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[755-2] Atlas Shrugged (Part II) – Ayn Rand

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***Read in conjunction with Tina at Book Chatter***

“…if you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders—what would you tell him to do? . . . To shrug. ” (Part II, Ch.III, White Blackmail)

Part II, titled “Either-Or,” focuses on Dagny Taggart’s struggle to resolve a dilemma: either to continue her battle to save the crumbling railway network, an artery of the country’s economy, or to give it up and grant the “looters” sanction. The middle section of the novel sheds light on the new directives that, what were meant to boost economy by encouraging competition and eliminating monopoly, actually leads to the collapse of the nation’s oil industry. Following the disappearance of Wyatt who imploded his oil fields, Rearden, refusing to cede the rights to Rearden Metal to the State, is indicted for secret sales to a coal magnate, a transaction made illegal by the equal opportunity directives.

It seemed to her that some destroyer was moving soundlessly through the country and the lights were dying at his touch—someone, she thought bitterly, who have reversed the principle of the Twentieth Century motor and was now turning kinetic energy into static. (Part II, Ch.II)

Equally perplexing Dagny is the continuous disappearance of industrialists for no conceivable reason. Francisco d’Anconia, heir of the largest copper core who has turned a playboy, reveals that he has deliberately destroyed his company to harm the looters who are profiteering on his abilities. He coaxes Rearden to renounce the State by quitting. By continuing to work under such dictatorial circumstances, Rearden is granting a moral sanction to the looters, a sanction they need from him in order to compromise his rights and his mind. At his trial, Rearden is unapologetic for his success and defensive of his right to produce for his own stake. His sound reason only leaves the court speechless and panicked. But it’s Rearden’s wife Lillian, upset at his affair with Dagny, uses this as a weapon to deliver him to the State.

There had been a time he had been required to do his best and rewarded accoringly. Now he could expect nothing but punishment, if he tried to follow his conscience. There had been a time when he had been expected to think. Now they did not want him to think, only to obey. (Part II, Ch.VII, The Moratorium of Brains)

Part II sees further deterioration of the railway, punishment of Rearden’s success, and a rapid, chilling assimilation of a society in which all talents and ambition are curbed and the citizens become indistinguishable. Bussinessmen use government power to loot competitors, they gain in the short run while greater losses are spread throughout the society. The “aristocracy of pull” in the book rules through access to Washington, trading favors and back-stabbing in a destructive political competition that eventually leads to economic collapse. But the most porous damage is the death of brain—gone are reason and individual thinking. The virtues that made life possible and the values that give life meaning become agents of its destruction.

[755-1] Atlas Shrugged (Part I) – Ayn Rand

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***Read in conjunction with Tina at Book Chatter***

” Thought—he told himself quietly—is a weapon one uses in order to act . . . Thought is the tool by which one makes a choice . . . Thought sets one’s purpose and the way to reach it. ” (Part I, Chapter VII, The Exploiters and the Exploited)

Tremendous in cope and gripping in suspense, Atlas Shrugged is a philosophical novel set in dystopian People’s States of America. Titled “Non Contradiction”, Part I confronts two prominent business executives, Dagny Taggart of the Taggart Transcontinental Railway and Hank Rearden of Rearden Metal. The main story line concerns Dagny’s quest to understand the cause underlying the seemingly inexplicable collapse of her railroad and simultaneously, her search for a man who invented a motor that could not only save her railway but also benefit the nation’s economy.

What protection does society have against the arrogance, selfishness, and greed of two unbridled individualists, whose records are conspicuously devoid of any public-spirited actions? These two, apparently, are willing to stake the lives of their fellow men on their own conceited notions about their powers of judgment . . . (Part I, Chapter VIII, The John Galt Line)

Part I presents a mystery and it thickens with the increasing failure of the railway, and with the disappearance of able men like scientists, engineers, oil producer, motor manufacturer and banker. While Dagny struggles to salvage the dying branches of the crumbling system, from her brother, the president of the company, she gets a bewildering evasiveness and a vague resentment toward men of achievement. In response to the oil industry boom in Colorado, Dagny decides to replace the crumbling track with new rail made from Rearden Metal, Hank Rearden’s untested but revolutionary new alloy. Every step of the way Rearden he meets obstacle, opposition, and humiliation of his values and achievement. His lobbyist in Washington abandons him. A rival steel tycoon uses his political pull to pass laws that will crush a competing regional railroad to Colorado, and eventually cripple Rearden’s steel operation with equalization opportunity measure. This leaves the oil man Ellis Wyatt , whose oil fields fuel the whole nation, with no choice but to ship with Taggart Transcontinental, whose track is in total disrepair.

