Sunday, July 23, 2006

James Valliant on Rand and the Remington Rand Typewriter Story

James Valliant, in his book The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics, practically begins his attack on the Brandens with Barabara Branden's claim that Rand took her name from the Remington-Rand typewriter. He quotes Allan Gotthelf as discovering that it wasn't until 1927 that Remington-Rand typwriters began to be produced. He says that Gotthelf, in a future edition of his 2000 work On Ayn Rand will discuss the results of his research.

What did Gotthelf say in 2000?

". . . she probably first spotted 'Rand' on a Remington Rand typewriter in Russia." (p. 19.)

Not only that, he states at the beginning of the chapter:

"In this paragraph and in what follows in this and the next chapter . . . I draw on . . . other material housed in the Ayn Rand Archives at the Ayn Rand Institute . . . ." (p. 17.)

And in the book's introduction:

"Michael Berliner, Executive Director of the Ayn Rand Institute, kindly supervised the checking of biographical information for me in the Institute's Ayn Rand Archives."

Why does a mistake that was believed as recently as 2000 by Allan Gotthelf and (apparently) by the ARI become proof of Barbara Branden's dishonesty?

9 comments:

James S. Valliant said...

I happen to know that there is absolutely no material at the "Ayn Rand Archives" able to support your implication here that Gotthelf HAD such material about Rand's name -- I had access to all of these same materials.

Also, I happen to know that Gotthelf erroneously relied upon Ms. Branden for this information, although he never says this.

I also believe that Gotthelf deserves some credit for correcting this error through his own research.

As PARC demonstrates, Ms. Branden is simply wrong when she asserts that Rand's Russian family never learned her American name. This was simply an irresponsible assertion. She also reports Fern Brown's incorrect story about the typewriter. This may have been innocently irresonsible, since other sources and materials were available.

This story is just impossibly wrong, so, if Mr. Branden's version of things (in which Rand tells him this!) is correct, then Rand is lying -- and in contradiction to her own published statements about the matter -- as PARC shows.

Inspired by the first tale, I believe that Mr Branden is just lying.

However, and in any event, there is no source other than the Brandens and Ms. Brown for this assertion. And Gotthelf has demonstrated it to be bogus.

Anonymous said...

You say that Ms. Branden makes "irresponsible" assertions. Why are they irresponsible? To be wrong is not necessarily irresponsible. Also, in your book, you use the Typewriter story as an indication of dishonesty. Are you backtracking on this now?

James S. Valliant said...

To make such an assertion without evidence is irresponsible. Ms. Branden cites no evidence for this.

Also, no "backtracking" necessary, as I clearly identified which parts of which story I found less than credible in the book.

Do you have a quote in mind?

ObjectiBlog said...

Jim,

On p. 12 you state:

"Dishonesty is apparent not merely from the Brandens' general approach but from countless smaller issues. As a case in point we are treated to an unnecessary fabrication concerning how Rand chose her name. While it is a minor point, it is an ominous foreshadowibg of the dishonesty of the Brandens' main theses."

On p. 13, you talk of Ms. Branden's "fictionalizing of the issue" and then ask "could the rest of her name-story be false [not wanting her family to know]"?

I read these statements as accusing both Nathaniel and Barbara of making up the "Remington Rand" origin of the name.

If the issue is Barbara's speculation being an "embelishment", then what about Gotthelf's speculation that Rand changed her name out of concerning to protect her family in Russia from reprisal (On Ayn Rand, p. 19).

James S. Valliant said...

Then -- honestly just curious -- what did you make of my conclusion that each of the Brandens had been "sold a bill of goods by cousin Fern," and, then, that each "did a bit of embellishing" of their own?

Without naming her source for a patently false assertion -- which supports her general theme against Rand -- one can at least conclude that Ms. Branden's boldly false assertion was less than a heartfelt and sincere comment. Why say it at all? She sure hadn't checked with anyone who could've told her the truth. As I make perfectly clear in PARC, it was that part which I regard as dubiously motivated.

Ms. Branden, it seems, didn't want to check it out. This version fit her picture better. That's not "honest." It's, at the very least, irresponsible with the truth.

