Recreating a seminal work like this is a tough business. It stands as an extraordinary entity of its own – like a standalone giant monolith. Like Stonehenge, if I have to give you a visual idea. Published in 1943, rejected by twelve publishers, The Fountainhead was ahead of its time – whether in regard to the core philosophy of objectivism or the narrative style.
Ayn Rand wrote a stellar book, in my view, dissecting human consciousness and revealing diverse personalities through the protagonists and other characters. While reading the book, I sensed that the author understood human behavior and the mind at a profound level, not the science of it, but in philosophical aspect, which reflected throughout her dramatic story. I believe, it takes a thinking mind to bring out such provocative, deep, novel theories and ideologies. And, that she was – a deep thinker.
Individualism, altruism, ego; these are some of the themes focused upon at length. Then there are multi-layered concepts like man-worship, man-hater, and second-hander, which talks about what it means to be original, to rely on one’s mind, to not think through someone else’s brain. In certain moments, I felt Ms. Rand was expressing my sentiments, things I have always believed in – that a man of character, a truly competent person will always believe in the power of his vision. He will have strong life principles that cannot be bargained. He is ready to get crushed, but not surrender. He is not a second-hander.
By the way, who is a second-hander? A second-hander is someone who is concerned about what others think. He has no opinion of his own. He cannot stand alone. He despises those who are independent with a mind of their own. This is relevant in the real world too. Whether at our workplaces, schools or the society, we meet a lot of second-handers daily. Probably, you or I could be one of them. Let’s say you heard rave reviews about a certain book and every intellectual you know are talking and discussing it. So you buy, read and hate the author’s guts to the core for writing that awful book. Next time when a discussion happens, you start blabbering wonderful thoughts about it. Why? Because you want to sound like a highbrow individual, opinionated and cerebral? There you go. You are a second-hander.
The entire story is centered on the underlying subject – Objectivism, which the author of Russian origin had conceived. Objectivism emphasizes man’s happiness as the highest pursuit of his life, not through any whimsical actions but through understanding his needs rationally. That only man can redeem himself with his own mind. The nature of objectivism lies in the system of belief that man is guided by his own vision, his brain – the strongest asset. In the history of civilization, every greatest thinker, creator, artist born took the first step unaided, independently. He came on earth bare and unarmed. He developed original thoughts without relying on anybody else. He was cursed, destroyed, and considered an imbecile. Yet he continued on his quest to achieve what he truly believed in – the truth. And this is what is truly meant by serving the ego. To simplify, I will paraphrase a few lines of my favorite character Howard Roark. He says that a man’s vision, strength, and courage comes from his own spirit. A man’s spirit is nothing but his own consciousness. And to be able to think, feel, judge or act are the functions of the ego. Roark believes that there is nothing called as a collective brain. A collective decision taken by a group of men is only a compromise.
Our society considers the ego as a man’s biggest enemy. When you read this book, you will understand that ego is of prime importance and it is the ego that serves as the fountainhead of human accomplishments. According to Roark, a self-sufficient ego is what matters. A selfish, egoist person doesn’t care and is least bothered by other’s approval. He doesn’t need any. Whereas a second-hander is satiated by other’s validation. Placing others before self is considered as an act of altruism, whereas a person who values his own opinion and keeps himself above others, not to harm, but to stick to his ideology is selfish in nature.
I was tired of completing this book. It took me more than a month to finish the old, rusty pages, which had stood on my shelf, unperturbed, for more than a decade. Somewhere I could predict the story, but I stuck with it because of the way Ayn Rand scrutinizes and explores every action and thought a human is capable of. She is natural in her writing and very detailed. At times, you would want to break free from the book, shut it off, but you can’t. She makes you explore what those protagonists think, why they act, why people are conniving, sinister and deceptive, how Roark remains detached and excellent in his work and why Dominique is the way she is.
Ayn Rand is a humanist, who believes in the greatness of a man’s capability and his achievements. That great triumphs are possible without any interference from God. There is no place for metaphysical abstraction. That it is within the reach of humans to achieve such great feats. She is an advocate of man-worship who believes that a man’s capability to reach his ultimate potential is worthy of worship. A man’s greatness lies in his remarkable work, it is something to be revered.
Nobody but only you have the most intimate and direct knowledge of yourself.
This book is not meant for speed reading or hastily skim through. Probably, you may fail to grasp fully the heart of the story. My first attempt was during my sophomore. I left it after five or ten pages. The second attempt, this time, had let me complete it and write this blog. Yet I recommend another read – to understand the book wholly, in its complexity and simplicity.
Nonetheless, for now, I am basking in the afterglow of completing this modern-day classic. Like I said. This work is a monolith – pure, detached, objective, and impartial.
I did like Ayn Rand. By way of her writing, it tells me that she must have been a non-conformist and rebellious in her disposition. She must have been a person with principles, who believed in creating work that would touch human lives deeply. I am going to explore her other popular work Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand and the world she made by Anne C. Heller that I stumbled upon during a book fair.
And before I close, I would like to throw in an excerpt, one of my many favorites from the book:
“Nothing is given to man on earth. Everything he needs has to be produced. And here man faces his basic alternative: he can survive in only one of two ways- by the independent work of his own mind or as a parasite fed by the minds of others.
The creator originates. The parasite borrows. The creator faces nature alone. The parasite faces nature through an intermediary. The creator’s concern is the conquest of nature. The parasite’s concern is the conquest of men.
The creator lives for his work. He needs no other men. His primary goal is within himself. The parasite lives second-hand. He needs others. Others become his prime motive.”