When Rearden refuses to see all rights to Rearden Metal to the State Science Institute, they retaliate with a public statement questioning the safety of the new alloy. Still, despite enormous opposition and obstacles, Dagny and Rearden complete the John Galt Line (in defiance against the widespread despair that this catch-phrase entails) and demonstrate its safety by riding in it. Their victory over adversity and irrationality is short-lived, as political pressure groups are clamoring for more dictatorial directives that punish success and productivity, in the name of public welfare.

On the surface the novel lambastes greed and exposes manipulation to one’s gain, but it lays the philosophical foundation for what is to come. All the mysteries and strange events of Atlas Shrugged proceed from a single philosophical cause, obscure at this stage, revolving reason and individual mind. To Dagny there is this mysterious force, seems purposefully bent on luring away from society its most talented people—a destroyer who is “draining the brains of the world.”

Reading Atlas Shrugged: “Selfishness”

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This much is true: the most selfish of all things is the independent mind that recognizes no authority higher than its own and no value higher than its judgment of truth. You are asked to sacrifice your intellectual integrity, your logic, your reason, your standard of truth—in favor of becoming a prostitute whose standard is the greatest good for the greatest number. (Part III, Ch. VII, “This is John Galt Speaking”)

Ayn Rand advocates for a “selfishness” that is not the same as what schools teach children to share toys and supplies. She further elaborates on this seemingly outlandish concept in another book, The Virtue of Selfishness. In popular usage, the word “selfishness” is a synonym of evil. Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word “selfishness” is: concern with one’s own interests. This concept does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one’s own interests is good or evil; nor does it tell us what constitutes man’s actual interests. It is the task of ethics to answer such questions. There is a fundamental moral difference between a man who sees his self-interest in production and a man who sees it in robbery. The evil of a robber does not lie in the fact that he pursues his own interests, but in what he regards as to his own interest; not in the fact that he pursues his values, but in what he chose to value; not in the fact that he wants to live, but in the fact that he wants to live on a subhuman level.

In the context of Atlas Shrugged, men have been taught that the ego is the synonym of evil, and selflessness the ideal of virtue. But the creator is the egoist in the absolute sense, and the selfless man is the one who does not think, feel, judge or act. These are functions of the self.

Reading Atlas Shrugged: John Galt vs. Prometheus

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John Galt is Prometheus who changed his mind. After centuries of being torn by vultures in payment for having brought men the fire of the gods, he broke his chains and he withdrew his fire—until the day men withdraw their vultures. (Part II, Chapter V)

Prometheus was the Titan god of forethought and crafty counsel who was entrusted with the task of molding mankind out of clay. His attempts to better the lives of his creation brought him into direct conflict with Zeus. Firstly he tricked the gods out of the best portion of the sacrificial feast, acquiring the meat for the feasting of man. Then, when Zeus withheld fire, he stole it from heaven and delivered it to mortal kind hidden inside a fennel-stalk. As punishment for these rebellious acts, Zeus ordered the creation of Pandora (the first woman) as a means to deliver misfortune into the house of man, or as a way to cheat mankind of the company of the good spirits. Prometheus meanwhile, was arrested and bound to a stake on Mount Kaukasos where an eagle was set to feed upon his ever-regenerating liver (or, some say, heart). Generations later the great hero Herakles came along and released the old Titan from his torture.

In Francisco’s comment, Prometheus (personified by Galt) represents the great industrialists who have provided men with prosperity and improved their lives with their inventions and products, but have received only condemnation and government interference in return. These men, led by Galt, have disappeared and taken their prosperity-generating minds (the “fire” they had provided) with them. They will no longer allow themselves to receive torture as payment for their talents, and they will only return their talents to the world when they are no longer punished for bringing them.

