Hoc Est Qui Sumus (discoflamingo) wrote,
Hoc Est Qui Sumus

The Fountainhead

Based on my earlier exposure to her work, I was neither a fan of Ayn Rand nor her philosophy. So when a friend recommended that I read The Fountainhead during my convalescence, I was taken aback. I figured I should give it another shot, and so I finally finished reading it today. I've been in a funk ever since - specifically, a strange sort of elated nausea that I have never experienced before.

Having read this book, I am still not a fan of Ayn Rand's philosophy, or her work, but now I think it's important for an individual's intellectual and moral education to read The Fountainhead at least once.

The Fountainhead is a novel of ideas - a genre of fiction which, other than Sophie's World and Ursula K. LeGuin, I have never enjoyed. There is a real danger to the reader that, because of its inherently didactic nature, the novel will fail to provide an environment in which disbelief can be suspended, mostly through the novel's not-so-thinly-veiled description of a symbolorgical*, allegorical wonderland of characters and settings who possess Vampire : The Masquerade-like checklists of characteristics that are almost always mutually exclusive.

That being said, there are the seeds of some truly great ideas in this book, mostly concerned about the role of the nonconformist and each individual's ability to transcend societally-mandated mediocrity to achieve the apex of human potential for its own sake rather than for reasons external to the self**. Unfortunately, these seeds are presented to the reader as full-grown plants, without any of the coaxing and natural growth that allows you to believe that seed A is the natural precursor of plant A.

Rand uses this formula a number of times in the book. The reader is presented with an idea for the first time. It is still a seed-like idea, since it's only been mentioned once in the story. Surprise! Now it's universal truth for the rape-inclined*** übermenchen who will hold dominion over America (someday) despite the common man (meaning: the population of the U.S. minus about five people) not understanding their genius! Since our prospective super-people understand it without question, and you don't, you're a bad person, as demonstrated by the fact that the unquestionably evil Communist Pinko art critic doesn't understand it either!

I'm confident I went a little overboard there for a second; sorry about that. It's just that the fundamental flaw in this novel is that, with each chapter, it reads less like the reasoned introduction to the personal philosophies of allegorical characters meant to represent the state of the individual in society, and more like an apology for why idealistically-non-violent sociopathic geniuses can do whatever they want because free market capitalism is awesome. Rand leaves precious little room for "the other side's viewpoint" in the book. Based on my current philosophies of life, I found myself lumped in with "the other side" around page eight. And while I can sympathize and identify with the protagonist's struggles (as well as the struggles of his foil), Rand never fails to take his dialogue from the edge of my intellectual comfort zone into the heart of 'creepy "I will gladly feast on those who would subdue me because I make awesome buildings" ' territory.

I will continue to think of this book like Schindler's List - everybody needs to see it once, but you probably won't need to see it again. Except in this case, you're supposed to feel bad for the Nazis.****

* Having just used this word for the first time, I enjoy it immensely.

** I would like to make it perfectly clear why somebody should read this book. I couldn't really come up with a better way to do it than bolding it, since it's a much smaller part of the article.

*** The first love scene in this book is a rape scene with a lavish level of description explaing how their intensely violent, sexual act is like a god reclaiming what is rightfully his. Sources of a wikiality nature state that Rand has said that:

a) The two characters are just symbols, and symbols are incapable of rape, since the rape is really symbolic of the violent clash of ideas; or,
b) this was a consentual (but without words) "rape by gilded invitation".

Having read the passage several times, I can buy about 30% into explanation a) and chalk explanation b) up to a personal fantasy that doesn't belong in a novel which you are using to convince the average reader that they might ever want to read anything else you ever plan on writing.

**** Godwin's Law. Somebody else was going to do it, and I want dibs. Also, I can't come up with a good way to end this.
Tags: a lesson is learned, book reviews

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