Friday, 29 March 2013

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

A HPANWO book review.
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand can be purchased here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Fountainhead-Penguin-Modern-Classics/dp/0141188626
The book was also made in to a film in 1949 staring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal. It's available free online (at the time of writing): http://vimeo.com/14002238

In the United States of America, her naturalized homeland, Ayn Rand is one of the 20th Century's most controversial characters. She's less well known in the rest of the world, but nevertheless still influential. I've read and reviewed her third and most famous novel before on HPANWO, Atlas Shrugged, see: http://hpanwo.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/atlas-shrugged-by-ayn-rand.html. As I said at the end of that article, I bought a copy of The Fountainhead and promised to review it if I thought it was relevant; I've now read it and I think it is.

The book was published in 1943 and to understand the story it is essential to take into account the author's background. She was born in Russia and was originally called Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum until she moved to the USA in 1926 at the age of twenty and changed her name, as expatriate Russians often did in those days. Her family was Jewish and very well-to-do; her father ran a chemists shop. Like a lot of Russians at that time, rich and poor, she was very much opposed to the decrepit and corrupt regime of Tsar Nicholas II. She was therefore very pleased when Alexander Kerensky's revolution of February 1917 removed the Tsar from power. However in October the same year there followed the Bolshevik Revolution which instituted communist rule, eventually resulting in the Soviet Union. For "bourgeois" people like Rand and her family this meant serious trouble. Her family's business and assets were seized by the state and she found it difficult to enrol at university. These experiences had a profound effect on her and this is very manifest in her fictional literary work. The Fountainhead is as much a polemic, philosophical and satirical novel as Atlas Shrugged; it promotes her philosophical school of Objectivism, the ethical core of which is the notion that the only proper moral purpose of man's life is the attainment of his own happiness or rational self-interest. The only righteous political, economic or social system is one that allowed man the freedom to uphold that notion. In practical terms this means extreme libertarianism and laissez-faire capitalism, the total deregulation of all industry, "minimarchy": small-government and nominal state intervention into social issues. In the link above to my review of Atlas Shrugged I explain what I think are the pros and cons of Objectivism. But I'm getting ahead of myself; on with the book.

The Fountainhead is somewhat shorter than Atlas, as nearly all books are, and its setting is far more naturalistic. The surreal otherworld of Atlas is replaced by dates and places that are real and the story is backdropped by a real historical context. In fact it's a very different novel in many ways; perhaps indicating a change in the author's personality during the fifteen years between the writing of the two. The central character is a man called Howard Roark. The opening scene describes him physically in detail, as a healthy, muscular red-haired superman of the classical heroic style that was popular at the time. Many modern critics look back and accuse Rand of creating a "Nazi Aryan" protagonist; this is unfair, but there is a distinct resemblance between Roark and John Galt from Atlas. Roark is a student at a school of architecture and a mysterious character of whose background we learn little, except that his father was a steelworker and that Roark funded his education by working long hours in the building trades. At the start of the book he is thrown out of his college because he refuses to complete the assignments he is set. His course insists that he designs buildings using traditional styles: neoclassical and renaissance. However Roark wants to build structures in his own unique style so badly that he refuses to do anything else. This action is typical of his philosophy; he is so individualistic that the word could have been invented for him! Following his expulsion from the college Roark moves to New York City to work for Henry Cameron, a very unsuccessful architect who cannot further Roark's career, but one whom Roark deeply admires for his aesthetic style. The first part of the book concentrates on his relationship with a fellow student, Peter Keating. Keating's professional philosophy is the mirror opposite of Roark's; he is primarily motivated by a desire for conventional success which means he does everything he can to fit in with the standard and the orthodox wherever he sees it. He is conventionally handsome, dresses in a way that impresses others and models every aspect of his life in as conformist a way as he can to avoid rocking the boat. He eagerly tells his tutors and examiners everything they want to hear in the hope that they'll simply give him good grades. He finished university top of his class and is given a job working in the elite and respected firm of Francon and Heyer. He immediately engages in a dedicated campaign of... I can't think of a non-vulgar term for it... arse-kissing! He flatters and panders to every whim of his immediate boss, Guy Francon, and at the same time manipulates situations behind the scenes with Francon's clients to make himself look good. At the same time he covertly undermines any of colleagues in the drafting room who run the risk of overtaking him on the promotion ladder, to get them dismissed or disfavoured by Francon. He is a ruthless deceiver, pretending to be their friends and gaining their trust before dropping them in trouble; but it furthers his career so he never questions the morality of his behaviour. Francon becomes more and more fond of Keating, and indeed there's a scene in which the two men are sitting semi-naked in a hotel room one morning after a party, shaving and brushing their teeth. The author doesn't say it openly, and of course you couldn't in 1943 when the book was published, but I think there's an implication that they've just had gay sex. Keating's machinations come to a head over Francon's sleeping partner, Lucius Hayer. Heyer is a very elderly and somewhat senile old man who lives a solitary and benign life at home. However Keating is at a crucial position in his career in which he can inherit Heyer's share in the business, but only if Heyer agrees to formally retire within a week. Keating visits Heyer at home and threatens him viciously, so viciously that he drops dead of a stroke. Keating then picks up his share and becomes Francon's partner. And for the first time ever Keating feels shame. It was quite a relief that Rand included this element in Keating's life because it shows she is not as much of a social Darwinist as many people accuse her of being.


