I was thrilled when I first read Ayn Rand, it was when I was just learning to take care of my self and be responsible for my own actions. I think I read Atlas Shrugged first, and then The Fountainhead. I found it all very exhilarating. But then...
I got older and had to learn to take care of other people too and I turned out to be like some of the most reprehensible people in her stories, and she turned out to be not such a nice person, and I'll be VERY INTERESTED to hear what you think when you finish the book.
I read the book sometime in my mid-teens and I'd have to say it's one of the most influential books in my life. Howard Roark's personal philosophy was completely different from anything I had ever read or been taught in life up to that point. I wanted somebody to tell me that I can have complete control over my own life and I don't have to spend every single day worrying about everyone else. This book did that in spades. I was tired of trying to conform to some defined mold of what I was supposed to be. Like Olive Branch, this book helped me learn to take care of myself and to be responsible for my own actions. These are two valuable lessons that I think I have learned very well.
I explored more about Objectivism and Ayn Rand during my first two years of university. There were Objectivism propaganda posted all over the place, so there were lots of opportunities to learn more. I went to a few meetings and I read as much as I could including Virtue of Selfishness and Atlas Shrugged. I felt strong and I thought that, as long as I stayed true to myself and my beliefs, I could be whatever I wanted to be. However, something was missing. I felt cold, alone and burdened by the ideas that I have to do everything myself. I would also blame myself whenever things didn't turn out the way I think they should. Frankly, it exacerbated my tendency towards depression. I was "saved," oddly enough, by two elective classes: Prophetic Figures in the Christian Tradition and Biblical and Classical Backgrounds of English Literature. These two classes opened up whole new worlds and answered questions created by Objectivism and my Catholic upbringing. I know it looks like I'm about to tread on very precarious territory, but don't worry, I've still got enough objectivist ideas in me not to force my beliefs on others. All I'm basically going to say is that The Fountainhead and my two elective classes helped me discover my true self by forcing me to do an inventory of my principles and beliefs. I still like some of the objectivist principles, but I strongly believe in altruism. I find it hard to be happy if others are suffering around me. I also value mysticism and the belief in a higher power; it gives my glasses enough of a rosey tint to make each day worth living.
Sorry for the essay. I'm a bit of an academic at heart. I would most likely be a professor except that I get terrible urges to hit unmotivated students with heavy textbooks. I also feel guilty and responsible when students don't do well in my classes. :bounce:
=) I like to say that, one because its true, and also because I hear so many people saying "Ayn Rand changed my life."
Some passages that made me think, though, or at least to understand her philosophy (this will be a long e-mail, but perhaps this will draw others in):
(This first one is a conversation between Wynand and Roark, when realizing they feel the same way)
"You're never felt how small you were when looking at the ocean."
He laughed. "Never. Nor looking at the planets. Nor at mountain peaks. Nor at the Grand Canyon. Why should I? When I look at the ocean, I feel the greatness of man. I think of man's magnificant capacity that created this ship to conquer all that senseless space. When I look at mountain peaks, I think of tunnels and dynamite. When I look of planets, I think of airplanes...."
(This quote is from Roark and Wynand discussing Toohey, a man who rules people by making them feel like they are nothing unless they are part of the Masses)
"Your ego is your strictest judge. They run from it. They spend their lives running. It's easier to donate a few thousands to charity and think oneself noble than to base self-respect on personal standards of personal achievement. It's simple to seek substitutes for competence- such easy substitutes: love, charm, kindness, charity. But there is no substitute for competence." .....
"After centuries of being pounded with the doctrine that altruism is the ultimate ideal, men have accepted it in the only way it could be accepted. By seeking self-esteem through others. By living second-hand. And it has opened the way for every kind of horror. It has become the dreadful form of selfishness which a truly selfish man couldn't have concieved... You've wondered why they suffer, why they seek happiness and never find it. ...Every form of happiness is private. Our greatest moments are personal, self-motivated, not to be touched...."
Ayn Rand links altruism to a power issue, which I think is interesting. The premise is, if you make people think they are worthless or unhappy or un-self sufficient, they will be humble and seek the good of others instead of their own 'selfish' desires. By making each person feel this low, any person or group can come along and make them obey by continuing the debasing and de-individualizing.
