Seeing people walk through the Uffizi:
Commentary on The Seven Valleys
A commentary on The Seven Valleys – a Bahá’í mystical text – based on some of the ideas of The Fountainhead:
We search for Quality, for the living goodness which is the life of all things great and beautiful. To find it we must be free of the judgments and ideas of the world. When we stand thus, unashamed of our desire and knowing our being’s right and capacity to name it, then in proportion to our effort we will find it: The good, the right, that which answers “Yes” to the question of our being.
When we discover this quality, we must love it; it is the water of our thirst, that alone whose sight justifies seeing. Then we will see how much the world dishonors it, hates it, makes a mockery of it exactly for its beauty. They do not know. Those who fear it as the destruction of their idea of beauty, teach others to fight and destroy it. The more we see this perfection in the hands of those who worship imperfection, the more we want to rescue it from such hands, to save it from unworthy eyes. We would rather destroy it then let the profane mangle it by their words. This is pain, and the greater our love, the greater our agony.
This love would destroy us – in a world that seems to honor lowliness and forever sees greatness as apart from men – until we learn the nature of the good, and know its true sovereignty. The calumnies of its enemies are like praise: they show how much they fear it and know its power; their profanity honors it in the eyes of those who know: by making obvious the contrast. The water they would pour to extinguish it is changed to oil; the prison they would keep it in only banks the flames and intensifies the illumination. It is unstoppable, and both its friends and its enemies serve its cause.
Then we see that this good is everywhere, underlying everything. Nothing can remain in existence without it. It is the life and potency of every action – even those directed against it. And it is all one, this basis. It is one light, in the diversity of all its possible colors reflecting from every created thing. It is one spirit and existence is the body clothing that spirit. The world is a lamp, kindled to reveal its light. A man’s glory is not in his distinction from his fellows, but in his revelation of this glorious good that shines through him more completely, more perfectly, than anywhere else.
Now being seeks nothing more, for in its own being is true being: the good, the beauty it had hoped and longed for. It sees that it itself is the purpose for its own being, and that its self is the self of a perfection beyond words. He reads, “Forget all save Me and commune with My spirit,” and finds the answer in his own being’s purpose, echoing Rumi: “The beauty of my own emptiness filled me until dawn.” The single man starts to fade away, and in his place dawns Man – its meaning, hope and goal. He sees himself as both king and servant in the same instant; he is the seat of his Master, and the hand that answers to His will. He is complete.
A being so at one with its object, so intimate in its relation to the good, can see and appreciate its diverse forms with neither fear nor longing. Its forms are limitless, its beauty beyond any mortal capacity to bear. No limited thing can contain it, while no limitation can exist without reference to it. It surpasses the highest understanding, the deepest appreciation. The individual is torn apart in his desire to embrace and honor it, but it leaves him panting and disappointed. The good does not need him, but he cannot live without the good. He feels himself destroyed and uplifted by its greatness at every moment.
Until at last the shroud of limitation is put off, and the drop merges with the sea. This is not the death of the body and life hereafter, but the death of the effort to contain, and the life of being contained, at one. Now the drop and the ocean cannot be distinguished, nor can you separate one ray from the brilliance of the sun. Such a being may live a physical life, but he is no longer apart from the good, seeing it from outside – as the lover looks on with rapture at his beloved – he is become the good; its name is his name; there is no longer either division or conflict. Look for him, himself, and you cannot find him; but at the same time he is everywhere, taking part in everything. His being is the same as the first of mankind and of its last. When a being who strives for greatness looks him in the eye, he sees himself. For the lantern is now lit in its full splendor, and its being is the light it reveals; the iron of the cage around it is all but forgotten next to the purpose of the lamp.
Psychological implications of The Fountainhead
The ego that seeks the admiration of others represents the feeling of ourselves as despicable and a desire to escape any knowledge of that feeling. It is what we feel poignantly whenever we sit still and are apart from others long enough.