In the meantime Howard Roark has been grafting away as a draughtsman in the tiny run-down offices of Henry Cameron, living on a pittance. Eventually he starts his own business, one as inconspicuous and fruitless as Cameron's, but he doesn't mind because at least he gets to build the kind of structures he loves. They're modest compared to those of Keating, but they're in Roark's own style and that's all that matters to him. For Roark architecture is everything, a consuming passion that almost supersedes the need for food and air. He has no social life and seems to have no interest at all in women (although that changes dramatically later in the story). Rand has clearly researched her subject matter well, as she did for Atlas, and she and her husband lived in a house that was built by an architect inspired by The Fountainhead. The relationship between Roark and Keating in this period of the book is fascinating and is one I can identify with very much in my own life. It's best described as a kind of "unrequited rivalry". Keating is constantly calling on Roark and telling him about his own conventional success, hoping to make Roark feel envious and awed, but Roark is indifferent and virtually uncomprehending of Keating's conventional superiority over him and this frustrates Keating enormously. It just goes to show that when it comes to petty rivalry it takes two to tango and one thing a person trying to engage another in this kind of social competition can't stand more than being defeated is being confronted with a person who doesn't want to play; somebody who feels no need to prove himself by vanquishing another, somebody who sets his own internal standards to achieve self-esteem. Rand has come up with a term for people who model their lives according to their perception by others: "second handers". The reason I identify with that is because I've encountered so much hostility of this kind myself, for example see: http://hpanwo.blogspot.co.uk/2007/12/dont-tell-em-were-porters.html. Keating differs from Roark also in that he has a healthy interest in the opposite sex and had girls queuing up at collage, however now he has fallen head over heels in love with Dominique Francon, the daughter of his boss and business partner. His pursuit of her is initially motivated for career purposes, just another part of his typical bootlicking activities; however he becomes infatuated for real after a while. Dominique is an elegant and intelligent young woman who enters the story with a lot of mystery behind her. She's a journalist and writes for the newspapers of Gail Wynand (male), another enigmatic character. She has a column called Our House in which she criticizes architecture and interior design; and she is most scathing about the buildings of Howard Roark. It appears that she despises the man, but relationships between the characters in Rand's novels are complex and sometimes slightly bewildering; their behaviour towards each other often fails to match, and even directly contradicts, their true feelings. Enemies can act as allies, they'll profess warmth and support to those they hate and claim to abhor those they love. Keating is captivated by Dominique's beauty and her aloofness to him makes him desire her even more. This is another area of the book I can identify with because I believe you can tell a lot about a person's mental wellbeing by the kind of partner they crave, including my own. Keating is courting a woman with whom he has no chance whatsoever and who treats him with coldness and indifference. This is because deep down Keating is profoundly unhappy. He hits the bottle and his health and appearance deteriorate. The source of his malaise is a kind of message of the type Neil Kramer talks about; it is nature's way of saying "you're on the wrong track, mate", see: http://neilkramer.com/. Basically it's not a spoiler to say that Peter Keating is unsatisfied with life as a second-hander and he longs to channel his inner Howard Roark and escape. He is also close friends with a very sincere and sweet girl he's known since college called Katie and the reader is left in no doubt that under the right circumstances he would be in love with her, but he can't bring himself to fall for her. He hates Roark for not feeling envious of him because, in his heart, Keating is envious of Roark. He knows that he cannot beat Roark because as the great Ursula le Guin said in The Dispossessed, "...because he refused to take part in games of domination he was indomitable." Eventually Roark's business collapses, not because he can't find any clients but because many clients reject him when he refuses to build their buildings in the conventional classical and renaissance style, the style they insist on but Roark can't stand. Roark's refusal to compromise his artistic integrity leads to his downfall. He ends up working as a labourer in a quarry. Peter Keating never has to worry about ending up in a quarry because he has no artistic integrity to compromise. But he also knows he can never gloat at Roark's disgrace because Roark feels no shame over it. For Roark, caving in to conformity and becoming like Peter Keating would be the thing that would really destroy his sense of self.

