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.


9 Responses to “Where Alice Rosenbaum Went Wrong”

  1. I’ve never read anything she’s written nor do I plan on doing so. I don’t read fiction and think philosophy is mostly rubbish (and I’ve heard her philosophy was amateurish). I was surprised you didn’t link to this post from Overcoming Bias:

  2. I read fairly quickly. This makes picking up a book of questionable quality less of a loss of opportunity than it would be for most people.

    I also am explicitly in favor of finding iotas of truth and value, even if only randomly generated, in works — and discarding the rest. I don’t expect consistent, coherent correctness. So I have an easier time appreciating what’s useful in things like the works of Ayn Rand or the Bible or political propaganda.

  3. I create big backlogs of things to read and get easily distracted with other books I try to read simultaneously. I sometimes feel as if there are many lifetimes worth of materials I missed out on because I was born too late and there is no way to catch up with the mountain because it’s rate of growth only accelerates.

  4. Z. M. Davis Says:

    Off-topic, but I find myself curious: “Alice Rosenbaum,” “Eric Blair” … do you have some specific principled grievance against pen names, or is this just you style?

  5. Z. M. Davis Says:

    * “your style”

  6. Technically, Rosenbaum changed her name to Ayn Rand — it’s not a nome de plume. I used her original name to indicate that I was referring to the totality of her thinking, not just the premises she accepted after the name change or the things she thought / wrote with that name.

    I refer to Blair’s real name because it is less well-known than his pen name. Searching for the obscure name quickly turns up references and works under the pen, but not always the other way around. I see increasing awareness of authors’ actual identities to be a real (but small) service to the community.

  7. Philia1 Says:

    Critics, there are those who work, and those who jockey. When literature becomes catipulted into an objective science, is it even still literature?

  8. Getta Life Says:

    hahaha… you guys crack me up.

    The first comment especially, but also the last comment (the one before this comment) have absolutely given me the best laugh that I have had in a while.


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