The next chapter opens with Dagny Taggart, who is standing in front of the Taggart Transcontinental building and musing on the paradox (she doesn’t call it that) that to keep the building standing, immovable, it needs “motive power”. In particular, she has just finished seeing the president of the locomotive company, who is clearly not a high achiever, and can’t (or won’t) commit to delivering new engines, and shows the symptomatic evasion, reluctance, and resentment of Rand’s villains.
More bad news is waiting for her, as she finds out that the competent contractor who agreed to work on the Rio Norte line, McNamara, has unexpectedly and mysteriously quit, walking out on years worth of lucrative contracts. Stunned by the news, Dagny walks home in a daze.
At home, listening to the music of Richard Halley, Dagny reflects on Halley’s life. Typically for Rand’s heroes, Halley had struggled all of his life, working in loneliness and obscurity. His music, filled with ecstasy and heroic themes, was dismissed by critics for much of his life. Ultimately, however, he met with success, his music recognized — and also met with this:
‘ “The music of Richard Halley,” wrote a critic next morning, “belongs to mankind. It is the product and expression of the greatness of the people.” “There is an inspiring lesson,” said a minister, “in the life of Richard Halley. He has had a terrible struggle, but what does that matter? It is proper, it is noble that he should have endured suffering, injustice, abuse at the hands of his brothers — in order to enrich their lives and teach them to appreciate the beauty of great music.” ‘
Halley retired the next day, packed up, and disappeared.
I should note that his opera was about a Greek myth, with which I’m not familiar: “Phaethon” (I’m not sure how to get the proper umlaut or whatever it is over the “e”, so I’ll leave it to your imagination). In the original story, Phaethon, son of Helios, stole his father’s chariot, and perished in attempting to drive it across the sky. Halley changed the ending such that Phaethon survived and triumphed.
Two of Rand’s central themes are represented here. The first theme is joy and triumph as a reward for boldness (I’ve been told that Rand had a painting of Icarus succeeding in his flight instead of falling to his doom, IIRC, certainly a similar idea to Phaethon here). Rand not only does not believe in the concept of hubris, she outright snarls at the idea. The second theme is the idea that it is better to destroy one’s work, or at least stop doing more work, rather than having it stolen. In this case, it’s intellectual property, so it’s not being stolen in a physical sense, but the critics are stealing it by not giving Halley credit for his work and suggesting that he deserved all of the hardship he suffered, somehow.
The critics’ remarks are grotesque, no question. However, we’re back to an issue that I raised in a previous post. Here, we’re presented with two extremes to choose from: either Halley’s music is completely his own, or it’s completely somehow the product of society and he added nothing. While clearly Halley has worked tremendously hard and made something special, I have to assume that he heard other music written and performed by other people which influenced him; at least, that’s the way this kind of thing works in real life. Does he owe them anything (in particular, does he owe them recognition, at least)? My gut says yes, even if he paid for the music that he listened to in full every time.
There’s an unresolved conceptual issue here, but I’m not having any more words for gripping with it at the moment. It will come up again, so we’ll see what happens then.