Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Best Rearden Family Thanksgiving Ever

So many offenses against coherence and literature in the third and fourth chapters of part 2 of Atlas Shrugged! I really need to stick to one chapter at a time when I blog about AS  because there is so much material in any one chapter that if I do two, I end up glossing over too much in the blog post.

On the other hand, I am trying to finish this damn thing so I can start my play which features the spectre of Ayn Rand appearing to Alan Greenspan. And I'm almost at the half-way point, so I pushed on, but after those two chapters had to take a rest. I'm not made of stone.

The highlight, if you can call it that, of these two chapters is the Rearden family Thanksgiving with the standard Superman~moocher dynamic.

At the Thanksgiving dinner Rearden's family berates him for not caring about their feelings when he got arrested (for selling his Rearden Metal to Kenneth Dannager, I'm still not sure why this became a law). And they point out that his arrest is an embarrassment to them all. But even though they are all financially dependent on Rearden, (as Rearden explicitly acknowledges in his confrontation with his brother, whom he tells "whatever affection I might have had for you once is gone") none of them seem in the least worried that his possible prison term might impact their luxurious lifestyle. Moochers are so inscrutable.

Since Rand can't be bothered to give us any flashbacks to what they were like once, when Rearden did have affection for his brother, this statement has no emotional resonance. Rearden has despised his three moocher family members throughout the novel so far, and we've never seen anything that would lead us to believe he ever had any affection for any of them, ever.

Except, ever so briefly, for Lillian, whom he didn't hate for an entire month after they were married, but has pretty much hated her for the next eight years, which even the normally slow-witted Lillian realized:
"Do you wish to divorce me?"
"Oh, wouldn't you like that! Wouldn't that be a smart trade to pull! Don't you suppose I know that you've wanted to divorce me since the first month of our marriage?"
I'm not entirely sure, but I think this might be the first time the word "divorce" has appeared in the novel. Since the world of Atlas Shrugged is so different from the real one, I wasn't sure if divorce had been outlawed by the government, which would be the only plausible reason why Rearden hasn't divorced his much-loathed wife.

I will say that when Lillian caught Rearden (not in flagrante delicto unfortunately) cheating on her and proceeded to hurl insults at him, it was the one moment in the entire novel so far where a Rand character sounds like an actual human being.

But it only lasts for a couple of pages. And then, lest we forget that we are in an Ayn Rand novel, we see Rearden's peculiar response to Lillian expressing displeasure with his infidelity:
There was neither thought nor feeling left in him, nothing but a sense that merged the remnants of both, the sense of congratulations upon the greatest victory he had ever demanded of himself: that Lillian had walked out of the hotel suite alive.
It's striking that not only are Rearden's family life and marriage hideous, his is almost the only family life and marriage depicted at all in Atlas Shrugged up to this point. Marriages/families are barely mentioned: Nat Taggart offering to gamble his wife into sexual slavery; the lightly sketched flashback family comprised of Mrs. No-name Taggart and her children; and the moochers that Cherryl Brooks has come to New York City to escape from. The only other family depicted are the hicks that Dagny and Rearden meet on their road trip. The hick children throw rocks at Rearden's spiffy roadster and their mother looks like an old hag.

Maybe the absence of family life is why Eddie Willers keeps cornering an unfortunate anonymous worker in order to deliver expositional monologues. Oh yes, he did it again! If the worker was getting paid by the hour, and was on the clock, it wouldn't be so bad, but Rand sets up the second monologue by noting they are in the Taggart Transcontinental cafeteria. Willers can't even let this guy have his lunch in peace!

But lucky for Rearden, he has his love for Francisco d'Anconia to keep him warm. And fortunately I don't even have to write about it, another blogger has already cataloged the manly love in Atlas Shrugged.

As I noted in a previous blog post, d'Anconia told Dagny nothing about his life at college and she didn't ask. People in love in Atlas Shrugged don't make pillow talk about their hopes and dreams and past history. It is the same thing between Dagny and Rearden, which explains why Rearden has no idea that d'Anconia knows about metal smelting. He discovers it when they are spending some quality time together (d'Anconia is lecturing Rearden on the evils of the looters and the moochers and the virtues of selfishness, etc. - the usual) and there is an accident at the factory. Caused by, what else, a moocher:
A young man with a look of chronic hurt and impertinence, together, rushed up to him crying: "I couldn't help it, Mr. Rearden!" and launched into a speech of explanation. Rearden turned his back on him without a word. It was the assistant in charge of the pressure gauge in the furnace, a young man out of college.
d'Anconia saves the day by demonstrating his unmatchable (of course) skill at lobbing clay into a furnace hole, and Rearden, stars in his eyes and little hearts flying around his head, pledges his troth to d'Anconia.

I was going to say d'Anconia's skill was acquired while working in the copper biz, but let's face it, based on everything else we know about him, he no doubt did it perfectly the very first time he tried it.

