(Critique of an aspect of the Fountainhead by Ayn Rand)
My quietness has a man in it,
he is transparent and carries me quietly,
like a gondola,
through the streets.
He has several likenesses,
like stars and years, like numerals.
My quietness has a number of naked selves?
So many pistols I have borrowed to protect myself,
from creatures who too readily recognize my weapons,
and have murder in the heart!
-Frank o Hara
There is no religion between man and God. The worldly element of religion kills the ideal connection between man and God, between the soul and its source, between the creation and its creator, between the art and the artist. Religion is a word which is misunderstood by the world. The famous philosopher, Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God in his work, ‘The Gay Science’ by a tale of a madman with a lantern, looking for God, as his fellow citizens ridiculed him:
“The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. ‘Whither is God?’ he cried; ‘I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. … God is dead. … And we have killed Him.’” (Nietzsche, 1974)
Nietzsche explains his idea in denying God. He introduces the concept of his perfect man, his Superman, (German: Übermensch), (Neitzsche, 1883-1885) “an imaginary, super-strong, amoral individual, who would overcome all opposition, as well as the need for God”—because in Nietzsche’s view, “God was an illusion of the mind.”
Man is Gods greatest piece of art. He is basically an atom of the light of Gods existence. According the Ayn Rand, “Only Man is an end in himself.” God is life and all live by him. God is a being in itself. God recognizes Him, who serves Him and protects the one who follows Him. Man is an influence for himself. He is the proper object of study and devotion. Alexander Pope wrote on his essay on man that the proper study of mankind and God is man. (Pope, 1870)
There is a thought process that runs along my theme. I will mention this because I feel that these ideas helped me understand the depth of what Ayn Rand may have tried to establish in her book, though not its literal sense. Sufism: the name itself has been related to the Greek word, Sophia, which means wisdom and the Arab word, Sof, which means purity. Together, these two words, indicate pure wisdom; the wisdom that arises in the pure consciousness from which all impressions and problems of outer life have been wiped away. (Witteveen, 1997) . Mansoor al Hijaaj, one of the prominent names in Sufiism, is most commonly known for his celebrated phase, “Ana an Haqq” meaning “I am the Truth or I am God”. This led to his execution for incitement. He prayed for this, “Oh Lord, remove by thyself, my ‘it is I’ which torments me” and when this unification with God was granted to him, he expressed his experience in words of “I am God”. Thus proven is the ideology of Sufis that encourages man to dig within himself, the source, which is God. Or as Ayn Rand puts it, this highest level of man’s emotions can be very well defined as ‘man-worship’. Whereby man studies himself, discovers himself and understands himself, the most exalted of all, for himself.
Another great example being the beautiful poetry of the famous Baba Bulley Shah and Baba Ghulam Fareed, who unveiled this secret of God in their poetry. They say and I quote,
Jai main Tenu bahaar dhondha
andar kon samana
jai main Tenu andar dhondha
pher mukayaad janaa
sub kuch Tu aye sab vich Tu aye
Tenu sab tou paak pehchana,
main vi Tu aye Tu vi Tu
aye bulla kon namara
In simple words, Baba Bulley Shah talks about the presence of God within everyone, every being, every creation and within himself. Once that is discovered and understood, all worldly expectations and adaptations stop to matter. Your understanding deepens your vision of the world changes. It is this God within each individual that is really, his passion in life, his reason for existence. In Howard Roark’s case, this passion within himself comes out in the form of simple but beautiful architecture, unacceptable to the rest of the world. As Dominique Francon once puts it, when she sees the Enright House in the Sunday Chronicle, “I think the man who designed this should have committed suicide. A man who can conceive something as beautiful as this should never allow it to be erected. He should not want it to exist” (Rand, 1943)
Knowledge is comprised into unfathomable oceans. And enlightenment is like a wave in it. Then, what is the relation of God and man? While the ocean of knowledge is sustained by God alone, the enlightenment pertains to man. And those are secrets that the other worldly beings fail to accept or understand. (Witteveen, 1997)
Roark is not portrayed as a profoundly religious man. As Austen Heller says to Howard, “After all, it’s only a building. It’s not the combination of holy sacrament, Indian torture and sexual ecstasy that you seem to make of it.” Also, a brief dialogue between Roark and Hopton, the commissioner for the Stoddard Temple of Human Spirit, can be cited here:
“’You’re a profoundly religious man, Mr. Roark–in your own way. I can see that in your buildings.’
