Archive for the ‘Atlas Shrugged’ Category

The isn’t so much a review as it is a reflection. It would be altogether pointless for me to attempt a literary review of Ayn Rand’s work. For one, I am incapable of judging the inherent complexity of Rand’s philosophy. For two, Rand herself, were she alive, would merely dismiss any attempt to critique her.

Like the characters of her creation, Rand does not work for the pleasure of her fellow man. She works for her own pleasure. She does not labor to be recognized by the masses. Recognition by the masses is a cheap, fickle thing lacking substance and reason.

I read The Fountainhead after already tackling Rand’s masterpiece Atlas Shrugged and her Anthem. Like both, it champions the spirit of human achievement and sneers at the ideals of the commons, which champions mediocrity while sucking the blood of the great among us. Like Atlas, its most shocking aspect is how utterly accurate she is in her portrayals of our modern society. We look backwards, demanding not what is earned by us by what we deem as owed by us. Much has been said about today’s Entitlement generation and Rand, again if she were living today, would likely be disgusted by us millennials if she hadn’t predicted our existence so thoroughly.

In many ways, Fountainhead is a more enjoyable read than Atlas. Its plot is more accessible, its characters more relatable, its monologues are shorter and spoiler alert the right people end up together /spoiler alert. It tells the story of a man, Howard Roark, an architect who designs his buildings with disregard to what is expected and traditional, instead worrying only about what is necessary and functional. Where other Architects adorn their facades with colonnades and porticos that serve no purpose beyond aesthetics, Roark makes every girder load-bearing and every brick indispensable. For this he is ridiculed, dismissed and attacked by the establishment with their steel testaments to dead societies.

As you would expect, Roark’s architecture is a metaphor for a life well-lived. A true man, in the eyes of Rand, does not concern himself with what other men do, think, wear, eat but instead makes every action and decision in his life based on what he needs and what he believes to himself. He does not make small talk or socialize as a means to an end of power, glory, money or fame, but instead surrounds himself with people whose company he enjoys and whose brain and merits he admires.

Ironically enough, much of Rands philosophy (commonly known as objectivism) is misunderstood by the masses. Her frequent disdain for government meddling (most notably in Atlas) has made her an unwillingly-adopted champion of the ultra-conservative and tea party crowds and that adoption has made her a caricatured punch line for many liberals.

Misguided loathers will talk your ear off about how Rand hates women (despite the crucial role female protagonists play in her novels) and how to be an objectivist means you feel justified in being rude to everyone around you. Misguided lauders will boast of how they listened to an audiobook of We The Living in their car, the same one adorned with a yellow Don’t Tread On Me flag, one their way to a convention where likeminded individuals network and pat each other on the back while toasting their own greatness.

Both are missing the point.

If you allow her to, Rand will stir something within your soul. It is hard to pin point and harder to describe but you will begin to see more clearly what it is you dislike about certain people and groups. You will see in yourself the un-finished potential to be Howard Roark, Hank Rearden, John Galt or Francisco D’Anconia. You will long for a woman like Dagny Taggart or Dominic Francon. You will see in these characters the ideas that have crossed your mind in rare moments of clarity before vanishing into the loud, putrid haze of societal convention. You will hate yourself for things you have done and do and slowly you will come to look differently at the people who fill the spaces around you.

Unless you’re a looter, a second-hander, or a parasite, in which case most of what she is trying to tell you will likely go over your head and you will only see a heavy-handed conservative political agenda. I have met many looters in my life, I pass by parasites every day. They detest me even more than I dislike them, because Rand helped me see them as insignificant even if the day should come that I am starving in the gutter.

There is an old game of asking what famous person, living or dead, you would like to have lunch with. I used to say Abraham Lincoln, the father of my party, the last successful 3rd party candidate for president, the man who preserved our country in its darkest hour and freed the slaves, giving his life for the cause. I have decided, however, that my meeting with Abe would be best handled after my death. We would meet as two old souls across some celestial table and reminisce about mortality and government.