“Who’s John Galt?” – Atlas Shrugged Read-Along

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I kick off second half of 2015 with Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, reading in conjunction with Tina at Book Chatter. Here are the mechanics:

Runs from July 1-Aug 15, 2015
Use #AtlasRAL to talk about it on Twitter.
Tina hopes to write an update post on my blog after each part (I, II, III) just to see how we are doing.

Schedule:
Part I by July 15 (approx 300 pages)
Part II by July 31 (approx 320 pages)
Part III by August 15 (approx 450 pages)

First published in 1957, it’s a huge book with a tremendous scope. It is a dramatization of her unique vision of existence and of man’s highest potential. It explores the pursuit of profit and success against individualism. It probes the relation between faith and reason. Is self-esteem possible or are we consigned to a life of self-doubt and guilt?

I started this morning and I’m riveted at it already, despite the daunting size. The famous opening line “Who is John Galt?” is a mystery. Nobody knows where the expression comes from. The mystery of the plot certainly hinges on this bizarre question. Thank you Tina for calling the shot to read this one!

Read Along: The Tale of Genji

GenjiThat I was in the middle of the controversial Chapter 6 of The Satanic Verses barred me from starting The Tale of Genji, the latest read-along selection. I’m reading the Penguin Classics deluxe edition, translated by Royall Tyler. All references, quotes, and discussion of events henceforward would refer to this edition. I do notice there are abridged editions of this book.

From the editorial note:
Written in the eleventh century, this exquisite portrait of courtly life in medieval Japan is widely celebrated as the world’s first novel. Genji, the Shining Prince, is the son of an emperor. He is a passionate character whose tempestuous nature, family circumstances, love affairs, alliances, and shifting political fortunes form the core of this magnificent epic. Royall Tyler’s superior translation is detailed, poetic, and superbly true to the Japanese original while allowing the modern reader to appreciate it as a contemporary treasure. Supplemented with detailed notes, glossaries, character lists, and chronologies to help the reader navigate the multigenerational narrative, this comprehensive edition presents this ancient tale in the grand style that it deserves.

The Tale of Genji is divided into two separate stories. The first part of the story is about Prince Genji, the son of the emperor and a low ranking consort who dies due to her rivals’ jealousy. The second part of the story are the grandchildren of Genji and it takes place after Genji has died. At 1216 pages, the book is divided into 54 chapters, I plan to attempt 3 to 4 chapters a week. The first four chapters total about 80 pages. This easy pace hopefully will put us at the finishing line in early fall. Show a hand if you’re reading along!

Next Read-Along: The Tale of Genji

genjiAfter watching the Korean epic series Dae Jang Geum, which was based on the true story of the first female royal physician of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea, I have been intrigued by the scheming and insidious insinuations of court life. Some of you have asked if I would host another read-along and what book I would select for the project. The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu would be the next selection. I plan to peruse the most recent English translation (2001), by Royall Tyler, which tries to be very faithful to the original text. Deemed the world’s first novel, written in 11th century, The Tale of Genji is considered the pinnacle. The book, which contains a central character and a very large number of major and minor characters, delineates a sequence of events happening over a period of time covering the central character’s lifetime and beyond. It is known for its internal consistency, psychological depiction, and characterization. That the work does not make use of a plot; instead, much as in real life, events just happen and characters evolve simply by growing older, is reminiscent of the 16th century Chinese classics The Dream of the Red Chamber. Each of the 54 chapters may be read as an individual story. I am contemplating a very easy pace of just reading two chapters a week starting in June.

