Seldom do I feel like launching a tirade after reading a book. But after reading about 700 pages of The Fountainhead, my temper has flared up and I need to give a vent to it. I have read the book a month ago, but every time I see it on my bookshelf, my temper flares up. More when I see the Objectivist movement in the internet.
This book had figured in the top charts of all my book-lover friends except one. One of them feels that it is a book that can alter everything one has believed. One feels that it is immensely inspiring and has read it six times or more! Two of them have been bowled over by the austere charm of Howard Roark. So when I began to read it, I had great expectations. But I was utterly disappointed. May be I am too old for the book.
I would make it clear that I am no Marxist, I do not believe equality of all can be achieved but I believe that there should be equal opportunities for all. I am a loner and prefer solitude or the company of few to socialising with a large group any day. I was enthralled when a professor told in a class that Joseph Conrad wrote “We live as we dream- alone.” So the book seemed perfect for me, with the back cover saying that it is about the triumph of individualism over socialism.
I agree with individualism to the point that one should set high ideals and ambitions, work hard to achieve one’s fullest potential, not be bogged down by mediocrity, which is often glorified. I believe that one must think independently, instead of blindly following others. I admire Howard Roark’s intense devotion and dedication to his work, the way he forgoes rest and sleep and works till he achieves perfection in the drawings. I admire his determination to move on, not being perturbed by the failures and rejection. The only things I admire about him, and the book.
That is all that I like. And now I don’t know where to begin with what I hate, which one is worse- the philosophy or the literature?
Well, since Rand intended to make it a piece of propaganda, I would consider the philosophy first. I do not believe that a person can live solely by, for and of his own self. Rand’s world is conveniently devoid of babies, because they obviously need someone to nurture them. Even when she shows the past life of her protagonists, both Gail Wynand and Howard Roark are shown as children capable of earning, working at odd jobs. But how did they survive as infants? Even as adults they needed others. An architect needs hundreds of labourers to make his vision come true. How many skyscrapers would Roark build in his lifetime if he had to lay each brick by himself? And the way Gail Wynand runs the Banner. If the editor-in-chief checked every word in every copy of the huge publication house that Rand claims it is, I wonder how the pages of Banner ever reached the press. Aren’t there deadlines in her world? And what about the clients of Roark? How would Roark build if he had no land, labour and capital? And how does one live absolutely by oneself? A person needs food for subsistence and for that he would need to grow crops or hunt animals, all on his own. Are we not dependent in some way to all around us? It is clear that Rand’s philosophy isn’t feasible practically, unless as Aristotle says, one is either a beast or God.
Even from the ideological point of view, she glorifies selfishness when she denounces all acts of charity and kindness. She thinks all those who dedicated their lives to the cause of others have sold their souls. Altruists and philanthropists of all kinds are despicable to her and she preaches for unbridled capitalism. Someone who does something for love, to her, is the basest of all creatures. What if somebody finds happiness in the happiness of others (that’s called mudita, I doubt Rand knew it) , what if others’ pain makes that person empathetic and he works towards a cause for the betterment of other’s lives? To Rand, that person is a vile creature but the one who blows up homes with dynamite because they have some frilly details which do not conform to his conception is the noblest of all. I am sorry, but I can’t buy this logic at all. And I don’t know how anyone with reason and thinking can buy that. Reason and thinking, two things that Rand herself emphasizes on.
Moving on to the next part, reason is man’s only weapon and she has no place for passion. But when Roark works day and night to give form to his ideas, isn’t he driven by the passion to create? And yes, can reason explain all? Kant believed that, “Reason should investigate its own parameters before declaring its omniscience.” But Rand considered Kant a monster! And she writes as if she is omniscient. No wonder her philosophy has generally been rejected or ignored by the academia. And the conservatives pursue it for their own interests.
I do not know why she detests Renaissance architecture so much when she glorifies the heroic in man. Or the way she condemns Oriental philosophy. May be she didn’t know much about either.
And, it is a bad book. It is difficult to read with cumbersome words and I am quite patient when it comes to reading. That’s a bad excuse, I accept. But I have lot of good ones, too.
I hate didactic books. And here we have one which does not exemplify simple wisdom as in Aesop’s Fables or Panchatantra. Rather, the author tries to shove down her philosophy into the reader’s throats and hammer what she believes to be absolute and true like a nail in the reader’s mind. While reading the book, I felt Rand is Ellsworth Toohey. Like Toohey, she is feeding her philosophy into our minds clothed in high-sounding jargon. Repetitively. Her characters are like Toohey’s gang, who have no life of their own; they are mere marionettes or mouthpieces who say what Rand wants them to say. The plot is inconsequential, so are the characters. None of them develop, except perhaps Gail Wynand, the only character I feel who has a bit of life. They are all a weird bunch of extreme people, painted in pitch black or stark white, with weirder names.
Howard Roark betrays no emotion, no life and rapes a woman who is exactly like him. I don’t know what is so charming about him either. But I wouldn’t argue on that. Ever since I read Gone with the Wind, I find no hero good enough to swoon for except Rhett Butler. I found Darcy too pale. And Roark is nothing but a stone pillar on one of his avant-garde buildings. Ellsworth Toohey is a megalomaniac who wants the world turned into a mediocre’s paradise. Gail Wynand fails to achieve his ideals and succumbs to the ways of the world. Peter Keating is the typical mediocre, a parasite. Dominique Francon is the most frigid of all. She welcomes the rape, and despite loving Roark, writes columns degrading his work and gets married to Peter Keating and then Wynand and then finally calls herself Mrs Roark. I could never identify with this character. In Rand’s world it seems, the heroine is perhaps not supposed to scale the heights of what she can achieve, but rather search for the man who is completely alike her and support him. That’s strange for someone who professes that self-interest should be the sole aim in life. Again, I am no feminist, I just found it strange. I admire heroines like Scarlett O’ Hara and Jane Eyre and Marji in Persepolis much more. Even Elizabeth Bennett, at least, she had some spark.
So that’s why. Because of a bad plot, bad characterisation and bad readability (that’s the term in vogue, I read).
Because even Howard Roark can’t build it alone.