It might seem like it's all over for Howard Roark, but in fact the story is just about to take a new and very energetic turn. When he is working at the quarry he meets Dominique Francon, who is taking a holiday in her country seat nearby. It has recently before been revealed that Dominique is frigid and has no interest in men yet as soon as she meets Roark she is intensely attracted to him. Then, in one of the most notorious scenes in modern literature, she falls hopelessly in love with Roark after he breaks into her house and brutally rapes her. It's a very shocking few paragraphs, even though it is somewhat toned down in graphic detail for the 1940's reader. It was parodied in Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's brilliant novel The Illuminatus! Trilogy as a part of the imaginary book Telemachus Sneezed by Atlanta Hope, see the link above to my review of Atlas Shrugged. What makes it all the more disturbing is that Rand describes the rape in very romantic terms, almost as simply a new more intense form of normal sex. It completely cures Dominique of her frigidity and her love for Roark is explicitly tinged with lust. Such a storyline would today probably be unacceptable, especially from a female novelist; it's politically incorrect beyond belief. It's not the only reason I question Rand's own psychological integrity, but it's the most blatant one.

To begin with there is no major antagonist in the story, although he is slowly revealed to us later; he is one of the most interesting villains I've ever come across and his name is Ellsworth Monkton Toohey. He is first mentioned on page 41 as a colleague of Dominique's at the newspaper, and he is also an architectural pundit, but his column One Small Voice, branches off into other areas too. Initially his entry is almost inconsequential, as if he is simply a minor character, but as time goes on the author skilfully builds up his profile until his true role is revealed. He is the uncle of Katie, Peter Keating's friend in New York, and after a while Keating meets him and becomes his close friend. He is described as being physically puny and almost malformed with a thin neck and limbs (Rand's attitude to physically and mentally handicapped people worries me and I'll come back to that later). When he sits down in one scene he crossed his legs and the author describes the bottom of his skinny leg: "He sat down comfortably resting an ankle on his knee, one thin leg stretched horizontally across the other, the full length of a tight gun-metal sock exposed under the trouser cuff, and a patch of skin showing above the sock, bluish white with a few black hairs." Ellsworth Toohey is extraordinarily effete, slimy and creepy. In my imagination as I read the book I pictured him as looking and sounding like a cross between Mr Bean and George Monbiot, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEjMK9DB4no and: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1SWtbO9VUg. He folds his napkin very carefully in one scene, using his fingernails to press the creases. He also drinks Cointreau, which for a male character in those days is a very obvious hint that he is homosexual. As I said above with Francon and Keating in the hotel room, this is not a storyline that could be discussed openly in American literature in 1943, but along with the Cointreau Toohey is never shown to have any interest in sex. In just one part he states that sex is "unimportant" and that he is not interested in "intellectual women". Despite his unimpressive figure Toohey has a strange kind of hypnotic power about him that has made him into a kind of guru. Peter Keating's friendship with him eventually becomes adoring hero-worship. He has a huge army of fans who read his every word and attend all his conferences where he gives speeches. There's a scene in which Katie and Peter Keating attend a public meeting where Toohey gives a live speech. The venue is packed out and they can't get inside and so listen to him on loudspeakers set up in the crowded foyer. As Katie listens to her uncle's words she undergoes a transformation. She becomes transfixed in mesmerized adulation. I've seen old films of ordinary people in the audience listening to speeches by Lenin or Stalin and the expressions on their faces remind me of Rand's description of Katie in that scene; Rand of course went through the Russian Revolution personally, as I said at the start. Shortly after she went to that conference Katie experiences a