The Virtue of Selfishness

I sat across from a dude on the subway today who was reading Ayn Rand’s ‘The Virtue of Selfishness.’ And while I think I can appreciate her work, particularly the value of the individual in opposition to a steely cold world of institutions, I’m not sure I’m hip to selfishness as a virtue.

“My philosophy,” she wrote, “is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”

I caught the end of ‘Derrida’ on the Sundance Channel this morning. It’s a doc I’d meant to catch earlier this year at Film Forum, but missed. In it he speaks of language as modifier, in essence applying the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle — that in observing an object that which one observes of it is transformed — to the very nature of being. “Monsters cannot be announced,” he wrote. “One cannot say: ‘here are our monsters’, without immediately turning the monsters into pets.”

This afternoon, I took in the John Currin exhibit at the Whitney. His work addresses the classic feminine form (mostly) through a postmodern lens. In perhaps his most notable work, ‘Heartless,’ a redheaded woman (a close resemblance to his wife, I am told) in a gold leaf dress with a heart cut out over her chest gazes straight off of the canvas. I love the shape of the heart, sharply geometric against her rich curves. And I love that she is protecting a corner of it. Or is she merely pointing to its location? Much of his work is similarly disarming: minor modifications in classic forms (bug eyes, stylized cheeks, almost grotesquely voluptuous breasts and bottoms) are simultaneously engaging and compelling.

This evening wrapped up, then, with the Hollywood Foreign Press’ Golden Globe Awards (or, as they would have us say it, The Globes), the kick off to Southern California’s self-congratulatory season — all sound a fury, signifying nothing.

What to make of it all, then — who to be? Selfish? Or selfless? Monster? Or pet? Object? Or objectifier? Star? Or starfucker?

I had a dream last night of which but one image remains. A jet plane is landing on a dark tarmac, and begins to crumbled on touch down. Cracks in its thin metal skin spread quickly. Soon the cabin is sheered open, and businessmen, families, women with children in their laps begin careening out of their seats and through the air. I woke myself as these bodies began to lose their limbs to the jagged edges of the torn fuselage…

I woke myself, made my choice, and started the day.

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