Now I can understand why Dagny doesn't tell Rearden that d'Anconia is her former boyfriend, because Rearden has twice been on the verge of a jealous meltdown, demanding Dagny tell him who her other boyfriends were. d'Anconia was the only other boyfriend (or friend of any kind except for poor lonely Eddie Willers) that Dagny has ever had, and they didn't see each other for ten years which means that Dagny was celibate for ten years until she got together with Rearden. But if Dagny and Rearden had exchanged any information about their childhoods of course Dagny would have mentioned that she and d'Anconia knew each other since childhood and that d'Anconia had been working in the copper mines since he was a teenager.

But since Rand's heroes spend most of their waking hours talking about the usual, there is no time for that personal stuff.

So anyway, Rearden goes on trial for selling his Metal to Kenneth Dannager - who buggered off, or as Dannager described it "retired. " There doesn't seem to be a manhunt underway to track him down.

The trial provides a chance for Rand to give us some sense of how the government works, how it got to be that way, etc. etc. but as always Rand declines this opportunity and instead presents the government as a mysterious fog. The trial, run by three judges and completely open to the public, is apparently created to give Rearden a soapbox from which to expound on the usual, to much public acclaim, except of course from the most extreme moochers:
The crowd burst into applause.
Rearden whirled around, more startled than his judges. He saw faces that laughed in violent excitement, and faces that pleaded for help; he saw their silent despair breaking out into the open; he saw the same anger and indignation as his own, finding release in the wild defiance of their cheering; he saw the looks of admiration and the look of hope. There were also the faces of loose-mouthed young men and maliciously unkempt females, the kind who led the booing in newsreel theaters at any appearance of businessmen on the screen; they did not attempt a counter-demonstration; they were silent.
Meanwhile d'Anconia was listening on the radio:
"Do you mean my trial?"
"I mean, your trial."
"How do you know, you weren't there."
Francisco smiled, because the tone of the voice confessed an added sentence: I was looking for you. "Don't you suppose I heard every word of it on the radio?"
Now I have to wonder - is Rearden a complete idiot, or is his playing dumb deliberate in order to get Francisco to admit he heard every word on the radio - as part of their mutual flirtation? Because Rearden had already been told two pages earlier that his speech was on the radio. So why would he ask an idiotic question like "how do you know, you weren't there."?

Or did Rand just not have any editors?

In spite of Dagny's inability and/or disinterest in the personal history of her lovers (and vice-versa) Rearden and d'Anconia get very chatty with each other - and d'Anconia confesses to Rearden that the Latin playboy persona was all an act and launches into a longish lecture on how true manly man only have sex with the most exalted female (i.e. Dagny) and although he doesn't directly say it, it is implied that Francisco d'Anconia has also been celibate for ten years - or actually 11, I think. That means that during the peak of his youth and sexual desirability - and as we know he's charismatic and perfect at everything he does - Francisco d'Anconia has not had sex at all.

So Rand's Supermen are almost as weird as her moochers/looters - Dagny and d'Anconia, despite having no qualms about sex in general each spend a sexless young adulthood and Hank Rearden has been having sex for eight years with a woman he despises and who screws him only out of a wifely duty.

Rand herself had much more sex than her heroes when she was twice their age:
Rand convened a meeting with Nathaniel, his wife Barbara (also a Collective member), and Rand’s own husband Frank. To Branden's astonishment, Rand convinced both spouses that a time-structured affair—she and Branden were to have one afternoon and one evening a week together—was “reasonable.” Within the Collective, Rand is purported to have never lost an argument. On his trysts at Rand’s New York City apartment, Branden would sometimes shake hands with Frank before he exited. Later, all discovered that Rand’s sweet but passive husband would leave for a bar, where he began his self-destructive affair with alcohol. 
By 1964, the 34-year-old Nathaniel Branden had grown tired of the now 59-year-old Ayn Rand. Still sexually dissatisfied in his marriage to Barbara and afraid to end his affair with Rand, Branden began sleeping with a married 24-year-old model, Patrecia Scott. Rand, now “the woman scorned,” called Branden to appear before the Collective, whose nickname had by now lost its irony for both Barbara and Branden. Rand’s justice was swift. She humiliated Branden and then put a curse on him: “If you have one ounce of morality left in you, an ounce of psychological health—you'll be impotent for the next twenty years! And if you achieve potency sooner, you'll know it’s a sign of still worse moral degradation!” 
Rand completed the evening with two welt-producing slaps across Branden’s face. Finally, in a move that Stalin and Hitler would have admired, Rand also expelled poor Barbara from the Collective, declaring her treasonous because Barbara, preoccupied by her own extramarital affair, had neglected to fill Rand in soon enough on Branden's extra-extra-marital betrayal. (If anyone doubts Alan Greenspan’s political savvy, keep in mind that he somehow stayed in Rand’s good graces even though he, fixed up by Branden with Patrecia’s twin sister, had double-dated with the outlaws.)