Self-destructive behaviors are a desire to end this feeling, since the ego cannot eliminate the fact that we despise ourselves. And since we can only despise something we know to be honorable and good, as fallen from its possible glory, it is our respect for ourselves we want to ruin in order no longer to feel that we have a right to despise ourselves. We hate because we love, and this love is tearing us in two because there is something very wrong we are not facing.
The answer is not found in salvation, or sacrifice, or suicide – or in dedicating one’s life to serving others because one feels unworthy to be served. The answer is plain, simple knowledge. Find out why you despise yourself, and you will know what to do to end it.
Every soul can find the answer to its problems. There are more solutions than problems in the world, because the mind is active, living, limitless; while problems stand alone, fixed, unmoving. A mind faced with a problem can name a thousand avenues of approach – while there always remains only one thing that is being approached.
To claim a problem cannot be solved is a wish that someone else will come and solve it. This is the same ego, wanting the world to live up to its hopes and defend it from the existence of the problem. Where there is knowledge and a will to know, however, the solution will be evident.
It is obvious that we do not like ourselves. Go anywhere and listen to people talk about their spouse, their boss, their job, their government, their country, their world. They are living in a place they do not like, and somewhere inside them they realize that the form of that world is only the contributions of those who live in it – including them. Everyone will tell you eagerly how much others have screwed up the world. This is the alternate side of the ego: it works positively to attract praise, and negatively to divert blame. We know the world is the sum of its individuals, and that governments exist by consent of their citizens; but only a few will admit, “I help to create and maintain a world I despise.”
For example, we are compassionate people who eat meat, knowing the animals are not respected and cared for – or trying not to know. Others want to end the moral conflict by withdrawing, living in their own gardens, naked and without convenience if possible to escape the sickness of our global condition. How can this be the answer, to regress all the hard-won efforts of civilization? Avoiding meat does not answer the slavery, misery, and poverty sustaining the lives of those with luxury and time to consider these problems.
How can we admire the world we see now? Id even one person willing to state honestly that the world he sees matches his image of beauty and perfection? We grow up in this turmoil, the mass confusion of a world repulsed by itself; we make compromises with it, losing ours ideals one by one to age and experience; we cut out a safe little corner listen to others tell us that no one can change it all, that one person is powerless against so much corruption, that if he lifts his head above the crowd in pride, it will and should be cut off.
But we cannot so easily fool ourselves. We are honest, noble creatures, every one of us. This is what makes depravity depraved: that one fallen low should have been high. We are the custodians and authors of our world; like any creation, it reflects our values and our commitment to those values. We look at the world and must turn away: we must not know what we have allowed it to become and remain. It is a mirror whose image is too painful to contemplate.
In response to this, in honest assessment of what we are and are a part of, we discover a horror too awful to admit. Numberless bromides, reasons, excuses are thrown up to block out that knowledge. Because we love ourselves, we cannot look at ourselves; because we love the world, we must give up on the world. This is why the ego exists and why we continue to do things to destroy our self-respect: If our respect for our self became too great, we would have to answer for the state of the world.
Why? Is one person so important he should consider himself responsible, by sin of omission, for the entire world? It is exactly because one person could change all of it, but runs from this knowledge, that he also runs from himself.
The form of change cannot always be foreseen; it may set in motion events that play out over centuries. But all such changes begin with the certainty, not only that it can be done, but it is the nature of man’s being alone to do so. There is nothing in existence which does not bow, in the end, to his creativity, his ingenuity, his persistence and integrity, and his resource for co-operative endeavor. The universe itself, in time, will become a means for realizing our vision, as has the sea, the air, the mountains. Look at man’s physical form – beautiful yet powerless before nature’s beasts – then go to a zoo and know who you are.
Only a man who bows before a problem cannot solve it; only the one who regards the world’s troubles with awe and fear cannot overcome them. Our race, as it stands now, began with a handful of individuals a long time ago, when the whole earth was a garden of dangers. Visit New York City sometime, and see the changes their kind have wrought upon the world.
