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Posts Tagged ‘Atlas Shrugged’

Must Read Classics -The Fountainhead

Posted by Sowmya:) on March 12, 2013

It all started with Viswaroopam. Like most people know, I was ranting to one and all about freedom of expression and the growing intolerance in the country. That’s when the husband remarked “Is Kamal a case of Rand’s Roarke?”

I have been meaning to read Ayn Rand for a long time now but some how another classic or a quick read fiction always presented itself as more interesting. This comment intrigued me enough to pick up The Fountainhead. And boy, have I love it!

Rand beautifully explains the mindset of a creator, of a person who just knows to do his job. Roarke is not someone who can network to get business or appear to be interested in his client’s hobbies to endear himself. Remember Joel Sutton who is a badminton enthusiast and Roarke and Keating’s opposing reactions to the information. Not surprisingly Peter Keating is the more successful of the two despite him not having the vision or capability of Roarke as far as architecture is concerned.

I was surprised at how much the book that was written in the fifties is so relevant in today’s times. We see ‘networked’ people being more successful than their more talented counterparts. It has reached such levels that networking is seen as a ‘must-have’ skill and these people getting preference for jobs and positions over others with equal or more skills. How many times would each one of us wished that we be taken purely on merit of our skill or craft and not on the basis of ‘soft skills’ or ‘contacts’? Why does an engineer need soft skills? Is it not enough that he can construct a building that lasts for the next fifty years? Should that not be the only criteria to judge him?

But to be fair, I am not sure there is a Roarke or a Keating amongst us. Most of us are partly both characters. There are times we are sidelined for someone not so talented and there are these other times when we take advantage of a friend or a relative to get ourselves that lucrative job or a fat wallet client. I am not sure how many people would be willing to take the path similar to Roarke; to not do a job as prestigious as the Manhattan Bank because it compromised on one’s ideals; to be willing to pay for the redevelopment of the Temple of Religion as a children’s home. It is amazing how Rand uses the term ‘practical’ the way we all understand it and then goes on denounce it and makes us question our definition of practical.

Though Rand uses the word ‘evil’ far more in Atlas Shrugged, the one character who is worthy of that term is Ellsworth Toohey. He is an intelligent and evil which makes it a deadly combination. I liked the character graph for him but seemed like he was let off lightly in the end. There still needs to be some story of what happened to Toohey thereafter.

What I did not understand in this book as also Atlas Shrugged is Rand’s definition and description of love and sex. I took it for granted after a point in the book that Roarke and Dominique are in love and made for each other. But I was not able to relate to their emotions for each other or their actions with regard to the other.

I loved Rand’s development of a relation between Roarke and Gail Wynand based on mutual admiration and respect. It is quite similar to Francisco and Rearden in Atlas Shrugged. Roarke’s dealings with others like Mallory and Mike was also deliciously crafted.  These relationships were a lot more exciting to me than the romantic ones described in either book.

The best part was, of course, the final speech by Roarke. So aptly put at the perfect time and pitch. It came at the time when the character had reached a stage of saying that. It was in beautiful contrast to the earlier appearance and actions of Roarke in the court for the Temple of Religion case. May favorite part of the speech is reproduced here –

 

“But the mind is an attribute of the individual. There is no such thing as a collective brain. There is no such thing as a collective thought. An agreement reached by a group of men is only a compromise or an average drawn upon many individual thoughts. It is a secondary consequence. The primary act–the process of reason–must be performed by each man alone. We can divide a meal among many men. We cannot digest it in a collective stomach. No man can use his lungs to breathe for another man. No man can use his brain to think for another. All the functions of body and spirit are private. They cannot be shared or transferred.

“Degrees of ability vary, but the basic principle remains the same: the degree of a man’s independence, initiative and personal love for his work determines his talent as a worker and his worth as a man. Independence is the only gauge of human virtue and value. What a man is and makes of himself; not what he has or hasn’t done for others. There is no substitute for personal dignity. There is no standard of personal dignity except independence.

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Must Read Classics – Atlas Shrugged

Posted by Sowmya:) on March 9, 2013

So I have spent the last month with Ayn Rand i.e. I read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged back to back and to the utter shock of the husband, finished both within a month. I was hooked from the first page and just could not put it down. It was like my teenage years when I used to read in the kitchen behind the cylinder because I was not allowed to switch on the lights elsewhere and I could just not sleep without finishing the book. Good times!

So this are just some lines which struck me and stayed with me after I shut the book too. These lines make a lot more impact in context but most of them are good as stand-alone lines and some are those I would love to tell the so called professionals and experts in today’s world.

