‘I have a very divided opinion about the characters in “The Fountainhead.” I tried to bring onstage the ambivalence of this work.’ – Ivo van Hove
Well, that’s an Ayn Rand novel for you, kids–ambivalence extraordinaire, right? I mean, if there’s any author in American history that symbolized mixed-feelings and contradictory ideas, it’s Ayn Rand, is it not?
Anyway, to be fair, I have a very divided opinion on director Ivo van Hove. It’s a clean split between mild contempt and profound annoyance.
It should come as no surprise to those of you familiar with the evil one (blessed be she), that almost any article, book or discussion connected to Ayn Rand (or her creative work) will invariably be filled with a zombie apocalypse of defamatory misrepresentations.
In fact, it only took Forward’s ‘deputy culture editor’ Talya Zax three whole sentences before she handed us the usual Ayn Rand x Paul Ryan trope and associated Rand’s advocacy for ‘individualism’ with psychopathy. Then there’s the lovely (yet typical) inference offered on how ‘The Fountainhead’ fits into the ‘perverse ideologies and inequalities that have historically characterized the United States’. Oh, Ms. Zax. You exemplify the gold standard of modern objective journalism. What does our President call that again? Ah, yes. Le ‘Fake News’.
In this case, it’s all payback for Ayn’s many sins. Including by not limited to indiscriminately attacking tribalism, collectivism and more generally, the worship of the irrational. As such, those with a vested interest in collective identity and group-think have many reasons to despise the radical Russian. Let them count the ways.
And speaking of ‘collective identity’, Forward might have otherwise had an affinity for Rand based on her DNA alone. But not in this particular case.
As the (‘non-militant’) atheist creator of Objectivism, Rand stood in stark opposition to organized religion and tribal affiliation. That didn’t stop Rand from donating money for the defense of Israel in the 1970’s and on at least one occassion, actively asserted her ‘Jewish’ heritage in response to the anti-Semitic comments of her husband’s relative. But nothing will make up for the sins of Rand, particularly against her own perceived interest group. As Ms. Zax points out, ‘Yes, dear colleagues, Rand was Jewish, born as Alisa Rosenbaum in pre-revolutionary Russia’.
In fact, the very first (unsolicited) opinion offered to me while I read Atlas Shrugged was that Ayn Rand was anti-Semitic. Twenty years later I would hear that same accusation leveled against Rand by a minor member of the Hollywood elite, who connected it to why he had ‘dumped’ Objectivism. Neither of these folks were aware of Ayn Rand’s Jewish family, apparently. Not that she couldn’t be both ‘Jewish’ and anti-Semitic according to the 2017 SJW rule-book that portrays Ben Shapiro as a ‘white-supremacist’.
But enough about that and hack Zax, let’s move on to the main course. As Forward reports, Belgian Director Ivo van Hove is taking a whack at getting Rand wrong himself, and in a more profound and significant way than the usual defamatory commentary. Van Hove is actually doing what Oliver Stone and Michael Cimino dreamed of but could never realize. He’s adapted ‘The Fountainhead’ for the 21st century micro-aggressed millennial audience and has posited Rand’s hero, Howard Roark, as something akin to the Ubermensch meets soup-Nazi.
Van Hove explains:
‘I call “The Fountainhead” always a war of ideas. The two opposite ideas, of course, are between Howard Roark, who’s an idealist who doesn’t want to give in to his clients — he wants to make the building the way he thinks it should be made, he’s a modernist — [and] on the other side there’s Peter Keating, his friend, who thinks that architecture is there to serve the people. Roark thinks [he] decides how people should live, and he designs it.
It’s two opposite ways of thinking in life: Somebody who is able to make compromises, and the other one who thinks “No, I am the truth, I have the truth on my side, so follow me.” That’s an interesting idea, in these times, to be confronted with in the theater.
A deep thinking has developed in this novel: People should take care of themselves; if you cannot take care of yourself that’s a pity; you should work a little bit harder, or do your best a little bit more. It’s a very complicated novel, intellectually challenging, but also challenging on an emotional level. Do we want a social society, or do we want a society of individuals?’
Now I’m certain that many (so-called) Objectivists could write a mind-numbing dissertation on the above, and perhaps sentence Mr. van Hove to 5 years of Peikoff’s course on ‘Objectivism Through Induction’, in response. But I too dislike that ‘Objectivist Ritualist’ mentality that seeks to prevent anyone who is not a ‘believer’ from playing with my toys, even if their intent is to break them. After all, they reveal themselves and their motivations so easily by way of caring and sharing. Not that I would have gifted the IP rights to The Fountainhead to van Hove in a million years. But somehow he secured them and so now a little ‘set-the-record-straight’ commentary is in order.
INDIVIDUALISM V. NARCISSISM
Van Hove is correct about one thing–idealism. But Roark is an individualist, not a dictator. His ‘idealism’ is based on integrity–his ‘loyalty to the truth’, as applied to work, friendship, love, etc. ‘Truth’ in this context means ‘conformity of mind with reality’.
Roark is not looking for followers. Quite the contrary. Nor would he (or Rand) ever utter statements making him sound like a religious cult-leader (‘I am the truth?’).
Furthermore, he’s ‘not giving in’ to his clients by designing them a great building (one that they would want), which he does so repeatedly. That’s the architect’s job, last I checked.
Where Roark butts heads with those around him is that he refuses to sacrifice his integrity (and his work) in service of a non-value, such as public opinion, social climbing, etc.
Roark doesn’t pander and won’t work with or for people that demand fakery from him. But that’s not the same thing as being the narcissist that van Hove portrays him as.
