Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead Completed! What's Next?

24 Nov 2008

I probably should have written something of an Ayn Rand update on these pages sooner, even though no one reads this blog. I'd neglected to finish my discussion of Atlas Shrugged, and then went on and read The Fountainhead.

If I could return to last year, I'd read The Fountainhead first. It would probably be better to watch the Objectivist philosophy take form in The Fountainhead and then culminate in Atlas Shrugged. However, it was still very interesting to meet the Fountainhead characters and loosely match them up with some of the ones in Atlas Shrugged. I'm sure much has been written comparing The Fountainhead's Dominique Francon with Atlas Shrugged's Dagny Taggart, The Fountainhead's Howard Roark with Atlas Shrugged's John Galt, The Fountainhead's Ellsworth Toohey with, say, Atlas Shrugged's Wesley Mouch. The Fountainhead's Gail Wynand seems to have split into two characters in Atlas Shrugged -- Francisco and Hank. (I could be wrong on that one...)

Speaking of Gail... Here's an excellent quote from Gail Wynand in The Fountainhead:

If it were true, that old legend about appearing before a supreme judge and naming one's record, I would offer, with all my pride, not any act I committed, but one thing I have never done on this earth: that I never sought an outside sanction. I would stand and say: I am Gail Wynand, the man who has committed every crime except the foremost one: that of ascribing futility to the wonderful fact of existence and seeking justification beyond myself. This is my pride: that now, thinking of the end, I do not cry like all the men of my age: but what was the use and the meaning? I was the use and meaning, I, Gail Wynand. That I lived and that I acted.

I love that. By coincidence, as I was reading this novel, my daughter asked me, "Daddy, what is the most important thing in the whole world." I said, "You are." She said, "But I'm not more important than the earth." I said, "Yes you are. Without you, the earth is just a big ball of rock orbiting a star. It's here for you, not the other way around." She disagreed.

While reading these works, I didn't take notes. I simply read them and experienced them as novels. (Of course, the text of each book gets rather heavy at times, which calls for careful, slow reading. It's worth it to take in each word, though. These aren't books that should be scanned.) However, I wish I had taken more careful notes. Next time through these works, I will. One thing that struck me, particularly in The Fountainhead, was Rand's uncanny ability for predicting future events and works of literature. I'd read one sentence and think, (remembering that this was written in the 1940s): "Damn, that's exactly what JFK is going to say in 20 years!" or "Damn, that's the whole plot of a novel that won't come out for 60 years!"

I don't recall which particular novels I momentarily believed to have been influenced by Rand's works, but I do vividly recall flashing to JFK's famous, "Ask not what your country can do for you" speech at one point during The Fountainhead. What was Kennedy saying in that soundbyte? Was it: Do not think about yourself; rather, submit your individualism to the collective for the greater good. Is that close?

I'd never questioned the greatness of JFK before. Frankly, I'm not a star student of history. It's never been a favorite subject of mine; nor has politics. That's mostly because I'm more of an egotist myself -- which explains why these books resonate so strongly with me. But, quickly, I'd be interested to hear the opinion of any Objectivists out there on the topic of JFK. His sentiments seem in line with a policy that would, in a few short years, require 59,000 young men to forcefully submit their individuality to a greater good project we now know simply as Viet Nam -- to the tune of the ultimate price, their very lives.

I get the feeling, while broaching the subject of Rand with various people, that the average person knows nothing of her. Of those who do, she's vaguely feared -- as though her literature is on par with, say, L. Ron Hubbard's in terms of influence on its readers. However, if I'm like other fans of Rand's work, I'd like to state that it's exactly the opposite of that. I'm not so much "influenced" by her as I am damn impressed with her ability to have articulated many of the things I've always felt but have been unable to state clearly. Rand was an uncommonly gifted thinker. She was a lens that focused, well ahead of her time, the most important philosophical issues into sharp relief.

I looked up "fountainhead" in the dictionary. It said:

1. A spring that is the source or head of a stream. 2. A chief and copious source; an originator.

That's it -- definition #2. Funny... while reading this, I thought that "The Fountainhead" was going to come up in the text. I didn't know it was a metaphor for the main character Howard Roark. Rather, I expected that it would be the name of a building that Roark would design. Specifically, I expected it to be the name of the housing project he demolishes. After that, I wondered whether it would be the name of the Wynand Building. While this may sound odd, I should note that I'd been preconditioned, in a way, to expect this. There is a well known office park just south of Pittsburgh featuring a building called The Fountainhead. Must be a Rand fan who designed it.

Since finishing the book, I reviewed some of the clips from the movie version on YouTube. I'll have to check that out sometime. One would think, based on the fact that Rand was alive during the production, that it should be a fairly faithful adaptation. (I don't know anything about the history of the film project, but assume Rand was involved if she was anything at all like her heroes.) One hopes Atlas Shrugged will be a faithful adaptation in the future. I think Angelina Jolie will make a fine Dagny. Who will play Galt? Her real-life husband, Brad Pitt, perhaps?

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