In which rather a lot happens in a very short space of time...
In this post I want to talk about two things. There are many other things to talk about, but in order to stop myself from becoming too derailed I shall stick to two.
1) Roark and Dominique-what the hell is that all about?
2) Ellsworth Toohey-what a dickhead.
After the heart pounding lust fest that was Dominique and Roark's first encounter in the granite quarry/next to the marble fireplace, I was jumping up and down in excitement over the drinks party meeting-mostly at the Howard Roark-in-a-tux thing (fictional, Jess, fictional) but also cos I had this vision of eyes meet across crowed room full of insufferable boors 1940s black and white film noir style. And I was not disappointed. Although it all did turn a little 'What a swell party this is' with the New Yorkers trying to out-knob each other (it's a good job I don't get invited to that sort of party any more it really is) whilst Roark and Dominique are smouldering was really thrilling and well done.
When Dominique turns up at his flat and does the whole 'I want you' thing- snarf snarf. See, that could never ever ever happen in my life because I Have Self Respect, apparently, and according to The Law Of Now, turning up at a man you fancies house and being straight with him makes you some sort of pariah. In Rand world, being honest about how someone makes you feel, instead of making you look ridiculous, gets you laid. I'm starting to like Rand world.
I also love love love how honest they are with each other. Or at least how honest Dominique is with Roark, Roark doesn't really say that much apart from "Take Your Clothes Off" *le sigh*.
I'm not going to even pretend that I understand the dynamics of the relationship, but I'm fascinated by it. "I fancy you, but I hate you, and I want to sleep with you, but I also want to destroy you" I understand, but Dominique becomes almost possessed by her obsession for Roark. Don't get me wrong, I've been there, but only in an unrequited tiniest-violin-in-the-world way. To have someone on your mind that much and for them to want you back. Fuck me, that sounds like something I could be interested in. Oh yeah, it's fictional. Once again, the world spits on my dreams.
What a complete and utter knobend this man is. Apparently he's a 'socialist'. Now, I've met socialists like him before, usually talking at me at some lefty do. I cannot stand to be talked at ever, especially by self-promoting bell ends like Toohey, that use their natural gift for leadership and oratory skills to bend people to their will. You don't bring about equality by being famous, and making no sense, and talking long windedly about nothing at all, you bring about equality by opening up information access and education systems so that people may research themselves about the oppressions others experience, and form their own conclusions.
His childhood did not surprise me one iota, and props to Rand for creating a complete character. What is sad is that I recognise the 'Voice' of the lefty movement in so many modern 'Voices' that apparently represent me and my generation/viewpoint. There are a few people I now want to shout 'Toohey!' at, and might start to do so. It is good, as a lefty, to read books like this that caricature our leaders and our movement so we may learn how the world sees us, and how we can change.
As I leave them, Ellsworth has just manipulated a Decent Sort into giving Roark a commission, on some sort of vendetta of his own against Dominique, Keating has disappeared in a floundering pool of self love and Roark is gradually making his way- though would obviously be disgusted to see creating buildings as a 'way'- in the architectural world.
Apologise in advance for ranty incoherent nature...
Oooo Dominique Francon. I kind of love Rand for creating such a lovely set up, you think the book's all about a couple of men's lives, one who follows the rules one who is morally obliged to break them, then suddenly she turns it all on it's head with the introduction of a single character.
As you may have gathered, I'm not that into Dominique. I have very little sympathy with the 'spoilt-little-rich-girl' type in general, and less still when their so bloody clever, manipulative, brutish and cruel. Don't tell me Dominique doesn't know exactly what she is doing to Peter Keating (who's anti-hero status I am getting shivers over it's so Shakespearean). She's a cow, I would have spotted her for what she was and hated her on sight in real life.
The first chapter of Part II ( Ellsworth M. Toohey, who reminds me a bit of some of the political "maverick" intellectual types my Dad used to hang around with in the late eighties/ early nineties Labour Party stage. Bit of a bastard, and far too clever for his own good. In fact everyone in the book, except for Roark, is so up themselves they're licking their spleens. Its like what I would imagine some New Left parties are like after a rather successful 'promotest' these days. No you're so clever, no you're so clever, no you are, no no you are OH SHUT UP).
