Skip to comments.FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged, The Sacred and the Profane
Posted on 03/14/2009 7:43:42 AM PDT by Publius
Dagny is awash in the afterglow of a fine night in bed with Hank. Hank, however, is contemptuous of Dagny and of himself for what he has done. But he must have her, even if it means giving up everything. Dagny laughs at him, not with anger but with delight. She wants him just as badly, and her proudest attainment is that she has slept with Hank Rearden and has earned the right. Once more they go to the mattress.
Jim Taggart has sat through a triumphal meeting with his Board of Directors while Taggart stock has skyrocketed. Yet through the fine speeches, he perceives the Boards contempt for him and for themselves. Walking through the rain and realizing he has lost his handkerchief, Jim enters a dying five-and-ten to buy tissues and meets a salesgirl who recognizes him.
Cherryl Brooks is under the impression that it is Jim Taggarts courage, tenacity and hard work that have produced the success in Colorado. Cherryl is the victim of hero worship, views Jim as a Great Man, and is thrilled when he asks her to accompany him to his apartment for a drink. What strikes Jim as that she is genuine.
Cherryl had left her family in Buffalo because they were losers who blamed their station in life on bad luck, rather than seeing that they themselves were responsible. She wanted to make something of herself, and so she came to New York.
At the apartment over drinks, Jim is furious with Hank Rearden for making Rearden Metal a success. Rearden didnt deserve it and did it for his own personal profit. Cherryl has no problem with that and thinks that Jim should glory in his, Reardens and Dagnys success. She thinks especially highly of Dagny. That sets Jim off. Dagny enjoys her work, therefore there is nothing to admire. Why serve industrialists in Colorado when there are blighted areas that need transportation? Jim doesnt enjoy it, and he thinks that with all the suffering on earth, why should anybody spend ten years to create a new metal? Somebody needs to see beyond his own wallet.
But Jim lightens up when he remembers Orren Boyles reaction to the success of the line. Boyle turned green and holed up in a disreputable hotel with crates of booze and half the hookers in New York. Dr. Floyd Ferris of the State Science Institute was not pleased but turned the issue around by demanding that Rearden give something back to the country. Bertram Scudder, who could never shut his mouth, refused comment. Simon Pritchett spread a story that Rearden stole the formula for the metal from a penniless inventor whom he then murdered.
Dagny is coming back to New York tomorrow, and Jim gives his opinion of his sister to Cherryl, who cant believe that Jim could hate Dagny so much. Jim believes that nobody is any good and that man should spend his life on his knees begging to be forgiven for his very existence. Cherryl doesnt understand, so Jim quotes from a book by Simon Pritchett that denies the existence of absolute standards and questions the very nature of reality. Jim believes that unhappiness is the true mark of virtue. But what Cherryl chooses to hear is ambition, and she looks up to Jim. He considers bedding her, but realizing that he has no desire for her tonight, he takes her home. Cherryl is pleased that he didnt try to seduce her, and Jim is insufferably pleased with his own nobility.
At Dagnys apartment, Hank drops in to compliment her on her work on the John Galt Line. Rearden is inundated with orders for his metal. Dagnys strength has opened the way for new wealth and a new future. Hank lists the praises of Dagny from the press, then takes her brutally. But afterward Hank asks about her sexual history. She mentions one other partner she had in her teens where the relationship lasted some years. But she wont mention Franciscos name. Hank demands an answer and gets only a smile, which prompts him to take her again. Brutally.
Mr. Mowen of Connecticut watches a worker loading railcars at the Quinn Ball Bearing Plant. He engages the worker in conversation about people going to Colorado when other Eastern states are suffering. He wonders what is happening to loyalty. Its because of the Equalization of Opportunity Bill, says the worker, and that is why Quinn is moving to Colorado. Mowen condemns Colorado for providing very little government, just enough to enforce the law. Colorado is taking away everyones business. Rearden has ruined Orren Boyle; Mowen cant get steel from him. He cant get Rearden Metal because the backlog is too long. It isnt fair that people cant compete with Ellis Wyatt; there should be a limit placed on his output. And New York is running out of oil. But Wesley Mouch of the Bureau of Economic Planning and National Resources will fix things! The worker turns out to be Owen Kellogg!
The John Galt Line has been turned over to Taggart Transcontinental as per turnkey contract, and Dagnys headquarters building has been demolished. Hank drops in at Dagnys apartment in his tuxedo. He has left a banquet to which Dagny was invited, but chose not to attend so as not to be seen in public with Hank. The banquet has been a bust for Hank, in that there appeared to be no reason for it, and the motives of the people there had been opaque. The theme of the banquet had been that everybody needed Hank, as though they were making a potential claim on him.
Dagny makes great plans for laying Rearden Metal track across the entire Taggart system. Hank plans to open mills outside Pennsylvania, believing that the Equalization of Opportunity Bill will collapse of its own weight. Hank and Dagny decide to take a road trip together as a vacation.
This trip is set on Americas decaying network of two-lane highways. There are no billboards, few houses and fewer cars in rural America. Weeds grow between the cracks in the concrete. What Dagny misses most is the sign of fresh paint.