What so many people have failed to contemplate when reading Ayn Rand is her point of view and background. The woman comes from Communist Russia, where she was part of a Jewish family in an age where both individualism and being Jewish were not only mocked, they were unacceptable. Sacrifice was being forced on every person for the 'benefit of the whole.' With her dismissal also of religion, I also doubt she fully understood the concept of truly believing we are not here just for ourselves, not because we aren't good enough, but because that isn't what life is about. She sees religion and in form of helping others as emotional and illogical. She had the habit of dismissing people she considered illogical from her presence. She had no patience for them.
I think we most often have no patience for what we fail to comprehend. I wonder how Ayn Rand would have been different if she had been like me, raised being told I could do anything I wanted, that I had the ability or at least the means to gain the abilities to undertake any profession or dream. I haven't had to fight to get that. I, as an American in an upper middle class family, have that automatically. I already know that "I" am the most important person. I struggle for the opposite- I struggle to maintain a connection with the people that I am affecting by living my life. I can't help but effect other people. I am interacting with them daily. I am not comfortable with being selfish. I still feel bad when my Mom gets upset when I refuse to be a teacher, even though I know it isn't her decision. I know that I could never live entirely for myself, and I don't think that is an illogical approach to the world we live in.
And if you look only at Roark, what did he gain? I'm not really clear as to why his life was so distinct. He actually DID help people. What about Mallory? And he connected with Dominique and understood her needs and fulfilled them. Is the argument that this can happen between equally selfish people (selfish by Rand's definition), or was there something going on that caused him to want to help these people? That didn't make sense to me within the context of Rand's theory.
Now that I've read the Fountainhead, I can say I don't disagree entirely with Rand. I thought I would, so now its harder to pinpoint why exactly. I think it is what Olive Branch pointed out, and Risa. Living for oneself is not very fulfilling. Maybe I don't understand why it was for Roark, or why it was for Rand. I do need to be reminded from time to time not to be afraid to believe in myself and not be effected so much by other people's opinion or expectations, but somehow that isn't the extent of what she is presenting.
Hey Risa, I'd like to know more about what you think in your combined theory of what you learned in life. =)
Well, now I'm reading "The Passion of Ayn Rand" and also Rand's essays on objectivism, so I may be back with more quotes some other day. Hope I havent' been too lengthy.
Not too lengthy at all - go on, go on! The deal is this - growth is the process of finding one's balance! Rand bolsters the "just do it, accomplish something great even if it kills you and everyone else" side, some religions and some philosophies prop up the "I want to help you and take care of you" side. We need both. "Everything in moderation, including moderation itself." I AM a teacher (don't tell your mom) and I see this every day. My students need both of these qualities from me in continually varying proportions, and I need them both for myself, also in varying proportions.
Love ~ Debbie
P.S. I was a mathematics major and a religious studies minor in college, and you probably would not be surprised at how many people laughed at that. I was an Ayn Rand mathematician for a while, but I like the balance of being a teacher.
Roark vs. Mother Theresa (or is it versus??) "I can do no great things. I can only do small things with great love."
I think you hit the nail on the head to some degree Atheneaus. I have a theory that Ayn Rand's popularity is in great part because westerners can relate to her more. Her books are set in relatively modern times and are far more accessible compared to the great Russian authors. I sometimes wonder if she would simply be dismissed as a pop philosophist if her books were first published today rather than back in 1943. She knew her target audience and wrote for them. She happened to come on the scene at almost the same time as McCarthyism. Then, she really started picking up steam when the hippies of the 60s latched on to her ideas.
I think Fountainhead changed my life only because I read it when I was quite young and confused. If I read it today, I'd probably think it's just another good novel. It's always in the timing for me.
Women Who Run with the Wolves is one that left a deep impression on me. Every time I read a chapter, something would happen to me that is directly related to the chapter. It was a bit freaky, especially since I'd just open up the book whenever I got the notion and read a chapter. It took me a year to read the entire book.
Another book that gets lots of those "it changed my life" and "what's the big deal?" reviews is the rather new age Richard Bach's Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah. It's a short, enjoyable book and it makes me happy.
I enjoyed The Fountainhead too. But, it didn't change my life. I noticed that the mystery writer Lawrence Block has received the "changed my life" line from critics or fans on the cover of one of his books. It's an interesting.
I think that Ayn Rand was an unusual woman for her time period, and she achieved fame because of it. She would not tolerate any disagreement with her philosophy from what I've read about her. She insisted that her objectivist viewpoint was the only possible correct way to look at life. And people allowed it at the time because she was an unusual woman. Web sites devoted to her and her philosophy are almost religious in their approach--very "disciple" oriented.