The first chapter of Part II. Oh the first chapter of Part II. After what has been quite a sexless book, the first chapter of Part II Blew Me Away. Damn Rand can write lust, can't she. Every single metaphor was there, from the ridiculously phallic drilling into granite, to the sensual placing of hands on rock, to the rather pathetic site of Dominique trying to crack open her marble fireplace which Roark smashes through...the contrast between the delicate Dominique and the grrrr Man Roark; have to confess I read this alone, in bed on a Saturday night and yes I did have to watch Disney's Enchanted/have a cold shower afterwards as was having a bit of a middle-aged-lady flustered moment which for woman of 26 was rather pathetic.
Now. The actual sex thing upset me, but only afterwards. During it was all snarff snarff but then thinking on he raped her. And this obviously instantly regrades him to the level of Bastard...but...this is when my feminist head and my stupid head start to split in two in the form of a hydra and begin to try to kill each other off. My feminist head now hates Roark, my stupid head fancies him even more. This is rubbish and sucky, but also the mark of a very good book in that it makes you think. And I love thinking.
And now we're back in New York, and Keating is Golden Boy 2.0, Catherine is still being remarkable blah, and Ellsworth is beginning to become even more unlikeably smug. Roark has just designed something that is dividing the city and its all a bit exciting, really. I still hate Dominique but, and this is when my stupid head starts talking, maybe she just needed a good shag?
Right, I'm now going to flagellate myself for even thinking that. Bad feminist. No points for you. Fish/bicycles etc etc grrrrr.
I cannot tell you how excited I am to be able to include this poem (and tomorrows!) on the blog.
Almost the day I started tweeting as LeedsBookClub, I was fortunate enough to become friends with Alice Shapiro (@CrackedPoems). Born in Georgia, USA, she is an accomplished poet, playwright and author. Mostly though, she’s really funny!
I let her know about my little Lenten project, and dropped some very subtle hints about how wonderful it would be to include a piece of her work. She managed to read between the lines and was generous enough to volunteer not one, but two poems.
Please find below a poem by Alice Shapiro, to be released in a new collection later this year (once I have details, I will post them).
A deeply personal choice, this poem is on the mass card for my grandmother. It perfectly captures how I feel about her. With every poem I’ve read in the last six weeks, I’ve been reminded constantly that ‘we read to know we are not alone’.
2) Do Not Shout At This Book After Reading This Book Whilst Pissed. It Is A Book. The Characters Cannot Hear You. They Are Fictional.
So yeah, Dominique's a cow-bag, isn't she? "Oh I'm going to make no fucking sense, I'm going to lead you round and round in ridiculous circles whilst crossing and uncrossing my perfect skinny ass legs, I'm going to drop priceless artifacts that some poor sod probably gave his LIFE rescuing from obscurity because I can. Worship me here." Knobber.
Also, Catherine, strap on a fucking pair already. Strong female characters my business class sized ass.
Not knowing that much about Ayn Rand apart from what I could find through google/wikipedia (no librarian points for Jess), I was surprised how much I found to empathise with in her introduction to The Fountainhead, written 25 years after its publication. One particular sentence stood out for me; when she is despondent about the failure to get published her husband convinces her
'one cannot give up the world to those one despises'.
Now I'm sure those that myself and Rand despise would be very different (though as an idealist, I know that people are a product of their social conditioning, no one is really 'bad' and that to despise someone for their political views makes no sense when you can educate and illuminate them into changing them), but the passion with which she conveys her opinion is something I can identify with respecting.
The book opens with possibly the most off putting first paragraphs I've ever read. I had to re-read it several times to understand, and then I realised something; I was reading it too quickly. Instead of reading this book like a fast-paced feminist tract, like I did with The Golden Notebook, for example, I have to let the language wash over me, wallow in it. Because you can say what you like about the content, this is a beautifully written book, so far at least.
Roark and Keating, two apparent opposites, both leave Stanton Institute of Technology; Roark as a dismissed maverick, Keating as a graduating Golden Boy. Both wind up in New York City, both working in architecture.
Keating is everything you're 'supposed' to be. He pushes himself to be in with the most important people, or at least those his capitalistic world view deems as important. Deep down Keating hates himself, he recognises what he is; a smarmy little Yes-Man, who will do anything to get to where he wants to be. The product of a pushy mother (my inner feminist is screaming 'he's living her life for her, she was denied this life by token of her gender and class'), Keating uses people, including(is naive the right word? More hero-worshippingly thick)Catherine, the niece of the great art critic Ellsworth Toohey (great name!).