Ted Nielsen of Colorado intends to build diesel locomotives but cant find the necessary machine tools. Thinking of a closed factory in Wisconsin where Nielsen could scrounge machine parts, Dagny suggests a trip there. Much of the road to Starnesville has actually been dismantled and perhaps sold elsewhere. The town itself appears to have been dismantled except for the few inhabited dwellings scattered about at random. The school is a ruin. Above the town on a hill stands the plant of the Twentieth Century Motor Company, abandoned ten years earlier.
Dagny and Hank ask for directions from a swollen and shapeless woman who lives in a house with a useless gas stove and cooks over a stone fireplace. Her light comes from candles, and her children look like savages. She is not sure where the factory is or how far it is to the next town.
A man draws water from a squeaky pump at a communal well. Rearden asks him for directions and pays him ten dollars, but the man refuses the money, stating that it is worthless. The people of Starnesville use barter among themselves and dont trade with other towns. The man cant give them decent directions. Some children shatter Reardens windshield with a rock while neither the man nor the woman seem to care.
The Twentieth Century Motor Companys plant is a ruin. Dagnys exploration screeches to a halt when she uncovers the wreck of a motor and a paper description of its purpose. It is like no motor she has ever seen, except in college, where it was said that such a thing was impossible. It is a motor that runs off static electricity. Hank and Dagny realize that no one but the designer could make it work, and Dagny suspects the designer is dead, else why would he abandon it? They decide to send a crew to retrieve the motor and anything else that might be salvaged from the plant.
Their last image of Starnesville is a town lit by tallow candles.
Cherryl Brooks and Barbara Stanwyck
The documentary film Forbidden Hollywood covers movies made in the Thirties before Will Hays and the Production Code censored American films for 34 years. One pre-Code classic was 1933's Baby Face, with Barbara Stanwyck as Lily Powers. Lily is the daughter of a speakeasy owner in Erie, Pennsylvania, who has pimped her out since she was 14. One night, Daddys still blows up, killing him, and Lily goes to New York with her black girlfriend to make her fortune.
She gets a job by bedding the personnel chief at Gotham Trust and sleeps her way to the top. One man she beds and abandons early on is a bank clerk played by the young, unknown John Wayne. At each seduction and abandonment, the camera plays on the bank building, going up floor by floor. The film is done in a breathless Mothers, dont let your daughters do this! style. Todays audiences laugh and root for Lily.
Although there was no mandatory code yet for the motion picture industry, the film ran afoul of the New York State Censorship Board which objected to some sexually suggestive scenes but really bridled at Lilys reading Nietzsche! The producers cut some footage, added some footage and tacked on a moralistic ending. The uncensored version turned up in a vault in 2004 and has been named one of the best 100 movies of the past 80 years.
In the ethos of the Thirties, it would have been the perfect comeuppance for Jim Taggart to be taken down by a little guttersnipe from Erie. But Rand avoids the cliches of the era and reaches for deeper meaning. Cherryl Brooks is not Lily Powers; in fact, she is the anti-Lily.
Cherryl recognizes that she comes from dirt. She doesnt intend to stay in the gutter, however, but comes to New York from Buffalo with that great Gershwin spirit, seeing New York as the City of Possibilities. She intends to make it on her own and has no intention of bedding Jim Taggart for competitive advantage. She has a moral code and sticks to it. The fact that she is genuine jars Taggart, who is full of self-loathing, but for all the wrong reasons.
Because of this, what happens to Cherryl later is doubly tragic.
The Fifties and Dagnys Sexual History
There is a tendency among younger people and the Devoutly Religious to believe that biblical sexual morality was the norm in American society until the Baby Boomers sent everything to hell in a handbasket in the Sixties. In the words of Sportin Life from Porgy and Bess, It aint necessarily so.
While a study of American sexual mores from the Founding onward would be fun, for our purposes the story begins after World War I. The bloodletting of the war prompted a general loosening of sexual morality in Europe and America in the Twenties. The American experience might have been less extreme, but the mistake of Prohibition undermined American respect for law and morality. The automobile took on the function of a traveling bedroom for American teenagers. American girls bobbed their hair, shortened their skirts, went drinking at blind pigs, as speakeasies were known, and lost their virginity.
This was a far cry from what had immediately preceded it. In that pre-war era, courting couples sat in the parlor of the girls parents while Ma and Pa turned in for the night. The couples sparked and spooned, and when they got too close to intercourse, a marriage was quickly arranged before things went too far.
There was of course a reaction to the change in morals in the Twenties. In East Texas, the Ku Klux Klan patrolled the parking spots where teenagers were known to congregate. Catching a couple in the act, Klansmen would pull the kids out of the car, tie them to a tree and horsewhip them. This was known as preserving family values.
All this came to a halt with the Depression. With people interested in just staying alive, extramarital sex became something that criminals, communists and college students did to protest bourgeois morality. With World War II, things loosened up and girls engaged to military men understood that they might not see them alive again. There was some promiscuity among women who worked in the factories and whose husbands were at war, but the role models promulgated by the popular magazines and movies of the period kept things from getting out of hand.