As a living man, with years to spare, I would prefer to break bread with Ayn Rand. She would ask me my profession. I would answer “journalist.” And then, I would listen as she told me the manner of man I should be, and the manner of life I should lead.

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One of the more interesting ideas, for me, in Ayn Rynd’s Atlas Shrugged is how she carries her ideas of objectivism to everyday emotional relationships. Like all aspects of life, Rynd suggests that we should be motivated by our own self-interest and only give value for value.

The protagonist, Dagny Taggart, at one point asks the “Strikers” who live in an objectivist society, what role husbands and wives play and they explain to her that Love is still free to exist in objectivism but instead of being demanded by those in the outside world, it is given as an exchange of values.

At first, gift-giving seems contrary to objectivism in that someone is receiving a gift with nothing in return. This is not true. For example, a man loves his wife and buys her a beautiful dress. The man is actually acting in his own self interest. By giving the dress to his wife HE receives the value of seeing her in that dress. HE receives the value of being the person who, as the result of his productivity, has the means to use his money in the way that he sees fit, purchasing a beautiful dress and gifting it to the woman he loves.

As I was reading the book, there were a few times when the attitude of the characters toward charity (being very contrary) created a conflict with my Christian/Mormon upbringing where charitable acts are thought of as being of utmost import in Christ-like living. It was only near the end of the book when Rynd reconciled this as the lead Striker explains that giving a toy to a poor child is fine. It is only when that toy is given at the expense of your own child’s happiness that it becomes wrong. Wronger still, is when those in power DEMAND that you take the toy out of your child’s hands (a toy that you purchased with the result of your productivity) and place it in the hands of a poor child.

My favorite character, Hank Rearden, is the most tortured of this principal, as his immediate family seek over and over again to essentially eat his carcass while simultaneously riding on his shoulders. His wife DEMANDS his Love while berating and degrading his achievements. His brother DEMANDS his pity while contributing nothing and seeking through political influence to destroy Rearden. His mother DEMANDS his support while insulting him for his ideals and drive to succeed.

Another character, James Taggart, demonstrates the wrong form of Love perfectly. He is a man of means, means he received through no ability of his own and in fact litterally stole from the ability of others. He meets a girl in a state of poverty and marries her, under the assumption that due to her lower-class status she will be forced to Love him because she is dependent on him. He has no value to offer, except his social status, and seeks to receive his love by obligation rather than earning it. His wife, strives to educate herself in the ways of sophisticated society, for which she receives resentment from her husband James because he can no longer demand her affection if she ceases to be a street rat.

Now, in real life. I see James Taggarts every day. Little did I know I’ve been living personal objectivism all along, unconsciously.

I remember a while back some friends of mine were having a movie night. I invited a girl, and she said that she needed to pack. I suggested that it had been some time since she had spent time with this particular group and since college-age adults are known to stay up to reckless hours of the morning, she could easily do her packing after the movie.

“Don’t try to guilt-trip me,” she said.

I didn’t understand when she first said it. To me, I was merely presenting that if the value of attending the event were great enough to make up for the loss of sleep then it would be advantageous for her to do so, if not, stay home and pack.

It didn’t occur to me until later that her reaction was not due to my individual statement, but a result of a hole society’s tendency to demand un-earned attention. Simply put, she didn’t realize that I was an objectivist, she thought I was a looter.

Every day I see pathetic (faux-hawked) young men GUILTING women into spending time with them. “Come oooooon,” they say “we haven’t hung out in sooooooo looooooooong.”

Ask yourself why? If she wanted to hang out with you, she probably would. If you have not earned someone’s time, affection, love then you have no right to demand it.

If you haven’t earned my time, I will not give it to you. If there’s no value for me to gain from interacting with you, then I will choose not to.

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Now that class is in session and I will probably only manage reading 1 book of choice by the time I graduate, I thought I’d take a look back at the novels that shaped my brain over the last 4 months.

