Actually I have no ideological conflicts with Ayn's attitude towards traditionalism. I just wish she were able to couch it in less holistically damning terms. She completely avoids any reference to the middle ground between mindless tradition and enduring wisdom ... common behaviors that appear constant only because they are reevaluated across generations who rediscover the same conclusions. For example, I have concluded that the tradition of a big Christmas gathering every year is a great way to reaffirm my connection to my extended family members, and provides an atmosphere of celebration and generosity to make the gathering a harmonious one. The fact that the holiday was inspired by the mythology of a tyrannical catholic god is completely irrelevant to me.
Or am I missing the point? Perhaps she is not criminalizing tradition in general, but only tradition in art. She seems to have a bug up her ass about society's reverence for classical works, and has taken the opportunity several times in the first eight chapters to construct simpering half-human characters, espousing the most extreme and myopic examples of this reverence, and promptly lambaste them.
I can understand the appeal of her hero - a dedicated, uncompromising, meta-human artist, defined and compelled by his inner vision. I cannot, however, make sense of the idea that this character embodies some high-water mark of human philosophy. I cannot embrace the supposed superiority of a man who seems to consider other people furniture.
Nor can I embrace the views of the other main character, a gorgeous rising-star and social butterfly whose good deeds and joviality are only fabrications to conceal a manipulative, repressive, hypocritical, and utterly poisoned core. Reading this book, I find myself adrift in an uninhabited sea, watching curiously as two monoliths emerge from opposite and distant horizons, one labeled "the lone divine artists" and the other labeled "the self-loathing sell-outs".
Remember those 80's teenager flicks? The ones about college campuses, or senior proms, or camp rivalries? The movies where the uptight ass in the expensive suit is always pushed into a swimming pool in the last act? This genre of movies was appropriately labeled the "slobs versus the snobs" flick. Back in the fifties and sixties a similar division formed, which one could call the "hipsters versus the squares".
I sense a similar, and equally artificial, separation laid into the foundations of this book. Everyone is either a socially adept monster, or a socially inept saint. Any character that falls between is so incidental that he or she vanishes after a half-dozen lines -- often after serving as hapless cannon fodder for one of the main characters to either lecture, or manipulate.
You can tell I'm not entirely impressed with this work. I would like to see it condensed from 360 pages to 90 -- dialogue mostly. I also have yet to hear evidence that Ayn's philosophy, condemning most of humanity as broken and useless, isn't as fervently and terribly elitist as I suspect it is.
But hey, maybe I've got it all wrong -- perhaps she is merely criticizing architecture. Heh.
One thing Ayn wrote has registered in my mind today as insightful: "All taste is bad taste." It reminds me of what I wrote in angst about the human spirit yesterday.
I had a lively talk with my Dad today. He gave me some advice about interacting with my crush in Reno. If I truly consider her to be a person worth pursuing, I should not hesitate to trust her with the full facts of my quandary. I should simply tell her entirely what's on my mind, and if she doesn't react to it favorably, I will quickly and efficiently know that she is not worth pursuing. No guesswork, no angst.
I'm happy to recall that this was the course of action I had decided on a while ago. His advice confirms it.