Keating however still relies heavily on the talents of Roark. At the start of the book, I though Roark perhaps a little emotionally unintelligent, however, he isn't he is just one of those people who is 'right'. Because he is 'right' he will not do things he considers 'wrong', no matter how much this leads him away from the line of what you're 'supposed' to do. He ends up renting a room with no roof, for example, rather than work for a firm who produces work he does not agree with.
Keating is more socially powerful that Roark, in so much as he has the power to get him a job with the firm of Francon and Hayer (Francon! How much to I hate Francon! What a knob!) but Keating also relies of Roark's creativity (though I'm sure he'd hate it to be described as such) as he has so very little of his own.
Initial thoughts- love it. It's really well written and apart from the first paragraph (I wonder how many other people that has put off) easy to read. I hate Keating, but also feel very sorry for him. Roark I kind of love in the same way I loved Henry in The Secret History-he would annoy the shit out of me in real life but as a character is fascinating. I also identify with his principles-before-personal-gain philosophy as its one I try to live my life by (without that much success to be fair, but still...).
Catherine is a bit of a tit, but the rest of the cast of characters represent nearly every part of human nature going. I especially loved the relationship between Roark and Cameron, the renegade architect who ends up employing Roark. Considering I've only read 100 pages Rand has managed a complete story, and I'm really looking forward to continuing.
I also love her constant crapping on classical architecture. Now I love my flouncy tat, marble/plaster cherubs etc but sometimes it is all a bit too much. The Parthenon as a metaphor for all that is staid and unexciting is a very brave, but well executed move. To say that I know nothing at all about the history of architecture or building, I'm following it all quite well. I think.
Parts are also hilariously funny. When Roark applies for the job looking for something 'new' and 'new' means a grain silo crossed with the Parthenon I did do a little chuckle, and the fact I got that made me feel all intellectual, which made me do an even bigger chuckle cos I'm not.
I'm also spending a lot of time going 'Mad Men! Mad Men!', (of which I have seen one season, but thought marvellous) especially comparing Keating to Pete Campbell. Talks on twitter with Mad Men geeks have revealed that they used Rand as an influence a lot in making the show. Again, my figuring this out all by my self made me do a little smile.
As I left them, Keating is now a high-up in Francon's office, and Roark is unemployed. This seemed a natural place to pause. I shall carry on this evening. Tally ho!
I realise by writing this I am loose all claims to credibility/many many feminist point, but hey, it’s the truth how I live it baby…
What's good enough for Bennet is good enough for me...
Now that being geeky is ‘cool’ and ‘hip’, librarian chic is a actual fad talked about on Glee, and reading not only is sexy, but promoted on television by actual celebrities rather than aged nun-types mouldering away in some dark recess of the Bodleian somewhere wanking over F Scott Fitzgerald and sobbing, the phrase ‘so what books are you into’ has officially become a bit of a Line.
Unfortunately, booky types are usually for the most part atrocious at starting conversations. Approaching strangers is permanently uncool and only to be tried if you’re into really arty nonsense style books; squealing ‘ooo I lurved the new Shardlake!’ isn’t going to get you anywhere. Trust me.
However, as The Best Website In The World ‘Hot Guys Reading Books’(click on title link) demonstrates admirably, there is literally nothing sexier than a fittie reading (apart from a fittie eating a fried breakfast but that’s an over share of a fetish we are not going into…).
So. You need to be reading, in public (quiet pubs are best, though bus stops/beaches/park benches/doctors waiting rooms work just as well), looking fabulous obviously (because this is a quick flirt we’re looking for here, guys). With a snare. The snare is the book that makes the Other go ‘oooo’ and look at your fabulousness in a whole new light. The book must draw them in, either through common ground or remembrance. It also must attract the right sort. Reading Andy McNab’s Slaughterthon War Fests ain’t gonna bring the most sensitive of sorts to your yard, lets be honest.
Hunter S Thompson obviously works a treat, but (draws breath) Hunter S Thompson is done. As is Jack Kerouac/William Burroughs/Bret Easton Ellis/Aldous Huxley. Not that these aren’t all amazing writers I could talk about for days, but seriously, if I have to have another semi flirtatious conversation about Naked Lunch and what it all means I’m going to Eat My Own Hand.
No no no they need to be books that they remember, books that take them back, books that lead on to bigger conversations rather than going round and round in circles about times you didn’t participate in, just read about afterwards.
