“A Good Read" this week discussed Ayn Rand’s novel “The Fountainhead”.
Meg Rosoff [top] and Sara Pascoe
Sara Pascoe, described on the website as a ‘stand-up”, chose the book. Her fellow contributor Meg Rosoff and AGR presenter Harriett Gilbert complained about being forced to re-read it, which they regarded as a huge chore because of its 800 page length, its ‘cheesiness’ and its politics. The particular bit of the conversation which caught my attention came towards the end of the programme, which was the point at which I switched the radio on. It starts at around 24:30.
“[Ayn Rand] thinks and feels like a teenager. I mean this is a really adolescent book.
“It really, really is, but I when I was reading it I thought this is so clever because she makes it so palatable.
And actually, to be fair to her, though why one should be I’m not sure because she has such loopy ideas, but, to be fair to her there are some things in there with which you can’t help agreeing.
I mean she grew up in Russia in a fairly prosperous family that was deprived of all its belongings when the revolution came along and she was, understandably, not at all keen on communism, but she’s not keen on fascism either but in both cases she sees them as ‘goupthink’ systems, so she concludes that the only alternative is the other side of the coin, it’s total selfishness, that you should never help anybody else out because that’s a sign of weakness and so on.”
“I mean part of me is really regretting bringing it in...”
“No no really, I enjoyed it, I really enjoyed reading i...”
“Sometimes I think getting into the mind of someone you don’t agree with is so much more fascinating than learning about people that you can absolutely understand why they believe these things” falters Sara, apologetically.
“I mean I love the way she uses language. I love her voice. I love the fact that it is, it is a woman. it’s a grown woman, and it’s a fantasy. It’s a fantasy book, and I feel like you could never take I mean all of the philosophy without the novel that she put together it was never a workable system that you could put together and implement and create any kind of good, but, I exist in such a liberal left-wing world, because of the people I work with, and I’m very...and luckily, but it was so refreshing for me to read a book which disagreed with people. A book that just staunchly said charity is bad. Don’t help people. If you’re gonna help people because it helps you, great; if not, why. And so. If someone who, and I was probably.. grew up thinking everyone should pay, especially if you earn more than thirty grand, about fifty, sixty percent tax, brilliant! And then everyone can go to school and we can blah blah blah blah. It was so interesting to say. But if you tax people... a lot... then, what is the incentive for people to do great things. To become rich, and, and, own and make huge things, and then employ lots of people and that keeps more people alive..”
She began reminding me of David Brent ruminating over some deeply philosophical abstraction for the benefit of the camera, but she was cut short by Meg Rosoff:
“Oh my Gaad” “Now we have the voice of Paul Ryan coming at me, now that’s very (inaudible)”
Sara continued, defensively:
“No-one had ever said that to me. No-one had ever talked to me about it, and the fact that there was a novel, that then, made me open to listening to more right-wing political views, just for their usefulness, rather than just being very staunchly ‘No! This defines me! I think this. I think I want to live in a socialist world where we’re all equal, and...Oh no! You’re all laughing at me..I’m not gonna say now”
“Hahahaha” hooted Meg
Harriett Gilbert intervened:
You really do need to see Meg Rosoff’s face at this point...”
“Hahahahahaha” cackled Meg.
“And the way it’s just falling” (?) adds Sara, apparently referring to Meg’s face
“But Meg, isn’t the one delight in this book that it does occasionally keep wrong-footing you. I mean you’re sort of going through it thinking you know exactly where it’s going, in every single respect. And then it does wonderful things like it’s got some great satire going on in there. I mean wonderful satire about the tabloid press for instance. This desperate search for the lowest and even lower common denominator, and how the tabloid press will manage to titillate, and how they’ll write about rape and corruption and everything while holding the high moral ground, how disgusting this is.”
The discussion continues for a short time, and concludes.
I haven’t read Ayn Rand, so the scant fragments I’ve gathered about her writing are based on hearsay.
Nor had I heard of Sara Pascoe, so my observations are not even based on hearsay, but whoever she is, she enunciated these revelatory concepts breathlessly yet with an excited, staccato delivery. It sounded like a faltering awakening - half apologetic, and half embarrassed because of the unsympathetic audience.
Meg Roscoff, (who I’d not heard of either pardon my ignorance) hooted with mirth at the thought of a comrade daring to deviate from the default line of thought. The effrontery.
Fleetingly, I imagined this scenario turned on its head, from the opposite side of the political divide. Say something similar took place before the pendulum swung to the left, i.e., before they invented sex and Phillip Larkin, when the conservative right was the status quo, would any ‘liberal left’ views have gone down any better? There surely would have been a considerable amount of tut tutting, but perhaps a bit less of the disdainful sneering. Were progressive ideas generally treated with more respect? At least in those days politeness was the status quo.
That was just a thought. The possibility remains that one day the centre of gravity will readjust and Sara Pascoe and her ilk will fling off their straightjackets, and people will like Ms Rosoff will laugh alone.
I noted Harriett Gilbert’s characterization of the tabloid press, as though the holy Guardian isn’t equally guilty of astonishingly hypocritical prurience, which the flimsy cloak of its self-imposed position atop the intellectual moral high ground cannot quite conceal. Which brings us to the Music College Sex Scandals that are popping up everywhere, over which the Guardian has been by far the most explicit and the most salacious.
Having been indirectly involved with both Chetham’s, the RNCM, the RCM and the GSMD I have my own view on this topic, but that’s neither here nor there for now. But it does bring me to Norman Lebrecht’s blog, which examines this topic from various angles, and lo, brings me back to the beginning of this piece, namely leftism @ BBC.