terrifying nightmare about her Uncle Ellsworth, seeing him as a demonic shadow being; very interesting indeed. Toohey has a strange style of speech; he talks in riddles and makes contradictory statements. This is interesting considering the document Brian Gerrish has often referred to, one written in Stalin's Russia and distributed to Western communist parties, eg: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8mhuOJHw_4. It describes the methods a covert Marxist infiltration organization can undermine a society in order to take it over by creating confusion and disorientation. I consider Marxism a tool that is used by our enemies, not the actual enemy itself, because this tactic can also be found in Silent Weapons for a Quiet War also, see: http://www.theforbiddenknowledge.com/hardtruth/silentweaponsforquietwars.htm. The nature of Ellsworth Toohey, all the way down the years from 1943, echoes in these documents very well and I'll come back to this point again because it makes me wonder how much Ayn Rand actually knows. For Rand, Ellsworth Toohey is the most embodied cipher of evil she has ever created, ingenious in his depth and complexity. He is the antithesis of Objectivism; an eloquent and captivating preacher of collectivism, socialism and altruism. There is a chapter of the book that consists of a biography of Toohey that makes me wonder about what message Ayn Rand is trying to relate. It begins with Toohey at the age of seven punishing a bully at his school by soaking him with a hosepipe as he walks past his garden. It's odd that the first act he did in his life described in the book should be one I consider perfectly fair payback. Does Rand object when smaller and non-aggressive children strike back at bullies? Little Ellsworth also has a sister called Helen, who goes on to become Katie's mother. Helen was fit and healthy; she is also described as very pretty. Then the author says something very bizarre indeed: Their mother adores and lavishly spoils Ellsworth because he is born sickly and weak whereas she dislikes her daughter for her beauty and health. "The girl was so obviously more deserving of love that it seemed just to deny it her." Ayn Rand never had any children of her own, but despite this it astonishes me that she should be so divorced from the emotions of motherhood. This is another very revealing illustration of the peculiar mental landscape of this most unusual woman. Young Ellsworth becomes a socialist at university and quickly applies his sharp mind to the art of persuasion. He founds various quasi-communist organizations like the Council of American Builders in which architects and other people within the building trades get together and drink tea in an atmosphere of extreme equality. There's also the Council of American Writers and Council of American Artists; and the members of all these groups are caricatures of everything Rand finds distasteful in humanity... so there are an awful lot of them and they are all described in lurid detail. The premier individual in this motley crew of leftists, mystics, eccentrics and blaggers is an author called Lois Cook who employs Peter Keating to design a house for her without electricity, and she wrote a nonsensical novel called The Gallant Gallstone. Amazingly she seems to represent postmodernism in an age before I thought it existed. Either postmodernism was present in early 1940's America or, again, I have to ask how much information Rand really was initiated into. Ellsworth Toohey immediately focuses his treacly and underhand animosity on Roark and joins forces with Dominique to destroy him... you heard me right! As soon as Dominique falls in love with Roark, who has reopened his business in New York, she tries to bring him down. With the help of Ellsworth Toohey she does her very best to ruin all his deals to arrange all his business to be sent to Peter Keating, a man she despises. Her action is one of the most perplexing storylines in the book; as I said before, the way characters interact doesn't always follow logical patterns and can be contradictory and even arbitrary. She'll spend the day blackmouthing him to everybody she can and then spend the night in his bed shagging him! As far as I can gather her motive is to test her new lover and see how strong his integrity really is, to see how much abuse he can take before he caves in. But maybe that's wrong and I've misunderstood; maybe Ayn Rand is an even more mixed up person than I originally thought.