Put yourself in the position of a returning war veteran. Youve lived through a tumultuous period of war, depression and social change. Coming home from the war, you want a job, a house where you and your wife can live away from the parents of either, a car and 2.3 children. You crave stability. That is what the Fifties were about, and it was an anomaly, a breathing space between periods of change. It was when chastity became trendy again.
Today, Hanks demanding that Dagny list her prior bed partners would be considered impolite. A couple will explore each others sexual history, but not in a peremptory manner. It is recognized today that a womans body belongs to herself, and its nobodys business whom she has slept with. But Atlas Shrugged is set in the Fifties and standards were different. For a 35 year old woman like Dagny to still be a virgin would be something of a longshot, but a man courting her would have a reasonable expectation that she was not all that experienced. And he would believe that he had a right to know.
Dagnys resistence to Hanks probing is not based on the belief that her body is her own, but is connected to the mores of the time. Dagny wont tell because her relationship with Francisco was special, and she knows how Hank loathes him. Her silence is different from that of a modern woman.
Mr. Mowen, Unions and the Third World
Things arent right ... The Equalization of Opportunity Bill was a sound idea. Theres got to be a chance for everybody. Its a rotten shame if people like Quinn take unfair advantage of it. Why didnt he let somebody else start manufacturing ball bearings in Colorado? ... I wish the Colorado people would leave us alone. That Stockton Foundry out there had no right going into the switch and signal business. Thats been my business for years, I have the right of seniority, it isnt fair, its dog-eat-dog competition, newcomers shouldnt be allowed to muscle in.
In the Sixties and Seventies, those words didnt come from business owners like Mr. Mowen. They came from the mouths of union bosses.
One of Americas dirty little secrets is that organized labor was responsible in the Fifties for creating the American middle class as we know it, and it did so by insisting that unskilled labor be paid the same wages as skilled labor. Following the war, America had the only industrial plant in the world that hadnt been destroyed by bombardment. American unions could demand higher wages, and the rest of the world had no choice but to pay inflated prices for American goods because we were the only game in town. An American male could drop out of school, get his union card, sign up at the local plant, marry, have 2.3 children, own a car, house and vacation home, and at age 65 retire with a full pension and go fishing. It was a great racket while it lasted.
In the Sixties, the Third World came on line as a source of cheap labor; in the Seventies, Nixons decision to close the gold window turned the dollar into a pure fiat currency represented by bits and bytes of computer data that flowed around the world effortlessly. The result was that high labor costs caused American goods to be priced out of world markets. Faced with such a challenge, a capitalistic concern could either go out of business or shift its manufacturing to the Third World. As a nation begins to industrialize, it does its time on the sweatshop cross, and that made it mandatory for American companies to shift work abroad. Unions were outraged, but were not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to keep jobs at home. After all, if a union lacks pricing power, what good is it?
With the end of the Cold War, the Second World came on line as a cheap labor source, effectively ending the pricing power of American wage earners.
In the book, there is no Third World because everyone outside America has accepted communism. But there is Colorado, with its minimalist libertarian government, and capitalists move there because business conditions demand it. Mr. Mowen would be best advised to shut up, discard his sense of entitlement and join Mr. Quinn in Colorado.
Starnesville, Rome, Mad Max and the Collapse of Trade
In the year 476, the Roman army deposed the last emperor. The Roman bureaucracy soldiered on, pretending that nothing had changed, until it gave up the ghost and taxes were no longer collected. On the frontier, Roman legions, now unpaid, deserted, either going home or marrying into the families of the area in which they were stationed.
A little fable is in order.
Before the empire collapsed, in a frontier settlement a Roman judge handed down a verdict injurious to a barbarian clan chief. The clan chiefs son then murdered the Roman judge. The next day, the local Roman legion assaulted the clan chiefs compound, crucified the men and sold the women and children into slavery. Roman law and power were upheld, and everybody knew who was boss.
After the collapse and with the disappearance of the legions, the same events occurred, but the day after the murder of the Roman judge, the clan chief and his family swaggered around town collecting tribute from the inhabitants. There was a new boss, and everybody knew who it was.
With the disappearance of the legions, bandits took over the fine Roman roads and trade ground to a halt. In the Dark Ages, a man who had enough wealth to hire former legionnaires as thugs on horseback later to be known as knights when the Church got its hands on them could build a fortified castle and control a sector of land, preserving his version of law and order. Walled towns, castles and manors were designed to be self-sufficient because trade was a high risk effort. People over time sold their freedom to the man with thugs on horseback because he could protect them from outsiders. Thus serfdom entered the world, and people were bound to the land, never traveling more than a few miles from the place where they were born.
Australian director George Miller put some thought into just how a society unravels in his three-part Mad Max saga, with Mel Gibson in the starring role.
In the first film from 1980, Mad Max, Gibson plays a highway patrolman in Australia following a nuclear war. One job is to enforce a low speed limit because oil is scarce, but his main concern is that Australias prisons have disgorged their inmates into the outback during the confusion. Civilized life is possible along a narrow strip of coastline, but in the outback, gangs rule. People will kill for a tanker truck full of gas. The veneer of civilization is wearing thin.
In the second film from 1982, Mad Max 2", released as The Road Warrior in the US, Max has to protect an oil refinery in the outback from resident gangs. The film is similar to American westerns, but with gang members in motor vehicles replacing Indians on horseback. Life on the coastal strip is vanishing.
