November 29th, 2010

Authors

The Fountainhead


"Its such a waste to be subtle and vicious with people who don't even know that you're being subtle and vicious." ~ Ellsworth M. Toohey


I read Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead over Thanksgiving week and was afraid I was going to have to struggle through a lengthy, dry book. As it turns out, that wasn't the case at all! It was an engaging, easy read and a nice change from the popularity of the numerous "young adult" books here of late. As a work of fiction, I enjoyed it tremendously. Primarily Parts I-III. Part IV got a bit preachy, but the ending was certainly conclusive enough for me. The novel was chock full of great quotes, and I kept a running list, something I've never before done. Neither the material, nor the writing was dated in the least. Everything which transpired in the book was as fresh as "present day."

As a philosophy, I don't see what the big deal is, or how her conclusions should be taken any more or less seriously than any other author/philosopher, though I'm certainly prepared to discuss it from a purely Fountainhead perspective (I have yet to read Atlas Shrugged.) If I had to identify this book's converse proposition in novel form, I'd point to John Grisham's The Street Lawyer. Only his book was much less...convincing. Perhaps the drama lies in Rand's ability to effectively articulate her message? Regardless, I simply don't understand where all the controversy comes from. She said her piece and backed up her point of view. You should be able to either agree or disagree with her conclusions.1 However, I've proven to myself time and again that how we perceive ourselves is often very different from how we're perceived by others. That being said, perhaps we all think we're the protagonist when in actuality we're not, or we discredit entirely the motivations behind him when in fact either in secret or in public we know some part of him exists in us. Based on this novel alone, I simply cannot entertain there being such a thing as a polarized opinion of Ayn Rand.

As a political movement, I've heard that Libertarians have shouldered her cause. Based on this book, and in discussing what I now call "extremist Libertarians" as discovered in lively discussions with my cousin (in-law, but I'm done repeating that part in my blog), I once again find I'm more moderate even where they are concerned - almost to the point I'm not quite sure I fit into that label comfortably. I know that I appreciated many of her conclusions, more or less - certainly not to the letter - but I'm not familiar enough with the controversy to know why that's supposed to make me good or evil. Perhaps I'll have a better grasp of things when I read Atlas Shrugged. Its been suggested that I might "learn something about the Value Proposition"2 when I do.

In the mean time, I'll be chewing on the novel for a while. I enjoyed many of the ideals, romanticized as they may have been and look forward to some discussion with those of you who've read the book over those who have formed "opinions without a rational process." I was also swept away with the emotions (and in some cases, lack thereof) of the characters. Some behaved badly. Others, exceptionally.

Lastly, in a bit of an uncomfortable confession - given the timing you see, I do place my cousin in the Dominique Francon role and felt at times, that we could communicate with each other...without words! While both thrilling and frightening a prospect, I don't plan to let that stop me from speaking to her in the future.




1 - Then again, maybe that's the problem. Perhaps I've "shown my hand" in the admission of allowing others to have an opinion? I don't know what I'm supposed to be arguing here!

2 - I don't know how I'm supposed to take this suggestion. I had to look it up. Awkwardly, the suggestion came from someone who eschews the hard work behind success in lieu of "the one great idea" especially given the get-rich-quick theme is antithetical of The Fountainhead's lesson - surely Rand doesn't introduce two, completely opposite, controversial ethos?