Emily (foresthouse) wrote,

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In which I muse about literature.

I re-read The Fountainhead this week. It’s a good book, with some inspiring ideas, but one thing that’s always bothered me about it is that I don’t find the characters reflected in the world today, or at least not in the absolutes that Rand writes. Not that I’d want to see an Ellsworth Toohey ambling around– the very thought of him disgusts me, as Rand meant it to – but he does, at least, provide the foil for the hero, as well as the cause against which the hero must fight. Without such an absolute negative, we don’t get the absolute positive – the hero – and it seems to me that what we mostly have in our world is just...people, mixed up and on both sides at once.

Yes, I see people who accept another's thinking on an issue instead of researching it and deciding for themselves, but then I see the same people creating something fantastic, on their own, without concern for what others think. Is this worse than being a second-hander? Better? I don't know. I don’t see absolute egotists, perhaps because the state of the country, as it is, doesn’t require people who create to fight for their independence to do so – which is a good thing. Yes, some who create quality products/art/ideas/etc. may not succeed monetarily or get the recognition they deserve, but I don’t see people actively torn down the way the “heroic” personas are in the book. At the same time, I don’t see absolute “second-handers,” or people who just believe whatever is told to them and depend completely on others for their sense of self. Which makes the parable less real to me, even though a lot of the points Rand makes are quite valid.

It may be because it was written in a different era, or it may be that I just haven’t met the absolutes, though they’re floating around there somewhere, or it may be that they really aren’t there in the terms Rand writes, because what she was doing, after all, was trying to make her point by creating the two opposite ends of the spectrum and showing how one should triumph over the other. Or it may be I just can’t see them even though they’re right in front of me. Or that a different kind of danger – the danger of apathy, which means we don’t have the firm figures for or against because everyone just shrugs and gravitates towards the middle – is present in the world today. It’s interesting to think about.

At the same time, I do see echoes of the qualities Rand discusses in everyday life, and echoes of the vaguer characters in the book – the Peter Keatings, for instance. One interesting passage about Keating made me think of the internet and the type of instant gratification sought by some who use the internet as a means of gaining attention for themselves. It’s this bit:

“Look at Peter Keating.
I’ve looked at him – what’s left of him – and it’s helped me to understand. He’s paying the price and wondering what sin and telling himself he’s been too selfish. In what act or thought of his has there ever been a self? What was his aim in life? Greatness – in other people’s eyes. Fame, admiration, envy – all that which comes from others. Others dictated his convictions, which he did not hold, but he was satisfied that others believed he held them. Others were his motive power and his prime concern. He didn’t want to be great, but to be thought great. He didn’t want to build, but to be admired as a builder. He borrowed from others in order to make an impression on others. There’s your actual selflessness. It’s his ego he’s betrayed and given up.” (Emphasis added.)

I do see some of that behavior in the world today – the desire to be thought a good writer, creator, etc., whether one really is or not. So...maybe I do see some of Rand’s characters, after all?

Tags: ayn rand, literature, the internet iz serius biznes, thoughts

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