In the third film from 1985, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, civilization exists in small settlements where people can wall themselves off from barbarians. There is no longer any oil, and animal power hauls the hulks of cars and trucks. Pig manure produces the methane needed to satisfy the energy needs of a walled settlement.
The Mad Max saga chronicles the transition to the Dark Ages in Australia.
Rands vision is only a little different. Starnesville, Wisconsin is a vision of hell. The town isnt much more than a ghost town, with no job base, no school, no gas, no electricity and no running water. Federal Reserve Notes are useless, and people use barter within the town. Nobody trades with other towns, and people arent even sure how far away the next town is. All we are missing is the local clan chief with his thugs on horseback declaring that Starnesville is his fief. Its the Dark Ages descending on America. Here Rand gives the reader a foretaste of what is to come when this degradation of society spreads to the cities.
Some Discussion Topics
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Our First Freeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged
FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged, The Theme
FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged, The Chain
FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged, The Top and the Bottom
FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged, The Immovable Movers
FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged, The Climax of the dAnconias
FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged, The Non-Commercial
FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged, The Exploiters and the Exploited
FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged, The John Galt Line
Too bad this led off with one of Ayn Rand’s oddly mechanical and emotionally flat sexcapades. I’ve always found them disturbing, not due to any sense of prudishness, but due to the sheer unreality of them.
No wonder her personal life was such a wreck. These scenes are as close to autobiographical interpersonal reactions as she gets, imho.
Her experience under the Soviet boot left her emotionally hyper-distant and analytical to a peculiar degree. Thank goodness for this, as far as her incomparable deconstruction, destruction really, of collectivism, of the nanny state mentality, though.
That makes her a keeper.
It would help me if I knew which chapters were covered in your installments.
Francisco's response to "Money is the root of all evil" was brilliant. Pubbies could learn a little from Rand's defense of markets.
Franks is straight out of Rand central casting, isn’t he? The very picture of a putty-butted, weakling secondhander with borrowed power to wield.
A precious, very memorable few actually did.
Suggested title: "Bundling boards to Barney Frank".
And I just posted a bunch of responses to the last chapter's thread. :-(
Chapter 9 is upon us, wherein the breathless pace of the preceding two abates a little, allowing the reader to catch his or her breath for a bit. Not that theres any shortage of developments. Theyre subtle ones, omens rather than prophecies, hints rather than statements. For all the criticism directed at Rand for stiffness of dramatic construction this chapter demonstrates that she can put a story together without having her characters march out front and make declamations.
We start with Hank being suddenly prey to a fit of post-coital depression and self-loathing, and Dagny rightly laughing at him for it. Here Rand presents a question that might have bothered 50s-era readers more than it does their somewhat jaded successors should Hank feel badly? Are the immovable movers exempt from conventional morality due to sheer personal excellence, or only from the corrupt bits of it? Nietszche, from whom Rand got the dilemma in the first place, would have answered all of it. How she answers the question remains to be seen.
But clearly Hank is disgusted at himself for having compromised his wedding vows. It is the first hint that Hank is slowly, relentlessly, being sucked out of his ethical premises on not only matters of marital propriety but on a far broader front as well. For now it is Dagny who is helping him. Who will help her when her turn comes?
It is apparent that not only industry giants are susceptible to this sort of existential crisis. We see a good deal of it in a young lady named Cherryl Brooks, a working-class girl who meets James Taggart by chance and divulges that she admires him greatly. The difficulty is that everything that she admires about him is, in fact, glory stolen from his sister Dagny. We can already anticipate that sooner or later shes going to learn better and therell be trouble when she does.
The Publius Body Count may have to be decremented momentarily. Mr. Mowen of Amalgamated Switch has a brief conversation with a young transient laborer, against which sounding board he bewails the fact that industry seems to be departing his native Connecticut for the fresh fields of Colorado, motivated in part by the fact that nobody who owns a company in one place can own another in another, courtesy of the Equalization of Opportunity Bill. And so the good ones move and what is left are the dessicated husks left by the looters.
Why are they all running to Colorado? he asked. What have they got down there that we havent got?
The young man grinned. Maybe its something youve got that they havent got.
What? The young man did not answer. I dont see it They dont even have a modern government. Its the worst government it does nothing outside of keeping law courts and a police department. It doesnt do anything for the people
The young man, subsisting hand to mouth on transient labor, turns out to be none other than Dagnys old and trusted employee Owen Kellogg who simply up and disappeared one day.
Listen, Kellogg. What do you think is going to happen to the world?
You wouldnt care to know.
Well, we would, but thats going to take awhile. Meanwhile we discover that Wesley Mouch has vaulted into national prominence in the Bureau of Economic Planning and National Resources. A man to watch, to be sure.
And at last Dagny dons The Bracelet. This is no longer subtle symbology, the characters know perfectly well what it signifies and say so, Dagny with a somewhat arch aside that shed have slept with Rearden in order to consummate a necessary business deal if hed demanded it. As long as it was he. This isnt prostitution any more than their real intercourse was rape, but it is a prostitution fantasy (just as Reardens was a rape fantasy) that she finds amusing, yet another insight into her vigorous sexuality. How serious it really is, however, is highly questionable we remember that she denied both herself and Francisco the re-ignition of their affair under much less trying circumstances. Dagny is no slut, and Hank no rapist, which may be why they can indulge themselves in the fantasies. The sexual fun is in the psychological tension that does not exist when either becomes a reality.
