Appreciating Appreciation in Atlas Shrugged

My father-in-law has just finished the two tomes of Ayn Rand.  I’m no fan of “Objectivism,” but I confess to remembering that the books were interesting enough.  Since I haven’t read them since I was 19 years old, failing memory and curiosity conspired against me, and I pulled Atlas Shrugged off the shelf and started reading it again yesterday.  Somehow that one survived the many rounds of bookshelf cuts over the years, while The Fountainhead did not.

I was struck as I began re-reading to find, near the beginning of Atlas Shrugged, a bit of musical criticism:

[Dagny Taggart] sat listening to the music.  It was a symphony of triumph. The notes flowed up, they spoke of rising and they were the rising itself, they were the essence and the form of upward motion, they seemed to embody every human act and thought that had ascent as its motive.  It was a sunburst of sound, breaking out of hiding and spreading open.  It had the freedom of release and the tension of purpose.  It swept space clean, and left nothing but the joy of an unobstructed effort.  Only a faint echo within the sounds spoke of that from which the music had escaped, but spoke in laughing astonishment at the discovery that there was no ugliness or pain, and there never had had to be.  It was the song of an immense deliverance.

She thought: For just a few moments – while this lasts – it is alright to surrender completely – to forget everything and just permit yourself to feel.  She thought: Let go – drop the controls – this is it.

Somewhere on the edge of her mind, under the music, she heard the sound of train wheels.  They knocked in an even rhythm, every fourth knock accented, as if stressing a conscious purpose.  She could relax, because she heard the wheels.  She listened to the symphony, thinking: This is why the wheels have to be kept going, and this is where they’re going.

The symphony is the first mystery of the book – how did it come to be?  We’ll see if I have the will to wade through the next 1000 pages again to refresh my memory.

Thanks for reading.


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