It is Mr. Branden's fictitious quotation of Rand that fails the credibility test in his case.

Curiously, Brown's report to Ms. Branden was at that time unable to jog her memory, but, it seems, in defense of Mr. Branden's claims, Ms. Branden is NOW saying that Rand did tell her, too. She had simply forgotten, she says, when, of course, she made no mention of this in her biography and had to rely n Fern Brown for it in PAR.

To any but the blindest Branden apologist, of course, this all stinks to high heaven, and will all be mentioned in the next edition.

This story is, in fact, false -- no, impossible to be true. There is absolutely no evidence of any kind to support it except the Brandens' and Brown's testimony. In fact, Rand indicated otherwise -- in public -- on more than one occasion.

All of the ancillary legend to Ms. Brown's original story is still more dubious, being built on a falsehood.

ObjectiBlog said...

Jim,

I read your statement that "[a]s a case in point we are treated to an unnecessary fabrication concerning how Rand chose her name" as asserting that the origin of the name was made up. I wasn't sure why you appeared to qualify it by the "bill of goods" line. You then say that Ms. Branden makes "bold assertions even if the face of conclusive evidence to the contrary . . ." And just now you say that Barbara's approach wasn't "honest."

In any event, given what Gotthelf said in 2000, I don't see any reason to believe that Barabara's story is anything more than an honest mistake. Gotthelf says more than once that he checked with the ARI. He says, "although I have consulted the book where it draws directly on the taped interviews, I have checked reports I have used (and other details of Ayn Rand's life) with archivists at the Ayn Rand Institute, which has access to all the tapes." (p. 27.)

If anything seems fishy to me, it is Gotthelf's claim (as you relate it) that he didn't check with the ARI on the name issue. Of course, I will believe until shown otherwise that Gotthelf is an honest person who made an honest mistake (or wasn't clear enough in his book). Ditto with Barabara Branden.

James S. Valliant said...

Nothing "fishy" about Ms. Branden's sudden recollections in support of her ex-husband? (You tend to ignore the stuff that's inconvenient to your vigorous case for Ms. Branden's honesty. Mr. Branden you simply ignore altogether.)

So, there we have it: the image of Rand's Russian poor family struggling in vain to get in touch with her -- but cold and secretive Rand, having kept her name one those many of her "secrets," had just made that impossible...

Oh, it fits so nicely with the rest of her hatched portrait of Rand, but, alas, it's simply not true.

Somebody "fabricated" this. Right? (ONLY Gotthelf's second-hand statements are "fishy" among all of these falsehoods?! Sheesh!)

The only question is who the liar is here, since Ms. Branden gives us no source, as she does for the basic typewriter story. No, it's not on those biographical tapes, or any other item of real evidence -- 'cause it's just false.

Dead wrong, what could her source have been? Brown just would not have been enough of a source for this -- as anyone might reasonably and correctly see, it could have simply been outside of her knowledge.

So, where does Ms. Branden's certainty -- about the absolutely false -- come from?

See, Neil, an "honest mistake" requires a reasonable and good faith reliance on a source.

Gotthelf's source is known.

Ms. Branden's source for the idea that Rand's family never learned her new name -- a simple falsehood -- remains unknown. Somebody fabricated this. Notice that Ms. Branden does not provide any source, since, of course, it could not have been reasonable to have relied upon it. This one is a bald assertion.

Granted, it is conencted to another, earlier false assertion about Rand's name, Ms. Brown's, which may not be Ms. Branden's fault, but, let's count the "fabrications": (1.) that Rand was inspired by the name of a typewriter (source, Brown); (2.) that Rand's family never learned her new name (only source on earth so far: Ms. Branden); (3.) that Rand said this to the Brandens (source: Mr. Branden.)

Moreover, permit me to give you some advice. Before evaluating any one item, please wait until the whole picture emerges, the giant chip the Brandens shoulder, all of the other, very similar ways this shapes their stories, the bogus accusations of alcoholism, etc., before you make any global commitments about things like honesty.

Fairness dictates assessing each part from a consideration of the whole, doesn't it? Unless, you already have the conclusion in mind...

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