Ayn Rand vs Woody Allen?
Updated: Oct 28
Objectivism, postmodernism, adaptability, flexibility, maybe mediocrity and compromise. I’ve done it again, wasted a perfectly good Saturday evening chasing down a philosophical tangent that likely dead ends in some architectural theory class I had in 1995. Oh well.
In any case the (somehow) subject at hand is whether the notion of adaptability is at odds with objectivist philosophy as laid out in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, often derided by true scholars of philosophy as amateur at best (and questionable as to whether it should matter to me outside the fact that the notion of the absolute individualist still holds such sway as a concept, likely beaten into me as a student of architecture long before I started doing the same to my own students) and lacking comprehension of the complexities of human behavior at least.
Or, was objectivism an ideology that suited a set of modernist ideals that have since been usurped by postmodernism? Without getting into too much definition of these terms, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that postmodernism is the thing that happens once we have accepted the uncertainty of modernist absolutes, mostly dealing with an idealized future that hinges on technology. This might suggest that ideologies such as Rand’s had a place when we looked at the world as making sense and one could say, rely on deductive reasoning. Of course this suggests we are still in some stage of postmodernism, and not some reversion to former modernist ideals or other form of contemporary modernism (such as remodernism, metamodernism, or post millenialism).
I would tend to believe that any post postmodern consideration would only come to the conclusion that the frenetic pace of current life, with greater amounts of information readily available and new technologies more rapidly replacing old ones, is only going to continue to quicken.
With this in mind, some academic thought looks to more ‘hybridized’ models of practice, such as landscape urbanism – wherein disciplines and the the design of the environment is much more integrated and collaborative. In these models, compromise of the individual is less of a concern and the ability to adapt to existing contexts becomes appropriate. Interestingly, architectural practice as a model of self has not been analyzed in the way it was in Rand’s seminal book.
In the face of our current state of existence (I will still call it postmodern for now) it would seem we have no choice but to adapt. And this may be in direct conflict with the previous era, where a utopian future allowed us to stand alone in our ideals. This then becomes the dilemma of an era – the need to adapt to survive makes us feel compromised as an individual. Both the self and the other are required to feel whole, and they are locked in some eternal struggle, a bit like Woody Allen’s character in Zelig. The connection here is an easy one; Zelig is Ayn Rand’s Peter Keating taken to a physical extreme. He not only would agree with what any given person would tell him, he would simply become that person in demeanor and appearance. In many ways both suggest that this adjustment is in order to ‘be liked’, but in Rand’s estimation the consequences to society are dire.
Perhaps there is the possibility to exist simultaneously in flux and in stability. (This probably works for Allen, but not for Rand. Her absolutist principals always seemed to be taken to such an extreme, hence her cult status). A more flexible ideology always seemed more realistic to me. The adaptive individual may have a core belief, but bends on the less consequential issues (which of course are variable). This has led me to begin writing a manifesto entitled Not a Manifesto. Coming soon…