The Fountainhead, p8-11
Okay, let’s see. We just established that our hero has an exaggerated opinion of his own awesomeness. This would not be a problem had Rand not shared that opinion.
Speaking of which, our least favourite sociopathic architect is at last doing something other than fantasizing about how the entire world exists solely so he can do things with it. Let’s get going.
We learn that Roark has been expelled from the Stanton Institute of Technology. I’m sure we’re supposed to view this as the Hidebound Establishment Suppresses Individuality thing that you usually get when the hero is an unappreciated genius, usually with a flowery name, purple eyes and as many traits of the author as she can fit in, but let’s look at the facts here: we shortly learn that he is deliberately trying to insult them, dismissing everything they say because of course he is Right and they are Wrong.
The point of university, indeed of education as a whole, is to teach you that you do not know everything. Since Roark is…well, Roark, this probably makes him the worst student in the entire world.
We get an extensive description of the town of Stanton, the clothes Roark wears, the structure of the houses.
It’s going to have to be addressed now. (It’s probably going to end up being addressed time and again.) Rand had fundamental issues with other people. Most notably, she believed they did not matter, had no purpose beyond chanting her praises, and that their opinions were of no merit because they didn’t correspond to her own. Nowhere is that more evident than when she turns to aesthetics.
“Behind the lawns stood wooden piles tortured out of all shape: twisted into gables, turrets, dormers; bulging with porches; crushed under huge, sloping roofs.”
Rand was never satisfied with merely disliking things; they couldn’t be not right for her, there was no choice but to state they were not right for anyone and thus anyone who disagreed with her had to be wrong, wrong, wrong. If she disapproved of a house’s design, it was “tortured out of all shape”. If she disapproved of an architecture style, it was (and this is a direct quote) a “structural crime”. I am informed that at the time, architecture was stuck in a Classical rut; my knowledge of architecture is somewhat microscopic, especially given that very little information is available on Randworld’s SCV-based building system that has no direct correspondence in real life, so that might be the case. Whether it was or wasn’t, however, that did not mean that Classical architecture was totally illegitimate and anyone who liked it was wrong. Yet Rand set exactly that to paper. Rand has literally stated that having a positive opinion of the style of the Ancient Greeks makes you a worse person. Apparently you’re only allowed to stand up for your beliefs and your uniqueness if you think like Ayn Rand.
Digression. In Homestuck, there is a character named Doc Scratch, who is a) omniscient, b) very creepy, and c) the owner of a twisted sense of humour. When he makes a creepy joke, the person he is talking to tells him it isn’t funny, and he says no, my jokes are objectively funny.
Doc Scratch is here making the same error as Ayn Rand: just starting from the argument that there is a reality is objective does not mean that every single trait of everything in that reality can be ranked.
Take food. You probably like to eat different things from me. That doesn’t mean that I am right and you are wrong. It means we differ in opinion. Rand’s philosophy didn’t let her respect that difference. To her, everything was objective, and she was more objective than anyone else, so if she didn’t like something that obviously meant it was Wrong and that anyone who disagreed with her was therefore an idiot.
And that’s why she wrote this book to belabour us with how monstrous it was that we don’t fly into a killing rage upon seeing a Doric column, and would later go on to form a cult of personality and kick people out for disagreeing with her taste in music.
“People turned to look at Howard Roark as he passed. Some remained staring after him with sudden resentment. They could give no reason for it; it was an instinct his presence awakened in most people. Howard Roark saw no-one. For him, the streets were empty. He could have walked naked without concern.”
Rand, being…well, Rand, would probably put this down to jealousy. For some reason, it’s always tempting to believe one is an incredibly special snowflake who is resented by ignorant mundanes who either don’t realise or don’t care how special you are. Goodness knows I indulged in it often enough in high school. But it’s important to remember that it’s mainly immature ego-tripping rather than an accurate statement of the world, and immature ego-tripping is something Rand considered a fun hobby.
Me, I think it’s based on his body language. He doesn’t seem to care enough about most other human beings even to put on a false front of consideration for them, as will be proven in excruciating detail later, so I’m betting that even his body language conveys “you are beneath me” to the surly Untermenschen who Roark did not even deign, mentally, to share the streets with.
Either that, or everyone in town is fitted with a full-spectrum psychopath detection unit. Which would actually explain a lot.
And now finally we come to a character who is not Howard Roark. This already means she has one point in her favour, namely, not being Howard Roark. Trying this simple trick makes virtually anyone more likeable. Scrappy-Doo? Not Howard Roark. Jar-Jar Binks? Not Howard Roark. Eridan Ampora, Neelix, Pauly Shore’s character in BioDome? Not Howard Roark. See how much more palatable they just became?
We reach the Keating house, where Roark has boarded for three years.
“Mrs. Keating was out on the porch. She was feeding a couple of canaries in a cage suspended over the railing. Her pudgy little hand stopped in mid-air when she saw him. She watched him with curiosity. She tried to pull her mouth into a proper expression of sympathy; she succeeded only in betraying that the process was an effort.”
