Atlas Shrugged: Part One: Chapter Nine: The Sacred and the Profane


Chapter IX: The Sacred and the Profane

Pages: 253 – 291

Summary: The chapter opens with Dagny and Hank giving speeches to each other.  Dagny refuses to tell Hank about her past lovers, but Hank, overcome by his primal Rearden Metal-like urges, eventually has sex with Dagny.  But Dagny avoided her true Objectivist mission, since she neglected to charge Hank any fee for their coitus.  If only she could be the virtuous hero like Bunny Lebowski.

Meanwhile, perpetual sad sack James Taggart wanders into a dime store and is forced to talk to people.  A salesgirl named Cherryl Brooks talks with James, ebullient about the success of the John Galt Line.  Cherryl, inspired by the recent events, tells James her life story.  She left her small town, filled with depressed do-nothings, and headed to the Big City for adventure and excitement.  James, not really listening, uses her presence as an excuse to whinge on endlessly about how nothing means anything and that happiness is immoral.  It turns out that Dr. Simon Pritchett asserted this philosophy in his book, The Metaphysical Contradictions of the Universe. It’s exhausting.

In another scene, Mr. Mowen and an unnamed worker have a conversation involving the Equalization of Opportunity Bill.  Companies are leaving the East Coast and heading to Colorado, a state possessing a “primitive government” characterized by having only a police force and law courts.  (Very subtle, Miss Rand, tell us how you really feel.)  He complains about how companies fail to show any loyalty to the states they are in.  (Is this guy for real?  Well, this is before NAFTA, off-shoring, out-sourcing, and downsizing.)

Back in New York, Dagny contemplates the loss of her John Galt Line to Taggart Transcontinental, due to an agreement James made her sign.  Rearden, the metallic Nordic superhero industrialist awesome guy, remains unmoved, even amidst handing over bits of his industrial empire to incompetent looter doofs.

Dagny and Hank eventually go on vacation, wanting to escape the daily drudgeries of corporate life.  They eventually wind up in the backwoods of Wisconsin.  Dagny is horrified at the sight of a pregnant woman and a failed economy based on the barter system.  The chapter ends with the pair discovering an abandoned factory belonging to Twentieth Century Motor Company.  The company appears like it had been … wait for it … looted.  (Oh noes!)  Upon closer inspection, Dagny finds engineering plans for a motor based on static electricity.  All they need to do is find the inventor of this miracle motor.

Hello Wisconsin!

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have ourselves a Quest Narrative!

[addressing the complaints about the “improper” libretto for “Figaro”]
Mozart: Come on now, be honest! Which one of you wouldn’t rather listen to his hairdresser than Hercules? Or Horatius, or Orpheus… people so lofty they sound as if they shit marble!

Amadeus (Milos Forman, 1984)

Observations: There’s a lot of marble-shitting in this chapter.  Lofty speech followed by lofty speech (and the occasional bit of Objectivist rough sex).  The book could have possessed a campy quality if it weren’t so damn slow.  At times, it reads like a parody of anti-communist literature.  Unfortunately, the tedious speechifying and glacial pacing kill the camp quality outright.  Maybe it’s just me, but I’d think a faster paced plot would put fewer readers to sleep.  Then again, maybe one has to be an Objectivist fanatic to find an ounce of excitement in this gray prose.

That does not mean that the content is unworthy.  Unfortunately, Rand stacks the deck is such an irritatingly obvious way, it robs the credibility of her arguments.  The reader can only see her bias, not her arguments.  The superior genius of the protagonists and the evil machinations of the enemies end up making the book dull.  No one has any depth.  Hank Rearden’s tortured-ness functions as nothing more than a pretentious contrivance.  He’s tortured, but he possesses no personality, no interior consciousness, and no inner conflict.  His philandering just comes across as comical.  Hell, the Inanimate Carbon Rod from the Simpsons had more characterization and depth.

Atlas Shrugged is worse than Plan 9 from Outer SpacePlan 9 has its own demented genius.  It is too much of a cinematic fiasco to take your eyes off it.  Poorly edited, acted, written, and directed?  Definitely.  However, the film is not boring.  Atlas Shrugged is the literary equivalent of Manos: Hands of Fate. Matt and I will do our best to act like Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot, since the book is incredibly long and boring.

Torgo: This … book … is really … boring.

Did this book even have an editor?  It probably did, but Ayn, the authoritarian at heart, would have ratted out the uppity editor to the HUAC for being a Leftist.  The editor at the publishing house deserves an equal share of scorn and derision for green lighting this literary abomination on the public.  There is a decent story, full of romance and adventure, buried beneath tons and tons of pretentious speeches delivered by cardboard cutouts masquerading as characters.  The premise of Atlas Shrugged might have worked for a three hundred-page book.  It fails completely as a thousand-page doorstopper.  Page count does not equal profundity.  Not unless you’re William T. Vollmann or Norman Mailer.

Objectivist Hadith:

  • “When he threw her down on the bed, their bodies met like the two sounds that broke against each other in the air of the room: the sound of his tortured moan and of her laughter.”
  • “Somebody with a vision to see beyond his own pocketbook.”
  • “There are no absolutes – as Dr. Pritchett has proved irrefutably.  Nothing is absolute.  Everything is a matter of opinion.  How do you know that bridge hasn’t collapsed.  You only think it hasn’t.”  (Sounds like Ken Ham attempting to disprove evolution, cuz fossils and Carbon-14 dating are, like, opinion and junk.)
  • “Uncoiling from the curves of Wisconsin’s hills, the highway was the only evidence of human labor, a precarious bridge stretched across a sea of brush, weeds and trees.”
  • “An old woman came shuffling out at the sound of the motor.  She was bent and swollen, barefooted, dressed in a garment of flour sacking.  She looked at the car without astonishment, without curiosity; it was the blank stare of a being who had lost the capacity to feel anything but exhaustion.”  (I think I see the perfect candidate for Vice President!)
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