Monday, August 10, 2009

The Fountainhead Revisited


I never really liked Ayn Rand (Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum), yes, that name is far too good to be true. Something about her and the people who were so devoted to her always annoyed me. The truth is, I knew very little about her other than her novels seemed very long, Alan Greenspan was connected to her in some way and she had a morbid affair with Nathaniel Branden (Nathan Blumenthal) also too good be true. I had heard an interview with Branden and Ken Wilber in which Branden, a recognized psychologist, discussed the affair with the much older and married Rand.

Okay, I don’t like Republicans either. I took the Harvard bias tests online, all of them. Gays, Blacks, Jews, women, I have to say, surprisingly, no bias. But when I took the test for Republicans, big red light went off on the computer, horns sounded (I’m exaggerating). But yes, according to Harvard, the only bias I have is towards Republicans. And something about the Ayn Rand type of Republican, I find especially irksome. New Agers for the right wing. But don’t doubt their zeal.


According to The New York Times “When a 1991 survey by the Library of Congress and the Book-of-the-Month Club asked what the most influential book in the respondent's life was, Rand's Atlas Shrugged was the second most popular choice, after the Bible.”

I can’t speak for the validity of the data, but its nonetheless shocking. Alan Greenspan, the Neo-Cons, Dick Cheney, and Ayn Rand as their muse, sending America off into imperialist wars and eliminating income tax for the rich as an incentive to achieve. That, plus the kinky affair with the young Branden, pardon me if I didn’t have a positive image of Mrs. Rand.

It is the spring of 2009, in Murcia Spain. I am staying at an old country house that my ex-wife’s family has, on a very big farm about 5 kilometers from the nearest village which has a few thousand inhabitants. The rest of the villages in the area are much smaller, some with fewer than 50 people. I have no money, truly, completely, broke. No car, limited amount of food and an ex-wife thrilled to see me squirm. I am basically hungry all day, drinking is out of the question, only vice I have is coffee and cigarettes and some books, in a house that could be considered a palace, with a tower, crest on front of it, maybe 10,000 sq. feet (1,000 sq meters). And I forgot to tell you, very intermittent hot water, like every three days or so. How does a 42 year old man wind up in such a situation? You, and a lot of other people would get a real laugh out of that one, but keep reading my blog and maybe I will give some hints.

I consider myself well read. What does that mean? I mean old school well read. From Aristotle and Plato through Schopenhauer and Nietzsche all the important Russians, French and English novelists, The New Yorker, you get the idea. And whenever I come across someone well known I haven’t read, it bothers me. I have very clear ideas about reading. First, I never read anything twice, I decided long ago, I prefer to read more than enjoy over and over the trusted few. A matter of temperaments of course, but I made my decision, and I follow it quite strictly. The other rule I have about reading is that I don’t generally read anything that was written in the last 50 years. The main reason being that I don’t trust critics, for me, the only and best critic is time. Time, as a critic, never waivers and never falters, she is flawless. This way I don’t read garbage. I will not read what I don’t think will be in read in 50 years. And the best way to do that is only read things that have been in print for at least 50 years. Yes, there are some exceptions, but very infrequent, and when I make them, it is usually for some pop-spirituality book I am forced to read by a woman. (There is no bias there that is all fact.)

So can someone who hasn’t read Harry Potter, or The DaVinci Code (though I am a big fan of DaVinci’s Inquest, first TV show that has hooked me in years) be considered well read? I tend to think so. Can someone who hasn’t read Stendhal be considered well read, maybe more difficult. Well, long way back to Ayn Rand. There I am on a farm, broke, hungry, no booze, only cigarettes, potatoes and a big jar of Nescafe. I was going days without speaking to anyone. I find an old edition of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead which I had left there years ago. It was a pocket edition, small print, coming apart a bit at the seams. An address in Hong Kong, written on the inside cover. I think I bought it at a used English bookstore in Madrid many years back.

You can’t say Mrs. Rand was a virtuoso with the prose. Her dialogs sometimes sound very comic bookish. But she understands plot. And the story pulls you in very quickly. It is a fabulous read; there is something refreshingly romantic and idealistic about it all. I get the gist of Objectivism, Mrs. Rand’s philosophy. But I understand why academics have shunned it. It's not intellectually very interesting. It's something smart 13 year olds can get excited about, but not 30 year olds. And I think that is what always bothered me about the people who were Ayn Rand fanatics (apart from the fact that Harvard says I have a pre-programmed bias against them) is that they seem like those weird kids who knew something so sophisticated, so special for their age, that you were never going to understand, and they lorded it over you.

Nevertheless, as far as fiction goes, The Fountainhead is a great read, very well constructed, maybe a bit too long. I think she could have pulled the story together earlier, a lot of the tension is gone towards the end. It becomes too obvious.

But all in all, it was so nice to find an author, while in my 40’s, who I thought I wouldn’t like but I did, maybe there is hope for my bias. I look forward to reading Atlas Shrugged.


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2 comments:

  1. Yes, she is long-winded at times. But she had first-hand experience of the "Socialist experiment" that began in Russia in 1917, and you can't blame her for being shrill about it. She makes a clear picture of that in "Atlas Shrugged", in the story of the "communal factory". I only experienced Socialism as commune-alism in a spiritual community, where everyone was supposedly high-minded, but in essense I saw the same things happening to people and how they operated and thought. It is an impractical and immoral system, as summarized so well by Margaret Thatcher: "The problem with Socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money."

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  2. So, have you finished "Atlas Shrugged" yet? I probably first read "The Fountainhead" when I was thirteen, having red hair and wanting to be an Engineer / Architect (ending up as a Naval Architect). I have a problem with the Neo-Cons and the way they are using Ayn Rand. It was refreshing to hear your take on The Fountainhead, as that is closer to the love I have for her philosophy books. More of this is needed to convince the world that she isn't the Neo Con muse...

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