Fred Clark’s criticism of Left Behind at one point had a very eloquent argument about creation as an act of love in which he pointed out that when an author creates a character solely to despise, it tends to make the author look worse than the character. Now is when we begin to see some evidence for that. Because make no mistake, Rand does not like people like Mrs. Keating.
Certainly, Mrs. Keating is the kind of character it is hard to like. She goes on and on about her son while making his life a misery, kind of a My Beloved Smother type (which we’ll get to later on). But on another level, there is at least something praiseworthy there. Her son is one of the best architects in the current class at one of the best architecture schools in the country. It’d be surprising if she wasn’t at least a bit proud of him. Also, she may be hell on her son but at least she genuinely cares about him. That’s one human being apart from herself she cares for, meaning she’s doing better than Roark by this point.
When your hero comes across as less likeable than the characters you create explicitly to dislike, something has gone wrong.
She rains vague pleasantries and not particularly impressive fortune-cookie philosophy on Roark’s head for several paragraphs, and then we get this, when she tells him the Dean phoned while he was out.
“For once, she expected some emotion from him; and an emotion would be the equivalent of seeing him broken. She did not know what it was about him that had always made her want to see him broken.”
Admittedly, this isn’t a particularly pleasant trait, but let’s look at the facts here. She has been putting up with Howard Roark for three years. She has spent three years with the bastard offspring of Frank Lloyd Wright and Lore Soong under her roof. If someone spent three years in my house without at any point even pretending to care whether I lived or died, I would be annoyed at him too.
It’s a bit hard to present your hero as unjustly put upon when he seemingly goes out of his way to offend everyone he meets.
Naturally, because Roark is totally inhuman, he doesn’t react. He doesn’t care that the Dean is calling. I hate to say nice things about Roark, but this actually does make sense. He’s already been expelled, and he clearly thinks he’s learned all they can teach him, although given how unlikely it is that he will thrash himself within an inch of his life, I don’t believe this is true. This is consistent with the massive disrespect he shows to virtually everyone.
…okay, that wasn’t actually all that nice. Moving on.
After a moment, Mrs. Keating moves on to talking about Peter. Again, I hate to be nice to this book, but this is actually a very believable section. Usually, having characters talk about how awesome a different character is ends up as grating and pointless, but in this case we’re not expected to share the character’s opinion, so it nearly works, apart from the bit where we’re clearly supposed to sneer at her for being so overbearing.
After what feels like hours, we get a look at Roark’s room.
“Mrs. Keating had never had the feeling that Roark really lived there. He had not added a single object to the bare necessities of furniture which she had provided; no pictures, no pennants, no cheering human touch. He had brought nothing to the room but his clothes and his drawings; there were too few clothes and too many drawings; they were stacked high in one corner; sometimes she thought that the drawings lived there, not the man.”
There’s a great scene in The Long Dark Teatime Of The Soul where a psychiatrist who keeps his desk totally bare admits the importance of ornaments in nourishing the human spirit, fishes a decorative paperweight out of a desk drawer, leaves it out in the open for a second, then puts it away again. This strikes me as a joke that Howard Roark would not get. Mind you, every joke is a joke Howard Roark would not get – he’s not what we might call an aficionado of comedy – but this one strikes me as the most appropriate one for him to fail to understand.
(The motto at the top of the page is the unofficial creed of Billy Connolly and his wife Pamela Stephenson. It translates as “Never trust a man without a sense of humour.”)
I know Rand probably wants us to view this in terms of focus and dedication, but what it says to me is that Roark really, really needs to get a life. Find some interests besides girders and sandstone. I’d say he should get a girlfriend, but, um, that scene is later in the book and if anything it makes him worse.
Honestly, if Howard Roark had only taken up skating or origami or playing the flute, this whole mess could have been avoided.
For our finale this week, we get fourteen lines that describe how awesome Roark’s work is without at any point actually describing Roark’s work. I’m serious here. The only hints we get are that they’re “austere and simple”, and that they are not Classical, Gothic or Renaissance. So, basically shoeboxes with windows then. That explains a lot. Really, it explains more than is necessary.
There are also a few bits that don’t make sense.
“They were as the first houses built by the first man born, who had never heard of others building before him.”
So apparently when he starts building skyscrapers, they will be made entirely from mud bricks, and the windows will be holes punched in the walls, without glass. I mean, that’s the first houses, assuming you don’t count a tent.
So what did we learn this week? That’s right. “Don’t hire a man who doesn’t even decorate his own living quarters to sketch out a skyscraper – you will end up with a completely soulless exercise in shoebox-inspired design which terrible writers will insist are in fact artistically brilliant because blah blah blah self-infatuated nonsense.”
I wish I was kidding, but if you’ve ever read even a page of Roark’s big speech, you’ve seen how bad this gets.
Next up, Roark battles a ludicrously clumsy and unconvincing strawman. Will he be able to emerge with his parasitic nonsense unharmed? Will he be expelled? Does he deserve it?
(The answers, in case you were curious, are “yes”, “yes” and “forget expulsion, the fucker deserves execution”. Believe me, after some of the stuff he gets up to, it’s genuinely amazing he manages to evade the chair.)
– OSM out
(PS. I’m sorry about the delay.)