They do, however, trundle off on a working vacation as Mr. and Mrs. Smith, an artifice which appears to fool no one. They find themselves in the post-apocalyptic future which is our first glance at what is likely to happen after Atlas shrugs. It is worth dwelling on for a moment. After a tragicomic interval attempting to extract directions out of some country folk I dont know what their problem was, the directions seemed perfectly clear to me they find at last the place they are seeking, a derelict factory that once was an automotive industry leader. Here, digging through the rubble, Dagny comes across what is on several different levels the engine of the future, abandoned, incomplete, and incapable of being recreated in the absence of its inventor. It is a motor that can quite literally call energy down from the heavens, change all of transportation and industry, transform the world, and yet it is relegated to junk. Why?
Hank, that motor was more valuable than the whole factory and everything it ever contained. Yet it was passed up and left in the refuse. It was the one thing nobody found worth the trouble of taking.
Thats what frightens me about this, he answered.
What could have happened at the factory for a thing of such incredible value to be abandoned, for its inventor to disappear in what is becoming a rather uncomfortable pattern by now? The fellow must be found. The future of the country depends on it.
Two side notes first, in this chapter we at last learn Dagnys true age thirty-five. And we learn that the mysterious figure outside her office when she was working late to create the John Galt Line was not, as we previously assumed, Rearden. Who then?
And just in case we didnt get the point from les misérables with the diapers on the clothesline, Rand ends the chapter with the vision of a post-industrial future:
She looked down at the motor. She looked out at the country. She moaned suddenly and dropped her head on her arm
Whats the matter? he asked.
She did not answer.
He looked out. Far below, in the valley, in the gathering night, there trembled a few pale smears which were the lights of tallow candles.
One understands her horror. It is a hardscrabble existence for its unlucky inhabitants. No power, no food, no hope. But it is, as we seem to get laudatory lectures about on a daily basis these days from our eco-zealot friends, a sustainable lifestyle. So was the Neanderthals. It didnt help.
What we have here happened in the short space of 12 years since the areas economic bubble popped. Is this believable? Absolutely, as a visit to any of the American Wests numerous ghost towns will attest. Or take a look at the Siberian city of Kadykchan, less than 20 years after the Soviet Union fell and there was no longer a sufficient reason to be there. 12,000 people used to live in that place. I picture the ruins of Rands Twentieth Century Motor Company looking something like this. This is what happens when Atlas shrugs.
Life in the ruins. It isnt exactly like the purely imaginary life of Rousseaus Noble Savage, this one has a bittersweet element, a remembrance of things that were and for most of the inhabitants of Starnesville, a clear misunderstanding of why they are no longer. Will they learn enough to avoid repeating history? Will we?
Have a great week, Publius!
If you want to search for all threads, run a keyword search on "freeperbookclub".
Once upon a time, people who went into government service did so after an illustrious career in the private sector. It was a way to cap a great career.
Today people go into government service first and then use that service as a springboard into the private sector. Often they end up working for companies they should have been investigating when they were working for the government. This is why there is so much endemic corruption in Wall Street and the financial industry. The players bought the government years ago, and party affiliation has nothing to do with it.
I was just thinking the same thing after I read that line.
I hate that term brutally. I didn't think any of their "bedroom scenes" were "brutal". I saw it as "passion unleashed".
If I had to fancy an insight on Rand's sexual philosophy, I would probably say that she might have been a tad repressed and would have had loved to have a passionate relationship with a man.
So Dagny finds the wreck of a motor, and she knows instantly that the motor had a designer. A tree, an ant, &c., are incredibly more complex but these supposedly had no designer; and people who believe they did apparently cannot view things "objectively."
(And PS, to the guy who mentioned that all the "good" companies are named after people and all the "bad" ones have names like Amalgamated Something or other. What about Twentieth Century Motors? It may have become "bad" but it was "good" at one time.)
OK. I'll try "wildly" and "passionately" and check my thesaurus for other useful words.
It's a story for our time.
Summary is up to the fine standards that you usually set.
I had fun this week with all the explanatory essays. But wait until next week!
I absolutely loved this book when I read it 30 years ago.
It was formative in shaping my political attitudes.
This time through it fills me with dread..The parallels to what is happening in real time are far too vivid.
“If I had to fancy an insight on Rand’s sexual philosophy, I would probably say that she might have been a tad repressed and would have had loved to have a passionate relationship with a man.”
She did, she was married to Frank, and then she seduced and “forced” her young assistant Nathan into her bed where they had a torrent affair while Frank drank away his sorrows.
I believe Ayn’s sexual perversion was very tied to her decision not to become a mother. She knew all along that she was sent to the planet to be a writer and would not have time for babies. So her sexual life was just sex.