Most religions and spiritualists seek an end to the problem of ego in humiliation, in completely devaluing one’s self. This cannot, however, but worsen the essential problem which causes men to look to others for a sense of value. It is only by exaltation and discovering one’s true value – and the consequent self-respect this must engender – that the cause of ego is undone, and man can face himself in the mirror of the world again.
Let us acquire this knowledge of our nature and of our power, and set out in life to do what will answer to our basic love of that life. The crucial factor is self-knowledge, and discovery of that certitude which moves not only mountains, but all the affairs of men if it has a mind to. The ego will ask, “How? Am I doing it right?”, but know who you are and you will go out and do it – whatever the form of your longing as part-owner of the world. The solutions will present themselves like able servants who had been standing, waiting, ready all along.
Guidelines for Writing
A projection of the character of Howard Roark into a set of guidelines for writing:
Write what you want to read. If you were stranded on an island with only your own work, how would feel about it? This is the goal to aim for: that it’s only your own work you would want to take with you.
In the beginning this means acquiring skills: grammar, vocabulary, techniques of imagery, use of punctuation. It also means practice, experimentation, effort – as with any activity whose end involves a performance of some kind.
As you develop, you will like what you write more and more. Writing will become a joy in itself, an experience of your own creative power. Your respect for your work will increase, and beyond one point it will seem precious to you, too sacred for profane eyes. What you write will become like love letters to your own soul, and you will treat them as such; until the only reader worthy enough is your own self; when publishing seems like a sacrifice of your finest pearls before the common eyes of the public. As a lover guards his beloved’s correspondence, reading them again and again into the late night – writing responses just because and burning them to honor their sacred nature – this is the writer’s highest experience of himself, his communion with the beauty of his own soul.
What is conspicuously missing from this is the role of others. They have no role. In the eyes of other people what you write may seem like garbage. But you are not writing for an audience or for any other purpose but to write. When an author has another purpose, he will start looking for shortcuts to that end, ways around the necessity of writing. But for the writer there is only writing; he must write; he needs to write like he needs to eat and sleep, it is the food of his heart and the breath of his spirit. Poverty as a writer is wealth to him, and riches without, no life at all.
Perhaps, when the world offers its response to his words, you will find him writing his future works on sand, or water, seated next to a crackling fire that feeds on paper. He writes, not in reference to the world, but to his own knowledge of whether that sublime quality he seeks is present or not. His pen is a lighthouse, and his being, a barge on troubled seas seeking land. What he writes is his gateway to heaven – and he writes only to discover that door.
Such an act needs nor wants any explanation. It stands on its own, complete in what it is. If people ask if you are a writer, hand them what you’ve written, giving and expecting no words in return. Writing is an act, not a title; it is the spirit, not the body. Everyone knows if a body is dead or not in the first instant; a writer knows as surely whether his work has anything to do with writing or not.
It may seem a lonely existence – but how can it be? He has writing for a companion! The very quality that makes for the truest, most satisfying friendships, is the quality he summons by the movements of his pen or the pounding of keys.
The harder part is not writing for yourself, but knowing what you truly want apart from what others have told you to want. The two can seem indistinguishable. If you like something, and never consider how much someone else would like it – if you haven’t time for such thoughts in the midst of your rapture – this is a good sign.
If at the end there is no joy, if it does not make you feel the happiness of a creative being creating, this is also good to know. Your artform lies elsewhere. The first role of education should be to help you find it; the second should be to give you the skill to explore it to the utmost.
The function of the soul is to love, and it can only love the highest, the greatest – in everyone and everything. What you do in writing is to exercise your capacity for that love and use your mind and faculties to create what is deserving of such love. It is a matter of life and death – of the soul. This is what it means to live for the sake of your soul. It is only by your deepest, your truest, your purest desire, that you will learn the nature and quality of your soul’s highest love: itself. Writing is an act of conjuration; the recitation of it is a spell of the highest power. And when you read another’s work of this quality, you will recognize yourself it. It is not a recognition of the self that writes: but of the Self revealed by such writing.
This is why it is paramount to write only what you want to read. Forget all else and commune with that spirit whose presence is the life of all true effort. Then you will no longer need advice of any kind.