The Fountainhead: Older and Wiser

The Fountainhead: Older and Wiser November 30, 2018

The Fountainhead, part 4, chapter 4

After he’s signed off on Roark’s plans for their house, Wynand is walking on air. One night at home, Dominique remarks to him that he looks unusually happy:

“‘Light’ is nearer. I feel light, thirty years lighter. Not that I’d want to be what I was thirty years ago. One never does. What the feeling means is only a sense of being carried back intact, as one is now, back to the beginning. It’s quite illogical and impossible and wonderful.”

“What the feeling usually means is that you’ve met someone. A woman as a rule.”

“I have. Not a woman. A man.”

Come on. Ayn Rand must have been aware of the homoeroticism of this, right? When she wrote something like this – or like that scene in Atlas Shrugged where Hank Rearden is waiting to talk to Francisco d’Anconia and Rand compares his behavior to a woman hoping to be asked out – she knew what she was doing, right? She was writing with a wink and a nod when she described the entirely platonic love and deep affection her steely-eyed, tight-bodied, impeccably masculine heroes feel for each other, wasn’t it?

Sadly, and as hard as this is to believe, the evidence says it was wholly unintentional. Despite Rand writing in a letter that Gail Wynand’s affection for Howard Roark was “greater, I think, than any other emotion in the book” – she even called it “love in the romantic sense” – she took pains to insist that it was “not a homosexual feeling” (even as this page points out that she defined romantic love as the “passion that unites mind and body in the sexual act”).

In real life, Ayn Rand was repelled by homosexuality. She was against criminalizing it, so points for consistency, but she called it “immoral” and “disgusting”. If that’s truly how she felt, it’s a mystery why her books often end up sending the opposite message.

Wynand tells Dominique that he has a present for her: the country estate he’s been planning for the two of them has been designed, and he wants to show her the finished sketch. Naturally, she recognizes Howard Roark’s handiwork on sight, and stands stunned and speechless. He’s clueless about the real reason for her shock:

“Dominique, I take it for granted you don’t care about it any more, but I know that I picked the one architect you spent all your time denouncing when you were on the Banner.”

“You read that?”

“I read it. You had an odd way of doing it. It was obvious that you admired his work and hated him personally. But you defended him at the Stoddard trial.”

“Yes.”

“You even worked for him once. That statue, Dominique, it was made for his temple.”

“Yes.”

“It’s strange. You lost your job on the Banner for defending him. I didn’t know it when I chose him. I didn’t know about that trial. I had forgotten his name. Dominique, in a way, it’s he who gave you to me. That statue — from his temple. And now he’s going to give me this house. Dominique, why did you hate him?”

Dominique says she didn’t hate him, but she doesn’t elaborate on this and Wynand doesn’t ask any followup questions. Instead, he proudly announces that Roark is coming over for dinner so that they can drink a toast together to their new house.

Dominique is quiet and passive throughout the dinner, while Wynand and Roark chat in an appropriately manly way about architecture. She greets Roark with the correct formalities – “she pronounced a few sentences when it seemed necessary” – but otherwise stays out of the conversation.

This is the scene where she basically loses her agency and becomes a sexy lamp. From this point on, Dominique will be a passive object of desire for the two male protagonists to wrestle over. Rand even lampshades it, writing: “she felt the peace of finality, knowing that her share of decision had ended; she had been the one who acted, but he would act from now on.”

Meanwhile, Wynand gushes over the house. He says that he loves it, but at the same time he feels that Roark, not himself, will always be the real owner because he conceived of it. Roark reassures him that anyone who loves great art can consider himself to own it:

“…What you feel in the presence of a thing you admire is just one word — ‘Yes.’ The affirmation, the acceptance, the sign of admittance. And that ‘Yes’ is more than an answer to one thing, it’s a kind of ‘Amen’ to life, to the earth that holds this thing, to the thought that created it, to yourself for being able to see it. But the ability to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ is the essence of all ownership. It’s your ownership of your own ego. Your soul, if you wish. Your soul has a single basic function — the act of valuing. ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’ ‘I wish’ or ‘I do not wish.’ You can’t say ‘Yes’ without saying ‘I.’ There’s no affirmation without the one who affirms. In this sense, everything to which you grant your love is yours.”

“In this sense, you share things with others?”

“No. It’s not sharing. When I listen to a symphony I love, I don’t get from it what the composer got. His ‘Yes’ was different from mine. He could have no concern for mine and no exact conception of it. That answer is too personal to each man. But in giving himself what he wanted, he gave me a great experience. I’m alone when I design a house, Gail, and you can never know the way in which I own it. But if you said your own ‘Amen’ to it — it’s also yours. And I’m glad it’s yours.”

It’s both amusing and predictable how Ayn Rand insists that liking the same things as other people isn’t sharing (wash your mouth out with soap for uttering that word!), because everyone has their own private vision of the Good and everyone who admires a work of art does so for their own personal, inner reasons that no one else can know.

This is a strangely subjective and even, dare I say it, post-modernist view. It’s a sharp contradiction with the rest of the book, where Howard Roark designs Objectively Correct Architecture which conveys the precise philosophical message he wants to send, but only to the people he considers worthy of receiving such a message. It also doesn’t fit with the recurring plot element that True Objectivists can recognize each other on sight and immediately intuit each others’ deepest characters through a kind of telepathic connection. None of this could work if you could never really know what other people are thinking in the quiet recesses of their minds.

The line about “everything to which you grant your love is yours” also seems to be something Rand changed her mind about. In Atlas Shrugged, she has her characters argue that beautiful objects are “wasted” if they’re in a shop window where just anyone can admire them, rather than locked up in a rich person’s private vault. This contradicts the philosophy espoused by Howard Roark that anyone who admires a work of beauty has an equal right to claim ownership of it.

There’s one more whopper of a sentence in this chapter that I can’t pass up commenting on:

“Howard, that ‘Yes’ — once granted, can it be withdrawn?”

… “Never,” Roark answered, looking at Wynand.

“There’s so much nonsense about human inconstancy and the transience of all emotions,” said Wynand. “I’ve always thought that a feeling which changes never existed in the first place. There are books I liked at the age of sixteen. I still like them.”

This calls to mind the old joke about teenagers – “move out now while you still know everything” – except that Ayn Rand doesn’t think it’s a joke. She really believes that if you don’t like the same books, music and clothing at sixty that you did at sixteen, there’s something wrong with you. She really believes that the brooding diary entries and angsty poetry you wrote in your teenage years (come on, we all do that, right?) should define you for the rest of your life.

We’ve already seen her assertion that changing your mind is a character flaw, but this takes it much further. I’ve often observed that Rand’s characters seem stuck in perpetual surly adolescence, but this scene makes the comparison explicit. Gail Wynand is literally saying he’s never changed his opinions since he was sixteen years old!

To be clear, I’m not saying that all teenage opinions are bad. Every generation needs young people who can look at the world with fresh eyes, who can muster the necessary outrage at the evils and absurdities that older people have grown to accept (example). These regular infusions of perspective are the only way to make moral progress. But that’s not at all the same thing as saying that an individual person should never learn or grow or change over their lifetime – that they should hold the same opinions unaltered from the moment they’re old enough to formulate them until the moment of death.

Image: Hope you still like this style fifty years later. Image via Pixabay.

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