There were loads of stuff I liked about it. Some are ‘briefly’ described here. If you have not read the book and don’t want any info that could be ‘spoilers’ then don’t read this now. I can’t think of any ‘spoiler’ but you never know –

My favorite character is neither John Galt nor Dagny Taggart but Henry (Hank) Rearden. Here is a completely logical character arc and one I could identify with. I loved his quiet confidence, his pride in his work, his ability to accept his errors and learn, his dilemmas and how he comes out of it all shining. This was a character I never thought would take the decision to give it all up but things change one by one and when he finally does take ‘the decision’ it felt right and flowed smoothly and did not kill the character for me. He had some of the best lines like –

When he finally makes his Metal after ten years of work –

  • He never felt loneliness except when he was happy
  • The feeling was a sum, and he did not have to count again the parts that had gone to make it
  • He remembered nothing distinct of the years between them; the years were blurred like a streak of speed. Whatever it was, he thought, whatever the strain and the agony, they were worth it, because they had made him reach this day

His thoughts about his family (could seem hard hearted for some) –

  • He despised causeless affection, just like he despised unearned wealth. They professed to love him for some unknown reason and they ignored all the things for which he could wish to be loved
  • She wanted to force upon him the suffering of dishonor -but his own sense of honor was her only weapon of enforcement

His convictions and opinions

  • To me, there is only one form of human depravity – the man without a purpose
  • He had never known fear because, against any disaster, he had held the omnipotent cure of being able to act. No, he thought, not an assurance of victory -who can ever have that? -only the chance to act, which is all one needs
  • The worst things about people is not the insults they hand out, but the compliments
  • What sort of code permitted the concept of a punishment that required the victim’s own virtue as the fuel to make it work?
  • I want to let the nature of this procedure appear exactly for what it is. If you need my help to disguise it -I will not help you
  • I can say to you that I have done more good for my fellow men than you can ever hope to accomplish -but I will not say it, because I do not seek the good of others as a sanction for my right to work

I also loved Francis d’Anconia. He seemed too perfect most of the time considering he was very rich and intelligent and kind of had it all. Despite that he seemed a nice guy who you would want to root for. And what was the cherry on the cake for me was the lovely detailing of the relationship between Francis and Rearden. Two men who respected and complemented each other beautifully –it worked very well for the story especially since it took away some of the spotlight from Dagny Taggart (which was a relief for me)

Some of Francis’ lines to Dagny –

  • He and she had never spoken of the things that happened to them, but only of what they thought and of what they would do…She looked at him silently, as if a voice within her were saying ; Not the things that are, but the things we’ll make….We are not to be stopped, you and I….
  • What’s the most depraved type of human being? The man without a purpose
  • There is nothing of any importance in life -except how well you do your work
  • The courage to say, not ‘It seems to me’, but ‘It is’ -and to stake one’ life on one’s judgment

Some stellar lines from his speech on money

  • Only the man who does not need it, is fit to inherit wealth -the man who would make his own fortune no matter where he started.
  • It’s the person who would sell his soul for a nickel, who is loudest in proclaiming his hatred of money -and he has good reason to hate it. The lovers of money are willing to work for it
  • Money is the barometer of a society’s virtue….Money is so noble a medium that it does not compete with guns and it does not make terms with brutality. It will not permit a country to survive as half-property, half-loot
  • No other language or nation had ever used these words (to make money) before; men had always thought of wealth as a static quantity -to be seized, begged, inherited, shared, looted or obtained as a favor.

Lines between Francisco and Rearden

  • If one’s actions are honest, one does not need the predated confidence of others, only their rational perception. The person who craves a moral blank check of that kind, has dishonest intentions, whether he admits it to himself or not
  • There are no evil thoughts, except one -the refusal to think
  • The worst guilt is to accept an undeserved guilt
  • A viler evil than to murder a man, is to sell him suicide as an act of virtue. A viler evil than to throw a man into a sacrificial furnace, it to demand that he leap in, of his own will, and that he build the furnace, besides.
  • He has equated virtue with pain and he will feel that vice is the only realm of pleasure

Don’t you love them already????

Somehow I did not like Dagny Taggart so much. I know it is fiction but her character seemed too good to be true. I could not accept the fact that every man she met fell in love with her, be it Eddie or Hank or Francisco or John. And then they all understand how it won’t work out and peacefully move out to make place for the other guy. Too utopian for a book set in a dystopian universe. I did read Rand’s logic behind it and could accept it to an extent. Maybe she could have stopped it with just one example. Every guy was kind of a stretch. Dagny could have been good friends / soul mates with them. I liked her relationship with Wyatt and Francisco (in the later part of the book). Maybe they could have been that way from the beginning. Also Dagny is so adamant about her railroad that her zeal began to grate on my nerves at some point. It was more like she knew she was making a mistake but refusing to accept it.

I also did not fall for John Galt, the ‘hero’ of this story, if you will. His story comes out in bits and pieces and there never seemed to be enough information to form an opinion about him. Maybe his character was so advanced on the ‘maturity’ or ‘reason’ scale that attributing mere human emotions to him seemed impossible. I would have liked some more meat on how he got to be where he got to be. I saw that in Rearden and to an extent in Francisco and so those characters were more identifiable and relatable. John Galt was like the superhero who jumps from space when there is trouble and saves the world. I could not relate to that.