‘…But you see, I have, let’s say, sixty years to live. Most of that time will be spent working. I’ve chosen the work I want to do. If I find no joy in it, then I’m only condemning myself to sixty years of torture. And I can find the joy only if I do my work in the best way possible to me. But the best is a matter of standards—and I set my own standards.‘ — Howard Roark, Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead
THE STRAW MAN RIDES AGAIN
Van Hove argues that there is a dichotomy between ‘a social society’ and ‘a society of individuals’. The very word ‘society’ presupposes the ‘social’, but taken in context, van Hove seems to be positing a split that Rand never advocated. You can and should live in a ‘social’ society where you interact freely with other human beings, exchanging value for value. What Rand (and Roark) object to, and fight against, is ‘force’ and ‘fraud’.
Civilization, according to Rand, is the ‘process of setting man free from men’ in the sense that they’re able to pursue their own rational self-interest unchained to a tribe, collective, etc. As such, there is no contradiction between living and interacting within ‘society’ and being a grand individualist.
IKEA-2000? No, it’s the Korean poster for ‘The Foutainhead’, directed by van Hove.
Another ‘straw man’ argument is contained in van Hove’s setting up Peter Keating as someone who believes that ‘architecture is there to serve the people’. But that’s absolutely inaccurate. For Keating, architecture is a means to an end. And that end is his own self-aggrandizement. He uses this particular craft to social climb his way to the top of a career that he thinks will gain him prestige and importance. He cares nothing for architecture qua architecture, and he certainly doesn’t seek to ‘serve the people’.
Keating seeks success as defined by anyone and everything other than himself. So in effect, this is where he’s out to serve ‘the people’–by ramming his head up their collective ass. According to Rand, he is the truly selfless man, devoid of passion, ego, and self-esteem.
As to Roark, van Hove argues that he ‘thinks [he] decides how people should live, and he designs it’. And this again is patently FALSE.
Roark is an extremely deep thinker with a strong spiritual center. He is NOT motivated by a desire to control or manage others. His career and personal goals do not include deciding ‘how people should live’. At least not in the way that van Hove’s overall commentary presupposes. There is a profound difference between Roark as ‘heroic idealist’ (which he is) and van Hove’s viewpoint of Roark as a ‘dictatorial idealist’ (nihislist).
When a client brings Howard Roark a project, he places his focus on their needs, requirements and the mission at hand. He proceeds to execute their request— flawlessly, in his own inimitable style. A style that presupposes by its very nature that Roark will most certainly suggest how one should, could and ought to live. And those clients are invariably blown away.
Whenever supposed ‘comprimises’ are requested, they never have to do with Roark making an aesthetic or structural error, nor are they based on a violation of the agreements he signs. Whatever criticism Roark receives is normally related to a ‘violation’ of another sort. That is, in relation to the supposed norms or standards of the day established by the immutable dictates of ‘public opinion’. And his actual clients aren’t the complainants. Rather, it’s the supposed ‘elite’ that speak on behalf of ‘public opinion’ who aim for Roark’s jugular. And that same elite often manipulates the client, prompting them to violate the terms of their agreement with Roark. And conflict therefore ensues…
Roark is not van Hove’s narcissist seeking domination or followers. He’s simply an artist with talent and vision that he hopes to ‘sell’ to those who seeks his particular skill set. Roark’s core motivation is CREATION. He’s not prompted by fame, money or the envy of his peers. As he makes perfectly clear:
‘I don’t intend to build in order to have clients; I intend to have clients in order to build’
AND WHY VAN HOVE?
If you read through the entire Forward interview, it soon becomes obvious that van Hove neither understands (most of) Rand nor agrees with what he does. In fact, what’s even more telling is that when van Hove does agree, it’s not with Rand but with a Nietzschean-infused / confused / abused version of her philosophy. And for those of you who are not aware, Rand was extremely critical of the moustached nihilist.
‘Nietzsche’s rebellion against altruism consisted of replacing the sacrifice of oneself to others by the sacrifice of others to oneself. He proclaimed that the ideal man is moved, not by reason, but by his “blood,” by his innate instincts, feelings and will to power—that he is predestined by birth to rule others and sacrifice them to himself, while they are predestined by birth to be his victims and slaves—that reason, logic, principles are futile and debilitating, that morality is useless, that the “superman” is “beyond good and evil,” that he is a “beast of prey” whose ultimate standard is nothing but his own whim. – Ayn Rand, For the New Intellectual
And this is really what van Hove is trying to express, and also justify. In fact, the entire interview reads as one long ‘apology tour’ for why he would dare to popularize such a horrific figure as Ayn Rand ( including comparisons to Wagner re Nazis, if you can believe it). All of which makes perfect sense when you realize that van Hove’s personal philosophy is based on many of the ideas that Rand spent her life fighting against, made evident from his repeated Marxist-inclined commentary.
So, as much as I am ‘pleased’ (I’m not) to see that there is a continued interest to misrepresent Rand and modify her work and words, I am left with a burning question. How did van Hove secure the intellectual property rights to ‘The Fountainhead’? And why no word from the all-knowing Ayn Rand Estate? Where is the newest article on sanctioning the sanctioning sanctioners who somehow made this theatrical monstrosity possible? The only conclusion that I can draw is that they’re ashamed. As they should be.
Dare you ask what’s next, courtesy of the same asinine, intellectually bankrupt management of Rand’s estate? Well, seems like Objectivist-ambassador to the Arab world, Bosch Fawstin (Winner: Let’s Draw Muhamed Contest) will be creating a graphic novel of Atlas Shrugged with Peikoff’s blessing, of course.
I can’t wait.