Thursday, August 26, 2010

I'm good enough, I'm smart enough...

Current book: The Fountainhead
Pages read: 320 - 433

Roark continues to get commissions, despite Dominique and Toohey's best efforts to stand in his way. Unfortunately, his commissions go badly; the large hotel he designs runs out of funding, partially finished, and the "Temple to the Spirit" he designs is a disaster. He's set up for that disaster by Toohey, who tells the building's sponsor to give Roark complete freedom and not even to look at the designs. The sponsor tells Roark that he wants a non-denominational cathedral, and what Roark gives him is a building that honors the spirit of humankind, elevating man to the level of God. Dominique poses for the naked human statue at the temple's focal point.

The sponsor sues Roark for gross malpractice and wins. Dominique testifies on the sponsor's behalf, but says, basically, that the reason Roark should lose the suit is because his temple was wrong to glorify man when he is, in actuality, so despicable as to sue a visionary for his genius. Afterward, she agrees to marry Peter Keating, and Roark lets her, though he promises her she will one day come back to him when she has learned to value herself. The temple is transformed into a home for "subnormal" children and redesigned. Keating snubs his fiance for Dominique.

Moving on, we begin to learn the history of Gail Wynand, newspaper magnate that owns the newspaper Dominique wrote for before she married Keating, who is a foil for Roark. He makes every decision to prove the futility of living to an ideal, playing the public's baser instincts against it to take advantage of it for his own gain. That's as far as I got with him.

I was wrong about Dominique's motives. Well, that's not actually true; I had thought of the proper interpretation, but I forgot to make a note of it in yesterday's short post. The real reason she's sabotaging commissions for Roark seems to be that she finds society so bankrupt of merit that she can't stand to see it criticizing Roark's genius. Not that she'd be any happier, really, if they appreciated it for the wrong reasons, but the point is that she thinks they aren't worthy of him. Roark, disagreeing with her, explains that it's not reason enough to let society break him, but rather he must simply be who he is and remain untouched by the consequences.

This book is infinitely more tolerable and subtler than Atlas Shrugged, mostly because, as I've said, it's all about artistic integrity (which can be extrapolated to other integrity, of course). That said, it's still hitting the point that genius is the only mark of human worth pretty damn hard. The "subnormal" children are a good example of that. Rand clearly has a great deal of contempt for the people who care for them. She doesn't go so far as to say they should be killed at birth, but the implication is kind of there. Do I have a perfect solution for people with mental disabilities? No, but I'm not willing to discount them entirely, either. (Maybe I'm a coward for that. Maybe I should just say, "No, their brains don't work properly and therefore they don't count." Rand would want me to.) Also, there's the idea that anyone who's not a genius has nothing to stand for, which is pretty hard to take. Or, on the flip side of that, that everyone should act as though he or she is a genius and stand on that principle all the time, which is not only unrealistic, but pretty misleading. (One might argue that that idea is a huge problem in the current generation. In fact, the New York Times recently did.)

The focus on upholding the individual's responsibility to act in his own interest is so great, too, that it negates any understanding or acknowledgement of the contribution of circumstance to the problems of poverty. Almost every powerful man in the book raised himself up by his bootstraps from poverty. The implication is that the poor are poor by choice and laziness. Those who raise themselves up, however, are always improbably tenacious or intelligent or gifted, so what does that make of those who are not particularly tenacious or intelligent or gifted? Is it all right (or even feasible, really) to act in one's own best interest at all times if one is unintelligent?

I do like, though, the fact that Roark points out to Dominique that her motives are incorrect. The proper solution is not, according to Roark, to hide genius from those unworthy of criticizing it, but rather to make it public, in an uncorrupted state, and ignore the criticism. This idea is great if the art or architecture is great - if it's a shining, inspiring example. Of course, if your work is no good, it goes back to my previous complaint. But, with the examples of great downtrodden artists and writers in mind, I'll give Rand the point that genius is often unappreciated, or even actively persecuted, in its own time, and remaining immune to criticism can be both helpful and necessary in those cases.


  1. Are you saying, to quote Yogi Berra, "Those who don't think too good shouldn't think too often."?

  2. I'm saying Rand is saying it, pretty much.



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