Atlas Summer: Part III: Chapter IV: Anti-Life

Atlas Summer: Part III: Chapter IV: Anti-Life

Chapter Four: Ayn Rand and Edward Albee have a boring, long-winded baby.

Summary: Chapter Four finds the unfortunate reader thrust back into the unpleasant company of James Taggart.  He presides over a grim collection of government cutthroats and foreign dignitaries all celebrating the impeding nationalization of D’aconia Copper by the soon-to-be People’s State of Argentina.  This move will somehow give Taggart unprecedented power and wealth, even though the world economy is collapsing.  Of course, none of this makes poor Jimmy happy, because he’s a joyless sack of failure.  We also learn that, even though he’s obscenely rich, he’s not the right KIND of rich for Rand: it doesn’t really love money, after all.  He’s driven by self-loathing and resentment of his betters, nothing more. Back at home, James is confronted by his closet-Randian wife Cherryl, who is in the painful process of realizing that all the things she admired about Taggart and Taggart Transcontinental were the work of Dagny, and that James is a resentful, whiny freeloader.  They fight, she apologizes to Dagny for cursing her out at the wedding and has a sister-to-sister-in-law chat about the virtues of selfish love, and to top it all off, she comes home to find James in bed with Lillian Taggart!  They fight again, James smacks her in the mouth, and Cherryl flees into the night. After a painful trek through the ruins of New York City, finding herself alone and trapped in a world run by vampires, where achievement and talent will be crushed and exploited, Cherryl ends the chapter by fleeing from the “altruistic” hectoring of a social worker into the welcoming embrace of the (East?) river.

Don’t do it, Cherryl! There’s a Gulch! A Gulch!

Observations: In case you were somehow craving further explications of Rand’s theory of love, this chapter is lousy with ’em.  It’s interesting, because while some (okay, most) of Rand’s arguments are self-refuting (art can only be appreciated by the artist, essentially), others are just empty.  For example, in this section, Rand rails endlessly against then notion of loving people for no reason.  She’s arguing against Jim’s assertion that “love is it’s own cause.”  But every single person who has ever been in love fell in love for a reason. And they know what it is! And relationships end when people stop providing the “reason” for that love to each other.  Seriously, who goes around demanding to be loved, but not due to any attributes of their own?  Can we explain Rand’s psychotic egotism as the product of a traumatic childhood spent around needy, talentless assholes?  That’s that most charitable theory I can come up with.

Quotes: “‘This is not an old-fashioned grab for private profit.  It’s a deal with a mission–a worthy, public-spirited mission–to manage the nationalized properties of the various People’s States of South America, to teach their workers our modern techniques of production, to help the underprivileged who’ve never had a chance to–‘”  –James Taggart.  Okay, we have to settle this once and for all: does Rand condemn altruism in this book, or is she arguing that altruism doesn’t exist, and is simply a way for the dull masses to exploit the brilliance of the elite?  Does she not realize that these are separate propositions?  Is she fundamentally incapable of visualizing a truly selfless act, and therefore fails to credit the existence of said?  Sadly, this question will remained unanswered.

“Knowledge did not seem to bring her a clearer vision of Jim’s world, but to make the mystery greater.  She could not believe that she was supposed to feel respect for the dreary senselessness of the art shows which his friends attended, of the novels they read, of the political magazines they discussed–the art shows, where she saw the kind of drawings she had seen chalked on any pavement of her childhood’s slums–the novels, that purported to prove the futility of science, industry, civilization and love, using language that her father would not have used in his drunkenest moments–the magazines, that propounded to cowardly generalities, less clear and more stale than the sermons for which she had condemned the preacher of the slum mission as a mealy-mouthed old fraud.  She could not believe that these things were the culture she had so reverently looked up to and so eagerly waited to discover.  She felt as if she had climbed a mountain toward a jagged shape that had looked like a castle and had found it to be the crumbling ruin of a gutted warehouse.”   Concise as always, Ayn.  And “dreary senselessness” is the best description for this book I’ve yet come across.

“‘I know that it was you who ran Taggart Transcontinental.  It was you who built the John Galt Line.  It was you who had the mind and the courage that kept all of it alive.  I suppose you thought that I married Jim for his money–as what shopgirl wouldn’t have?  But, you see, I married Jim because I…I thought that he was you. I thought that he was Taggart Transcontinental!  Now I know that he’s…some sort of vicious moocher, though I can’t understand of what kind or why.  When I spoke to you at my wedding, I thought that I was defending greatness and attacking its enemy…but it was in reverse…it was in such horrible, unbelievable reverse!…So I wanted to tell you that I know the truth…not so much for your sake, I have no right to presume that you’d care, but…but for the sake of the things I loved.” –Cherryl Taggart.  And “Atlas Shrugged” skirts with the only thing that could make it even crudely interesting at this point: lesbianism.

Don’t fight it, Cherryl!

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