Thursday, 14 August 2008

It's Not My Fault!

One of the most vivid characters in modern literature, though it is a book with many faults (120 pages of the author spouting junk being the most egregious), is Jim Taggart out of Atlas Shrugged. In fact he is not a character at all, but an extended snivel, a drawn out length of snot from humanity's flu-stricken nose.

What is only slightly more subtle in the novel is how his grasping desire for control and containment is sheltered by his noisy throat-clearing compassion. Each and every act of "mooching" is covered by the right vocabulary: of fairness, the "little guy", of chance, of opportunity.

His ultimate act of compassion, the apotheosis of his care, is to watch a man on a torture device: at which point Jim collapses, presumably from the weight of his own internal contradictions.

I wonder if I could play him in the forthcoming movie, although i am surprised such a project is being considered (I do hope they aren't making it with any subsidy or tax-breaks).

It is a disturbingly gripping novel for such an extended political moan: I usually loathe polemics, and books which (as they frequently do) go on and on about THAtcher get thrown in the bin in the Drummer-house, so it is a bit unusual for me to like this book so much. I think, because, ultimately, there are so damn few books in which the leftists are the unadultered villains: in 99% of art the left is the good side, the subsidy-vampires the nice blokes, the believers in a certain type of equality the really beautiful people, that this book stands out massively.

And sometimes, yes, you do like to see your worldview for once reinforced by art instead of slammed by it.

But Jim Taggart is more than a villain: he isn't competent enough to be a villain, though he causes enough evil, and occasionally willingly so. It is because in the annals of villains he is so thoroughly unwilling to acknowledge himself as a villain that the problem occurs: few villains go through literature without exposure, without catharsis of one kind or another, without total destruction or without being a conscious vehicle for evil. Jim Taggart's whining love of good marks him out as peculiar in the halls of literary ghastliness. A special type of evil is his, that takes loves of humanity as its starting point.

The book is clear on the point that Jim Taggart has no love, through what it drives his girlfriend to (I can't remember if she marries him or not); but this is needless and mere propagandising by Rand. It is clear regardless of this woman that Taggart is a scumsucking lowlife, and that it is a strange kind of hollowed out, emotionless love, that makes him so.

It is a vaguely obvious point: love is a human emotion, not a rational point of view. You can't love something as amorphous and unknown to you as humanity. You can only love people.

Though having said that, the book is equally clear on the point that you can love money, and railways. Although this is a cheap shot: these loves are really shown to be a kind of self-love, which is really no more than self-respect: from which societies are ultimately derived.

Don't know if I follow that, as such.

But fuck me I really do not like the shrieking harridan Jim Taggart, with his constant proclamations of innocence, his seizure of other people's wealth and ultimately genius, his harping, whinging, moaning and carping, his treatment of individuals as sources of his own influence and power, all neatly parcelled in the thin wrappings of compassion.

I can't help thinking I've heard of people like this awful harpie elsewhere, somewhere recently....

Fuck me the book is 645 000 words according to Wikipedia. And I've read it 3 times, including all the John Galt stuff. That's nearly 2 000 000 words i can never get back. But I don't mind. i'd've only listened to Radio 4 or gotten pissed or something instead (and yes I was sober when i read it, all 3 times).

1 comment:

Crushed said...

Not read it, but I just read up on it, on the basus of your write up and I think I might pop to Waterstones and get it.