The theme of Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged is the role of the mind in man’s existence. In this passage, Richard Halley, a great composer who left the field at the height of his success, is speaking to Dagny Taggart, a railroad executive.
“Miss Taggart, how many people are there to whom my work means as much as it does to you? . . . That is the payment I demand. Not many can afford it. I don’t mean your enjoyment, I don’t mean your emotion — emotions be damned! — I mean your understanding and the fact that your enjoyment was of the same nature as mine, that it came from the same source: from your intelligence, from the conscious judgment of a mind able to judge my work by the standard of the same values that went to write it — I mean, not the fact that you felt, but that you felt what I wished you to feel, not the fact that you admire my work, but that you admire it for the things I wished to be admired. . . . There’s only one passion in most artists more violent than their desire for admiration: their fear of identifying the nature of such admiration as they do receive. But it’s a fear I’ve never shared. I do not fool myself about my work or the response I seek — I value both too highly. I do not care to be admired causelessly, emotionally, intuitively, instinctively — or blindly. I do not care for blindness in any form, I have too much to show — or for deafness, I have too much to say. I do not care to be admired by anyone’s heart — only by someone’s head. And when I find a customer with that invaluable capacity, then my performance is a mutual trade to mutual profit. An artist is a trader, Miss Taggart, the hardest and most exacting of all traders. . . .
“Do you see why I’d give three dozen modern artists for one real businessmen? . . . Whether it’s a symphony or a coal mine, all work is an act of creating and comes from the same source: from an inviolate capacity to see through one’s own eyes — which means: the capacity to perform a rational identification — which means: the capacity to see, to connect and to make what had not been seen, connected and made before.
That shining vision which they talk about as belonging to the authors of symphonies and novels — what do they think is the driving faculty of men who discover how to use oil, how to run a mine, how to build an electric motor?
That shining vision which they talk about as belonging to the authors of symphonies and novels — what do they think is the driving faculty of men who discover how to use oil, how to run a mine, how to build an electric motor? That sacred fire which is said to burn within musicians and poets — what do they suppose moves an industrialist to defy the whole world for the sake of his new metal, as the inventors of the airplane, the builders of the railroads, the discoverers of new germs or new continents have done through all the ages? . . . An intransigent devotion to the pursuit of truth, Miss Taggart? Have you heard the moralists and the art lovers of the centuries talk about the artist’s intransigent devotion to the pursuit of truth? Name me a greater example of such devotion than the act of a man who says that the earth does turn, or the act of a man who says that an alloy of steel and copper has certain properties which enable it to do certain things, that it is
— and let the world rack him or ruin him; he will not bear false witness to the evidence of his mind! This
, Miss Taggart, this sort of spirit, courage and love for truth — as against a sloppy bum who goes around proudly assuring you that he has almost reached the perfection of a lunatic, because he’s an artist who hasn’t the faintest idea what his art work is or means, he’s not restrained by such crude concepts as ‘being’ or ‘meaning,’ he’s the vehicle of higher mysteries, he doesn’t know how he created his work Or why, it just came out of him spontaneously, like vomit out of a drunkard, he did not think, he wouldn’t stoop to thinking, he just felt
it, all he has to do is feel — he feels
, the flabby, loose-mouthed, shifty-eyed, drooling, shivering, uncongealed bastard! I, who know what discipline, what effort, what tension of mind, what unrelenting strain upon one’s power of clarity are needed to produce a work of art — I, who know that it requires a labor which makes a chain gang look like rest and a severity no army-drilling sadist could impose — I’ll take the operator of a coal mine over any walking vehicle of higher mysteries. The operator knows that it’s not his feelings that keep the coal carts moving under the earth — and he knows what does keep them moving. Feelings? Oh yes, we do feel, he, you and I — we are, in fact, the only people capable of feeling — and we know where our feelings come from. But what we did not know and have delayed learning for too long is the nature of those who claim that they cannot account for their feelings. We did not know what it is that they feel. We are learning it now. It was a costly error. And those most guilty of it, will pay the hardest price — as, in justice, they must. Those most guilty of it were the real artists, who will now see that they are first to be exterminated and that they had prepared the triumph of their own exterminators by helping to destroy their only protectors. For if there is more tragic a fool than the businessman who doesn’t know that he’s an exponent of man’s highest creative spirit — it’s the artist who thinks that the businessman is his enemy.”
About the Author
Ayn Rand created and defined her philosophy, Objectivism, in the pages of her best-selling novels, particularly The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and in a series of nonfiction books that address a wide range of fundamental issues in philosophy.
Born Alisa Rosenbaum in Tsarist St. Petersburg in 1905, Rand witnessed the Russian Revolution as a teenager and promptly condemned communism as immoral for sacrificing the individual to the collective. In 1926, shortly after graduating from the University of Leningrad, she fled to America, adopting the pen name Ayn Rand to shield her family from possible persecution once her anti-communism became well known.
In Hollywood, she wrote scenarios for famous director Cecil B. DeMille and met her future husband on a movie set, but the couple struggled financially for years. Then came a string of writing successes: a Broadway play, followed by her first novel, We the Living (1936), then a novella called Anthem (1938), and later her first best seller, the story of a fiercely independent architect named Howard Roark in The Fountainhead (1943). All these works of fiction feature gripping stories and exalted, egoistic, this-worldly heroes.
In writing Atlas Shrugged (1957) — the story of a man who said he would stop the motor of the world, and did — Rand had to define fully her new philosophy of reason, rational self-interest, and laissez-faire capitalism.
Thereafter, and until her death in 1982, Rand amplified and explicated her “philosophy for living on earth” in a stream of books whose theoretical essays and cultural commentaries cover important topics across the five major branches of philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics and esthetics.