“’That’s true,’ said Roark.”
As mentioned above, religion should not have to be defined. It is an urge in itself, an urge which makes man do what he loves dearly. It is this same urge that leads Roark to design and construct that beautiful Temple of Human Spirit and dedicate it to the greatness of Man.
Such examples exist throughout history, in all sorts of different spheres. Hazrat Inayat Khan, a well-known Sufi mystic from India was greatly misunderstood to the rest of the world due to his passion for music. It was a medium he used; it was a divine connection he established with the God he believed in, the depth of which remained a mystery for all. (Witteveen, 1997) For him, God was in the profundity of his passion. For what is order and disorder for one might not be order and disorder for the other.
Here I would like to add a section of Howard Roark’s speech, “From this simplest necessity to the highest religious abstraction, from the wheel to the skyscraper, everything we are and everything we have comes from a single attribute of man–the function of his reasoning mind.”
Whatever Howard Roark ever tried to build from the reasoning of his mind, was dismissed by the rest of the world. He got expelled from one of the most prestigious architectural schools, The Stanton Institute of Architecture because he refused to copy from the past and ideals of others, stating that “What can be done with one substance must never be done with another. No two materials are alike. Every form has its own meaning. Every man creates his meaning and form and goal.”
This initial conflict becomes a basis for all his later projects. From the Enright House to the Temple, his work was unacceptable for the general public. It was his thought process and rebellion from the ordinary that made that temple a real Temple. As the client, Hopton Stoddard put it, “So you see, Mr. Roark, though it is to be a religious edifice, it is also more than that. You notice that we call it the Temple of the Human Spirit. We want to capture–in stone, as others capture in music–not some narrow creed, but the essence of all religion. And what is the essence of religion? The great aspiration of the human spirit toward the highest, the noblest, the best. The human spirit as the creator and the conqueror of the ideal. The great life-giving force of the universe. The heroic human spirit. That is your assignment, Mr. Roark.” (Rand, The Fountainhead, 1943)
Roark initially did not want to undertake the project. But then he realized the true depth of the project. There was the chance for him to understand himself, and his building. To understand his passion and what he considered his religion, his purpose in life; and to think of such a structure being erected on human ground, for him to walk around in; it would be for other men to contemplate in, for the religion of every man.
Stoddard said that he wanted to call it God. And we think, why? He clears the doubt when he tells Roark quite clearly that what he wants in that building is his own spirit, Howard Roark’s spirit in the shape of a building. And that would be the meaning of the Temple, the Stoddard Temple of Human Spirit.
This Temple was the books climax. Roark decides to have the statue of a naked woman right in the center, with the Temple built around it. As Roark beautifully puts it, “If you understand the building, you understand what the figure must be. The human spirit. The heroic in man. The aspiration and fulfillment, both. Uplifted in its quest—and uplifting by its own essence. Seeking God and finding itself. Showing that there is not higher reach beyond its own form.”
What’s most interesting about this Temple is the absence of a definite religion. What it says, out loud is that you don’t have to be a part of any definite religion to be able to believe in something. That God and religion that you search for, so vigorously, is the Being within you. Search for it, identify it and unlock the secrets of your own existence.
