Last month, I was in Prague. On the tram, heading back to the hotel, I saw an advertisement on a the backrest of a bench that read, "Kdo je John Galt?" Whether you read Czech or not, anyone who has read Atlas Shrugged would instantly recognise what this advertisement was for.
My reading list this year has been enough to make any person's head explode: The Fountainhead, The Communist Manifesto, The People's History of the United States, Atlas Shrugged, and What's the Matter with Kansas - just to name a few. In short, the most politically polar opposite books possible. Being a left-wing anti-capitalist, one would probably make some assumptions that I would hate the Ayn Rand books and love all the rest. One would assume wrong!
The Fountainhead is - hands down - one the best books I have ever read! It gave me chills; it made me cry. I loved those stoic characters! I loved the unexpected truthfulness and savagery. In Howard Roark - absolutely unwilling to carry out his work in any way other than in his own vision - I saw my own reflection and the hard grind I created for myself in the music business by adamantly refusing anything but my own artistic vision - knowing full well it was commercial suicide. I didn't even intend to read Atlas Shrugged this year, but after 727 pages of The Fountainhead, I simply needed more!
I wasn't drawn into Atlas Shrugged in quite the same way as The Fountainhead, but I enjoyed it for the first 500 pages. Then the writing went to hell in a hand-basket. The scenarios and relationships that were such a novelty in The Fountainhead were recycled for Atlas Shrugged. The dialogue was utterly wooden (I am not the first to call it such, but there simply is no better way to describe it). The characters were carbon copies of each other - not in the way that Dominique Francon and Howard Roark were male and female versions of one another - they were simply identical to the point that I had to keep flipping to the beginning of 10-page average monologues just to remind myself who it was that was speaking! Just when you think there can not possibly be any more half-hour reading sessions of banal, repetitive "dialogue," towards the end, the Chapter "This is John Galt Speaking," delivers the most tedious 70 pages of reading in history... I think even the Book of Genesis was a better read! (Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating, but you get the point). Despite my resolution to always finish a book.... despite having already read over 1,000 pages of this beast.... I nearly gave up! But I didn't, and the end was even worse than I could have envisioned.
Everyone on the hate side of the love/hate response to Atlas Shrugged usually hates it for its laissez-faire capitalism preachiness. Believe it or not, I didn't mind that! Though I disagree, I appreciated the opposing viewpoint. What I hated about Atlas Shrugged was the sadism of 1,168 pages of extremely poorly written material by a woman who was capable of writing one of the best books I have ever read! For me, one of the most glaring failures was how she so obviously hated her own antagonists. This was not apparent in the Fountainhead, but in Atlas Shrugged, she created a cardinal sin of fiction-writing. The antagonists were just evil for the sake of it. In good fiction - in life - nobody is evil. Even Hitler believed that what he was doing was right. Though we loathe to admit it - even Hitler had likeable qualities. Anyone who creates should love their creation... even when those creations are intentionally horrid. I've written a song that is intended to be so unbearable that the listener can't make it through... and I have an affection and love for that song practically akin to that of my own flesh and blood child.
There is something about Ayn Rand's philosophy which - despite disagreeing with her - I do wish to defend. I think it's very important for readers to remember that Ayn Rand died in 1982, which was the very start of the unravelling that has lead to today's capitalism. If Ayn Rand was as resolutely firm in her beliefs as I would hope she would have been - she would be just as disgusted with the current state of affairs as I am. In Ayn Rand's world, the corporations of today are nothing but looters, accepting handouts. According to Ayn Rand's viewpoint, there would have been no bailout for the banks... they would have been allowed to fail. In Ayn Rand's universe, there would be no exploitation of workers in horrible conditions, because she believed in fair pay for a fair day's work. Her cohorts would have been the 3Ms of the corporate world, nurturing, promoting and rewarding innovation from even the grunt workers if they had something to contribute. She believed in maximising profits and reducing our daily toils so that we could enjoy the fruits of our labour. Who would disagree with that? She saw - first hand - the great abuses that can occur under Communism. I imagine she is probably seen as a great hero in places like the Czech Republic, where statues and museums stand as a constant reminder of the potential horrors of Communism. She didn't live long enough to see the same abuses happen under Capitalism. If she was still around today, I do wonder what she would have to say about the state of the world's economy.
TyLean Polley is an avant-garde recording artist. You can get a free download of her music at TyLeanPolley.com