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Thursday, 22 August 2013

Atlas Shrugged part 2

I wrote this post a long time back (around a month back), but somehow never got to post it (I've been travelling a lot):

Besides the fact that I've been very busy preparing to leave for the US for my undergraduate studies, and also preparing for a vocal music program I had yesterday, I've been avoiding this post because I don't know how to put what I've now got to say about Atlas Shrugged, having (finally) finished it a few days back. I'm not sure how to justify my complete change in opinion from beginning to end. Reading my last, awe-filled post convinces me that it is impossible, but I will try.

Since I have now finished reading the book, for anyone who hasn't, there will be spoilers here.

Atlas Shrugged is not a novel. It is a vehicle for Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. As a friend put it, 'full of Objectivist claptrap.' I found myself less convinced by and less in agreement with this philosophy as I progressed through the book. I understand Rand's objections to Communism, but I do not think that Capitalism is, by any means, the perfect solution. Rand seems to suffer from the delusion that resources are endless. Perhaps I am biased by my environmental perspective- perhaps I misunderstood? - but I found it ridiculous that Francisco d'Anconia and Ellis Wyatt think that, having destroyed their copper mines and oil fields, respectively, they can miraculously conjure up further sufficient amounts of copper and oil. Seems to me that Rand had a very selective perception of reality. I also suffered very heavily towards the end of the book because I began to find the long, preachy monologues given by many of the characters quite unbearable. The 50-something page speech by John Galt in particular. After 19 pages, I gave up in despair and skipped right past it. Since that is a pivotal moment in the novel, it was unfortunate that I couldn't bring myself to sit through it. However, I felt that Rand was just repeating what she'd been saying throughout the book in an unnecessarily verbose manner. And her 'heroes' are just as convinced of the superiority and infallibility of their arguments as the 'looters' and 'moochers.'

Speaking of 'heroes,' I liked Rearden the best. John Galt felt unreal, harsh and distant. I liked Rearden better before he switches to Galt's side, and I liked Francisco better before he met Galt. I did not quite understand why Galt is superior to Rearden or Francisco. I really liked Dagny, but it seemed funny to me (not in an amusing sense) that four men would fall in love with her. While reading of her relationship with Rearden, I was convinced that she was in love with him - she certainly acted as if she was. I wasn't in the least convinced by the switch of her affections to John Galt. I'll say it again: What makes John Galt so wonderful?? Francisco seemed to have the same convictions, use the same language and was far more martyry and saint-like, if you want a hero to worship...

One scene that really jarred me was the first intimate encounter (euphemism!) between Dagny and Hank. It was so violently described that it seemed more like an assault to me. It made me - literally - flinch - because Rand seemed to be under the assumption that she was describing something pleasurable. Right - to a masochist. Also, if a person is only sexually attracted to her highest ideal, why is Dagny attracted to three men? Or did I misunderstand it? Couldn't Rand atleast have made a few women fall in love with the same man to balance things a bit? Four men in love with the same women? What is she, a siren?

I also thought that portrayals of those who didn't agree with the Objectivist philosophy were extremely one-sided. All the characters who are not for a free-market, competition and capitalism, are made to sound weak, fickle, greedy, and villainous. Surely it's not always that black and white?

The dialogue really suffered as the novel moved along and Rand tried to expound her philosophy, as all the characters began to sound much the same. Plus they never seem to have any light or 'normal' conversation. It's a little irritating. I've never been fond of books where the main characters are perennially having weighty or profound conversation, because that doesn't happen in real-life, and it isn't the least bit plausible.

I don't really know how to end this post. I have quite a few things to say about Objectivism, some points of which I greatly object to, but I'm a bit cowardly when it comes to anything that could be that controversial. I don't know if there still are die-hard followers of Rand, but if there are, I'd probably receive threats.