The Temple was built, in the absence of Stoddard himself. A tall enclosure had been erected around the site of the Temple, to shield it from the eyes of the public. It is described in the book as follows:
“The Temple was to be a small building of gray limestone. Its lines were horizontal, not the lines reaching to heaven, but the lines of the earth. It seemed to spread over the ground like arms outstretched at shoulder-height, palms down, in great, silent acceptance. It did not cling to the soil and it did not crouch under the sky. It seemed to lift the earth, and its few vertical shafts pulled the sky down. It was scaled to human height in such a manner that it did not dwarf man, but stood as a setting that made his figure the only absolute, the gauge of perfection by which all dimensions were to be judged. When a man entered this temple, he would feel space molded around him, for him, as if it had waited for his entrance, to be completed. It was a joyous place, with the joy of exaltation that must be quiet. It was a place where one would come to feel sinless and strong, to find the peace of spirit never granted save by one’s own glory. There was no ornamentation inside, except the graded projections of the walls, and the vast windows. The place was not sealed under vaults, but thrown open to the earth around it, to the trees, the river, the sun–and to the skyline of the city in the distance, the skyscrapers, the shapes of man’s achievement on earth. At the end of the room, facing the entrance, with the city as background, stood the figure of a naked human body”
The Temple can be envisioned as magnificent in its own beauty. Dominique tells Toohey that it’s better than what he could ever imagine. The great Louis Kahn would have described it as a structure that expresses “the dignity rather than the depravity of man.” (Goldhagen, 2001) David Rineheart, who worked for Kahn, said, “for Lou, every building was a temple. Salk was a temple for science. Dhaka was a temple for government. Exeter was a temple for learning.” (Wiseman, 2007) He expressed his spirituality through architectural space and light.
Frank Lloyd Wright would have considered it inventive and exciting. His own Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois goes along similar lines: “Why not, then, build a temple, not to GOD in that way- more sentimental than sense- but build a temple to man, appropriate to his uses as a meeting place, in which to study man himself for his God’s sake? A modern meeting-house and good-time place. Build a beautiful room proportioned to this purpose. Make it beautiful in this simple sense. A natural building for the natural man.” (Ginty)
And Le Corbusier would have done the same. For his famous Monastery of La Tourette (1921), he is reported to have said, “I can create an art which is perhaps not religious, but an art of places of prayer and meditation, which is the phenomenon and the manifestation of the sacred in the human heart.” (Peter, 1994) The reverence of the Monastery was such that the archbishop confessed to having converted to Le Corbusier, who until that day he had thought of as a devil.
But the Stoddard Temple of Human Spirit was considered as a threat when it was finally opened for the public. The Commissoner, Mr.Stoddard got back from abroad and was shocked. Whether it was ‘shocked’ at its beauty and exaltation or at the contradictory, we may never know. He was manipulated into hating it. After all, how can something that does not look even remotely similar to a church or a religious structure ornamented to great details, be religious? Even to the spirit of man. Howard Roark had seen man as a strong, proud, clean, wise, fearless and heroic being while designing the Temple. It was a simple structure, with a sense of space that made man feel exactly all that. But none of it mattered to a public so shut in the head; they believed that religion in itself had been attacked, that the concept and sacredness of God had been attacked, without pondering over the reality of the Temple. They considered it a monument to the profound hatred of humanity.
As Dominique puts it, at the witness stand, in a trial with Howard Roark being sued for erecting a ‘grotesque’ Temple, “In what kind of a world did Roark build his Temple? For what kind of men? Look around you. Can you see a shrine becoming sacred by serving as a setting for Mr. Hopton Stoddard? For Mr. Ralston Holcombe? For Mr.Peter Keating? When you look at them all, do you hate Ellsworth Toohey–or do you damn Howard Roark for the unspeakable indignity which he did commit? Elsworth Toohey is right, that temple is a sacrilege, though not in the sense he meant. I think Mr. Toohey knows that, however. When you see a man casting pearls without getting even a pork chop in return–it is not against the swine that you feel indignation. It is against the man who valued his pearls so little that he was willing to fling them into the muck and to let them become the occasion for a whole concert of grunting, transcribed by the court stenographer.”
The public hated it because they couldn’t bear the thought of achieving self-respect, for themselves, for their souls. They couldn’t bear the thought of looking into their soul, to see their real selves. And they couldn’t reveal that to the world around them. Even though they might have felt sympathies toward Howard Roark, they just couldn’t express it.
And Howard Roard loses the case.
But according to Roark himself, it didn’t bother him that the Temple was being destroyed. What mattered to him was just that it got built.
After the first glass of vodka,
you can accept just about anything of life,
even your own mysteriousness,
you think it is nice that a box of matches,
is purple and brown and is called,
La Petite and comes from Sweden,
for they are words that you know
and that is all you know,
words, not their feelings,
or what they mean and you write because,
you know them not because you understand them,
but because you don’t know you are thoughtless and lazy,
and will never be great,
but you do know what you know,
because what else is there?
–Frank o Hara