One of the most disturbing aspects of Ayn Rand, and the only one I really can't reconcile even to her black-and-white world, is her attitude regarding the relationship between men and women. Her scenes between men and women are all about posession, domination, conquering and even rape. It's disgusting and incredibly disturbing, and I think it's the one great flaw in her work. I understand what she was aiming at, but she went about it the wrong way- at least, I think so.
Consider this description of a scene between Dominique and Howard Roark of The Fountainhead:
- She fought like an animal. But she made no sound. She did not call for help. She heard the echoes of her blows in a gasp of his breath, and she knew that it was a gasp of pleasure. She reached for the lamp on the dressing table. He knocked the lamp out of her hand. The crystal burst to pieces in the darkness.
He had thrown her down on the bed and she felt the blood beating in her throat, in her eyes, the hatred, the helpless terror in her blood. She felt the hatred and his hands; his hands moving over her body, the hands that broke granite. She fought in a last convulsion. Then the sudden pain shot up through her body, to her throat, and she screamed. Then she lay still.
It was an act that could be performed in tenderness, as a seal of love, or in contempt, as a symbol of humiliation and conquest. It could be the act of a lover or the act of a soldier violating an enemy woman. He did it as an act of scorn. Not as love, but as defilement. And this made her lie still and submit. One gesture of tenderness from him- and she would have remained cold, untouched by the thing done to her body. But the act of a master taking shameful, contemptuous posession of her was the kind of rapture she had wanted [...] (220)
A little later on-
- They had been united in an understanding beyond the violence, beyond the deliberate obscenity of his action; had she meant less to him, he would not have taken her as he did; had he meant less to her, she would not have fought so desperately. The unrepeatable exaltation was in knowing that they both understood this.
- She thought, if they knew...these people...that old life and that awed reverence before her person...I've been raped...I've been raped by some redheaded hoodlum from a stone quarry...I, Dominique Francon...Through the fierce sense of humiliation, the words gave her the same kind of pleasure she had felt in his arms. (223)
This scene never made any sense to me. It completely disgusted me and disturbed me, and I was unable to understand how it came into being. Of course, it happened to be that today I was reading Family Redeemed, which contains various essays by the Rav. The most fantastic thing happened- what I knew and sensed was described by him beautifully, evaluated, and laid aside and I can now understand both my distaste and dissatisfaction with what Rand wrote, and the remedy and correct way to go about what she was trying to prove.
- What kind of a person emerges from this hedonic sexual experience? A pandemic one, vulgar and carnal! Let us not forget that this type of sexual actiivty is fraught with the demonic desire for power. I enjoy the satisfier and ipso facto I dominate it. The hedonist becomes egocentric, self-loving and self-adoring. His egotism reaches such proportions that his pleasure manifests itself not so much in the discharge of physical tension as in the knowledge that he dominates the other person who is just as dedicated exclusively to the comfort and enjoyment of the selfish self. Pleasure sensation is identical with teh exercise of power over the other person. De facto he converts the partner into an it. One of the partners becomes the master-persona and the other the slave-object, since the institution of slavery converts people into objects, personae into the neuter it. This type of dominion is distinguished by its ruthlessness and insatiability. No barriers are strong enough to stop the demonic person from engaging in his aggressive designs. He does not recognize any other existential area except his own and his liberation from all restrictions, a liberation which expresses itself in the depersonalizations of others, in transforming them into satisfiers.
[...] The best illustration of such an I-it relationship in the sexual realm can be found in the institution of prostitution. The man who avails himself of the insitution considers the woman as an object which serves one purpose only- the gratification of his need. She is an it, a satisfier, a source of animal pleasure and nothing else. At the aphrodite-pandemic level, either the he or the she forfeits personal worth and sinks into oblivion. Sexual function, if performed at the pandemic level, depersonalizes either the man or the woman under the impact of an overwhelming force with which either he or she is identified.
[...] If the sexual impulse is not redeemed and is left in its crudity, the participants in the drama are guilty of an act of mutual exploitation and vulgarization. The corruptions are interlaced and compounded with enslaving a human being, with denying him the most elementary right of personal existence. The person is depersonalized, desensitized and de-emotionalized. The climax of the hedonic sexual union is ipso facto an act of objectification of the personal, intimate and unique.
and then the redeeming notion, the elevation of sexual union-
- If you should inquire as to the essence and meaning of the institution of marriage, I would say that through marriage the miraculous transition from the I-it contact to an I-thou relationship occurs. Marriage personalizes sexuality as the joint experience of the I and the thou, as a community of two individuals driven by loneliness and metaphysical despair to give up their independance and commit themselves to each other. Basically the same drive that brings man to God makes him quest for his companion. Judaism hated promiscuity in sexual life: zenut, promiscuity, is perhaps the most abhorrent phenomenon of the heathen world against which the Bible mercilessly fought, because in every form of indiscriminate sex-activity the personal moment is lost and the element of dominion emerges. The I enjoys the it. The experience is not shared with another I; it remains an isolated dreary experience, animal-like in seclusion and loneliness. The pandemic I never emerges from his hiding even though he is physically attracted by the woman.
(This is all from Family Redeemed, 89-94)
Ayn Rand was trying to differentiate between Dominique the figurine, the woman put on a pedestal and made of chiseled marble, the woman loved and courted but never truly touched, and Dominique the person feeling as a person. She thought, perhaps, that for Dominique to submit- unwillingly, have her submission wrested from her- would be fitting and demonstrate Dominique's true passion. I think, however, and it is substantiated by the Rav's view, that this only weakens Dominique. Dominique is the object, raped- that is the word she uses- by Roark. Howard Roark tears his pleasure from her, and it is at this point that many a person could lose sympathy for him. What kind of bestial egotist over-man is he? Rand loses the reader's sympathies here, when she goes in for some kind of sado-masochistic dominating relationship over Dominique. She does the same with Dagny and John Galt, possibly all of her heroes and heroines. Her theory of sexual love is truly sick, a perversion- in the same way that Dominique almost dying and killing herself for Roark is wrong, and does not demonstrate her love for him.
The Rav has the right of it- the marriage union describes the I-thou relationship rather than the I-it relationship. Dominique sacrifices all she is for Roark. She puts him up on a pedestal, almost worships him, rather than becoming his partner. She is not a partner or help-mate; she is a worshipper, someone who exists merely to help him to get to his goal, she is a possesion and though it is true that she can leave the one man for the other- she is posessed by Roark, while she dominates all her other relationships. Dominique never becomes Roark's equal-only someone willing to sacrifice for him, someone willing to be dominated. We admire Roark's sense of himself as creator, and we admire Dominique for finally allowing the world to destroy both her and Roark rather than destroying him herself, but it is difficult to admire Dominique- or Dagny- in their own right.
And this, I think, is the root of the problem and the reason why.
Perhaps it is all a subtle mockery, with our understanding leading us to read Howard Roark and Dominique as a tragic couple, and even though they win and are correct; they are still coupled in that tragedy of never being equals- but I think this would be beyond Ayn Rand and her bleak sureties. Perhaps in my revisionist reading of the book...
Rabbi Soloveitchik's philosphy in opposition to and complementing Ayn Rand's works is fantastic. I don't think anyone (who has the ability and the knowledge) should read her books without reading the Rav; in and of themselves her books can only be frustrating and disturbing.
But with his critique...her books are fascinating- because I wouldn't have understood what the Rav was saying if not for reading that scene, and wouldn't have understood why precisely that scene disgusted me so much without his differentiaton between the relationship of the I-it and the I-thou.
And so everything works together...Torah u'Madda, at its best.