Ayn Rand and Other Romances

July 7, 2021 / Jessie Yin

When I say I don’t want to die alone, I mean that I don’t want to die unknown.

At the dawn of the Northern Renaissance, Erasmus argued that the human is what’s important. On the rolling hills of Rotterdam, he, a humble Catholic priest, wrote his ponderings on the nature of God, transforming himself into the Prince of the Humanists with the staunch belief that life began with each person, and thus, so does God. When Erasmus wrote In Praise of Folly, he helped launch our long, intellectual quest towards rampant individualism. Gone were the glory days of anonymous painters in medieval altars or collective creation in artisan workshops. No, we had real masters now — Great Masters. Michelangelo’s marble men and Raphael’s tricks of light were recognized for their genius and their genius alone.

Western canon has built itself upon the concrete blocks of individualism. Our freedoms are individual ones; our philosophers stand as singular minds; our writers want for nothing but a room of one’s own. I ask, what does all this courageous individualism mean for love, which is an inherently collaborative process? Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’ve scoured all the books I’ve ever read for my conclusions.

Dante wrote reams of poetry about Beatrice, a woman he met in passing when he was nothing more than a boy, before the dawn of Inferno was even a sparkle in his eye. These poems of pure love had less to do with Beatrice than Dante’s invention of her, than his own flexing of his poetic capabilities. I cannot claim to know his heart or the veracity of his love, but I think it’s fair to say that he paints a certain picture of love. To him, love is beating our desires on another person’s heart, and falling in love is more about us than it is about them.

One far-gone summer, I spent a blistering day trying to learn love from Neruda’s sonnets. With the sand in my hair and the gulf roaring at the shore, I whispered to myself, “I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love/except in this form in which I am not nor are you/so close that your hand upon my chest is mine/so close that your eyes close with my dreams.” In the descriptions of a whirlwind, burning-alive kind of loving, I found a type of answer. Maybe romance is about recognizing a piece of ourselves in another person, wanting to become them, and ceasing to exist ourselves.

In Ayn Rand’s world, where our Earth rests on the shoulders of capitalist Atlases, Dagny Taggart falls in love with three men and their copper mines, their metal alloys, their motor engines. Each man is the father of his invention, the master of his riches, and a stalwart entrepreneur battling against the useless looters. Yet, at the end of the novel, Dagny rides off into the sunset with John Galt, a brilliant inventor who has convinced all the other industrialists to strike against the world that would seek to ‘freeload’ off of their hard work. Dagny’s love becomes a symbolic gift, the crowning of the ideal capitalist in Rand’s eyes.

We are trained to understand romance as a natural part of life and who we fall in love with as a personal matter, but Rand plays into the decades of work before her that have rendered love into a singular experience. Romantic love has been crafted into the highest form of recognition that we can give or receive as a person, so Rand appropriates romance to make grandiose statements about human nature and the societies we build around ourselves. Through her love, Dagny is deciding which qualities of a human are worthy. A Randian romance is a literary shrine built to objectivism and individual reason.

I read somewhere that romantic relationships are crucibles for our inwardly generated identities. I like the word crucible. It brings to mind a kind of trial by fire, in which we burn alive and remake ourselves in gold. We want to see and to be seen in truth. We seek affirmation of our own consciousness through our relations with others.

We search all our lives for someone who wishes to listen to our most private thoughts, to care about our most mundane moments, but our pool of suspects is painfully limited. It is no fault of our own that we’re leading increasingly isolating lives. The naively unbreakable ties that we believe ourselves to form in youth fall away for the clinical speech and touch of co-workers or mere acquaintances. We’re expected to give up our childish fantasies of living together with all our friends, which we get a brief taste of in college, and grow up into the stifling stability of a nine to five. Our senses of community support and care are slowly whittled away by the relentless drive for competition, in which everything is a zero-sum game.

The writers and the histories have raised and fed us upon the notion of romantic love as the only antidote to loneliness, the nuclear family as the only form of survival. We have a desire to be known lest we go insane, but the only people who we can expect to dedicate that level of time and effort into the process are our romantic partners. So you’re not crazy for feeling like you need to get married to be happy. It’s a matter of survival, love.

These are the kinds of stories that we tell about love. I wonder why they all sound so sad. When I say that I don’t want to die alone, I mean I don’t want to die unknown. I don’t want my only solution to be marriage. Perhaps it is naive to say this, but I wish there was more respect for platonic love, for communal love. Maybe in a network of people willing to truly learn about each other, we wouldn’t be so hungry for love that we would willingly follow our poets into gentle self-destruction. If love is knowing someone and helping us to construct our self-identities, then maybe every person we love can be a tie to a kind of recognition. Through these short reflections of our many multitudes, we can transform caring communally into a radical act of love.

On the mossy banks of a pond, a beautiful boy stretches so far into the mirage of the water that he falls and drowns. He falls in love, and he drowns, and the moral of that story is about vanity, about some divine punishment for his egotism. Narcissus fell for his own reflection, and we shake our heads, shaming him for his fallacy, but are any of us truly any better? Narcissus drowned in pursuit of some kind of unadulterated self-recognition, and on some days, I think I would do the same. ■

by: Jessie Yin

layout: Jennifer Jimenez & Xandria Hernandez

photographer: Abby Burgy

stylist: Saturn Eclair Tejada

hmua: Yeonsoo Jung

model: Priscilla Takyi

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