The story goes from the off-beat to the grotesque in the next part of the book. Ellsworth Toohey tries to bring down Roark by persuading one of Roark's clients to sue him over a misunderstanding in the construction plans that Toohey himself engineered. Then Dominique does something unbelievable. She turns up at Peter Keating's home and, without any explanation at all, asks him, a man she loathes, to marry her. Keating, the fool, agrees. It turns out that this escapade by Dominique is an act of self-flagellation in the face of a world in which Howard Roark is unworthy to live because he's too good for it... or at least that's the closest I could gather; she says: "I will live in the world as it is, in the manner of life it demands. Not halfway, but completely. Not pleading and running from it, but walking out to meet it, beating it to the pain and the ugliness, being the first to choose the worst it can do to me. Not as the wife of some half-decent human being, but as the wife of Peter Keating." However she soon decides she's had enough Objectivist false-martyrdom when she meets Gail Wynand, the owner of her and Toohey's newspaper. Wynand up till that point has only been referred to off-scene, but now the story switches abruptly to focus on him. He is by far the most contradictory and schizophrenic character in the book, even more so than Dominique. He grew up in a slum district as a gangster and went on to be a journalist and worked his way up to run the nation's biggest media corporation, Wynand Enterprises; a classic rags-to-riches story. He's a kind of fictional Rupert Murdoch. He is enormously rich and powerful and brings down his rivals ruthlessly, often by semi-legal means. However he is mind-bendingly capricious; one minute he'll tolerate the most appalling challenger with barely a murmur; the next he'll drive a man to poverty, alcoholism and suicide for just one crossed word. It turns out in the end that he is surprisingly similar to Roark and Dominique; in fact he ends up marrying Dominique, it's just that he's decided to make his entire life a satire. In this way he's similar to Francisco d'Anconia from Atlas Shrugged. He also likes to buy people out. He finds somebody with very high principles and integrity and he attempts to corrupt them by paying them. And he always succeeds; he can pay a vicar to become an atheist, an atheist to become religious, a trade unionist to write about the glories of capitalism, and a businessman to be a communist. It turns out that he is doing this to prove to himself that unimpeachable honour simply doesn't exist; it's an illusion, and that even the best men in the world have their price. This seems unrealistic and cynical on the author's part, but that's not really a surprise. Wynand says: "The man I couldn't break would destroy me. But I've spent years finding out how safe I am. They say I have no sense of honour... (but) it doesn't exist... I've had a lot of fun proving it." This makes me see Gail Wynand as a bit of a "Charles", see: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/charles-doing-washing-up.html. He needs desperately to believe that humanity is amoral and selfish by nature; it's the foundation of his philosophy, his worldview, even his self-esteem. There's definitely a facet of that in Ayn Rand, but is it for the same reasons? Basking in his new friendship with Gail Wynand, Roark makes a serious mistake of doing a secret deal with Peter Keating to build a government housing estate called the Cortlandt Homes Project. All Roark wants is for the construction to be built by him alone, his way. However he goes away on holiday with Wynand and when he gets back he finds the half-finished buildings ruined by additional designs and extensions he never authorized. He suspects that Keating has betrayed him, but it turns out that Toohey managed to crowbar the Council of American Builders into the project. Roark is so furious that he sneaks onto the building site one night with some dynamite and demolishes the constructions, after Dominique has distracted the security guard. Dominique is caught in the explosion and badly injured. When Roark is arrested Wynand mobilizes his newspapers to defend him, but then Toohey organizes a strike; it turns out that he's planted people he influences in all the crucial administrative positions. After a long struggle over many months, with Wynand keeping the paper running almost single-handed, Wynand caves in and reverses the paper's policy. Roark then stands trial. The outcome? Well, this review has been enough of a spoiler synopsis already; hope you still think it's worth buying the book. But suffice to say, during the trial, Roark defends himself and makes a long, impassioned speech that resembles John Galt's radio address in Atlas.