Take procreation out of a marriage relationship (And friends of Franks said that they thought he would have loved to have been a father), and all you have is sex. So Roark raping Dominique in the Fountainhead as their first sexual encounter, and Dagny moving up the so called chain of command to John Galt in Atlas is supposed to be somehow evidence of her aspiring to greatness.
It is the false and deadly side to the philosophy of Objectivism, and one of the reasons why people of faith have a difficult time reading Rand.
It is a shame that she put her own sexual immorality into the books, but not surprising giving the fact that she was an atheist and not interested in sexual morality, just objective morality. The fact that she can divorce the two is a fatal flaw in my opinion, not just for Ayn the writer, but for those who accept her at face value without realizing the true devastation to family life that results when a partner decides to move up the sexual ladder to the new wife or the new husband (or lover).
I can’t say that I blame Hank Rearden for his choice to have an affair with Dagny, given his parasitic wife Lillian, and her attempt to destroy him. One of the laugh out loud moments in the book comes when Lillian admits to James Taggart that she will be truly broke financially when Hank cuts her off. I see her as the epitome of all of the elites in our society when it finally dawns on them that Obama Economics will be the end of financial prosperity for everyone, not just the so called capitalistic rich.
Let’s hope Atlas Readers will take the sexual immorality of Rands characters as symbolic and hope that those who are pursuing true happiness will look to find it in a loving relationship with a husband or wife and children, something she never really explored in her fiction, supposedly because she was not a mother.
I do love this paragraph from Atlas which describes the children of one of Galts Gulch’s citizens. I have tried to raise my own five children with a similar sense of freedom:
The recaptured sense of her own childhood kept coming back to her whenever she met the two sons of the young woman who owned the bakery shop. She often saw them wandering down the trails of the valley - two fearless beings, aged seven and four. They seemed to face life as she had faced it.
They did not have the look she had seen in the children of the outer world - a look of fear, half secretive, half sneering, the look of a child’s defense against an adult, the look of a being int he process of discovering that he is hearing lies and of learning to feel hatred.
The two boys had the open, joyous, friendly confidence of kittens who do not expect to get hurt, they had an innocently natural, non-boastful sense of their own value and as innocent a trust in any stranger’s ability to recognize it, they had the eager curiosity that would venture anywhere with the certainty that life held nothing unworthy of or closed to discovery, and they looked as if, should they encounter malevolence, they would reject it contemptuously, not as dangerous, but as stupid, they would not accept it in bruised resignation as the law of existence.
They represent my particular career, Miss Tagart, said the young mother in answer to her comment, wrapping a loaf of fresh bread and smiling at her across the counter. They’re the profession I’ve chosen to practice, which, in spite of all the guff about motherhood, one can’t practice successfully in the outer world.....
I came here in order to bring up my sons as human beings. I would not surrender them to the educational systems devised to stunt a child’s brain, to convince him that reason is impotent, that existence is an irrational chaos with which he’s unable to deal, and thus reduce him to a state of chronic terror. You marvel at the difference between my children and those outside, Miss Taggart? Yet the cause is so simple. The cause is that here, in Galt’s Gulch, there’s no person who would not consider it monstrous ever to confront a child with the slightest suggestion of the irrational.”
I don’t think Ayn was repressed sexually, so much as she was not able to explore the full range of her sexual powers which come to full fruition with pregnancy and orgasmic birth. Which, by the way, most women have never experienced in our culture because of an extreme dependence on doctors and midwives to deliver the children.
My guess is that if Ayn had been more open to motherhood, it would have toned down the sex scenes in the books, and she would have been able to apply Objectivism to childbirth, as some of us have done, and she would have been at the forefront of the unassisted childbirth movement.
Let’s see... In her postcoital bliss, Dagny “saw a bruise above her elbow, with dark beads that had been blood.”
With physical results like these, “brutally” works just fine. This is beyond “wildly” and “passionately.”
Stick to “brutally,” Publius. It’s accurate.
That was me. I noted the exception to myself at the time, and maybe attribute it to different position of that company in the story (already closed by the time we find it, ongoing involvement in the story due to the motor, etc.) Or, one might surmise that it was just the result of a general rule of Rand’s (that the greatness of companies springs from the genius of the top man), and not a completely absolute rule.
A torrent affair? That's not one of those golden rainbow deals is it? Yuk.
I didn’t say “don’t use it”. Just said I hated it. It’s still a free country, for now, use it while you can.
Perhaps I am the only one who doesn't "look for hidden meanings" behind every paragraph while reading a book. Dagny and Hank had a true passion for each other, which they "released" during their love making.
"Sexual immortality"....that just about describes a majority of people breathing at this very moment. If you did not wait to have sex until you were married, that would be your "sexually immoral". Sorry, can't be the judge and jury on that one.
I guess I missed the boat on the importance of Dagny liking her hair pulled, compared to the government raping every producer to feed the moochers.
Guess my head is in the gutter.
I don't get stuck on it. Only one of my suggested topics related to Hank and Dagny's physical passion. I'm waiting for the rest of the crew to start looking at what our world will look like when Atlas shrugs.
Billthedrill's commentary is particularly important in that regard. It won't be pretty.
I too think that is far more important than whether or not Dagny likes her hair pulled or if Hank enjoys pulling it. But there does seem to be a lot of "sex talk"....3. Dagny likes to be taken brutally, and she goads Hank into some fairly rough sex.