Let me stress out that I enjoy this thread very much. I have my glass of wine and I ready to dive in this lovely thread as the one that Rachel begun.
I think "Life changing " is a very heavy and serious phrase.
Life changing can be an aquaintance yes, but a book?
I think that books are considered "life changing" if in a certain moment of our lives describe what we feel and they give a solution to a dead end we experience in a certain moment.
Books, show to us that we are in the correct path of thinking.If they are written by really talented authors they just show us that we are very small...
I am having Dostoyiefsky in mind when I am writing those lines.
When I was a teenager I was reading Herman Hesse and I was delirious. Characters that lived a life filled with moral and idealistic struggles against the evil we all carry in our very souls.
I was a teenager and this was my ideal against the consuming society...
Afterwards came Dostoyiefsky but he didn't change my life at all. I was too small to follow his ideals
Two years ago, in Europe, we discovered an author from Brasil, Paolo Choelio and his book " The Alchemist"
We are talking about a great great success.
Alchemist can be life changing yes, because it comprises all the things we have heard and we know from our grandmothers that they are true.
The Alchemist was a hero like us and finally he made the right choice and he found happiness.
To some people it may appear naive. Our grandmothers wisdom appears naive and ...cute sometimes. Right?
I have read hundreds of books before Alchemist believe me, but this book put things in order.
It didn't change my life because I keep doing the same mistakes but it taught me that what can really change your life is not hidden in 100 or 200 pages but is hidden somewhere in true life and most possibly in human's soul and eyes.
Thanks again for this lovely conversation even if it was inspired by an Ayn Rand's book ( Joking of course)
I guess if there is a book that had an effect on my life it was probably Ruhlman's The Making of a Chef! After I read that book, I got interested in cooking. Never cared much about it before. Now that I have a working kitchen, I am enjoying it a lot.
I don't know why I picked up that book. Not my usual choice of entertainment. But--who cares? It was fun, and I'm having fun with my cooking instead of dreading it every day.
Coelho's Alchemist is one of my very favourite if not favourite book. I re-read it at least once a year. I can't even put into words the beauty of this book. For those who don't have natural wisdom or the wise grandparents, it's a must read.
Another one I love that is often compared to The Alchemist is St. Exupery's Little Prince. I used to watch the animated series when I was young and I also saw the movie. I didn't read the book until I was in my early 20s and was totally blown away. I was expecting a cute, children's story instead I found a book with layer upon layer. It's another one of those you should read when you're soul-searching.
I love Iris Murdoch but haven't read "Black Prince" , YET. You can be sure that it's next on my list! Have you seen the movie about her life, "Iris", made from the biography her husband wrote about her?
I really believe that a book, or books, DO change your life. What changes your life but what you learn? I have met so many people in books that I never would have met in everyday life, "heard" so many different ideas, "seen" so many places! There are many options that I would never have known that I had, if not for encountering them in books. Maybe they don't change your life in the sense of waking up the next day a different person doing everything differently and changing all your previous choices to new ones (although they may!). But they certainly give you a huge amount of material to chew on.
I have two sons, 25 and 21 years old. The younger one is not a reader. I wonder if he will be able to invent a rich and satisfying life for himself without the "scripts and characters" that books might suggest to him? Oh well, he will invent whatever life he invents. But I would not like to be without all the facts and feelings and points of view that I have got from reading. They are a big part of who I am now.
A life without books? Impossible. As a kid I was so frustrated that I had to depend upon others to read. I could not wait to learn to read. I never leave home without a book. You never know when you might have to wait. With a book time goes by faster.
I have to confess, I often read more than one novel at a time. Depending upon my mood, I'll want to read different things. I love the classic, the French ones. Old favourites are Maupassant and Zola. The Belly Of Paris is a must for anyone who loves food. I love the freuilleton of the XIX century.
I read The Alchemist, but here was another that i found even more touching which was 'Down beside the rio Piedra i sat and Wept' (incidentally who wrote the poem 'By Grand central station I sat and Wept' I did know at one point in my life but I've forgotten )
I like the simplicity in Coehlo. I think that he derided by many critics for being over simplistic , but I feel that he is a deliberate 'back to basics' write. I have been told that 'Brida' is an excellent book, only it's not available in English!
On the other end of the scale i love Kundera, I always find him so entertaining