The Fountainhead: Trust No One

The Fountainhead: Trust No One October 26, 2018

Solitude

The Fountainhead, part 4, chapter 1

With the success of Monadnock Valley, Howard Roark’s star is rising again. He starts to get new commissions from all over the country: private homes, a movie theater, a hotel. True to form, he immediately reverts to his usual behavior of acting like a smug, conceited bastard to the people who want to give him work:

In the spring of 1936 a western city completed plans for a World’s Fair to be held next year, an international exposition to be known as “The March of the Centuries.” The committee of distinguished civic leaders in charge of the project chose a council of the country’s best architects to design the fair. The civic leaders wished to be conspicuously progressive. Howard Roark was one of the eight architects chosen.

When he received the invitation, Roark appeared before the committee and explained that he would be glad to design the fair — alone.

When the chairman protests that he can’t be serious, Roark says he’s completely serious:

“If you want me, you’ll have to let me do it all, alone. I don’t work with councils.”

“You wish to reject an opportunity like this, a shot in history, a chance of world fame, practically a chance of immortality…”

“I don’t work with collectives. I don’t consult, I don’t cooperate, I don’t collaborate.”

Except we know that’s not true, because Roark collaborated with Peter Keating many times, helping him improve his convoluted and uninspiring designs.

You might say that Roark treats this as an old shame, that he did it because he had no other choice to survive, and that now he’s determined never to collaborate again. However, that’s not true either. There’s one more big, important scene coming up where he agrees to “consult” on another of Peter Keating’s projects – i.e., to help Peter cheat on his homework and get no money or credit in return. For a Randian hero, his allegedly invincible integrity is actually quite flexible and situation-dependent.

There was a great deal of angry comment on Roark’s refusal, in architectural circles. People said: “The conceited bastard!” The indignation was too sharp and raw for a mere piece of professional gossip; each man took it as a personal insult; each felt himself qualified to alter, advise and improve the work of any man living.

Well, it is a personal insult, isn’t it? Howard Roark refuses to work with other architects because he thinks he’s better than them. As far as he’s concerned, he’s the greatest architect who’s ever lived and he can’t tolerate the thought of a lesser human soiling his masterpieces with the touch of their grubby, inferior hands.

If it’s arrogant for other architects to think they’re entitled to modify anybody else’s work, as we’re meant to infer, then why isn’t it vain for Roark to hold the mirror-image viewpoint that nobody on the planet is good enough to collaborate with him?

With Roark’s refusal, Peter Keating and a cadre of second-rate architects are chosen. We’re told that Keating has become bitter, frustrated and snappish, a sign of his intellectual decline:

Keating had acquired a sharp, intractable manner in the last few years. He snapped orders and lost his patience before the smallest difficulty; when he lost his patience, he screamed at people: he had a vocabulary of insults that carried a caustic, insidious, almost feminine malice; his face was sullen.

Does this remind you of anything? It should.

Remember, Roark’s mentor Henry Cameron was infamous for being surly, impatient and bad-tempered. Not only did he berate and insult his clients, he actually assaulted one of them (by throwing an inkstand at his face). But Ayn Rand didn’t expect us to take that as evidence that he was a bad guy. Instead, we were supposed to see it as proof of his take-no-prisoners attitude and his uncompromising artistic vision.

Meanwhile, when Peter Keating starts yelling and bossing people around, it’s proof that he’s artistically inferior and on the brink of personal and professional collapse. What gives?

It’s hard not to notice the word “feminine” standing out from the above paragraph. I suspect that Ayn Rand saw Cameron’s behavior as OK because he insulted and berated his clients in the proper, manly manner. But Peter Keating insults his clients like a woman, which is obviously proof that he’s a weak, emasculated beta male and deserves our contempt. It’s another indicator of Rand’s cool-girl attitude and her sexist belief in women’s metaphysical inferiority to men.

It’s also another instance of the double standard Rand applies to her protagonists. When a hero makes a risky gamble – say, ordering a train to drive through a red light – it always succeeds brilliantly, whereas when a villain tries the same thing, it blows up in their face.

She winks at bribery when the heroes do it, but condemns it otherwise. When a good architect designs a stark, featureless building, it’s a work of genius; when a bad architect designs a stark, featureless building, it’s because they’re a talentless copycat. And she’s both approving and disapproving of a businessman who abuses and screams at his clients, depending on whether you’re doing it for the right philosophical reasons.

Image credit: Hendrik Dacquin, released under CC BY 2.0 license

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