1.Catcher in the Rye

It still baffles me that I managed to make it to my 24th year (because there’s no year 0. Don’t think about it too hard, it’ll mess with your mind) without reading J.D. Sallinger’s novel. After he died last spring, I decided it was time.
The book is little more than the story of Holden Caulfield wandering aimlessly through the city and thinking to himself about how just about everyone he knows is a “phony.”
It’s a peak inside the adolescent mind, and seemed all-too-familiar to the “he’s a tool” conversation that I’ve been known to have with my friends. Really, nothing happens, but there’s something captivating about the text. B+

2. The Lost Symbol

I like reading, but I’m not the bourgeois literary purist who can’t appreciate the value of contemporary pop fiction. I want my brain to be stimulated but I also want to be entertained and Dan Brown generally delivers.
In the third, and latest, of his Robert Langdon treasure hunting stories, Brown serves up a swashbuckler packed with his staples of religious and historical artifacts, ancient secret brotherhoods, somewhat fictitious technologies and an uber-creepy bad guy. This time Langdon is in D.C. searching for a hidden Masonic pyramid that if found would weild some massive, unknown power.
Frankly, Symbol has neither the action of Angels and Demons, nor the resonance of The Da Vinci Code. At this point, Langdon’s good-thing-I’m-a-genius last minute saves are becoming contrived and in the end, the payoff doesn’t deliver. The carrot is dangled in front of us on too long of a stick, and when the curtain finally falls I asked myself “Really? That’s it.”
Still, was I not entertained? B

3. The Portrait of Dorian Grey

Oscar Wilde’s novel about a man whose portrait ages while he remains forever young (I wanna be) is oft-referenced and oft-parodied. Even James Blunt drops a little Grey gem in his song “Tears and Rain.”
Essentially, Grey doesn’t age and as he slips further and further into moral darkness his physical face remains as innocent as a schoolboy while the face on the portrait is twisted with malice, scarred by sin, and you know, whatever.
It’s an interesting concept, and I couldn’t help but anticipate the upcoming conflict. What happens when he finally reaches an age where people realize he is forever young (Do you really want to live forever?)? Will he be discovered of his crimes? What happens if you stab him? Is he immortal, or merely unevolutional?
Problem is, before Wilde can get around to answering these mysteries, the book ends in a fairly obvious way. Classical fail. C

4. The Great Divorce

I read this entire book in one sitting (it’s not very long but still, that’s cool). I went to the library, picked it up, headed over to Citrus & Sage (patronize it! in the good way) ordered my Pixie (todays category: Delicious drinks that sound complete homosexual), plopped down on the couch and dived into the mind of one of history’s greatest theologians and intellects.
Divorce begins in hell (or purgatory, or whatever you want to call it) and follows a man as he journeys towards heaven (actually, this is more like purgatory or…it’s somewhere in between, not important). While there he observes the conversations of other lost souls with the angelic messengers sent to usher them into heaven. For the most part, these lost souls kick against the pricks relying more on their material goods, their perceived intellect, and just about every other human weakness.
Reading this book, I constantly had to stop, look up, and like Ted Theodore Logan exclaim “Woooooooooooah,” and my eyes would glaze over as my brain shifted position in my head to fit the swelling.
C.S. is my homeboy, someday in the afterlife I’m going to party with him. A

