A young Nora Ephron (read: prior to perpetrating such cultural abominations as You’ve Got Mail) once wrote a New York Times op-ed piece, “A Strange Kind of Simplicity,” about Ayn Rand’s seminal novel The Fountainhead and all the ways its readers tend to overlook a central point. In telling the story of the heroic, redheaded architect Howard Roark, Rand is lauding the individual over the collective, lambasting the concept of altruism, and celebrating the pursuit of self-interest as the highest form of good. But an 18-year old Ephron, reading the novel for the first time, missed all that. Instead, she writes, “I spent the next year hoping I would find a gaunt, orange-haired architect who would rape me.” When I read that line, Ephron finally managed to make me do what all of her movies could not: laugh.
I too read The Fountainhead at a young age, and it took me several misguided years to realize that, at best, the story is a parable and, at worst, the sick fantasy of an author who finds free-market capitalism and sadomasochism appealing in equal measure. Either way, it is not, as my younger self believed, to be referenced as one of life’s guiding sources. Beyond conflating the notions of love and violence, as she did for Ephron, the greatest disservice Ayn Rand did the reading public was to position the concept of individualism so far counter to the idea of the collective. She made me believe, for a time, that to be a part of anything , to need anything beyond myself, was weak—a flaw in character, a failure of spirit.
If only Matthew Hoffman had been around back then.