Thursday, May 25, 2006

Old School and Fountainhead

I finished the Tobias Wolff story. That man is an author and a reader. As an author he is a student of life, able to bring his characters to life by recounting the subtle thoughts and actions we do without thinking. The way he described for instance how an old professor missed the way his students looked at him when he walked down the hall, how they parted to let him pass, how they would forget themselves when excited over a piece of writing, or how they broke out in song with little provocation. Wolff gives you the sense that he is not only a writer, but a master observer of life. He doesn't tell us anything we don't already know. It's that he points out what we do know but never speak of--not just the dirty secrets, although there are some. He draws astute conclusions as to the nature of his characters.

The section on Ayn Rand was especially grand, because his main character may as well have been me during the time he discovers and becomes enamored with her philosophy. He starts seeing the world as populated with weaklings, and himself as superior. But after hearing her speak, and listening to her shrill disdain for the world, he is no longer able to read a word without hearing her voice.

Rand makes no compromise for the folks who are unable to fend for themselves, such that a handicapped person I suspect she would just as soon push in front of a bus, and feel it her moral responsibility. I admire that she is strong, but she is like an embittered general who has witnessed the death of too many of those he was sworn to protect.

Still, I will be ever grateful to Rand for spreading her word. She represents an ideal of strength, of standing on ones own, doing a job, however menial, to the best of ones ability. To be selfish, and we all are to varying degrees, is not a bad thing--in fact, she postulates (as if it were fact) that you must be. It helped me to release a large burden of guilt, allowed me to pursue my life on my own track. It helped me in no uncertain terms to be a man in the classic sense, such that nobody could question otherwise. But Rand would still not be satisfied with the man that I am, because I still have a conscience. I am able to take from her what I need and leave the rest.

I highly recommend reading the Wolff book if only for that section, especially if you are a Rand enthusiast, or even an apostate.

10 comments:

Flood said...

Thanks for the summary on the book. Makes me want to read it. Maybe consider a monthly book review on your blog? I really look forward to books that are highly acclaimed by people I respect.

magnetbabe said...

I was in love with Ayn Rand for like two weeks, and then started to share your opinion, which is well-stated.

I am able to take from her what I need and leave the rest.

I like that. I think this is the correct way of looking at something we all do with people we are temporarily taken by.

Bailey Stewart said...

And you kept the conscience - that's a good thing.

Jada's Gigi said...

Glad you couldn't throw out your conscience..:) When is this carnival story gonna be done? Are you going to let us read it?
How's the church experiment going?

Scott said...

Flood - I appreciate that you respect my views. Maybe I will post some more reviews.

Nat - We live in a gray world, right? Not black and white. The problem with most people is that they need someone to lead them, and have a hard time thinking for themselves. I'm guilty of it too.

Eve - I try!

Gigi - I hope to have it done in a week. This morning I got the middle filled in, and am looking at the blankness that is the ending. I've written myself into a dark corner and have to scratch my way out. I'll definitely post it when I'm done. As for the church experiment, it is still ongoing. I have to keep in mind your advice as to the fallibility of people.

Miranda said...

I've never much cared for Rand, but I'll try to read the Wolf book all the same. :)

mr. schprock said...

I went to the library looking for "Old School" but they didn't have it. I did check out a volume of his short stories and am enjoying them. You make an excellent point about Wolff being a keen observer. He's a very engaging writer to read.

Trevor Record said...

At least Rand clearly expresses her ideas, which is more than I can say for a lot of "great" philosophers. To say she is a little bit cold would be the understatement of the century, however.

Toni Anderson said...

I have to say, I'd never heard of her until you mentioned her. Uneducated lout I am :)

Taking the good things is great--I think you can apply that to anything if you have guts--from the Bible to politics. Better not talk about those though :)

Scott said...

Hey Scott,

I know you from Sadie's blog and wanted to say I'm going to check this book out on your recommendation. Fountainhead is my favorite work of fiction and I was pleased to see you listed it on your list of favorites presumably over Atlas Shrugged. Not that there is anything wrong with Atlas Shrugged but I’ve always found Fountainhead superior and it’s difficult to find people who think likewise.

Anyway I’ll check it out and let you know what I think.