Would you like to spend the summer in Japan?

bunny

Notes on Gone with the Wind (4)

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

gonewind1I won’t comment on anything that is beyond this week’s mark, page 616. So far I still cannot say I cotton up to Scarlett, who although has helped her family survive Civil War, is quite a capricious personality. To the eyes of people she makes money in a very unladylike, unsavory manner and therefore she meets cold shoulders everywhere she goes. Out of monetary convenience she marries Frank Kennedy who would help pay taxes for Tara and buy the sawmill. I give her credit for being so engrossed with the job of making Tata produce

What about Melanie? She doesn’t do much nor does she complain about the troubles of the war. In a way, Melanie is able both to appreciate the pragmatism of Scarlett O’Hara in the wake of the war and to appreciate the tenuous, absolutist hold her husband, Ashley Wilkes, keeps on the South’s chivalric code of honor. Part Four is a transition in regard to shedding light on the Ashley Wilkes that Scarlett does not know before.

‘It’s a curse—this not wanting to look on naked realities. Until the war, life was never more real to me than a shadow show on a curtain. And I preferred it so. I do not like the outlines of things to be too sharp. I like them gently blurred, a little hazy.’ [497]

‘I had sheltered myself from people all my life, I had carefully selected my few friends. But the war taught me I had created a world of my own with dream people in it. I taught me what people really are, but it didn’t teach me how to live with them. And I’m afraid I’ll never learn.’ [498]

‘My little inner world was gone, invaded by people whose thoughts were not my thoughts, whose actions were as alien as a Hottentot’s. They’d tramped through my world with slimy feet and there was no place left where I could take refuge when things became too bad to stand.’ [499]

I would not go as far to call Ashley Wilkes a coward. Ashley Wilkes is the foil to Rhett’s dark, realistic opportunism. He might live in a wrong time in which his talents and predilection don’t do him any good: he excels at hunting and riding, takes pleasure in the arts. Scarlett’s idealization of Ashley slowly fades as time goes on, after the end of Civil War, that she has outdone most the men in bravery and effort to sustain and subsist, she finally realizes that the Ashley she loves is not a real man but a man embellished and adorned by her imagination.

Whereas Rhett and Scarlett survive by sacrificing their commitment to tradition, Ashley cannot or will not allow himself to thrive in a changed society. He sinks even lower as he sacrifices his honor—the only thing he still values in himself—by accepting charity from Scarlett in the form of a share in her mill.

Notes on Gone with the Wind (3)

gonewind1War has ravaged the south and edged closer to Atlanta. After Atlanta has fallen, Scarlett harbors the hope that she will return to Tara to be with her parents were it not for the fact that Melanie, whom Ashley has entrusted to her care, is pregnant. meanwhile, the headbutting exchanges between Rhett Butler and Scarlett continue to entertain me. Her contradictory emotions, dictated by her pride, are the momentum of her wrestle with Rhett. He loves her being headstrong and independent, but she hates been seen through:

Scarlett was silent, embarrassed, for Melanie’s condition was not a subject she could discuss with a man. She was embarrassed, too, that Rhett should know it was dangerous for Melanie. Such knowledge sat ill upon a bachelor.
‘It’s quite ungallant of you not to think that I might get hurt, too,” she said tartly.
His eyes flickered with amusement.
‘I’d back you against the Yankees any day.’
‘I’m not sure that that’s a compliment,’ she said uncertainly.
‘It isn’t,’ he answered. ‘When will you stop looking for compliments in men’s lightest utterances?’
‘When I’m on my deathbed,’ she replied and smiled, thinking that there would always be men to compliment her, even if Rhett never did
‘Vanity, vanity,’ he said. ‘At least, you are frank about it.’ [325]

She might be snapping at Rhett but she is testing the water to see how far she can go and secretly entertains that this is what Rhett likes about her.

‘No? But then you lack the impersonal viewpoint. My impression has been for some time past that you could hardly endure Mrs. Wilkes [Melanie]. You think her silly and stupid and her patriotic notions bore you. You seldom pass by the opportunity to slip in some belittling remark about her, so naturally it seems strange to me that you should elect to do the unselfish thing and stay here with her during this shelling. Now, just why did you do it?’
‘Because she’s Charlie’s sister—and like a sister to me,’ answered Scarlett with as much dignity as possible though her cheeks were growing hot.
‘You mean because she’s Ashley Wilkes’ widow.’
Scarlett rose quickly, struggling with her anger. [325]

Secretly and desperately she longs for the note in man’s voices that presages a declaration of love. But that heightening anticipation never delivers because Rhett Butler would fling at her a sarcastic remark that annihilates the softening dynamics. Not to mention she will flare up and remember that awful humiliation of the day he witnessed her slapping Ashley.

