THE FOUNTAINHEAD is one of my personal all-time favorite must-read novels; it establishes Ayn Rand as a major, domineering fiction writer.  I’ve read that she wrote it on methamphetamines, and tho I have never tried them and therefore know not whereof I speak, let me say that it really shows! Reader, I said “major, domineering …
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Ayn Rand and Adult-Onset Adolescence

THE FOUNTAINHEAD is one of my personal all-time favorite must-read novels; it establishes Ayn Rand as a major, domineering fiction writer.  I’ve read that she wrote it on methamphetamines, and tho I have never tried them and therefore know not whereof I speak, let me say that it really shows!

Reader, I said “major, domineering fiction writer”.  I probably shall always claim and insist so.

She is not a major political thinker or philosopher; I wouldn’t wish her as President (or Treasury or Defence) (maybe Congress would be relatively harmless with her in it, tho – already packed with lunatics as it is).

Like Vincent Van Gogh was, I would estimate that Ayn Rand was mentally ill.  So, I would hazard, was, to some limited and successful extent, Alfred Hitchcock.  And Sam Peckinpah.  Probably Steve Jobs.  And Ludwig Van Beethoven.  There is no shame in mental (or physical) ailment, and in some creative artists, it really can stoke an exciting fire for an audience. 

The Tea Party loves Ayn Rand; this is sort of silly, as she was vehemently anti-Christian.  If you think that Christopher Hitchens was cool, consider that Ayn Rand helped break a wall down that made smooth his path, challenging American Christianity decades before he ever did so, and I consider her full assault on the church to have been more successful than his. 
THE FOUNTAINHEAD is a Great Novel, one of the best, up there with ANNA KARENINA and FIFTH BUSINESS.  It’s about art, New York City, conformity, individualism, the attractiveness of redheads, and, yes, the virtue of selfishness.

I have several times heard (from folks who have obviously never read her) that Ayn Rand promotes selfishness as a virtue: that is, that you can and should steal, backstab, connive, lie, and yes, even kill to reach your goals.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Ayn Rand’s heroes are perfectly Spock-like in their moral outlook: they harm no one, but focus intensively on their goals.  They are almost robotic in their uncaring for other people, which one may find sort of shocking, but consider that she was trying to challenge and overturn 1950 years of Church dogma regarding altruism, and her outlook makes more sense.  What altruistic Pope has there ever been?  What Pope (or Bishop or priest) has not told the masses to care more about others than about themselves?  Which Pope wasn’t luxuriating in pools of gold coins while spouting this hypocrisy?  Yes, nuns do great work, and of course, so do many, many priests, but overall, I believe “the Church” (encompassing Christianity as a whole, not restricted to “Catholicism”), while serving some societal organizing needs, has been injurious to human spirits, and I believe Ayn Rand saw this when most could not – and spoke up loudly about it.

While I’m not a doctor, I do think that some mentally ill people have a sharp, keen perspective on our world – that’s sort of what makes them mentally ill.  Ayn Rand is right: a lot of suckers are brainwashed into putting their energies into others and then regretting it.

Her book about Howard Roark’s battle to institute a new kind of architecture is challenging and absorbing and provocative, and for many readers it has been world- and perspective- and life-altering.  That’s what we look for in a Great Novel!  That’s what we’re mocking the absence of when we disdain “beach reading”! 

Ayn Rand said, metaphorically and literally, in fiction and in real-life, at a deeply conservative time, that there was no god.  That’s remarkable.  She said, at a conservative time, that if you’re not happy with the one you’re with, to ignore the church and the bible and social mores, and to just move on and get it on with someone else instead.  She said, in a conservative era, to just nevermind about what adults told you you should do for a career, and to follow at all costs and with all energies, whatever dream lay in your heart.  She is a formidable challenger of social convention, and she does it with dazzling, engrossing, entertaining transportation to another realm: the world in her imagination.  This terrific essay by Michael Gerson illustrates wonderfully why Ayn Rand is not government material, however, I feel he omits to mention what a ferocious, remarkable creative genius her work possesses. 

Ayn Rand, like Vincent Van Gogh and Alfred Hitchcock and Clive Barker and Steve Jobs and Walt Disney and Gene Roddenberry, sees another world that you didn’t see before she showed it to you – and once she does show it to you, you too see it, vividly.  That’s a remarkable, remarkable talent.

Political philosopher?  I personally say, No.  Top-notch novelist and, let me say, “personal life outlook philosopher”?  Yes.  Absolutely. 

A more personal note: It is possible or probable that Rand’s (gigantinormous) success went to her head; sometimes, I have considered that failure is a decent master in its own right.  I’m more Van Gogh than Rand, and perhaps, if I were more successful today, I’d be a more difficult person, even more lacking in humility than I already am.  While I passionately love THE FOUNTAINHEAD as a brilliant novel, I do scratch my head at the things I can read or view its author saying in public.  Outrageous fortune, I have learned from these two creative spirits, isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, and I may be a better person for not having succeeded quicker.