Tuesday, September 11, 2012


In Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, comprising 890 pages,[1] there are 4,105 uses of “as”, including 1,213 uses of “as if”; and 1,406 of “like.” Take any page at random and one will likely find “as if” upon “as if”; “like” upon “like”; and other such elaborations. The first page of the first chapter gives notice of what is to come:
▪ … as if the question had been addressed to the causeless uneasiness within him. (4)
▪ … as if to kill that moment and postpone the problem of the next. (4)
▪ … as if he knew that Eddie felt it, as if he thought that one should feel it, and more: as if he knew the reason. (4)
▪ … like an old painting in oil, … (4)
▪ … like the reflection of a fire: not an active fire, but a dying one which it is too late to stop. (4)
Soon thereafter, we discover that nigh every A.S. character will experience the world in simile and metaphor. Here is a random sampling:
▪ … rows of girls sat at typewriters, the clicking of their keys like the sound of speeding train wheels. (6)
▪ It was as if normal existence were a photograph of shapeless things in badly printed colors, … (15)
▪ He liked to observe emotions; they were like red lanterns strung along the dark unknown of another's personality, … (17)
▪ He pronounced his name as if he wished his listeners to be struck in the face and knighted by the sound of it. (70)
▪ She felt that his presence seemed more intensely real when she kept her eyes away from him, almost as if the stressed awareness of herself came from him, like the sunlight from the water. (77)
▪ Instead of finding it crude, she found it strangely attractive—as if, she thought suddenly, as if sensuality were not physical at all, but came from a fine discrimination of the spirit. (95)
▪ The faces of the others looked like aggregates of interchangeable features, every face oozing to blend into the anonymity of resembling all, and all looking as if they were melting. (111)
▪ She said slowly, as if she wished it were possible to wear gloves to handle the words, … (134)
▪ He felt as if it were empty space where the rays of the furnaces moved at will; as if the desk were a raft hanging in mid-air, holding two persons imprisoned in privacy. (155)
▪ He stood on the sidewalk, feeling an odd, heavy, foggy sense of satisfaction: feeling as if he had committed an act of virtue—and as if he had taken his revenge upon every person who had stood cheering along the three-hundred-mile track of the John Galt Line. (204)
▪ He held her body as if the violence and the despair of the way he took her could wipe his unknown rival out of existence, out of her past, and more: as if it could transform any part of her, even the rival, into an instrument of his pleasure. (206)
▪ … the white stubble of his chin was like a mist of dead weeds over a vacant face. (246)
▪ Ivy Starnes sat on a pillow like a baggy Buddha. (246)
▪ The fur was a soft brown, dimmed by an aura of blue that could not be seen, only felt like an enveloping mist, like a suggestion of color grasped not by one's eyes but by one's hands, as if one felt, without contact, the sensation of sinking one's palms into the fur's softness. (282—Whoa! Could we read that again?!)
▪ … she smiled with the courageous trust of a kitten when it sees a hand extended to play: (298)
▪ … like a person confronted by a puzzle of no significance. (308)
▪ The way he wore his formal clothes made the rest of the crowd look as if they were masquerading in borrowed costumes. (309)
▪ … they saw the wake of his passage spreading through the room, the sudden cuts splitting the crowd, like the first few cracks, then like the accelerating branching that runs through a wall about to crumble, the streaks of emptiness slashed, not by a human touch, but by the impersonal breath of terror. (322)
▪ … as if the center of gravity were swinging wildly—like in a sinking cargo ship out of control—shifting from industry to industry, from man to man. (335)
▪ … like a slice of bread from the side of a giant toaster. (342)
▪ Francisco's eyes were watching Rearden as if he were examining the course of bullets on a battered target. (347)
▪ The scream of an alarm siren shattered the space beyond the window and shot like a rocket in a long, thin line to the sky. It held for an instant, then fell, then went on in rising, falling spirals of sound, as if fighting for breath against terror to scream louder. It was the shriek of agony, the call for help, the voice of the mills as of a wounded body crying to hold its soul. (348)
Enough already? Sorry, but we’re not half through the book!
▪ … she felt as if she were leaning against the steady attentiveness of his eyes. (391)
▪ He tried to sell automobiles as if they were a bogus corn-cure. (411)
▪ … the street beyond his window was like a congested throat coughing with the horns of pre-Christmas traffic … (485)
▪ It was an irregular beat, with sudden screeches and short, sharp cracks, a sound like the broken laughter of hysteria, … (513)
▪ The beacon hung like a violent spot of cold fire, … (523)
▪ … the next span of her consciousness was not separate moments and movements, but the sweep of a single motion and a single unit of time, a progression forming one entity, like the notes of a piece of music: from the touch of her hand on the starter—to the blast of the motor's sound that broke off, like a mountain rockslide, … (527)
▪ [The river] looked like a phosphorescent vein showing through the skin of the earth, a delicate vein without blood. ¶ When she saw the lights of a town, like a handful of gold coins flung upon the prairie, the brightly violent lights fed by an electric current, … (528)
▪ … like a flat, round lantern without rays, … like the print of a photograph on a cloud. … like a city sinking under water. (571)
▪ He walked, not looking at her, holding her tight, as if trying to hold a progression of time, as if his arms were still locked over the moment when he had lifted her against his chest. She felt his steps as if they were a single span of motion to a goal and as if each step were a separate moment in which she dared not think of the next. (571)
Hang in there. We’re almost done sampling.
