Weekly Rochester Events #294: Bégon Begone

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Well, I finally finished Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. So far everyone I've told that I read it said I shouldn't say that I read it. Also, I guess a lot of intellectual people freak out about. Thankfully, I don't really care what other people think and when I do, I try not to (as some of you already know; and as a subset of those know all too well.)

So, this week, I thought I'd try to highlight what I saw as the central theme and see if I can provide enough insight to pique some interest without going quite so far as to completely replace the need to read the actual book. I'm sure you're all very excited about it! If, for some reason, you're trying to find the context of any of these quotes in your own dog-eared copy, the page numbers refer to the paperback edition published by Penguin Putnam Inc. and as best I can tell, the copyright date is 1952 ... I'm pretty sure it's the one sold on Amazon, linked above.

The central character in the whole thing is an architect named Howard Roark. He gets kicked out of architect school — not because he can't handle the math or anything — but because he continuously refuses to create designs that follow styles from the past: his works are functional, practical, and original. One of his peers is Peter Keating who is a very good architect who embraces the ideals of designing from past styles but is unable let go of those styles to create anything that is truly original.

As Roark branches out on his own, he seeks out Henry Cameron, an older architect who is broke and broken. His originality stood in defiance of classical styles which resulted in every one of his buildings being panned by architectural critics until he had no clients who'd pay him. Cameron offers Roark this advice (from page 65:)

"Not enough?" asked Cameron. "All right. Then, one day, you'll see on a piece of paper before you a building that will make you want to kneel; you won't believe that you've done it, but you will have done it; then you'll think that the earth is beautiful and the air smells of spring and you love your fellow men, because there is no evil in the world. And you'll set out from your house with this drawing, to have it erected, because you won't have any doubt that it will be erected by the first man to see it. But you won't get very far from your house. Because you'll be stopped at the door by the man who's come to turn off the gas. You hadn't had much food, because you saved money to finish your drawing, but still you had to cook something and you hadn't paid for it.... All right, that's nothing, you can laugh at that. But finally you'll get into a man's office with your drawing, and you'll curse yourself for taking so much space of his air with your body, and you'll try to squeeze yourself out of his sight, so that he won't see you, but only hear your voice begging him, pleading, your voice licking his knees; you'll loathe yourself for it, but you won't care, if only he'd let you put up that building, you won't care, you'll want to rip your insides open to show him, because if he saw what's there he'd have to let you put it up. But he'll say that he's very sorry, only the commission has just been given to Guy Francon. And you'll go home, and do you know what you'll do there? You'll cry. You'll cry like a woman, like a drunkard, like an animal. That's your future, Howard Roark. Now, do you want it?"

"Yes," said Roark.

Roark works for Cameron for a while and eventually starts his own firm. He gets clients infrequently, but his designs fit each client perfectly, generally making them quite happy — however, as was the case with Cameron, those same designs are critiqued negatively by the press specifically becuase they are original and don't follow classical styles. It is the fact that they stand in contrast so strongly to anything else that they are singled out as examples.

Ayn Rand introduces two other key characters whom, along with Keating, I'm going to completely gloss over. The first is Ellsworth Toohey who lives for his own private agenda and gains prestige through a network of friends he maintains by encouraging their communal nature. The other is Dominique Francon who has enough charm to hold dominion over many admirers but strives to lead a life of individuality instead.

The four central characters play out on opposing axes. Roark exists for his own self-interests, originality, and capitalism while Keating exists for the approval of others, consensus, and communism. Likewise, Toohey strives to spread his ideology by suppressing individuality while Dominique Francon strives to shed her influence over others to allow individuality to thrive.

Anyway, Roark takes a long time to find a peer and the newspaper magnate Gail Wyland is closer a match than anyone he's met: he runs his papers without regard to the opinions of others and enjoys the work he does. When he discovers Roark, he reviews the stories the paper had run in the past and is impressed with the buildings he created — in spite of the negative reviews printed in the paper. Within the files there is one photograph which is Roark looking upon a house he had designed, and Wynand is so inspired, he posts it on the wall over his desk.

