The Fountainhead: Small-Souled Men

The Fountainhead: Small-Souled Men April 20, 2018

The Fountainhead, part 2, chapter 11

Roark is showing Mallory the sketches he’s made for his Temple of the Human Spirit. He explains what he wants the sculptor to do:

“Just one figure. It will stand here.” He pointed to a sketch. “The place is built around it. The statue of a naked woman. If you understand the building, you understand what the figure must be. The human spirit. The heroic in man. The aspiration and the fulfillment, both. Uplifted in its quest — and uplifting by its own essence. Seeking God — and finding itself. Showing that there is no higher reach beyond its own form.”

Roark says that he has a model in mind: Dominique Francon. Incredulous, Mallory says there’s no way she’ll agree to pose for this, but Roark is confident she will.

Exactly what makes Roark so sure about this, we’re not told. At this point, Dominique is still publicly trashing him in her newspaper column and trying to persuade all his potential clients to hire someone else. No one knows that she secretly worships him or that they’re sleeping together. Agreeing to pose for this project seems like it would be taking his side in a huge and very public way and betraying her stated goal. But somehow, she agrees to do it, and that never comes up.

Mallory thinks that the design is brilliant, but he has one lingering concern:

“You said something yesterday about a first law. A law demanding that man seek the best … It was funny … The unrecognized genius — that’s an old story. Have you ever thought of a much worse one — the genius recognized too well? … That a great many men are poor fools who can’t see the best — that’s nothing. One can’t get angry at that. But do you understand about the men who see it and don’t want it?”

Roark seems to find this funny, but Mallory insists he’s not joking: “I know what I’m talking about — and you don’t. You can’t know. It’s because of that absolute health of yours. You’re so healthy that you can’t conceive of disease… I’m wiser than you are about some things, because I’m weaker.”

Normally, Rand’s main characters are perfect in every way. So it’s interesting how the narrative seems to agree that Mallory is right and Roark, in some sense, is naive. It gives the impression that Mallory’s attempt to murder Ellsworth Toohey was a noble deed, even though he failed. Meanwhile, Roark is consistently oblivious to Toohey, even when Toohey is very effectively sabotaging his career and smearing his public image.

A few weeks later, Roark visits the job site late on a spring night. The foundation for the walls has been laid, the workers are already gone for the day, but in a rough wooden shack set up on the grounds, Dominique is posing for Mallory’s sculpture. The two of them are tired and don’t seem to be making much headway:

Mallory reached the end of the room, whirled around, smiled at Roark: “Why haven’t you ever come in before, Howard? Of course, if I’d been really busy, I’d have thrown you out. What, by the way, are you doing here at this hour?”

“I just wanted to see the place tonight. Couldn’t get here earlier.”

“Is this what you want, Steve?” Dominique asked suddenly. She took her robe off and walked naked to the stand. Mallory looked from her to Roark and back again. Then he saw what he had been struggling to see all day. He saw her body standing before him, straight and tense, her head thrown back, her arms at her sides, palms out, as she stood for many days; but now her body was alive, so still that it seemed to tremble, saying what he had wanted to hear: a proud, reverent, enraptured surrender to a vision of her own, the right moment, the moment before the figure would sway and break, the moment touched by the reflection of what she saw.

Mallory’s cigarette went flying across the room.

“Hold it, Dominique!” he cried. “Hold it! Hold it!”

He was at his stand before the cigarette hit the ground. He worked, and Dominique stood without moving, and Roark stood facing her, leaning against the wall.

Dominique’s instant worshipful reaction to Roark’s presence reminds me of a verse from the Bible: “The head of the woman is the man.” Notwithstanding Rand’s atheism, her philosophy had a hierarchy of gender roles so strict that it would make any Christian fundamentalist proud. I can just imagine someone like Warren Jeffs pointing to this passage and telling his wives, “See, this is how you’re supposed to behave.”

But wait a minute. If Dominique can only be inspired by Roark’s presence, doesn’t that make her a second-hander and him greater than her? Shouldn’t he be the one posing for Mallory’s giant naked sculpture?

It’s meant to symbolize “the heroic in man,” after all, and Rand’s philosophy is quite clear that men are the heroes. They’re the prime movers, the leaders and the creators, while the role of women is to lavish them with the praise and worship they deserve. That’s not even an exaggeration: as Rand put it, “the essence of femininity is hero-worship – the desire to look up to man”.

That’s not the only question I have about this temple. This is how Rand describes Roark’s design for it:

The Temple was to be a small building of gray limestone. Its lines were horizontal, not the lines reaching to heaven, but the lines of the earth. It seemed to spread over the ground like arms outstretched at shoulder-height, palms down, in great, silent acceptance… It was scaled to human height in such a manner that it did not dwarf man, but stood as a setting that made his figure the only absolute, the gauge of perfection by which all dimensions were to be judged. When a man entered this temple, he would feel space molded around him, for him, as if it had waited for his entrance, to be completed. It was a joyous place, with the joy of exaltation that must be quiet. It was a place where one would come to feel sinless and strong, to find the peace of spirit never granted save by one’s own glory.

There was no ornamentation inside, except the graded projections of the walls, and the vast windows. The place was not sealed under vaults, but thrown open to the earth around it, to the trees, the river, the sun — and to the skyline of the city in the distance, the skyscrapers, the shapes of man’s achievement on earth. At the end of the room, facing the entrance, with the city as background, stood the figure of a naked human body.

There’s a strange contradiction here. The purpose of Roark’s temple is to uplift human beings, to make them feel glorious and worthy. But the whole point of Objectivist ideology is that most human beings are neither glorious nor worthy.

According to Rand, they’re morally weak, vulgar, cowardly, ignorant, easily led astray by demagogues, and inclined to hate and persecute the rare geniuses they should be worshipping. In a previous installment, we heard that the symbol of humanity should be “three gilded balls“, the logo of a pawn shop, symbolizing that the vast majority of people would eagerly sell out whatever principles they had for a meager reward.

In an earlier chapter, Ellsworth Toohey took this even farther by saying that as few as twelve people throughout all of recorded history were responsible for a great achievement like New York City, and the rest of us are just free-riders being carried along by their genius. (Or, as the Onion put it: “Four Or Five Guys Pretty Much Carry Whole Renaissance“.)

And this book’s plot backs that assertion up. Just as in Atlas Shrugged, where there was one Great Capitalist in each industry, Howard Roark seems to be the only architect in the world whose work is worthy of note.

So who is the Temple intended for? Is it Roark’s intention that ordinary people will come to see it, will feel the tiniest hint of his reflected glory, and and experience a sudden inspiration to go out and try to create something of their own? Probably. But isn’t he taking the risk that regular, unworthy (small-souled) people will come to see the Temple, experience that same feeling of greatness, and decide that they must be fine just as they are?

If I had to guess, I’d say that Rand would’ve considered that impossible. In Randworld, architecture has an uncanny ability to only emotionally move the people its creator wants to move, and only in the ways he wants them to be moved. It’s as if an architect could build a cathedral that produced profound religious feelings in only those Roman Catholics who held the specific interpretation of Catholic beliefs that he considered correct.

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