I have mixed feelings about The Fountainhead. Let me begin by saying that it is a far better book than Atlas Shrugged. It has an element that I can identify with; the way Howard Roark was treated by others is similar to how I was treated when I expressed my professional philosophy as a Hospital Porter. This I think was for similar reasons to the ones of Roark's antagonists, as I describe in the link above to my "Don't Tell 'em We're Porters!" article. Despite our differences I think Rand would approve of my stand and support me against the retribution of "John" and "Derek" and other people who keep "popping the question" etc. But I still feel very ambivalent to Rand's Objectivism, on which the novel is based. It has elements that I really like, but others that disturb me deeply. Rand's views on disabled people worry me the most. To go into more detail about the part of the story where Roark gets sued: What happens is that a rather dotty old man called Hopton Stoddard asks him to build a "temple", but unknown to Roark, Stoddard is one of Ellsworth Toohey's flock and this is how Toohey manipulates the situation. Roark builds the temple in his own way and he calls it a "Temple to the Human Spirit". When Stoddard sees it he hates it and when he sues Roark, Stoddard uses the damages to turn the place into a home for mentally handicapped children; and the author describes the children in a way that is quite ugly. It seriously echoes elitist views on "useless eaters". According to Objectivist ethics it is wrong for public money to be spent on the disabled; it's a "self-sacrifice", "living for another man". As I detail in my review of Atlas, Rand even objects to easy-access buses! Are these opinions a licence for eugenics? Rand herself has made it very clear that she does not believe in this. She has no objection to "imbeciles", as she calls them, being cared for by voluntary charities. However some of her modern followers have put very different words into her mouth. In my review of Atlas I explain how I first heard about Ayn Rand from a website that spoke openly of how they plan to terminate all pregnancies of defective babies by force, or even euthanize such newborns. I read the book with trepidation because before I read it I heard a rumour that Roark didn't demolish Cortlandt at all, but the Stoddard Temple, and I had an awful feeling that he was going to do it with the handicapped children inside! If this had been the case I'd be writing a very different review. I'm also bothered by Rand's support for Zionism; she advocates Israel because she believes that it's "technologically civilized" as opposed to Palestine, which is a nation of "savages", see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uHSv1asFvU; she seems oblivious to the fact that this "civilized" nation has one of the most murderous human rights record on Earth. Rand is generally a very judgemental individual indeed who responds to those who differ from her with cold hostility. As I read the book I felt I was under her scrutiny, even though she died in 1982 and her book was written seventy years ago. She seems to have some very naive and narrow-minded ideas about the feelings she does not share. She says of one of the characters, Alvah Scarret, the editor of one of Wynand's papers, that "he never hated anybody or anything; therefore he was incapable of love." She expands on this concept a little later in the book when Wynand thinks that the pig is a good symbol of humanity: "The creature that accepts everything... loves everybody and feels at home everywhere... a true hater of mankind". Rand also pours scorn on those who feel overawed at the natural world, the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, a mountain, or a beautiful sunset. She believes this is "making man small". Her heroic characters feel nothing for the natural world, in fact both Roark and Wynand are depicted looking at a beautiful scene of a rocky landscape and thinking only of drills, tunnel boring machines and dynamite! They wish to blast every work of natural art to pieces in the world and put up a skyscraper in its place. Wynand says he only gets excited when he sees skyscrapers, words echoed verbatim by Rand herself in an interview. Perhaps at the time the people were not aware of the finite world we live on and how badly we have damaged it, but I still don't think this excuses her. Wynand and Dominique also rile against people who take "pilgrimages" to a "dank pesthole in the jungle to pay homage to some crumbling temple... a leering stone monster created by some leprous savage". I don't think Rand would be very good company for Graham Hancock on an Ayahuasca workshop! She also views anybody who cares for a stranger at any kind of institution for the homeless, disabled, fallen women etc etc etc, as a self-indulgent do-gooder, a social bloodsucker who does it because they need that person's destitution to fulfil some kind of perverted self-esteem; "beggars need compassion, but the compassionate need beggars even more". She totally fails to comprehend the very down-to-Earth, sensible and varied kinds of people who get drawn into the caring professions; this includes myself. Yet she puts herself in their shoes and claims them for her own little rogues gallery with quite stunning arrogance. I can't condemn her for what she says for the simple reason that she is so ignorant of the situations and emotions she doesn't share. She places her cocoon on a very public pedestal, sits in it and lets her mouth run wild about things and people she knows nothing about and totally misjudges. She's almost childlike. In fact in a way she's very similar to Richard Dawkins, see: http://hpanwo.blogspot.co.uk/2008/04/god-delusion-by-richard-dawkins.html. As I said in my review of Atlas, Rand's emotions are primitive and polarized. They consist mostly of hate and contempt; in fact the book is almost an exploration of those feelings. Eskimoes have a large number of words for "snow"; Rand should invent a large number of words for "hate", because one is not enough for her mind. There's the blind rage Keating feels for Roark for not playing his game, the cold contempt Dominique feels for Keating when he agrees to marry her, the universal and sweeping misanthropy of Ellsworth Toohey for the people whom he fools every time he writes his column, the superior, haughty glory of humiliation Wynand feels for those he bullies at his newspaper; the list goes on. What a mind Ayn Rand must have!