As the two men get to know one another, their differences are revealed. At one point, Wynand takes Roark to some land he owns in the country and they discuss their philosophies (from page 551:)

"I was thinking of people who say that happiness is impossible on earth. Look how hard they all try to find some joy in life. Look how they struggle for it. Why should any living creature exist in pain? By what conceivable right can anyone demand that a human being exist for anything but his own joy? Every one of them wants it. Every part of him wants it. But they never find it. I wonder why. They whine and say they don't understand the meaning of life. There's a particular kind of people that I despise. Those who seek some sort of a higher purpose or 'universal goal,' who don't know what to live for, who moan that they must 'find themselves.' You hear it all around us. That seems to be the official bromide of our century. Every book you open. Every drooling self-confession. It seems to be the noble thing to confess. I'd think it would be the most shameful one."

"Look, Gail." Roark got up, reached out, tore a thick branch off a tree, held it in both hands, one fist closed at each end; then, his wrists and knuckles tensed against the resistance, he bent the branch slowly into an arc. "Now I can make what I want of it: a bow, a spear, a cane, a railing. That's the meaning of life."

"Your strength?"

"Your work." He tossed the branch aside. "The material the earth offers you and what you make of it ... What are you thinking of, Gail?"

"The photograph on the wall of my office."

Later on Wynand's yacht, Roark Roark elaborates further (from page 605:)
"That's the pattern most people follow."

"Yes! And isn't that the root of every despicable action? Not selfishness, but precisely the absence of a self. Look at them. The man who cheats and lies, but preserves a respectable front. He knows himself to be dishonest, but others think he's honest and he derives his self-respect from that, second-hand. The man who takes credit for an achievement which is not his own. He knows himself to be mediocre, but he's great in the eyes of others. The frustraded wretch who professes love for the inferior and clings to those less endowed, in order to establish his own superiority by comparison. The man whose sole aim is to make money. Now I don't see anything evil in a desire to make money. But money is only a means to some end. If a man wants it for a personal purpose—to invest in his industry, to create, to study, to travel, to enjoy luxury—he's completely moral. But the men who place money first go much beyond that. Personal luxury is a limited endeavor. What they want is ostentation: to show, to stun, to entertain to impress others. They're second-handers. Look at our so-called cultural endeavors. A lecturer who spouts some borrowed rehash of nothing at all that means nothing at all to him and the people who listen and don't give a damn, but sit there in order to tell their friends that they have attended a lecture by a famous name. All second-handers."

and finally defending himself in court, Roark brings it all together (from page 681:)
"Men have been taught that the ego is the synonym of evil, and selflessness the ideal of virtue. But the creator is the egotist in the absolute sense, and the selfless man is the one who does not think, feel, judge, or act. These are functions of the self.

"Here the basic reversal is most deadly. The issue has been perverted and man has been left no alternative—and no freedom. As poles of good and evil, he was offered two conceptions: egotism and altruism. Egotism was held to mean the sacrifice of others to self. Altruism—the sacrifice of self to others. This tied man irrevocably to other men and left him nothing but a choice of pain: his own pain borne for the sake of others or pain inflicted upon others for the sake of self. When it was added that man must find joy in self-immolation, the trap was closed. Man was forced to accept masochism as his ideal—under the threat that sadism was his only alternative. This was the greatest fraud ever perpetrated on mankind.

"This was the device by which dependence and suffering were perpetuated as fundamentals of life.

"The choice is not self-sacrifice or domination. The choice is independence or dependence. The code of the creator or the code of the second-hander. This is the basic issue. It rests upon the alternative of life or death. The code of the creator is built on the needs of the reasoning mind which allows man to survive. The code of the second-hander is built on the needs of a mind incapable of survival. All that which proceeds from man's independent ego is good. All that which proceeds from man's dependence upon men is evil."

As you might have noticed in my past essays, I took the bait: I'll buy the idea that the actions of the individual are better when they follow their drive to act rather than what they feel would be best for others. However, there are several unexplored facets to all this.

First, can you really be assured that any drive you have is best? If the thing you enjoy most is to cut down trees, shouldn't you assess whether it would be best for others if, say, you stopped cutting down trees before you've razed the whole forest? Or what if you're joy comes from being a soldier: is that really a skill you should "give" to your community?