I don't get that impression at all. I'm just wondering what kind of minds jump to that conclusion.
Because Publius keeps bringing it up!
And last week, he expressed surprise that nobody really wanted to discuss the sex. So when you come right down to it, we AREN’T stuck on the sex.
Nevertheless, Publius has me laughing out loud at his descriptions of it. Earth moving, ocean boiling ... Go to the mattress indeed! Or last week, “physical congress” from Billthedrill (gotta love that name in this context). This is hilarious stuff.
I have no idea why Rand’s heroines like it violent. (Do you like that word better than “brutal”?) There certainly is room for passion in these relationships as we see when Rearden asks Dagny to get the bracelet.
Honestly? This reading of Atlas Shrugged, I find myself skimming over the sex parts. I just don’t find them that realistic or interesting. I’d much rather read descriptions of them by Publius or Billthedrill.
And no, NGZ, your head isn’t in the gutter if you’re focusing on the rape by the government of the producers. I agree that is much more important than whether Dagny likes having her hair pulled.
Meanwhile, I haven’t written a single word on my favorite character in the book, Cherryl Brooks, who was introduced in this chapter.
I don't like either! Personally, I don't think I'm cut out for this "book club" stuff. I see the point of the story and I stick to it. The rest I see as "filler", unless it pertains to the facts (which Dagny and Hank's sex life have nothing to do with).
Why couldn't Dagny and Hank see each other as the last ones standing (they have no idea what happened to the other producers, though Dagny has her idea). They become a tad passionate with each other, makes sense to me.
I just don't put too much thought into the "brutal" or "sexual tendencies" Rand may or may not have had. I think it distracts from the point.
Like I said, I don't think I'm made for these book club things. I didn't know that until now. This was my first one.
Rands moral flaws as a person do not in any way diminish her skills as an observer of reality. I find her glorification of sexual promiscuity sad, and it is inescapable to contemporary observers that the widespread barnyard behavior by the populace has reaped disastrous results by any measure. She pretties it up some, but is it really different?
That said, this chapter lays out in stark grimness the results of everything that is playing out in our own time. It is not necessarily causative nor predictive, but it certainly rings true as an accurate portrayal of the human condition. I find reading AS much like reading the Minor Prophets of the Old Testament: it is tomorrows headlines before they are written. Starnesville is the result of the most prevalent social dynamic of the past 3/4 century, namely the abolition of responsibility. With an absence of responsibility comes a void in accountability, and a commensurate debasement of the culture, economy, polity, and education. Whenever I see a talking head decrying finger pointing I know immediately that they were guilty of causing whatever problem is being discussed. The coming passages about the destruction of the 20th Century Motor Works is both hilarious and heartbreaking, and the words of the guilty are indistinguishable from the real-life poltroons of today.
The comments about the minarchist government of Colorado lead me to reflect on the ultimate result of any governmental system expanding beyond the true purpose of governance to protect the citizenry from lawlessness and invasion, and nothing more. As soon as government starts doing what is good for us (as we vote ourselves benefits from the public treasury) the game is over. We do not know how much time is left on the clock, nor do we necessarily know the final score. But we do know who the winner is : Team Tyranny.
The closing glimpse of Starnesville also provides a portrait of what rural America could become once the power grid is diverted to more (politically) important, population centers. I have a cabin in about the remotest part of Virginia, and I fully expect the locals to lose their electricity when or if the cities become even more energy starved given the burgeoning Obamunism and its irreducible results of shortage. Without increasing our production capacity foe electricity, how do we avoid this outcome? Hence, like John Galt I am constructing my own power source there. Unlike John Galt, mine is based on reality (micro hydro power) rather than fantasy (the static generator).
A quick browse around the preparedness sites and blogs like survivalblog.com suggests a sizable component of our citizenry sees widespread Starnesville-ism in the future.
When I first read AS over thirty years ago I was awestruck by the heroic nature of the protagonists and amused by the cartoonish antagonists. Now I see the heroes as the cartoons, and their enemies on the nightly news in the guise of Obamunist lap dogs in the media and government.
Now there's a sobering thought. That's something I didn't factor into the equation. I wasn't quite sure what had killed Starnesville's power and had people cooking over stone fireplaces. Power rationing? That's worrisome.
Please write about her! I took a shot at it with my little essay on the movies of the Thirties, but I'm waiting for other folks to weigh in.
(And I'll leave off the sex. I promise.)
OK, I’m going to try this again. I just don’t get everything in the town going to “rack and ruin”. The big employer left and so they are back to feudal days? Why does it compute that only the big industrialists can make everything rosy? People lost jobs during the depression, but they were still able to live lives without turning feudal. In the old west people took care of themselves without turning slovenly and letting their children become wild. Even now, with all the similarities, people are pushing back, making plans for when things will go badly. They aren’t just sitting around waiting for the next thing to happen to them. Well, at least, not all of us. Am I just tilting at windmills here? Is there no one but big industrialists that can make things happen? I know that isn’t her story here, but in discussing what it will be like when Atlas shrugs it should be considered.
Even the first images are disturbing. The road had been partially dismantled, possibly sold.