5. Valis

In hindsight, it was a bad idea; but I followed up Divorce with Philip K. Dick’s VALIS. After the one-two punch of these novels, my brain was goo for a while (for those of you who were around me this summer, this, combined with some emotional/existential isses is your answer) and I’m still not sure if I’ve fully recovered.
I was on EW.com one day and they had an article about the different novels that appeared on the series Lost. Being an avid Lostie, and always looking for a cool new book, I jotted some things down. I had already read “Watership Down,” the library didn’t have “Ulysses,” so I ended up with VALIS.
So, VALIS is the story of Horselover Fat. Horselover Fat is not a real person, he is actually a second personality of the Author Philip K. Dick. Dick is sometimes aware of this fact, sometimes not, and often engages in lengthy conversations with Horselover, who is really Philip.
Horselover/Philip has an experience where he thinks that he receives a message from whatever supreme being is out there via a bright pink light. After this encounter he proceeds to catalogue his revelations in an “Exigesis” and searches for the latest incarnation of the savior of mankind. He eventually finds “it” in the form of a very young girl, or did he?
Besides that the book is filled with observations on the human mind, time-space relativism, religion, the afterlife and cancer. Just to give you an example, Horselover claims that time stopped shortly after the fall of the Roman Empire and began again in 1970’s California, meaning that the two time periods are mere years apart and that an unexplained black prison known as “The Empire” has persisted through all these ages. A fact that he repeats sporadically throughout the book “The empire never ended.”
I’ll stop there. Nutshell: this is the weirdest book I have ever read, and I could not put it down. It boggled my mind, and left me fully confused, and read like a bad trip on paper. B+

6. The Day that Shook the World

This book is less a novel and more a collection of firsthand accounts and journalistic reports that regard the terrorist attacks of 9/11. I got it for about 50 cents in a used book sale and took it for light reading with me to my conference in Georgia (I read it on a plane. I’m not superstitious, but I tried to hide the cover from the people sitting next to me).
It was interesting, but given that we’re going on 9 years since, the content was incredibly outdated. The chapter of survivor accounts was chilling, and some of the background on Al Quaeda was informative, but all in all there wasn’t much that I haven’t already heard on CNN. B

7. The Lonely Polygamist

I’m a big believer in Entertainment Weekly. I see what they tell me to see, I read what they tell me to read, and I do what they tell me to do. I am no mindless sheep; rather, they have earned this trust.
As such, when they told me that Brady Udall’s polyg novel was “the must read of the summer” I took their word for it.
Golden lives in the ugliest part of Utah and has 4 wives. He has 26 children, in 3 houses. He works away from home at a construction sight where he is building a whorehouse (is there a PC term for that? Brothel?)
His wives are frustrated, sexually and emotionally. His children are neglected and Golden himself is toeing the line of infidelity (yes, he has 4 wives AND he’s unfaithful).
The story is told from 3 perspectives: Golden’s, his youngest wife Trish’s, and one of his older sons Rusty’s. Golden is mourning the loss of a favorite daughter, and is begining to buckle under the strain of being a church leader (on of the 12 apostles in his church, of which there are only 8), supporting 31 mouths in a bad economy, and attending to his many husbandly/fatherly/manly duties. Trish feels like an outsider in the family, is desperate for sexual relations with her husband, and is beginning to question her decision to be a sister-wife toeing the line of infidelity herself. Rusty is your average kid; he is desperate for attention, dealing with teenage boy hormonal issues, and hates being in a polygamist household. I can’t blame him.
I hate polygamy, and this novel certainly doesn’t make you want to sign up. The protagonist is a lying, cheating, sniveling, affectionate, weasel of a man. It’s hard to root for him, and I’m not sure if I was supposed to anyway. Nonetheless, the polyg life is presented in a very modern, emotionally raw, and completely thought-provoking manner. B

8. Atlast Shrugged (2/3)

I have not yet finished Ayn Rand’s masterpiece, yet the delay only seems to prolong the exquisite savor of this epic portrayal of human society. Rand paints a picture of an alternate America in the industrial age where the pursuit of moral equality has all but extinguished the very flame of the human spirit.
In a system where men are rewarded not for their ability but for their need, mediocrity thrives and the complacent swine suck the blood of those too proud to stop their drive for progress and innovation.
Atlas is at times both exhilirating and terrifying. Rand creates great men, herculean pinnacles of vision and drive only to turn and lash them like slaves to a system that is all to familiar to today’s political climate.
I wonder to myself what the our country would be like if President Obama, and every member of the U.S. congress had read this book. Page by page it is changing my life, and the way that I see the world. I could not think of a better way for you to spend 1200 pages. A+

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