I loved the entire book but somehow the ending did not live up to my expectations. I am unable to think of an alternative ending to it but somehow this end seemed too Bollywood-ish to me. I know she wrote the book before this became a Bollywood staple diet but maybe something else was possible as an ending.

Since the setting is dystopian, the situations and characters are bit of an extreme. So when you read the book, you need to keep that in mind. It may not sound plausible in our world today but after reading I somehow get the feeling we may be approaching such a scenario. I know that is very pessimistic of me and I know this won’t happen in my lifetime but it does seem a possibility considering the path the world is on to.

What I loved most about the book and about Ayn Rand is her way with words. She can put the perfect words for things we know and understand but may not be able to express. I also like the words and sentence construct she uses for conveying the most simple lines in a manner that stays with you long after. Sample these –

  • He didn’t want to make money, only to get it
  • I’ve hired you to do a job, not to do your best -whatever that is
  • But what came from it was only a desire to desire her, a wish to feel, not a feeling (my favorite line, more effective in context)
  • Nobody can accuse me of running a profit-making business (Profit is a dirty word, isn’t it? ;))
  • A future where so great a field of activity lay waiting that no time could be wasted on the comfort of its start (another favorite of mine –when she described Francisco’s house in the Valley)
  • If you don’t know, the thing to do is not get scared, but to learn (aptly put)
  • He has the power to choose but no power to escape the necessity of choice (Whoa!)
  • His body is given to him, it sustenance is not. His mind is given to him, its content is not.
  • Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification
  • Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.
  • To arrive at a  contradiction is to confess an error in one’s thinking; to maintain a contradiction is to abdicate one’s mind and to evict oneself from the realm of reality
  • To live, man must hold three things as the supreme and ruling values of his life: Reason -Purpose -Self-esteem
  • Independence is the recognition of the fact that yours is the responsibility of judgment and nothing can help you escape it -that no substitute can do your thinking, as no pinch-hitter can live your life -that the vilest form of self-abasement and self-destruction is the subordination of your mind to the mind of another, the acceptance of an authority over your brain, the acceptance of his assertions as facts, his say-so as truth, his edicts as middle-man between your consciousness and your existence
  • To hold, as man’s sin, a fact not open to his choice is a mockery of morality
  • The removal of a threat is not payment, the negation of a negative is not a reward, the withdrawal of your armed hoodlums is not an incentive, the offer not to murder me is not a value.

Strangely I could identify with a lot of possibly ‘controversial’ thoughts in this book. There were stuff I was always accused of or berated for. I liked the concept of the ‘virtue of selfishness’. That has been my belief for a long time and she gave voice to those thoughts.

I never could identify the halo around people who ‘sacrifice’ and have bugged many people with my ‘cold hearted’ opinions on the same. Check this line from John Galt’s speech as how sacrifice is viewed today Sacrifice is the surrender of that which you value in favour of that which you don’t. And how he goes on to denounce it is a class act!

I absolutely loved the ‘dignity of labor’ concept and the way she elucidated it; never in as many words but that was always there as an underlying theme running throughout the book – pride of your work. I loved this line – ‘There’s no such thing as a lousy job -only lousy men who don’t care to do it’.

Another virtue I could identify with was the concept of ‘love being respect’ and not as pity or lust or friendship. Not that those relationships are bad but that is not love. See how she puts it –

  • As there can be no causeless wealth, so there can be no causeless love or any sort of causeless emotion. An emotion is a response to a fact of reality, an estimate dictated by your standards. To love is to value

Another concept that stayed with me was how guiltless her joy is. It reminded me of the countless times I was warned -‘Don’t be too happy now, something awful will happen to you’ or ‘Don’t express your happiness to everyone, nazar lag jayegi!’

Another recurring theme was the confidence of people with ability and their absolute disregard to the rest of the world. It was again guiltless and they did not see the need to be ‘sensitive’ to others’ feelings. Check these –

  • Her feeling for the railroad was the same: worship of the skill that had gone to make it, of the ingenuity of someone’s clean, reasoning mind, worship with a secret smile that said she would know how to make it better some day
  • Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values
  • Whenever anyone accuses some person of being ‘unfeeling’, he means that that person is just
  • Nothing can make it moral to destroy the best. One can’t be punished for being good. One can’t be penalized for ability
  • He was a man who had never accepted the creed that others had the right to stop him (when she talks about Natheneil Taggart)
  • You know, I think that only if one feels immensely important can one feel truly light

Though I am as anti smoking as one can be, Ayn Rand’s definition of smoking left me amazed –

  • I like to think of fire held in a man’s hand. Fire, a dangerous force, tamed at his fingertips

I guess it is a well-known fact that Ayn Rand was an atheist and that is reflected throughout in this book. There were parts I could not fully agree with but her arguments are well put and tough to beat. This is an aspect that needs more thought from my end –regarding my belief in a Supreme Power and balancing that with every man is responsible for his destiny.

 

I do hope you read it and if you have, please drop in a line to say what you liked / disliked in it.

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