Monday, March 06, 2006

Why is George Reisman making a mountain out of a Mayhew?

According to George Reisman, Ayn Rand Answers editor Robert Mayhew is guilty of dishonesty toward none other than Ayn Rand herself. Writing in his weblog, Reisman states that Mayhew's decision to edit Rand's replies that may have been inconsistent with her written works was "totally unnecessary" and in fact, any attempt to present Rand's answers in book form is fatally flawed.

Speaking is not writing. Converting lectures, and still more, spontaneous answers in question periods, into the form of an essay or book requires editing and a process of considerable intellectual refinement. As a result, in order to put her oral material into the form of a book, Prof. Mayhew was placed in the impossible position of trying to improve upon Ayn Rand. This is an assignment that no one in the world would be capable of carrying out but Ayn Rand herself.
If that person was claiming that final product was touched only by the hand of Ayn Rand, yes, but Mayhew never makes that claim. What Mayhew does claim in his introduction is that when Rand discussed turning her Q&A sessions into a book, she stated that she did not believe that she spoke well extemporaneously and that her answers "might be good for a first draft, but [they] would still need editing."

So what has Mayhew then done? Given Rand's obvious absence, as a competent and knowledgeable Objectivist who has spent years researching her papers, he has acted as her editor. Does Mayhew ever claim that Rand would have approved of his edits? No. He explicitly states in his introduction that that she very well might not have. Does Mayhew ever claim that his book is part of Objectivism? No--he explicitly rejects any such implication.

Reisman even acknowledges these statements made by Mayhew, yet according to Reisman, "it by no means follows that the most carefully considered, edited writing produced by Robert Mayhew is superior to the spontaneous speech of Ayn Rand. Nothing can be gained from attempting such a conversion when there is no one alive capable of reliably carrying out the conversion." [Emphasis mine]

So the alternative is to simply release Rand's remarks unedited (which she herself considered "almost publishable, but not quite") or present them in audio form only, which would result in a final product that was expensive, cumbersome, and that would likely include statements that if taken out of context would contradict what Rand said in her written works. How such a treatment would serve the mass audience Mayhew's book was intended to reach is beyond me. After all, the extemporaneous comments by even the most powerful thinker cannot be considered a substitute for their written ideas.

What Mayhew has presented is a compact, convenient, easily accessible text of Rand's public answers as edited by a scholar of her philosophy—who states upfront what he has done. Yet such a book is clearly not good enough for Reisman, who demands a seemingly Platonic perfection:

"Even the most minimal respect for honesty would have required explicitly naming all [edited] Q&As and providing the exact text of Ayn Rand's answers in all such cases. If transcripts were not to be provided for all the Q&As, they should most certainly and absolutely have been provided in cases of this kind. That way, the reader would know what Ayn Rand actually said, not what Prof. Mayhew had decided she should be allowed to say."
I marvel at Reisman's characterization of Mayhew as the disrespectful and dishonest redactor of Ayn Rand. Reisman acts as if Mayhew has razed the Ayn Rand Archives he relied upon to compile his book and that other scholars will never be able to examine her words in their original form again. I've read Mayhew's book and I found it to be a fantastic contribution--perhaps not exactly the same as hearing the original audio tapes for the more retentive, but light-years above the distortion Reisman intonates. I recommend Ayn Rand Answers to anyone who wants to get an accurate presentation of what Ayn Rand said about her ideas when questioned.

I also have a recommendation for Dr. Reisman: since he's now the guardian of Ayn Rand's philosophy, why doesn't he contemplate the value of his fellowship at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, an organization that hosts sundry articles like this and this on its website, and whose president hosts this gem on his personal website. Each article serves to inform the reader that Rand organized a cult, not a philosophy, and it seems to me that the continued prostitution of garbage like that is of more material importance than whipping one's self into a froth over Robert Mayhew's alleged editorial imperfections. And if engaging in that troubling moral evaluation doesn't appeal to Dr. Reisman, maybe he could do us all a favor and edit and essentialize his own book.

Hell, have you read all of Capitalism? Neither have I.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot, Mr. Provenzo! Not only do I agree with every word you wrote about Reisman's context-dropping complaints, I really cannot stand that book, "Capitalism."

Despite all his talk of being influenced by Ayn Rand, the book doesn't integrate philosophically! What we get is a bunch of "hypothetical", rationalistic economic ideas from the past patched together (with some innovations of his own), and then some sounder ethical arguments on the side, to help it all go down.