Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Fountainhead

I've owned "The Fountainhead" (727 pages) by Ayn Rand since 1994. It's about time I finally read the damn thing even though I'm still scarred from "Atlas Shrugged."

From Goodreads: "The Fountainhead has become an enduring piece of literature, more popular now than when published in 1943. It studies the conflict between artistic genius and social convention, a theme Ayn Rand later developed into the idealistic philosophy knows as Objectivism. Rand's hero is Howard Roark, a brilliant young architect who won't compromise his integrity, especially in the unconventional buildings he designs. Roark is engaged in ideological warfare with a society that despises him, an architectural community that doesn't understand him, and a woman who loves him but wants to destroy him. His struggle raises questions about society's attitude toward revolutionaries. The book addresses a number of universal themes: the strength of the individual, the tug between good and evil, the threat of fascism."

I'm really not sure how to write this particular book entry. By no mean am I detractor of Rand's work nor could I ever be one of her slavish devotees either. I guess what I've come to find from Ayn Rand is an opinion somewhere in the middle. I can agree with some of the philosophy she puts forth and dismiss the rest.

Some random thoughts on the reading:

Contrary to many of Rand's harshest critics, I do not find her writing style amateurish or hard to read. Indeed I had no problems stylistically with the novel at all. There are a few chapters, especially toward to latter part of the book, where a character goes into a multi-page monologue but even this was tolerable. Roark's courtroom closing comes to mind.

As much as I hate to admit, I actually like the story of "The Fountainhead" and was generally interested in the conclusion. Unfortunately I can't say the same for any character in the novel. Rand paints everyone in such complete black and white terms with zero growth. None. It was highly frustrating to comprehend. I don't believe that people and their motivations would be so rigid over a 20 year span in the novel, regardless of their philosophies. Life, I believe, isn't so clear cut and does venture over to a grey palette at least once in a while.

Along the same lines, I got tired of the gushing narration that seemed necessary over Howard Roark, from the author and the perspective of multiple characters in the novel. Yes, we get it, he's the heroic model of the perfect man, a force of nature that those who share some of the same qualities can recognize. The sledgehammer approach wasn't necessary.

I do have to give credit to Rand for writing a strong, independent female character which was probably not the norm during the 1930's and 40's. Having said that, was it necessary to reduce said character to an object to serve our hero and to a willing rape victim! I understand what Dominique's motivations were in the infamous rape scene but it still left a sour taste in my mouth. Page 223, 1994 Plume addition.

Howard Roark has red hair. Totally unbelievable that a ginger could be a hero of anything. Just ask Eric Cartman or Patti Stanger.

Just once I was begging the author to give Peter Keating a spine! The opportunities were there but didn't materialize. Especially frustrating was the scene where Peter pretty much pimps out his wife Dominique to media tycoon Gail Wynand. Another sour note in the novel.

On the flip side, Howard Roark could have been given just a sliver of emotion or humanity anywhere in the story. He was a smug, arrogant, ass hat with an ego almost the size of the entire novel. This, I might point out, was one of his defining and "heroic" qualities.

The only thing that would have made Ellsworth Toohey a more complete villain would have been a long mustache for him to twirl while he planned his socialistic take over of the world. He manipulated the mob for his gain and power by deciding for them their opinions through his influence and proxies. I found Toohey to be revolting; however, he's an example of Rand's attack on collectivism, socialism, and her perception of communism. Not everyone who believes in some forms of social justice or charity are socialists.

Though most of my comments may seem negative, I am impressed and do agree with some points that Rand put forth in the novel and in later writings. I do believe in strong individualism where integrity is blazing a path for yourself regardless of what society may think is moral. Too many people today, and apparently back then, seek self esteem through the perception of others when they should only care about their own opinion.

"The Fountainhead" and Ayn Rand for me is a mixed bag. In typical libertarian fashion she takes some nice individualistic views and moves them very far to the right. This is an author who helped in the McCarthy era witch hunts and decried the social safety net of the government. If you can get past the heavy handed lessons that Rand tries to preach in this novel, there is some good to be found here. A very readable novel that had me interested to the end in spite of some very heavy eye rolling throughout.

I would be really curious to hear any opinions from others who have read this novel.


Mr Happy said...

"I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine." -Ayn Rand.

This quote is the essence of Objectivist Ethics. It explains a lot, but surely there are many better worldviews than this. This one seems pretty pathetic.

Personally, I would love to live the exact opposite of the quote, and find a man to live for, who lives for me too. Isn't that what everybody really wants?

Dave said...

I think having that from both parties in a relationship is impossible or at least rare.

Mr Happy said...

Yep, Pretty rare indeed. But so is every really good thing. Diamonds, good doctors, successful small businesses, cheap cigarettes, quality teachers, honest politicians, etc. are all hard to find.

So life either becomes a treasure hunt - an exercise in seeking good albeit rare, or an exercise in futility, compromise and disappointment. The difference is a simple choice.

I'm sure glad I had the opportunity to get to know you 10 years ago. It was really a pleasure, a genuine treasure.