War might have transformed Scarlett, or she is forced to conform to the cruel reality of sustaining not only her life but everyone who is dependent on her. Forgotten are all the luxuries and beaus who might pay courtship to the self-centered Scarlett. The true testimony of her “metamorphosis” comes when, at wit’s end and that the doctor has his hand full attending to wounded soldiers, that she and the salve girl Prissy are to deliver Melanie’s baby.

Although she finds grief in returning to Tara, it dawns on her that Tara is her fate, her fight, and she must conquer the battle. Until now, Scarlett has never occurred to me as heroic, although she is the heroine of the novel.

What was past was past. Those who were dead were dead. The lazy luxury of the old days was gone, never to return. And, as sarlett settled the heavy basket across her arm, she had settled her own mind and her own life. [407]

“They were all afraid of her sharp tongue, all afraid of the new person who walked in her body.” [411]

Recap:
Notes on Gone with the Wind, Part 1
Notes on Gone with the Wind, Part 2

Further Reading, Who’s Also reading GWTW:
Book Bath: Week 1
Kiss a Cloud: Gone with the Wind, Part 1
Kiss a Cloud: Gone with the Wind, Part 2
Life is a Patchwork Quilt: Gone with the Wind, Part 1
Life is a Patchwork Quilt: Gone with the Wind, Part 2
You’ve Gotta Read This: Gone with the Wind, Week 1
You’ve Gotta Read This: Gone with the Wind, Week 2

Please leave me a link to your posts on the novel. Don’t worry about falling behind in reading. I want you to enjoy what you’re reading.

Notes on Gone with the Wind (2)

gonewind1Rhett both infuriate and beguile Scarlett. The more their dramatic interaction advances, the more it reminds me of Pride and Prejudice. Rhett Butler, who ships in goods by boat and is rumored to be estranged by his family in Charleston, is rashly designated a speculator. Like Darcy, the community has adopted a negative impression of Rhett Butler and sharpens into a particular resentment.

“So Rhett consorted with that vile Watling creature [a prostitute] and gave her money. That was where the contribution to the hospital came from. Blockade gold. And to think that Rhett would have the gall to look a decent woman in the face after being with that creature! And to think that she could have believed he was in love with her!” [247]

Scarlett still bears the hope to be with Ashley even he has been married to Melanie for two years. When Ashley comes home for Christmas in 1863, Scarlett becomes acutely aware of the privileges Melanie holds as his wife. The day Ashley leaves, Scarlett again reveals her feelings to him, hoping Ashley will break down and allow himself to reveal he loves her, too.

But one cannot deny Scarlett’s slight longing for Rhett Butler’s courtship. She secretly reflects that it would be so exciting to have Butler in love with her and admitting it and begging for a kiss or a smile. As to why he hasn’t made any further advances, Butler is waiting for her to grow up a little more—waiting for her memory of Ashley Wilkes to fade. Meanwhile I find their headbutting exchanges very entertaining, paving the way for their ultimate recognition of love.

“Indeed!” she cried, taken aback and now determined that he should take some liberty. “I don’t even intend to kiss you either.”
“Then why is your mouth all pursed up in that ridiculous way?””Oh!” she cried as she caught a glimpse of herself and saw that her red lips were indeed in the proper pose for a kiss. “Oh!” she cried again, losing her temper and stamping her foot. “You are the horridest man I have ever seen and I don’t care if I never lay eyes on you again.” [243]

The novel is set against the Civil War, but I’m not completely convinced young Scarlett, an eighteen year old, could have dealt with death, marriage, fire and war like she has demonstrated with dignity and calm. Maybe Margaret Mitchell wants to portray a Scarlett who always remains a child at heart. When the novel begins, she resents serious matters such as sickness or war, merely seeing them as impediments to having fun. Even when she grows more accepting of life’s practicalities, Scarlett insists on being the center of attention.