Atlas Blogged #9

August 1, 2010

Chapter 9: The Sacred and the Profane

This chapter opens with Rearden confessing to Dagny that he doesn’t love her, but merely wants to use her body like a whore, and he despises himself for that desire. This being AtlasWorld and not the real world, Dagny doesn’t run screaming from the room but rather welcomes his frankness in expressing his desires and admits to only wanting to be an object he can use to satisfy them.

While I’m sure that admitting one actually wanted sex was revolutionary in 1957, here it comes across as hopelessly misogynistic – surely a woman can want more than simply being an object of desire in the context of sex? There’s a strong emphasis in this passage on desiring degradation in itself, rather than sex per se. Rand doesn’t seem to be able to separate sex from degradation, which may be an artefact of the times, but seems to stand in opposition to the portrayal of sex here as a near-heroic act.

Jim Taggart encounters a check-out girl who Rand paints as having a modicum of ambition to make something of herself. Jim finds this fascinating, and being a sophisticated rich gentleman woos her back to his room. Therein he unloads all of his bitterness and resentment onto her, seemingly using her ambition as a foil for his own weakness. He doesn’t make any effort to take advantage of her, even though he desires to degrade her as a consequence of her ambition.

Jim here appears to be contrasted with Rearden, who is able to overcome his own disgust at depravity in order to achieve what he wants, which is to degrade Dagny via sex. Jim is painted as not having the courage to do so.

The bad guy doesn’t treat women as sex objects even though he wants to, while the good guy does do so. I think this chapter counts as proof to anyone who had any lingering suspicions that Rand was a feminist icon.

The opening of the John Galt Line allows commerce to flourish in Colorado, on the back of Ellis Wyatt’s success. Businesses across the country relocate to a place where wealth production is still celebrated. Businesses that do not relocate resent these upstarts, using phrases like, “There ought to be a law…”

Dagny and Rearden go on holiday – sorry, ‘vacation’. As this is our pair of industrialists, they go to see a car factory that was famous in their youth. When they arrive they discover that the entire area has decayed into a poverty-stricken town of unmotivated, useless people. Deep inside the factory, they discover an old, old engine, inside an old laboratory. The engine was clearly abandoned around the same time as the factory. But this is astonishing, as this engine in capable of converting static electricity from the air and converting it into motive force.

While this is clearly Rand’s illustration of an ultimate motor, it’d be nice if she’d dabble in the laws of physics from time to time. I can pretty much guarantee that before Rand came up with her engine, she’d just heard that lightening is static electricity.

Who made the engine? Where did they go? Why is the factory abandoned, and the surroundings so blighted? Dagny sets off on a quest for the answers to these questions, which I appreciate, as I do love a good mystery.

Analysis

Rand is a bit messed up when it comes to sex, as discussed above. She also clearly finds physics confusing, and most likely a dreadful limitation on her heroes. Clearly, to Rand, the human mind should be able to transcend physics itself. Here, at its most fundamental, we perhaps find the reason why many libertarians (e.g. the chaps at the Adam Smith Institute) frequently decry efforts to restrict resource exploitation and combat global warming. In this logic, it doesn’t matter what we do because someone will always come along with the know-how to make things better. Aren’t cosmic parents fabulous?

Part 10 is here.

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