Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Unspeakable

The vast emptiness. The depth of  my love. You are my grief, oh sea, only you are! How I envy you for that laughter which ought to be- but is never- mine...

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Ayn Rand and Man’s Ego

 I know it's a bit too late to talk about The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged but when they were first published, I wasn’t born and had I read any sooner, I wouldn’t have understood half of either. Before I say anything that I have to say, let me first congratulate Ms Rand for her achievement: it’s not everyone who can write a book of 1084 pages, and with such a uniquely captivating style. Hats off to you! Though I prefer We the Living, her first and semi-autobiographical novel to her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged, I wouldn’t say that it does not make a good read. It is precisely the fact that it does make a good read that makes some of its central traits all the less agreeable, as far as I’m concerned.

The central theme of The Fountainhead is that man’s ego is the fountainhead of human progress. It celebrates individualism through Ms Rand’s philosophy of objectivism. It is interesting that we can read through all its detailed descriptions of architecture as easily as fiction. It is highly influential when it comes to architecture and has inspired many of the profession all over the world. Before reading it, I have never thought of buildings with Victorian or Elizabethan designs as inferior to buildings that propound originality. Now the first thing that comes to my mind when I see a building is how Howard Roark would have designed it. It’s almost as if there really was such a person, and his buildings. The book is divided into four parts: part one, Peter Keating begins with a chapter on Howard Roark; part two, Ellsworth Toohey, begins with a chapter on Howard Roark; part three Gail Wynand begins with himself (perhaps because he is selfish enough to be considered right) and part four, Howard Roark features himself in the first chapter. The characters who are egotists and selfish- and therefore the right, according to Ms Rand, include Dominique Francon, Roark’s lover who sets out to destroy him, Steven Mallory, a sculptor damned by the world for giving shape to what is heroic in man, Gail Wynand, whose only mistake (not realizing the fact that men who seek power are the worst of the second-handers, a term used by Ms Rand for people who stand for collectivism and thus seek to destroy individual spirit) destroys him, Henry Cameron, Roark’s mentor, and others like Mike Donnigan, Austin Heller, Kent Lansing and Roger Enright who support Roark. There is Peter Keating who falls to a deplorable state as he went for architecture though he had neither interest nor talent in the field. The antagonist, Ellsworth Toohey, is the hero of common people as an exponent of collectivism but is towards the end, revealed to be an evil man who seeks to control people by ruling their souls. He uses the mask of altruism to replace the genius with the mediocre. I’ve never disliked fictional characters as much as Loius Cook, Ike (what was his surname?), Gus Webb and Lancelot Clokey till I met some even worse in Atlas Shrugged. That is Ms Rand’s virtue- she knows exactly how to make you hate a character and through him, his ideals. Roark’s statement to Wynand aboard his ship I Do (named so to answer all those who have told him that he does not run things around their place) - "I could die for you. But I couldn't, and wouldn't, live for you."- sums up the essence of the book.

Atlas Shrugged begins with the question “Who is John Galt?” which is repeated throughout the book, whenever people are confronted with things they can’t understand and questions nobody can answer. John Galt is in fact, the hero of the book who sets out to stop the motor of the world and succeeds. He is highly talented but on realizing that the world which seeks to exploit his genius is not the one in which he wants to live in, finds another Atlantis and brings productive men, who knows they are the best, to live there. So we find geniuses of all kind- composers, philosophers, industrialists, actresses, miners, novelists, inventors and producers of cars, metals and aircrafts- giving up their works and vanishing overnight to this mysterious place. That the heroine, Dagny Taggart, had to fall in love with John Galt after two true love affairs with her childhood friend Francisco d’Anconia who is John’s best friend and fellow businessman Hank Rearden (the author says that Dagny will always love Francisco and Hank while loving John and that this is not treason to any of them) reminds one of Ms Rand’s romantic affair with Nathaniel Branden, (both married and not to each other) with the consent of their spouses. The deplorable characters, who oppose selfish men (who are naturally the real economic powers), are James Taggart, Orren Boyle, Wesley Mouch, Dr.Floyd Ferris, Dr.Simon Pritchett, Fred Kinnan, Chick Morrison, Cuffy Meigs and so on. Ms Rand seems to have invented quite a number of technologies in the book, the prominent being Rearden metal (a bluish green metal which is cheaper and stronger than steel) and Galt’s motor that can convert static electricity into mechanical energy.

After reading three of Ms Rand’s works, here is what I understand about her: she is in love with buildings, steel, glass, concrete, aluminium (in case of Kira) and bridges. She talks of man’s ego- even if she had used the word to include both genders, her view that women have to submit to the force of men and that they find exaltation during a sexual act in being humiliated by men have been regarded as anti-feminist. I’m no feminist myself, but being female, I strongly disagree with Ms Rand in this aspect. Another thing that is obvious in her works is that she regards the USA as the most supreme country in the world. She hails the nation which has been her home since she escaped from Soviet Russia as the only country which was based on the supremacy of reason and the city of New York as the motor of the world. While supporting Israel in Arab-Israel conflict, she seems to have forgotten her own claim that one’s survival should not be by destroying others. One thing that I never understand about Ms Rand is what on earth made her think that every smile has to be mocking, that most of the time love is born out of contempt, and that every act of love-making has to be an act of violence- but then, who is John Galt?