I started reading Atlas Shrugged recently to pass the time, as this period of unemployment will (hopefully) be the last one for the foreseeable future come August. I’m currently about 250 pages in. Dagny has just fucked Rearden for the first time. Railroad and steel have just united in a self-congratulatory orgasm of cold, ruthless efficiency.
I read The Fountainhead 10 years ago, when I was 16. The characters in The Fountainhead are similar to those in Atlas Shrugged in the sense that they are meant to be interpreted as philosophical concepts and not real people. Characters in both books are pure distillations of philosophical ideals, and their actions never deviate from the ideals they’re supposed to represent. (Ayn Rand would disagree with this, but whatever.) This trait alone makes them unrealistic, often caricatural, and applies to characters across the board; the good guys are unsympathetic, type A personalities obsessed with efficiency and accomplishment, and the bad guys are stupid, babbling losers obsessed with undermining the good guys.
What I discovered while reading Rand this time around is that these so-called good characters, whom I found so honorable and exotic when I was 16, are actually boring and irritating because they are a) unattractively and unbearably serious about themselves, b) incapable of making small talk in any situation, and therefore c) socially worthless and totally not the type I or anyone I know would want to hang out with. Whereas they used to embody everything I admired about humanity, they now represent everything I dislike about human beings. As a teenager, I felt that they validated my elitist tendencies and social awkwardness. As a lazy adult, I simply can’t bring myself to like or relate to a bunch of humorless workaholics, no matter how smart they are.
And the bad guys aren’t any better. Rand makes it clear that these pathetic, sycophantic oafs (many of them actually stutter) are supposed to embody inferior philosophical ideas: incompetence, altruism, and submission to public opinion. And they have no redeeming qualities, nothing that will save them from being blatant losers from beginning to end. In Rand’s book(s), stupidity and human consideration are inextricably linked. If one cares about human feelings and the common good, one is an idiot, and vice versa.
My beef isn’t necessarily with objectivism. My problem is that I’ve been deprived of the satisfaction of liking any of the characters in a 1150-page novel because none of them are remotely realistic as human beings. Knowing how Rand usually rolls, I doubt this will change as I keep reading.