Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Atlas Hugged

I tried. To read Atlas Shrugged. But I failed.
I feel bad when things like this happen. It was the same kind of thing with Gone with the Wind ... except I was able to finish it. Around about p. 178 of Atlas Shrugged I started feeling bad, the way I'd felt at the end of GWTW, so I decided that Atlas wasn’t the only one needing a shrug. (And he didn't seem like anyone who cared much for hugs.)
The bad feeling comes from the fact that my reaction to these books was deep and visceral. Simply stated, I despised them. But millions of other people have not only read them with enjoyment, but have been inspired by them! Why did I have such a bad reaction to them? For some unexplored reason I feel compelled to try to convince myself that my reaction to these books is not completely without reason. This is probably an exercise in all manner of folly. But, as this happens to be my area of expertise, off we sail.

Okay, I tell myself, the thing about GWTW is that at the center of the love triangle--after you’ve busted the corsets and ripped off the green velvet ball gown that used to be a curtain--is a heart that beats with faith in the intractable inferiority of negroes and in their inherent, inherited, and eternal place as servile retainers maintaining the whims of whitey. If nothing else endures, says GWTW, that will. The wind can blow down Tara and Atlanta and the Twin Towers of Babylon, but ain't nothing gonna alter neither the place nor the destiny of the negro. Thus saith Margaret Mitchell.

So, okay, it's a relief to be able to provide myself with the reasonable understanding that GWTW is in fact the expression of a racist world-view wrapped up in a costume romance. Got that, y'all?  

I will grant that it is readable. It has characters that are drawn from life. The clashing personalities of Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler spark enough pages to keep you chasing the conflagration until it smokes out.

But by the time I got to p. 178 of Atlas Shrugged, I decided that "Ayn Rand," the woman pictured on the jacket, was a stand-in for the true author, who was actually a gifted child (such as myself) with, on the one hand, an exalted sense of self-importance and, on the other hand, a pronounced persecution complex. And both of the hands were tightly wrapped around my very own neck in an effort to throttle out of me the suspicion that this story would've been better rendered as a battle between two dolls, one named Me and the other named All You Pitiful Peon-Wuss-Lamer-Idiots Who Don't Think I'm A Genius. Bam! Bam! Bam! Me wins!

It was difficult, by I managed to prise myself loose from the novel's grip to explore my suspicions as to the true nature of "Ayn Rand," and I determined that she was an architect and railroad builder of such accomplishment that she only existed in her own imagination in a world of her own devising in which she did everything all by herself and everyone thought she was wonderful because she was the only person there was.

I also found out that John Galt (spoiler alert! spoiler alert!) turns out to be a character in the book, rather than a pop culture artifact. Up until p. 178, people of all walks of life have been asking "Who is John Galt?" when they wanted to be saying "How are you?" This is, of course, a question the answer to which no one ever really cares to hear, so people are less than pleasantly surprised (as I was able to learn from reading a French book called La Grève--which means "the strike," is purportedly written by "Ayn Rand," and contains a plot and cast of characters suspiciously similar to Atlas Shrugged, except the words are in French) when a real John Galt turns up later saying not "Fine, thank you," but "Listen here, all you Pitiful Peon-Wuss-Lamer-Idiots ...", with an ellipsis that goes on for something like 84 pages of screed to the effect that the purpose-driven life is the only life worth living, and my purpose is better than your purpose, so Bam! Bam! Bam!

It turns out that John Galt convinces all the truly great people (Me! Me! Me!) to leave their purpose-driven lives and go on strike so as to convince everyone else--that is, the government--that the purpose-driven lives of the truly great people (Me! Me! Me!) are so valuable that they can do everything all by themselves.

But it all unravels on Galt and his crew of Atlas aliases when it turns out that by abandoning their purpose-driven lives, even for a short time, the truly great people (Me! etc.) have caused a contradiction, which the philosophy of Galt doesn't recognize, so the novel implodes on p. 178 (ironically, the last page I read!). The rest of the novel's 1,000+ pages are sucked into a black hole, where it exists in the same way a shadowboxing opponent exists. Bam! Bam! Bam! Me wins!

I was also able to learn that "Ayn Rand" was the visionary individual who wrote this book about the heroic venture of building an intercontinental railroad single-handedly in the face of opposition by everyone else--that is, the government--in 1957, thereby inaugurating the field of retro-retro-futurism. (The Eisenhower Interstate Highway system began in 1956. It was not heroic or single-handed and turns out to have been built by everyone else--that is, the government.)

We stand on the shoulders of lots of giants. Not just one.

I'm so glad to have convinced myself that it's okay to walk away from Atlas Shrugged. I know a lot of you really love the book. I'm not saying you're wrong. I'm just saying "Fine, thank you. And who is Lady Gaga?"

No comments:

Post a Comment