Sunday, July 18, 2010

Spewing From My "Fountainhead"

I began reading Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead for three reasons:

  1. To make myself appear more sophisticated

  2. Because my boyfriend recommended it

  3. Because I wanted to challenge myself with this classic piece of literature

All noble causes, right? Well, the point is that I read it and that I'm very glad I did.

Ms. Rand's unconventional novel outlining her philosophy of Objectivism really made me contemplate why people are the way they are, what motivates them, what it's like not to let others define you, and what love truly is.

One passage in particular that sparked my interest is found in the eighth chapter of Part Two, which is entitled Ellsworth M. Toohey. In this passage Toohey looks out at the skyline and says,

"Look at it. A sublime achievement, isn't it? A heroic achievement. Think of the thousands who worked to create this and of the millions who profit by it. And it is said that but for the spirit of a dozen men-less, perhaps-none of this would have been possible. And that might be true. If so, there are-again-two possible attitudes to take. We can say that these twelve were great benefactors, that we are all fed by the overflow of the magnificent wealth of their spirit, and that we are glad to accept it in gratitude and brotherhood. Or, we can say that by the splendor of their achievement which we can neither equal nor keep, these twelve have shown us what we are, that we do not want the free gifts of their grandeur, that a cave by an oozing swamp and a fire of sticks rubbed together are preferable to skyscrapers and neon lights-if the cave and the sticks are the limit of your own creative capacities. Of the two attitudes, Dominique, which would you call the truly humanitarian one? Because, you see, I'm a humanitarian."

I took this question to heart and reached a conclusive personal answer. Why would I want to live in a world where the great are restricted and reduced to mediocrity to save the inept from feeling inferior? Without hope in the future, in the strength of humanity, without a glimpse at beauty and a chance to dream of something better, there is no sense in continuing life in such a mundane and futile society. To curl up in a cave with a stick fire simply because not everyone will invent the computer or paint the Mona Lisa or write a Shakespearean sonnet is to rob humanity of all beauty and hope. The truly humanitarian attitude is the one which allows humanity to be inspired, to take chances, and to live beyond the perceived possibilities.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Free Fish

Elizabeth Bishop's "The Fish" provides insight into the interesting thought process of a fisherman regarding an old fish. The fisherman is the narrator of the poem and begins by physically describing the fish. Its brown and tattered skin, resembling "wallpaper", is clearly old, dull, and worn. He notices its gills and ponders the fish's inner anatomy, pointing out how fragile the fish's life is at this point and how much he controls its fate. He speaks of its eyes, "yellowed" and "shallow" as if "backed and packed with tarnished tinfoil." Its eyes would not look at him, it would not fight. It was as if the fish had resigned itself to death by his hands.
As he continues to observe the fish, he looks at its mouth, "grim" and "weaponlike" and sees five hooks, "like medals with their ribbons frayed and wavering" set in its jaw, trailing fishing line, evidence of the battles it had fought and won. Now the narrator sees the fish in a different light. Rather than seeing an old, tired, pitiful fish, he sees a seasoned war veteran, strong and courageous, time-honored and and respectable, ready to accept its final defeat with dignity. Earlier in the poem, when describing the fish's physical appearance, the narrator used the word venerable. In that context, he was calling the fish, ancient, or obsolete, but here, after realizing all this fish has been through, the word could more properly describe the animal as "commanding respect because of impressive dignity" or "worthy of reverence" as venerable is defined at
Because of the respect he found for this fish who had fought for its life so many times, the narrator ultimately releases the fish back into the water. This sixth chance is precious in a world where life is so disposable.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Life Lesson of Lying

After reading Po Bronson's article, "Learning to Lie," I thought about lying. About my own life and my lies. About the definition of a lie-Webster calls it "a false statement made with intent to deceive." I thought about little white lies and half-truths and how people rationalize these by telling themselves that they're trying not to hurt anybody's feelings or that it causes less trouble to smooth things over with a slightly dishonest answer. I thought about Dr. Victoria Talwar's claim that "lying is related to intelligence" and is "a developmental milestone."

I remembered the sickening feeling I got as a child whenever I lied to my parents to stay out of trouble or to avoid a subject I thought they might disapprove of. I recalled winning a contest as a child and calling my mother and telling her all about the event, but claiming I didn't know the child who had won, so that when I came home with a fifty dollar prize, I could say, "I tricked you!" I felt so proud to have been able to "pull one over" on Mom, but her sarcastic remark, "I'm so glad you've learned to lie so well," filled me with guilt.

I thought about how children are encouraged to lie by people they look up to. They see parents tell telemarketers that they have the wrong number. They hear teachers tell students that the class hamster ran away when they overheard her talking to the janitor about how it died over the weekend. Children are told to always "be polite" and "say something nice" about a gift, even if they don't like it. No wonder kids start slipping in untruths from day to day. They've been told to.

When I contemplated all this, it made me wonder if we as a society truly value honesty as much as we claim, or if we prefer positive interactions and saving face.