Saturday, February 17, 2007

Romancing the Stone-Cold Killer

Although I've read Rand's Journals, this never quite clicked.

Monday, February 12, 2007

A Final Word on PARC

The internet is wonderful, and the ability to debate ideas in "real time" is exciting. On the other hand, there is always the tendency to want to get the last shot in. This will probably be my final response to Valliant, . . . for now . . .

Anyone who has read my review knows full well that it is not a defense of either Nathaniel or Barbara Brandens’ books. I make it quite clear that my critique is limited to PARC's use of the Brandens' books as sources. I explicitly state that I am not vouching for the accuracy of their books. However, I have not concluded, as Mr. Valliant alleges, that there are “many” mistakes in Ms. Branden’s biography. The Passion of Ayn Rand is roughly 425 pages long and it contains some errors. I have no reason to think that it contains more errors than the typical book of its length and kind; but again, this isn’t the focus of my review.

Given the purpose of my review, an intelligent critique would take an issue I discuss and attempt to show that my contention that Mr. Valliant has not accurately evaluated the Brandens' books is mistaken. For example, with respect to the surprise party, one might attempt to show that: (1) it really was an attempt to control Rand's "context through deception"; (2) although Rand's husband was part of the "deception" (having invited Rand out on the pretext of a quiet dinner), the Brandens' conduct was nonetheless culpable; and (3) Mr. Valliant's contention that Random House threw the party is correct, notwithstanding the lack of documentation.

Likewise, with respect to the Blumenthals, one would provide evidence to refute my contention that Mr. Valliant is wrong to say that Branden conceals the fact that it was the Blumenthals who left Rand. I see that Mr. Valliant contends that I have engaged in selective quotation, yet in PARC he quotes Jeff Walker’s book and not Branden’s biography concerning this particular split. So who is the “selective quoter” here?

As a final example, Mr. Valliant might attempt to support that his claim that Branden accuses Rand of being “self-delusional” in her 1959 Foreword to the new edition of We the Living. Branden describes Rand's conduct as conscious and deliberate.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Remington-Rand Story, Again

In my discussion with James Valliant, I pointed out that in Allan Gotthelf’s 2000 book On Ayn Rand, Gotthelf says that Rand took her last name from a Remington-Rand typewriter. I also pointed out that Gotthelf states that he checked all the biographical portions of the book with archivists at the ARI. Valliant responded by stating that Gotthelf says that he "erroneously" relied on PAR. Valliant further says there is nothing in the archives to support the claim that Rand took her name from a Remington-Rand (“RR”) typewriter.

I am willing to give Gotthelf the benefit of the doubt. Certainly he realized the mistake quite shortly after he published his book.

Here is what Gotthelf says:

“Barbara Branden has written a biography/memoir of Ayn Rand, based in part on taped interviews with her in 1960 and 1961. The book has numerous factual errors . . . . Because of this, although I have consulted the book where it draws directly on the taped interviews, I have checked every report 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.” (OAR, p. 27.)

A couple things should be noted. First, Gotthelf says that he relied on PAR only where it concerned taped interviews of Rand. Branden attributes the RR story to Fern Brown. Therefore, by Gotthelf’s own admission, he didn’t rely on PAR for the name issue. Second, he says he checked his facts in all instances with the ARI. He emphasizes two more times that he checked the biographical sections with the ARI. (Pages 2 & 17.) He also says that Harry Binswanger read drafts of the book (although it’s possible that the draft Binswanger read didn’t have the name discussion).

It’s also important to compare what Fern Brown said about the name (as relayed by PAR in 1986) and what Gotthelf said in 2000.

Here is the Brown version (at page 71 in PAR):

1. AR chose the first name “Ayn” upon arrival to the US, having first heard it presumably in Russia (this actually is not from Brown);
2. Rand brought a RR typewriter with her from Russia;
3. While in the U.S., AR looked at her RR typewriter, prompting her to chose “Rand” as her last name;
4. Rand didn’t tell her family in Russia her new name for fear that they might be endangered.