Almost paradoxically mixed in with all this, The Fountainhead contains some breathtaking insights into politics and sociology that have me constantly flicking back to the title page verso to verify when the book was written. Firstly she seems to have identified what is known today as postmodernism; Lois Cook, Lancelot Clokey, Jules Fougler (what great names she chooses!) are all people who create works of art which are meaningless and gain a status from their asinine nature. I've already mentioned Lois Cook's book The Gallant Gallstone, but there is also a play without any plot called No Skin off my Ass and other creations that the characters adore and think are highly sophisticated and profound because they can't understand them. Rand's depictions of these characters are very amusing and witty, if somewhat unfair, caricatures. Not all post-modern art is pointless and irrelevant; many post-modern artists do know what they're doing, but try explaining that to Ayn Rand. Another way in which the novel is way ahead of its time is that it seems to anticipate or predict Cultural Marxism. Are these ideas really that old? When Keating bumps into Katie again after many years it is clear that she has changed completely. She has become a figure of Objectivist contempt, working as a nurse at a home for the mentally disabled; and also it is clear that she has become a feminist. This aspect of the book is mostly personified through the figure of Ellsworth Toohey. At one point Dominique begs Wynand to sack Toohey and "bring him down" like he has so many others. Wynand laughs and considers Toohey to worthless a victim to expend the effort, "like using a tank to crush a bug!" he says. Dominique then eloquently warns Wynand not to underestimate Toohey. She uses the analogy of a tank, an overt battlefield weapon that attacks in the open and takes its blows openly. Toohey is far more dangerous, a "corrosive gas" that infects and kills its enemy without them even knowing its happening. This is very similar to the kinds of things Dr John Coleman and, more recently, Brian Gerrish talk about. In fact here we see Brian talking about exactly the kind of sculptures that might come out of the Council of American Artists: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GV-sQbir63A. On page 666, very appropriately, there is an incredible monologue by Ellsworth Toohey. He has come to visit a destitute Peter Keating at his home and when Keating finally summons up the courage to confront him, Toohey comes clean in a speech that is as perceptive and significant as that of O'Brien in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. I don't think it's entirely accurate because it's laced with Rand's Objectivism, and I have edited it as a result for this review, but it's extraordinary nonetheless:

