching between rules of interpretation and contexts rapidly, and she was known for relentless, single-track thinking. Once, while recuperating in a hospital bed after surgery for lung cancer, she expressed bewilderment as to how a tree could have grown so high as to cast a shadow through the window of her ninth-floor room. A friend who was watching over her explained that the shadow was from her I/V stand, and that the narcotics she was on were shifting her perceptions — and Rosenbaum freaked out, accusing her of trying to ‘undermine her confidence in her rationality’. She kept the grudge going for years, too — but never seems to have gone back to the hospital to look for a tree.
Rosenbaum despised superstition and irrationality, but draped her own errors in a mantle of rationality; she told people they should never hold the judgment of others beyond their own, then rejected them if they disagreed with her judgments. She was an extraordinary woman, but she tried to possess Yang virtue without the tempering Yin, and so accumulated Yang vice.
Edit: It has just come to my attention that a movie was made out of Mrs. Brandon’s book in 2000. I should really check that out.