The Phantom Tollbooth is a great one. Written by Norton Juster in 1961, this is the Alice of Wonderland of Maths. If you haven’t already, find a copy and prepare to laugh your trousers off as you follow Milo (hideous child) to Dictionopolis, and the Kingdom of Wisdom. The fight between numbers and letters that Milo finds himself stuck in the middle of is hilarious, but also educational. This is also a classic book that not many people still have copies of and so you’re owning of it leads nicely to the whole ‘I remember that as a kid’, ‘well you can borrow it if you like’… conversation.
Another nice trick is The One That They Haven’t Read Yet. Everyone loves George Orwell, right? Well have you read ‘A Clergyman’s Daughter’? No? Well, you should, because it is excellent, but more to the point neither will they…
Or you could try The Battered Old Copy which just happens to fall apart, where upon you bring out the magic tape from your bag, the premise being that anyone who has sticky back plastic in their bag is bound to be interesting. Or ‘This is Your Brain On Music’ by Daniel Levitin, which is just really cool. Or anything that’s really old looking. Or anything by a former member of a 90s rock band. Or anything that makes you laugh out loud.
In fact, you should just read more in public really, sod pulling, who needs a partner anyway. Reading makes you far far more interesting and wonderful than everybody else anyway and if they’re not falling at your feet in droves then, hey, at least you know I think you rock.
Heart, fear nothing, for, heart, thou shalt find her—
Next time, herself!—not the trouble behind her
Left in the curtain, the couch’s perfume!
As she brushed it, the cornice-wreath blossomed anew;
Yon looking-glass gleamed at the wave of her feather.
Yet as the day wears,
And door succeeds door;
I try the fresh fortune—
Range the wide house from the wing to the centre.
Still the same chance! she goes out as I enter.
Spend my whole day in the quest,—who cares?
But ‘tis twilight, you see,—with such suites to explore,
Such closets to search, such alcoves to importune!
Friday Lent Poem 38
I give you now Professor Twist,
A conscientious scientist.
Trustees exclaimed, “He never bungles!”
And sent him off to distant jungles.
Camped on a tropic riverside,
One day he missed his loving bride.
She had, the guide informed him later
Been eaten by an alligator.
Profesor Twist could not but smile.
“You mean,” he said, “a crocodile.”
Thursday Lent Poem 37
The Frog Song Stevie Smith 1966
I am a frog
I live under a spell
I live at the bottom
Of a green well
And here I must wait
Until a maiden places me
On her royal pillow
And kisses me
In her father’s palace
The story is familiar
Everybody knows it well
But do other enchanted people feel as nervous
As I do? The stories do not tell,
Ask if they will be happier
When the changes come
As already they are fairly happy
In a frog’s doom?
I have been a frog now
For a hundred years
And in all this time
I have not shed many tears,
I am happy, I like the life,
Can swim for many a mile
(When I have hopped to the river)
And am for ever agile.
And the quietness,
Yes, I like to be quiet
I am habituated
To a quiet life,
But always when I think these thoughts
As I sit in my well
Another thought comes to me and says:
It is part of the spell
To be happy
To work up contentment
To make much of being a frog
To fear disenchantment
Says, It will be heavenly
To be so free,
Cries Heavenly the girl who disenchants
And the royal times, heavenly,
And I think it will be.
Come then, royal girl and royal times,
I can be happy until you come
But I cannot be heavenly,
Only disenchanted people
Can be heavenly.
Wednesday Lent Poem 36
The Siren Song Margaret Atwood 1965-1975
This is the one song everyone
would like to learn: the song
that is irresistible:
the song that forces men
to leap overboard in squadrons
even though they see beached skulls
the song nobody knows
because anyone who had heard it
is dead, and the others can’t remember.
Shall I tell you the secret
and if I do, will you get me
out of this bird suit?
I don’t enjoy it here
squatting on this island
looking picturesque and mythical
with these two feathery maniacs,
I don’t enjoy singing
this trio, fatal and valuable.
I will tell the secret to you,
to you, only to you.
Come closer. This song
is a cry for help: Help me!
Only you, only you can,
you are unique
at last. Alas
it is a boring song
but it works every time.
A huge fan of her novels - particularly The Robber Bride, Cat's Eye and Alias Grace - this was my first Margaret Atwood poem. I love the simplicity of the language, and the unexpected bite at the conclusion!