We appear to be in an early phase of the whole Mad Max thing. The feudal lord has not yet established himself, but the town has folded up and died. In his contribution for this week, Billthedrill posted a link to a Russian town that died much the way Starnesvlle did.
There are former industrial towns in Pennsylvania that died. People moved away, and those who remained ended up delivering pizzas instead of working at the local steel mill.
Your comment about the Depression is on the mark. Society in that era was more cohesive, and people looked out for each other. The image of Starnesville is one of people who have been so deadened by calamity that they are incapable of responding.
Thank you for introducing me to that word. I actually had to look it up. I'll be using it in the future.
About the brutal, passionate sex.....I think Rand distills mans behavior down to his basic instincts; whether that be logic, reason, sex, faith, survival, etc. So the sex scenes, for me, are all about taking it to the core. There is ample exaggeration throughout the book, to make her points.
I disagree, my FRiend. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and somebody has to say so. ;-)
I so enjoy your threads on this book, and especially your well written summaries. Thank you.
Oh, man, that is good. That is really, really good.
I first heard the term “minarchist” being used at the CATO Institute here in DC. I do not know if it is in the dictionary yet, but it seems a perfect descriptor to me. It is so much more concise than for me to describe myself as a “limited government free market advocate.”
Have you been to the welfare office of a fairly large city? Or to a Food Maxx on food stamp day? I see the MM effect happening in mid to large size cities. Heck, you can see it now in large urban areas. It's happening now in Mexico with the drug cartels.
When you lose a large employer in a small town, you lose not only those jobs, but the surrounding economy suffers as well. In times past, people moved on, found a new ventures, took risks, did what they could to get by. Now we have an entitlement mentality. So when jobs are lost, they are frozen with indecision, unable to shift gears, and call to the government to rescue them. Katrina is a prime example of when a populace expects government to provide all of the means. So if the whole shebang collapses, I can see this happening.
One thing that has helped me in approaching this study is to look at AS as an allegory or parable. I can’t remember if it was in one of these threads or some other thread where the point was made that Rand wrote philosophy books, not easy reading novels. That is true, she was using fiction to illustrate her concepts. Many writers do this. I have a tendency when reading to just accept whatever is written and not get all stressed over the details, for good or for bad.
That part of the book didn't strike me that way. Remember the old axiom: whatever you reward, you get more of. These people are surrounded by a society where ambition is vilified, and increasingly, tangibly punished. Where apathy, mediocrity, and sloth somehow elevate those who display them in the eyes of others. A nation that is like that to an even greater degree than the United States of 2009. If we lived in that nation a lot of us might end up the same way.
Yes, I expect very interesting things from Cherryl. While I'm six or seven chapters ahead at the moment, this is my first time reading AS, so I don't know yet what's going to happen. She idolizes Jim for being all the things he actually is not, but that Dagny, from whom she intends to defend him, is. Presumably if Cherryl's going to play a more major role this will come out and we'll get to watch the resolution unfold.
They have made a movie about it.
They essentially went to the forest and made a mini city.
They had shoemakers, and builders and other skilled labor.
It worked because the people had skills.
If you took 200 random people today and stuck them in the forest only a handful would survive without electricity.
Most people are useless when it comes to survival without modern conveniences...We are so removed from food sources..
Give me a guy that hunts and a guy that knows how to saw and hammer over a stock broker or an insurance guy or a car salesman.
A good portion of folks let their kids run wild now and it's not in collapse...It's because of relativism..
God forbid you tell a kid no, or you can't have it or even worse...earn it.
Well, Publius, you kinda threw me for a loop with that essay about Lily Powers. If I were going to choose a similar character from a novel, it would be Dreisers Sister Carrie rather than Rands Cherryl Brooks.
There is no way that Jim Taggart would have been taken down by a little guttersnipe from Erie. That would have been contrary to his character. He would recognize the gold digging guttersnipe for what she was. He would bed her and move on. But Cherryl didnt fit that mold. Taggart recognized that she was different. Unlike most women and men Taggart encountered in his miserable existence, this young lady didnt have an agenda. She doesnt want anything from him; she is simply honored to be in the presence of someone she believes is a great man on his night of triumph.
And how intoxicating this is for Jim Taggart! Cherryl fulfills a need of his that no gold-digger would have been capable of doing. As Taggart bathes in her oblivious and honest admiration of him, he is able momentarily to believe his own press releases. The lies become his reality for most of the evening until he catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror. Rather than feeling any remorse, Taggert feels smugly satisfied that he has conned this innocent young thing. And he feels superior.
It is because of Cherryls goodness that Taggert is going to pursue her. She doesnt hide her poverty ridden past. She isnt ashamed of it or guilty because she has taken steps to escape it. She has a moral sense of values that makes her reject and rise above the sloth of her family. She simply wants to achieve something in her life. She doesnt affect a phony sense of sophistication with her move to the Big City, but readily admits that she has a lot to learn. Shes eager and excited to face what her new life has to offer.
Poor Cherryl. Little does she realize that she has jumped from the proverbial frying pan into the fire with her chance meeting of Jim Taggart. Little does she realize that he is the kindred spirit of the relatives from whom she fled.