There are different kinds of ideology in literary works. There’s the obviously evil, straightforward and widely acknowledged one, like in Mein Kampf; there’s the concealed one, but pretty easy to uncover, like in classical fairy tales (for a reference, think Angela Carter); there’s the complicated one, or a certain system of ideologies manipulated by the author himself, like in Pynchon’s early works (think order and chaos). And there’s Atlas Shrugged.
It’s dripping with ideology. From the beginning to the very last sentence (dollar sign as the new cross, seriously) it’s a wild trip across fluctuating, but nevertheless strikingly high levels of ideology. The novel exercises it to all the possible extents, even if that means spending around one hundred pages on just lecturing the reader about its philosophical system.
I’ve read many novels with such unabashedly ideological background but still, I feel that Atlas Shrugged is special in a way. Maybe it’s constructed in such a way as to guide an unsuspecting and innocent reader through a world of fast-panned action build on themes from various popular genres to successfully plant in him a seed of thought which will grow into a full commitment to its ideology. Maybe it’s the scope of that ideological commitment which makes it special. As Gore Vidal said, “nearly perfect in it’s immorality”, the book and its philosophy takes rebelling to a completely different level, and it rebels blindly, fully, in a manner of a stereotypical teenager with a slightly longer attention span (writing a one thousand page long novel is not an easy task, even if you take a lot of Benzedrine). Maybe it’s because I’m sick and my liberal tendencies are trying to fully subdue me. Maybe it’s Maybelline.
Or maybe it’s because I like trains? (I mean, seriously, like in a Sheldon-Cooper-ish way) So it was kinda cool to read about the construction of railway and stuff.
One way or another, I think it’s important to learn how to approach, deconstruct and try to look behind ideology so one may find some interesting things about themselves. And in that next Facebook feud with ancaps you’ll always have some concrete arguments against their beloved idols, so nothing goes down the drain.
The New York Times Sunday Review published an article by Pamela Paul titled “Why You Should Read Books You Hate.” Paul argues that trying to force yourself to get through a piece of literature you despise may actually be beneficial for you, as it can enrich and develop your own opinions and stances:
As debaters know, sometimes you figure out your position only in opposition. All it takes is for me to read a book by Howard Zinn or Paul Johnson, each gleefully hate-worthy in its own polarizing way, to locate my own interpretation of history. This is what’s so invigorating about hate-reading. To actively grapple with your assumptions and defend your conclusions gives you a sense of purpose. You come to know where you stand, even if that means standing apart.
Though I do agree with the text’s main idea, it has some striking fallacies which I’d like to discuss. For someone who works in literary studies, it’s obvious that reading is bound with a precise analysis to achieve a deep understanding of a text’s context, ideology, misconceptions; its problems in general. Although such “professional reading” must be objective, I believe that reading for your own pleasure can benefit greatly from adopting a similar perspective. What I find problematic in Paul’s article is her insistence on the word “hate.” She doesn’t abandon that rhetoric to the end of the text, and in the penultimate paragraph she even writes, “[y]et hate reading can actually bring readers together.”
I mean, seriously? What’s the point in holding on to such hostility? At one point Paul seems to agree that reading should be more about challenging your worldview but then it all goes down to assuring yourself in your beliefs. Behind every, even the most problematic and loathed piece of literature there’s a system of contextual and ideological aspects which contributed to such outlook. Reading such works should not result in maintaining our hostility towards them but it should allow us to understand why it made us feel that way and what conclusions can we draw from it.
All I’m saying is; less hate, more understanding. Studying literature is a great tool for making our society a little bit more humane and enlightened.
Paul mentioned reading Ayn Rand as an example; it happens that recently I’ve read Atlas Shrugged and there’s a lot I’d like to say about it. I guess it’s a topic for an another post which will probably appear here in the nearest future.