New Romanticist: Who is Tore Boeckmann?
Tore Boeckmann:I’m a Norwegian fiction writer. I’ve wanted to write novels since I was a kid, but until now the results haven’t been good enough to publish, although I’ve sold a few dozen short stories. To make money while learning the craft of writing, I have launched various business ventures, with moderate success at best. More to the point, I’ve been thinking about the art of fiction. Some of that thinking resulted in the article “Conscious vs. Subconscious Motivation in Literature” which appeared in The Intellectual Activist in 1993 — an excellent article, if I may say so myself. I also edited Ayn Rand’s 1958 fiction course, which was published as The Art of Fiction. And now I’ve actually finished a novel that I’m pleased with and hope will be published. The hero is a policeman and the heroine a jewel thief.
New Romanticist: How did you become interested in Ayn Rand?
Tore Boeckmann:When I was fourteen, I was looking for a philosophy. I was very right wing politically, but I knew I needed something wider. The only clues I had to what I was after were Kipling’s “If” and a long quote I had read on idealism by Theodore Roosevelt. (I only later learned he was a villain!) I had come across some brief references to this author called Ayn Rand — and then one day I was leafing through an intellectual magazine in a bookstore, and there was a picture of Ayn Rand, and I thought: Oh, it’s a woman! The article was about her meta-ethics. I was enormously intrigued by it. Only The Fountainhead had been translated into Norwegian back then, so I got it from the library and read it just before I turned fifteen. It was more than I had ever hoped to find: the idealistic sense of life given a real intellectual basis and pro-capitalism in politics on top of it!
New Romanticist: What is Drama? How did you become interested in Drama?
Tore Boeckmann:Drama is “any event or series of events having vivid, conflicting elements that capture one’s interest.” That’s from the dictionary, and it’s a good definition. So you can have drama in real life, as in a shoot-out between bank robbers and the police, or in fiction, as when Howard Roark blows up Cortlandt Homes. The difference is, in real life you want as little drama as possible, but in fiction you *must* have drama. Dramatic actions are what fiction is all about. And that’s why I’m interested in drama. First, it’s essential to literature. Second, it’s undesirable in real life, since it entails conflict. So why do we want to contemplate something in art that we don’t want in our lives? This is especially puzzling since, according to Aristotle and Ayn Rand, the most important principle of literature is that it portrays “things as they might be and ought to be.” But this is only a paradox, not a contradiction, as I hope to show this summer.
New Romanticist: Can you tell me about your Summer 2002 East course, ‘The Principle of Drama’?
Tore Boeckmann:Sure. The course is the culmination of a decade of thinking about questions like the one I just mentioned. In fact, when I started to think seriously about fiction, I found that a lot of what Ayn Rand said about literary esthetics I simply did not understand. To take just one example, she said that Romantic novels were distinguished by plots, yet there are plot-less Romantic novels, like Ian Fleming’s James Bond books. Now, I could sort of see that she was right, but I couldn’t really explain the issues involved intellectually.
But it finally dawned on me that Ayn Rand was talking about distinctions *within* the art of literature, whereas what I really didn’t understand was what distinguishes literary actions as such from (most) non-literary ones — or, in other words, drama from non-drama. Once I could explain that, everything else fell into place for me. So in my course, I present my thesis about drama, I apply it to different schools of literature, and I show how it relates to what Ayn Rand said.
New Romanticist: Why did you choose to analyze the plays of Edmond Rostand in your course?
Tore Boeckmann:I analyze some of Rostand’s plays toward the end of my course, when I’m discussing Romanticism. The essence of Romanticism is the independent, creative projection of an individual artist’s values. But again, while this effect is easy to grasp emotionally, it can be tricky to explain intellectually. Take music. Romantic composers like Tchaikovsky give you an overwhelming sense of their individual personality or values. You don’t get that from, say, Mozart — yet Mozart projects his values too. All artists do. So what’s the real difference? What is it *technically* that Romantic artists do that non-Romantics don’t?
In regard to music, I don’t have a clue; but I do in regard to literature. (It’s not *just* plot; for example, Greek tragedy has plot, but is not Romantic.) And I take Rostand as my prime example because he is the greatest Romantic playwright, he has very distinctive values, and apart from Cyrano de Bergerac, his work has not been discussed much at Objectivist conferences. Yet he wrote marvelous plays like The Far Princess and Chantecler.
New Romanticist: What is the value of your course on ‘The Principle of Drama’ to Objectivists?
Tore Boeckmann:My course is targeted at Objectivists who enjoy fiction.
Whenever we understand more about that which we value, our pleasure in it becomes more sophisticated and refined — and also more comprehensible to ourselves. We not only enjoy; we know *why* we enjoy. And in regard to art, where our response is of a profoundly personal nature, it is of particular interest to us to know the causes of that response. You learn interesting and important things about yourself that way.
While there are Objectivist intellectuals who disagree with my central thesis, I can only take myself as the standard. And I myself have certainly found the ideas presented in my course to be very illuminating. I think others will too.