The Rand Transcript Revealed (Part II)

Yesterday, in “The Rand Transcript Revealed (Part I)“, I discussed the publication of my new Journal of Ayn Rand Studies article, coauthored with Pavel Solovyev, which features 28 archival images in color (and four tables), documenting—as never before—the details of Ayn Rand’s Soviet education at the University of Petrograd.

Today is the second of three posts previewing our newly published article.

My 1995 book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, was the first scholarly work to argue that Rand had a deep intellectual debt to the Russian context within which she came to intellectual maturity. This debt didn’t relate merely to some substantive similarities with ideas current during the Russian Silver Age of Rand’s youth. It was a distinctly methodological debt, which she owed to the dialectical modes of analysis that were endemic to virtually every school and tradition she would have encountered during that period. As my own work on Rand’s education at the University of Petrograd documented, these dialectical motifs were present in Rand’s coursework, textbooks, and in the lectures given by the teachers with whom she most likely studied.

To reiterate for the umpteenth time: Dialectics is the art of context-keeping. It demands that the theorist never disconnect a single event, issue, or problem from its relationships to other events, issues or problems, all existing within a larger context, examined across time.

My seemingly innocuous argument that Rand learned something from her teachers was initially met with a firestorm of criticism—from Rand-haters who viewed her as outside the Western canon of legitimate thinkers and from Rand-acolytes who viewed her as having sprung ahistorically from the head of Zeus as a modern-day goddess of wisdom.

Ironically, those acolytes, who accept Rand’s own acknowledged debt to Aristotle and even the early influence of Nietzsche, drop historical context, since even Hegel, Marx, Engels, and Lenin viewed Aristotle as the “fountainhead” (Hegel’s term) of dialectical inquiry. Moreover, Nietzsche’s influence on the Russian Silver Age was one of its defining cultural characteristics.

In the years that followed the publication of Russian Radical, a growing number of writers have been exploring Rand’s Russian roots. I’ve discussed these in previous articles, such as my “Reply to the Critics of Russian Radical 2.0: The Dialectical Rand” and in my essay, “Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism” in The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom.

Other discussions of Russian influences on Rand have appeared in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, including essays by Peter Saint-Andre and Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal. More encouraging is the appearance of recent Russian-language books by Ludmila L. Nikiforova and Mikhail B. Kizilov and Anastasiya Grigorovskaya, each exploring Rand as a Russian émigré writer. And a new book by Aaron Weinacht, Nikolai Chernyshevskii and Ayn Rand: Russian Nihilism Travels to America, is a “profoundly significant” contribution to Rand studies—as I state in a blurb that I provided for the book. (Weinacht previously published in the July 2017 issue of JARS.)

Unfortunately, Weinacht’s superb book was moving toward publication as our own article was already in page proofs, so we were unable to discuss his thoughts on Rand’s education. It’s worth noting that Weinacht worked in the Ayn Rand Archives and his book benefits from access to its collections. Among those collections are documents that my coauthor Pavel Solovyev was able to secure independently from the Saint Petersburg Archives. Pavel’s superlative detective work will be the subject of my concluding post tomorrow.

Of all the professors that Ayn Rand may have studied with, only one—Nikolay Onufriyevich Lossky—was named by her in the Branden Biographical Interviews (specifically in Interview 6, conducted on 3 January 1961). I devote a full chapter to Lossky’s life and thought in Russian Radical. Weinacht writes:

As Sciabarra has noted, it is impossible to prove conclusively that Losskii was one of Rand’s teachers, as she claimed, but it seems likely that she took at least some instruction from him, albeit in an unofficial capacity. Losskii was banned from teaching at his St. Petersburg State University post in 1921, the same year Rand entered the university, and was exiled in the fall of 1922, along with Nicholas Berdiaev, Semen Frank, and Sergei Bulgakov of the Vekhi group (among others). I am inclined to agree with Sciabarra’s judgment that Rand had no compelling reason to lie about her connection with Losskii, particularly given her usual reticence to mention any thinkers other than herself. Additionally, Losskii’s mother-in-law Mariia Stoiunina ran a girl’s school, that was located at #20 Kabinetskaia Street in St. Petersburg. Rand lived in two main locations in St. Petersburg, one of which was approximately two-thirds of a mile southwest of the school, and the other less than half-mile northwest of the school. Between Rand’s own mention of Losskii and the fact that she lived in two locations that were within close walking distance of a school with which Losskii was personally connected, the suggestion that Rand took some unofficial instruction from him does not seem implausible. (p. 17)

On the Stoiunin gymnasium, I should note that there is firm evidence that Rand attended the school—something I first proposed in Russian Radical and documented in my follow-up essays on her education. This was subsequently substantiated in 2010 by Anne C. Heller in Ayn Rand and the World She Made (pp. 17-20, 26), and Shoshana Milgram in Essays on Ayn Rand’s “We the Living” (second edition, 2012, pp. 108-10, n. 23).

Weinacht hypothesizes that also among Rand’s teachers was

the well-known Russian historian N. I. Kareev* [who] was on the university faculty in St. Petersburg when Rand was a student there. … Rand’s college transcript lists a total of sixteen history courses she took at the university, and also contains the signatures of the courses’ instructors. The signatures on twelve of Rand’s history courses are illegible, and circumstantial evidence would suggest a high likelihood that Kareev was the professor of at least a few of these courses, and probably at least one non-history course, as well. (p. 17)

Weinacht expresses his “thanks to Professor Cynthia Ruder, of the University of Kentucky, for assistance in deciphering the signatures on Rand’s transcript. Sciabarra has made similar conjectures as to Kareev’s teaching” (p. 29, n. 90).

Tomorrow, in the conclusion of this miniseries, I will discuss how my colleague and coauthor, Pavel Solovyev, not only deciphered the signatures, but provided us with the most conclusive evidence yet of those with whom Rand studied—and what they taught.

For now, I’ll leave you with another archival image from our article … a photo of the young Alissa Rosenbaum taken from her second matricul (“matricul” is the name of a document certifying the admission of a student to the university, and also serving as the examination book).

* The name Kareev shows up in Rand’s fiction (see below). There was also a professor named Lev Platonovich Karsavin in the History department of Petrograd University. Does his name or the name of Kareev show up on the transcript? Readers will find out, but I’ll have more to say in the concluding part of my miniseries preview to the JARS article tomorrow. From Russian Radical (p 414 n37):

Karsavin is a White Army leader who is captured by Andrei Taganov, the idealistic communist soldier. Captain Karsavin is forced to commit suicide. It is possible that Rand modeled the captain after his namesake at the university, who was eventually exiled by the Bolsheviks for his counterrevolutionary ideals. The “Captain Karsavin” episode appears in We the Living, 101–3. Another of Rand’s early Russian characters, from the screenplay Red Pawn, is named “Kareyev.” Kareyev is the commandant of Strastnoy Island. Rand (1931–32), “Red Pawn,” in Early Ayn Rand, 111. Likewise, Rand may have taken the name “Kareyev” from Petrograd history professor, Kareev.

Postscript: And check out the public Facebook discussion that followed.

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