"What do you want Ellsworth?"
"I want to rule. I shall rule."
"Whom?"
"You. The world. It’s only a matter of discovering the lever. If you learn how to rule one single man’s soul, you can get the rest of mankind. It’s the soul, Peter, the soul. Not whips or swords or fire or guns. That’s why the Caesars, the Attila's, the Napoleons were fools and did not last. We will. The soul, Peter, is that which can’t be ruled. It must be broken. Drive a wedge in, get your fingers on it and the man is yours. You won’t need a whip; he’ll bring it to you and ask to be whipped. Use him against himself. Make man feel small. Make him feel guilty. Kill his aspiration and his integrity. Kill integrity by internal corruption. Direct it towards a goal destructive of all integrity. To preserve one’s integrity is a hard battle. Why preserve that which one knows to be corrupt already? His soul gives up its self respect. You’ve got him. He’ll obey. He’ll be glad to obey, because he can’t trust himself, he feels uncertain, he feels unclean. Kill man’s sense of values. We don’t want any great men. Don’t deny conception of greatness. Destroy it from within. Laugh at Roark and hold Peter Keating as a great architect: You’ve destroyed architecture. Build up Lois Cook and you’ve destroyed literature. Hail Fougler and you’ve destroyed the theatre. Don’t set out to raze all shrines; you’ll frighten men. Enshrine mediocrity and the shrines are razed by themselves. Kill by laughter. Laughter is an instrument of human joy. Learn to use it as a weapon of destruction. Turn it into a sneer. Kill reverence and you’ve killed the hero in man. One doesn’t revere with a giggle. He’ll obey and he’ll set no limits to obedience; anything goes, nothing is too serious. Don't allow men to be happy. Happiness is self-contained and self-sufficient. Happy men have no time and no use for you. Happy men are free men. So kill their joy in living. Take away from them what they want. Make them think that the mere thought of a personal desire is evil. Unhappy men will come to you. They’ll need you. They’ll come for consolation, for support, for escape. Nature allows no vacuum. Empty man’s soul, and the space is yours to fill. Of course, you must dress them up. You must tell people they’ll achieve a superior kind of happiness by giving up everything that makes them happy. You don't have to be too clear about it. Use big vague words. ‘Universal Harmony’, ‘Eternal Spirit’, ‘Divine Purpose’, ‘Nirvana’, ‘Paradise’, ‘Racial Supremacy’, ‘the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.’ Internal corruption, Peter. That’s the oldest one of all. Suspend reason and you play it deuces wild. Anything goes in any manner you wish whenever you need it. You’ve got him. Can you rule a thinking man? We don’t want any thinking men... Peter, you’ve heard all this. You’ve seen me practising it for ten years. You see it being practised all over the world. Why are you disgusted ? You have no right to sit there and stare at me with the virtuous superiority of being shocked. You’re in on it. You’ve taken your share and you’ve got to go along. See if I ever lied to you. See if you haven’t listened to all this for years, but didn’t want to hear, and the fault is yours, not mine. The world I want: A world of obedience and of unity. A world where the thought of each man will not be his own, but an attempt to guess the thought of the next neighbour who’ll have no thought, and so on, Peter, around the globe. All must agree with all. All must serve all. An average drawn upon zeroes, since no individuality will be permitted. A world with its motor cut off and a single heart, pumped by hand. My hand; and the hands of a few, a very few other men like me. Those who know what makes you tick, you great and wonderful average. You who have not risen in fury when we called you the average; the little, the common. You who’ve liked and accepted these names. We’ll enjoy unlimited submission from men who’ve learned nothing except to submit. We’ll call it ‘to serve’. You’ll fall over one another in a scramble to see who can submit better and more. There will be no other distinction to seek. No other form of personal achievement. Can you see Howard Roark in this picture? No? Then don’t waste time. Everything that can’t be ruled must go. And if freaks persist in being born occasionally, they will not survive beyond their twelfth year. When their brain begins to function, it will feel the pressure and it will explode. The pressure gauged to a vacuum. Do you know the fate of deep-sea creatures brought out to sunlight? So much for future Roarks. The rest of you will smile and obey. Man’s first frown is the first touch of God on his forehead. The touch of thought. But we’ll have neither God nor thought. Only voting by smiles. Automatic levers, all saying yes... Now if you were a little more intelligent, you’d ask: What of us, the rulers ? What of me, Ellsworth Monkton Toohey ? And I’d say, Yes, you’re right. I’ll achieve no more than you will. I’ll have no purpose save to keep you contended. To lie, to flatter you, to praise you, to inflate your vanity. To make speeches about the people and the common good. Peter, my poor old friend, I’m the most selfless man you’ve ever known. I have less independence than you, whom I just forced to sell your soul. You’ve used people at least for the sake of what you could get from them for yourself. I want nothing for myself. I use people for the sake of what I can do to them. It’s my only function and satisfaction. I have no private purpose. I want power. I want my world of the future. Let all sacrifice and none profit. Let all suffer and none enjoy. Let progress stop. Let all stagnate. There’s equality in stagnation. All subjugated to the will of all. Universal slavery, without even the dignity of a master. Slavery to slavery. A great circle, and a total equality. The world of the future."
"Ellsworth... you’re..."
"Insane? Afraid to say it? There you sit and the world’s written all over you, your last hope. Insane? Look around you. Pick up any newspaper and read the headlines. Isn’t it coming? Isn’t it here? Every single thing I told you? Divide and conquer... first. But then, unite and rule. We’ve discovered that one last. Remember the Roman Emperor who said he wished humanity had a single neck so he could cut it? People have laughed at him for centuries. But we’ll have the last laugh. We’ve accomplished what he couldn’t accomplish. We’ve taught men to unite. This makes one neck ready for one leash. Look at Europe, you fool. Can’t you see past the guff and recognise the essence? Am I raving or is this the harsh reality of two continents already? If you’re sick of one version, we push you in the other. We’ve fixed the coin. Give up your soul to a council, or give it up to a leader. But give it up, give it up, give it up. Offer poison as food and poison as antidote. Go fancy on the trimmings, but hang on to the main objective. Give the fools a chance, let them have their fun, but don’t forget the only purpose you have to accomplish. Kill the individual. Kill man’s soul. The rest will follow automatically."

All in all, The Fountainhead is a mixed bag and I like some parts and hate others. Read it yourself and see what you think. Let me know when you have.




11 comments:

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
ellie12022 said...

it sounds like she carries the Jewish idea of sickness/deformity/poverty as some kind of punishment from God. I'm pretty sure that's what the Government think too, and that's why they can do what they do.

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