This delightful post by Jennifer Janisch entitled Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead seems well worth some comment and discussion. (Please do it on “New Critics,” not here in the NoodleFood comments.)
I remember in high school, my mom was pressing me to write an essay for The Fountainhead scholarship. I have always been a voracious reader and had accomplished some impressive literary feats in the past (I read Gone with the Wind at eight), but I’ve never, ever liked to read for any reason other than for the sheer pleasure and escape of reading. So the idea of reading an enormous and complex book like The Fountainhead for the purpose of writing an essay for a scholarship didn’t really appeal to me at the time, and I told her it wasn’t happening.
As I look back, I am so glad I stuck to my guns, because knowing how I am, forcing myself to read The Fountainhead would have surely ruined the book for me. The timing just wasn’t right, nor was the reason for reading it. But when I moved to New York City exactly one year ago, something compelled me to go to the bookstore and buy it, and after reading a mere few pages, I was completely spellbound. I limited myself to one chapter a night. I savored every morsel.
I realized I had never read a book that challenged my political beliefs, my morals, my ethics, my philosophies, my views on humans and humanity, so completely. I realized we normally read books we know we’ll enjoy, we know we’ll agree with, we know will inspire us. This was different. Before I read The Fountainhead, I was dismissive of any policy or any philosophy that didn’t have the well-being of the masses in mind, and although I remain a social liberal and a critic of free-market capitalism, Ayn Rand’s arguments were the first that allowed me to truly see the dark side of my belief system, as well as the bright side of hers. It was truly terrifying, to be honest, to see embodied in characters like Ellsworth Toohey, the inherent corruption and ulterior motives behind socialism and sacrifice, and to find myself cheering for the self-interested and steadfast Howard Roark, who never dreamed of sacrificing himself for others and knew achieving his own happiness was the highest of moral virtures.
It is an interesting and titillating book, indeed, and as we all know, extremely controversial. Ever since I finished The Fountainhead, I’ve wanted to engage in discussion with both critics and proponents of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism, as well as the broader issues of capitalism vs. socialism, and individualism vs. collectivism. I feel newcritics may be the appropriate avenue to do just that. If you feel so inclined to post your thoughts on the philosophy, the politics, or simply the book and characters themselves… Let the conversation begin.
The comments posted so far are less-than-delightful, so I really encourage folks to chime in!