▪ She had never experienced the pleasure of motion, of walking as if her feet had no weight to carry, as if the support of the cane in her hand were merely a superfluous touch of elegance, the pleasure of feeling her steps trace swift, straight lines, of sensing the faultless, spontaneous precision of her gestures—as she experienced it while placing their food on the table in front of the two men. Her bearing told them that she knew they were watching her—she held her head like an actress on a stage, like a woman in a ballroom, like the winner of a silent contest. (575)
▪ … the sign of the dollar hung like a curve of shining steel engraved on the sky. (596)
▪ Her reward was to see Galt smile; the smile was like a military decoration bestowed upon her. (611; see also 719)
▪ It seemed to him that his brain was a maze where a blind alley opened at every turn, leading into a fog that hid an abyss. It seemed to him that he was running, while the small island of safety was shrinking and nothing but those alleys would soon be left. It was like the remnant of clarity in the street around him, with the haze rolling in to fill all exits. (660)
▪ … like the spot of a distant headlight advancing upon her down an invisible track. (666)
▪ … a diamond clip at the edge of the black neckline, that kept flashing with the imperceptible motion of her breath, like a transformer converting a flicker into fire, making one conscious, not of the gems, but of the living beat behind them; it flashed like a military decoration, like wealth worn as a badge of honor. (719)
▪ … his face tightened into a retaining wall against agony … (763)
Which is perhaps descriptive of many a reader’s reaction after 763 pages of expanding visuals—particularly with 128 pages yet to go! Or alas, 405 if one is reading the hardcopy Plume Book, 35th Anniversary Edition!

In several cases, Ayn’s use of similes, metaphors, and expansive comparisons/descriptions is insightful and thought-provoking, but the unrelenting use of “as if,” “like”, etc. seems:
1) AS IF Ayn Rand would not tolerate a “second-hander” editing Her Atlas Shrugged. (Déjà vu Howard Roark?!)
2) AS IF none of Ayn’s colleagues had sufficient courage or influence.
3) AS IF all her heroes were but carbon copies of each other and of her best (imagined) self.
4) AS IF her (notorious) need to control included even the mental pictures of her readers.
5) AS IF she hoped her readers would not notice the repetitions, the fixations, the déjà vu descriptions, as in: “silent” (156), “silently” (74), “slowly” (217), “slow” (37), “naked” (87), “thin” (78), “scream” (72), “screaming” (42), “tight” (71), “violence” (67 ), “violent” (53), “shot” (64), “tall” (62), “fog” (52), “ugly” (43), “slender” (38), “wound” (28), “causeless” (27), “angular” (19), “transparent” (11), to name and number just a few.
6) AS IF she could not help herself.
Perhaps we could begin a creative, mindful exercise:
1) to find the best and worst Ayn Rand similes, metaphors, and comparisons through random page-flipping;
2) to debate whether Screwtape[2] would approve or disapprove of the tenets of John Galt and his devotees;
3) to consider whether Francisco d'Anconia and Hank Rearden violated the sacred rule against sacrifice in giving up their love and lover, Dagny Taggart, to John Galt;
4) to explore the inverses of Ayn’s extremes;
5) to ask whether Ayn’s philosophy in practice might not entail many parallels to the French Revolution: as in “A movement ostensibly directed against despotism culminated in the establishment of a despotism far more complete than that which had been overthrown. The apostles of liberty proscribed whole classes of their fellow citizens, drenching in innocent blood the land which they claimed to deliver from oppression.”[3]
6) to ponder why some readers exclaim, “AS IF …” when reading Ayn’s evidential assertion that "I trust that no one will tell me that men such as I write about don't exist. That this book has been written—and published—is my proof that they do." (891)
7) to question whether “the sign of the dollar [that] hung like a curve of shining steel engraved on the sky” is the thing we wish to have hanging over our head? (Does it not look too much like a two-edged scythe?!) Just asking.
 [1] All page references are from the PDF version of Atlas Shrugged found at http://www.mises.ch/library/Rand_AtlasShrugged.pdf . The hardcopy Plume Book version (© 1992) has 1168 pages.
[2] Screwtape was a senior demon in C.S. Lewis’ novel, The Screwtape Letters (1942).
[3] Burke, Edmund. Reflections on the Revolution in France (Illustrated). (Kindle Locations 72-74). Kindle Edition, 2011-11-22.
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