Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Chapter 9: The Sacred and the Profane

The structure of this chapter is based on a chain of sections alternating between the sacred and the profane. The series oscillates between obvious elements of the good and the evil. Yet, in each explictly-denoted sacred or profane section, there are more subtle contrasts of the sacred and the profane.

The chapter starts with Rearden and Dagny's verbal reaction to the sex they had after Wyatt's party. Rearden states that he does not love her, that he finds it depraved that he has reduced her once stoic, pristine, form to this bitch, that he needs her, nonetheless. It is thus his self-esteem that he's given her. Although Rearden's words foreshadows a deep evil plaguing his capacity for happiness, Dagny clearly admits that she submitted to him knowing the greatness he represented, his worth, and that she had earned him, the "proudest attainment," to look forward to at the end of one's arduous day. This is an overall sacred section, where Dagny and Rearden's relationship is put into words, but because of Rearden's (who is unable to free himself from the orthodox beliefs of sex and lust as sin) viewing their love as depraved, it is profane.

Starkly different is the relationship between James Taggart and Cherryl Brooks. Superficially, Taggart is attracted to her because of her ignorance, her genuine belief that he is one of the heroes who made the John Galt Line possible; he finds a different sort of pleasure from her in that she actually believes he is worthwhile, genuinely great--when the fact that he's merely a stooge, another parasite, is the secret source of contempt he receives from his colleagues. His real motive, however, is his feeling of "superiority of having put something over on her," having tricked her into believing him a hero, having made her believe that the slouch that he is is actually something great. Moreover, he triumphs in having filled her with doubts of greatness, that great men are unhappy, that even great men are vulnerable to being "flea-bait," that up there, it's even worse than the slums. Cherryl continues making up excuses to maintain her vision of him as a hero, perhaps too naive to see the truth of his core, or unwilling to believe that this was what she knew of as a great man. The setting of this section is aptly dark with James Taggart wandering a lower-class neighborhood alone in the night--he should have been jumped, but instead, he, the profane, has jumped this innocent girl, who still believed in the sacred.

Dagny and Rearden meet after having to deal with the aftermath of their success--the myriad newscasters wanting more details on Dagny, the immense amount of shippers wanting in on the John Galt Line, and as they make love, the goal to look forward to, the reward of a hectic day, it becomes apparant that the heroes' love is based on a capitalistic pride of mutual worth and trade--the sacred--while that of Brooks and Taggart is based on mutual deceit of worth--the profane.

The fourth section involves Mowen complaining about how somebody should do something about the dilapidated state of the world, how it's not right that everyone's moving to Colorado, etc., to a transient labor boy, who turns out to be Owen Kellogg, an ex-Taggart worker whom Dagny had offered anything for him to stay. In the midst of Mowen's profanity, his demands for his "share of that [Rearden] metal," Kellogg daydreams about the optimistic forecast in Colorado while competently doing his low-labor job. The profane jerks him out of his reverie, as Kellogg leaves the fantasy of the sacred, hinting at an omnious fact when Mowen asks him what's going to happen to the world--that Mowen wouldn't care to know.

In the fifth scene of the chapter, it is as if Rearden has escaped the shackles of the profane--that he should feel guilt for taking Dagny on as a mistress. He asks to take Dagny on a vacation--three weeks away from the world, the only break time they'll get for the next three years. In a solid ascertaining of his appraisal of her worth, he asks that she wears the bracelet of Rearden metal, and he puts it on her wrist, not caring what others would think, albeit if the news gets out, he would be the one who takes the harder blow. That a sacred love would be considered profane, if the media vultures down on it as if carrion.

In the last section of this chapter, Rearden and Dagny attempt a week of random wandering to begin their vacation. Heroes, however, cannot withstand aimlessness; for them, resting does not have to be purposeless, and Dagny proposes that they start visiting old ore mines and factories, ferreting out abandoned sites of natural resources and scavenging potential equipment. As they venture into the remains of the late Twentieth Century Motor Company, Rand illustrates the epitome of the profane: the broken remains of civilization, the wood-burning stone hearth that replaced an electric stove, now become a cupboard, the oil-cans used to draw up well water, the people living bereft of life, as if galvanized by mere chemical reactions to stimuli they cannot process meaning to. When Dagny and Rearden enter the factory, Dagny discovers the remnant of a motor that could have changed the world, "saved ten years off everyone's life," revolutionalized production--a motor that runs on static electricity, not requiring fuel to power it, an infinite and unlimited supply of energy. While every other source of wealth had been looted from the abandoned factory--the office had been raped clear of paper documents, re-usable parts scavengeed away--this motor had stayed left behind underneath piles of rubble, of popcorn wrappers, whiskey bottles, confession magazines... its useable parts had already been taken apart, stripped from it, the looters not capable of ascertaining the transcedent value of this motor. To Dagny, it's utter profanity that such a sacred item would be forgotten in the midst of a hopeless wasteland. To Rearden, the finding of the sacred galvanizes him into a plan of action, of finding the man who created it--and Dagny ascertains that she will find him. The desolate profanity that is the dilapidated setting of this section represents the world and the motor represents Galt, the rare mind born once in a century, capable of saving it or leaving it.

What is the profane, and what is the sacred? There is the common belief that anything carnal is profane, despite the nature of the act. But, when placed in juxtaposition next to the scenes of profound waste, of slow crumbling away, of a great life source lost underneath a pile of rubble, forgotten, even as the people pine away, struggling to live without life, with vacant eyes, listless uncaring... it becomes apparent that it is really one's actions that should be judged to be deemed profane or sacred. The uncaring let-to-rot attitude of the town that remains of the Twentieth Century Motor company is the utterly profane, as well as James Taggart's indifference as to what he wants--his smearing out of crisp clear thoughts to the fog of feelings. Whereas, despite orthodox beliefs of original sin, what Dagny and Rearden share is sacred--the mutual giving of pleasure as an act of tribute for mutual greatness.


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