Here is the Gotthelf version (at page 19 in OAR):

1. AR settled on “Rand” while in Russia;
2. AR first spotted “Rand” on a RR typewriter in Russia (no mention if it was hers or if it was brought to the U.S.);
3. AR was leaning toward “Ayn” while in Russia;
4. AR’s family in Russia knew her new last name;
5. Rand decided on a new name because, if she became famous, her family in Russia might be endangered.

Gotthelf bases at least part of the above on a letter that AR’s sister Nora wrote to her from Russia before Rand had arrived in the U.S. This is obviously information from the archives that Branden didn’t have access to.

The versions are more dissimilar than similar. The most significant difference is the name “Rand.” Gotthelf says that AR chose it while in Russia after spotting it on a RR typewriter. There is no mention of whether the typewriter was Rand’s or whether it was brought to the U.S.

I think it’s clear that by 2000 Gotthelf/ARI knew that Fern Brown’s story could not be true, at least in large part. Knowing this, it is extremely unlikely that they accepted the RR story based exclusively on PAR. Therefore, there was a separate oral tradition that supported the RR story.

If this is true (and I think my analysis has shown it to be more likely than not), this makes plausible Barbara Branden’s recollection of having heard the RR story from Rand. It certainly undercuts any claim that she is lying.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

PARC's "Main Point"

James Valliant has accused me (and others, I think) of ignoring the "main point" or "major substance" of his book.

I get the impression from reading PARC that Valliant's "main point" is that the Brandens books are unreliable and in fact dishonest, thus their "picture" of Rand should not be trusted. PARC makes its points by an analysis of the Brandens books taken either individually (internal contradictions), a comparison among them (gross inconsistancies) and a comparison to other, more reliable version of events (such as, apparently, Jeff Walker's TARC).

There are six chapters of the book and the general approach described above is taken by Valliant in each chapter. I discuss chapters 1, 2 and 3 in depth. Chapter 4 concerns the split with the Brandens which, as I point out, I am unable to discuss based on the lack of public evidence. Chapter 5 concerns Frank O'Connor and focuses on Branden's claim concerning his alcoholism. I do not discuss this chapter because it has been discussed in depth. Chapter 6 is a minor chapter which summarizes some of his points.

If there is another "point" to Valliant's book, it would appear to be that Nathaniel Branden deceived Rand in 1968 both personally and professionally. Granted, I don't discuss this, but I do concede in my review that Nathaniel Branden's dishonesty vis-a-vis Rand should be weighed in evaluating his memoirs.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Amazon PARC Review

I published a brief review of PARC on James Valliant responded.

Jim's first point is that because the Remington-Rand typewriter story cannot be true, Barbara Branden must be lying about having heard it from Rand. This is a non sequitur. First, Rand could have lied, telling Branden that Fern Brown's story was true. As I point out, archivists at the ARI believed until recently that Rand's own statement about her name was a "red herring" to protect her family in Russia. In other words, they believed that Rand told at least one lie about her name. I doubt this, but it can't be ruled out. Second, it's possible that Rand inadvertently said something supporting Fern Brown's account. Third, it's possible that Branden has mistakenly remembered something Rand said as supporting Brown's story. Valliant and his side-kick Casey Fahy are quick to accuse people of lying (Fahy claims my review is "dishonest") but I'm willing to believe that Branden has made an honest mistake.

In response to my claim that Valliant mischaracterizes PAR with respect to the Blumenthals, Jim's response is . . . well, he doesn't respond. He claims that Branden has falsely grouped all of the breaks in the same category. I don't believe this is true, for the reasons I mention. However, note that Valliant has misrepresented PAR concerning the Blumenthal's break with Rand. Let's (again) look at what Valliant says in PARC:

"One would never have guessed it from reading Ms. Branden's book, but it was they [the Blumenthals and Holzer] who left Rand." (PARC, p. 75.)

However, Branden quotes Allan Blumenthal "I telephoned Ayn and said we no longer wished to see her." (PAR, p. 388.)

I encourage people to read my review and look at Valliant's responses.