Saturday, February 13, 2010

How's It Striking You?

One Hundred Pages In... Two Hundred Pages In... Three Hundred Pages In...

What are you noticing? What is surprising you? What is happening that is so compelling for so many?


  1. A little noticing:
    In the early parts of the book (i.e. the parts I have managed to read) Rand has a penchant for using lots of 'natural' world/industrial world analogies. Here are some particularly melodramatic examples:
    "The red glow of the mills breathed in the sky, a sight as life-giving as a sunrise" (31)
    "...These are the roots of the building, hollow roots twisting under the ground, feeding the city" (18)
    "The Taggart Transcontinental Railroad... looked like a system of blood vessels. It looked as if once, long ago, the blood had shot down the main artery and, under the pressure of its own overabundance, had branched out at random points, running all over the country." (7)
    I also remember some blood and milk metaphors from her description of the smelting process, but I can't find the exact quote.

    These devices seem to read most obviously as Rand's attempts to naturalize industrial processes. For her, they are not environmentally or socially destructive, but somehow inherent to our basic biology. It seems she does not see the need to justify the existence of these events and objects, as they are completely normal and inevitable. However, her use of these crazy analogies reveals a kind of determination (desperation?) to get this point across.

  2. i hope to have some time to post something a little more thorough, but on page 68 (of my edition) the narrator says that Dagny's apartment is "two room on the top floor of a skyscraper," and then goes on to tell us something that is happening "in the living room."

    it may seem a minute detail in the context of 1100 pages, but what is the other room? a bathroom? a kitchen? Rand could easily have wrote that Dagny's apartment was four rooms on the top floor of a skyscraper. but no, Dagny's apartment only has two rooms, likely because minimalist aesthetic of selfishness that governs Rand's trans-human characters does not allow a kitchen or a bathroom for a character who probably doesn't eat, and who, almost certainly, never shits.

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  4. I am only 300 pages in...

    What surprises/compels me in this massive book? It is so broad that I can only of the top of my head, mention a few generalized ideas.

    1. What is the purpose of the romance (if you can call it that) in the story? To sell copies? To a small extent, maybe. I can say the rest of the story does not have a very feminine feel, as much as say, the section on Dagny vs Fransisco as lovers. She is the sterotypical "independent woman" in many ways; cold, unbeatable by men, fiercely intelligent and independent, yet at the same time the right man can revert her to a helpless little girl, with nothing but a quick wit a grin-ful of dazzling white teeth. Does this contradiction humanize her? Belittle her? Is it her rigid manner of success the triumph in her story, or the ability to let herself be vulnerable? She is, at the same time, real yet very un-real. Perhaps after finding out her impact on the later parts of the story, I can begin to see what Rand intends with her pertaining to women, or maybe human spirit in general.

    2. You never get in the heads of the stupid people. They are so palpably stupid, it hurts. Yet, you never see them as people. I'm thinking mostly of the anniversary party at the Rearden house. The philosopher is so ridiculous, it serves Rand's mission of dehumanizing all the people who are in opposition to Rearden and Dagny, at the same time as making us truly sympathize with our heroes, since they can stand these people, and even do what's best for everyone in the end. At the same time, you might blame Rand for being manipulative. If we never get into the heads of the stupid people, we can never see how stupid they are, or if they perhaps have some inner wisdom or value. After all, what would Dagny and Rearden look like from the outside? Aren't they the huge, monopolistic enemy? Doesn't Rearden only deal metal to his friends, discouraging free trade? Yet we see that he only dismisses the people who stood in his way the whole way. But isn't this the death of the free market that the stupid people are protesting? Isn't Dagny a bitch when she says (I'm paraphrasing here), "I built this line for my self-interest and to get rich, "f" all of you"? How can we blame their enemies, when all they want is to avoid monopolies, and not not be swallowed up by the big guys, and for everyone to be happy and free? No matter how selfishly and illogically they argue for these things--the fact is that they are rooting for the little guys against the big guys. And somehow Rand has turned them into driveling idiots and selfish panderers for opposing Rearden and Dagny. It's highly effective.

  5. 3. About the aforementioned nature vs. industry images--I also noticed a lot of these images. Every anecdote about Dagny's childhood seemed to deal with forests, or clearings, or nature-y things of the sort. It made me realize I had no idea what time period this story took place (the calendar gives us an illusion of a setting with a specific date, but in reality the story is atemporal) and made me wonder if in childhood there were trees, but for some reason in the creation of this dystopia all nature was wiped out. Is the natural state of things the ideal? Where on the moral scale then do we place our heroes--one who slices through nature with tracks of metal and one who sucks the resources out of the land, leaving industrial towns in his wake? I guess this goes back to what I mentioned about our heroes, but more explicitly I suppose my question is, "are Dagny and Rearden our heroes for being the big industrialists? Where do they stand, and where do we stand on them?"

    I do know generally what will happen in the story, and see that Fransisco (and maybe the cafeteria guy? The shadowy figure at Dagny's door) will prove to be the "enlightened ones" (I think), so I really can't say more until I've read more. I really love this book so far though, it's a welcome break from what we've read so far. I will finish it, and come back with a more specific and directed precis, rather than an impulsive comment to delay having to do other homework. I'd love to hear what other people, who have perhaps read it and studied it before, have to say about the heroes and the other concerns I had.

  6. It seems to me that the characters are fantastical. It is a fantasy that such a person as Fransisco could exist, perfect in every way, good at doing everything. It is also a fantasy for a woman to think a man will come along and be able to completely run her life. This is certainly not the reality I've scene. But, it is a very appealing fantasy.

    I do feel myself being seduced about her characterization of certain events. The moment when Dagny and Rearden are in his office and she says: "Hank, this is great", he responds "Yes"

    "He said it simply, openly. There was no flattered pleasure in his voice, and no modesty. This, she knew, was a tribute to her. The rarest one person can pay another: the tribute of feeling free to acknowledge ones own greatness, knowing that is is understood".

    I wouldn't necessarily call my experience of this kind of moment "greatness", I would call it "recognition of competence", but then that's the difference between me and Rand. Or, the similarity, she would call greatness absolute competence.

    The book is fun to read but it is driving me crazy because real people aren't like Dagny and Fransisco and Rearden. At least no people I know.


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