Second, what if you don't know what your passion is? I'm coming up on 12 months of being non-employed (to distinguish it from the involuntary variety, unemployed) and nothing has struck me as any particular thing I want to do. I sometimes envy people who have mastery of one skill and a passion for it because I'm adequate at a lot of things — and both a master of none and with a passion for none. It's often a pain to sort-of bumble through life playing the "well, this is fun for a while" game.

Finally, is there a place for consensus at all? Sometimes the actions of committees are successful. There are a lot of traps to avoid, but on occasion, there is a group decision made that is right for everyone. And what of diplomacy — of finding that which is the greatest benefit to all parties involved? Is that not just pure altruism?

I leave you to your amusements.


The New York State Fair (I-690 near Route 695, Syracuse, N.Y.) begins today and runs through Labor Day, September 6 from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. [source: Freetime]

JayceLand Pick Daring and excellent acoustic soloist JoAnn Vaccaro will be at Starry Nites (696 University Ave., formerly Moonbeans) starting around 8 p.m. [source: Starry Nites calendar]

Over at Johnny's Irish Pub (1382 Culver Rd., still smoke-free) starting around 8:30 p.m. is Ciara Lynn. [source: Johnny's Irish Pub calendar]

The Bug Jar (219 Monroe Ave.) will be hosting rock/electronic/viola band The Wills Wilde, rock-ish emo synth-pop from Healthcare, and XLTieRack starting around 9 p.m. [source: Bug Jar calendar]

Tonight and Sunday, local comic Steve Burr, Bill "Moranimal" Moran, and Brian Herberger will be at Comix Café (3450 Winton Pl.) starting at 8:30 p.m. [source: Comix Café Calendar]

JayceLand Pick Over at The Rochester Visual Studies Workshop (31 Prince St.) starting around 11 p.m. is The Plastic Crimewave Sound, The Supposed, and semi-melodic fast-paced noise from Pengo [source: Carbon Records calendar]

Pure Kona Poetry Open Mic Night is at Daily Perks (389 Gregory St.) tonight starting at 7:30. [source: Daily Perks calendar]

Find the Propaganda Box at The Liberty Pole (Liberty Pole Wy.) today from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. playing independently produced videos giving an alternative view of political events than the mainstream media. [source: the proverbial grapevine]

Tonight at Daily Perks (389 Gregory St.) is Jazz Potato starting around 8 p.m. [source: Daily Perks calendar]

The Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) will be showing Tierische Liebe (Animal Love) starting at 8 p.m. and also tomorrow at 5 p.m. A bunch of alienated humans have pretty bizarre relationships with their pets. [source: Eastman House calendar]

JayceLand Pick The A-Mitosis will be at artsound (#8 in the Public Market, off N. Union St., formerly The All-Purpose Room) starting around 10 p.m. [source: artsound website]

JayceLand Pick Tonight and tomorrow, In Between the Lines (Drama House, University of Rochester Campus) will have another of their improv shows titled The Home Court Advantage Show at The University of Rochester (River Campus Map) at 10:30 p.m. [source: In Between the Lines calendar]

Lisa Bigwood will be at Starry Nites (696 University Ave., formerly Moonbeans) starting around 9 p.m. [source: Freetime]

Tonight at Alexander Street Pub (291 Alexander St.) is modern rock and cover band Uncle PlumGarageBand link starting around 10 p.m. [source: Freetime]

Find the Propaganda Box at The Liberty Pole (Liberty Pole Wy.) again today from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. playing independently produced videos giving an alternative view of political events than the mainstream media. [source: the proverbial grapevine]

JayceLand Pick Today is the annual The Bug Jar Summer Music Festival at Highland Bowl (South Ave. at Robinson Dr.) from noon to 10 p.m. featuring excellent rockabilly/rock from The Sadies, churning beats under wordy lyrics and nearly stacatto, twitchy melodies from We Ragazzi, thrashy metal from 25 Suaves, punk-rock from The Bloody Hollies, hard rock/punk-rock from The UV Rays, awesome punk-rock from The Blastoffs, power rock from Bee EaterGarageBand link, surf-rock instrumental band The Isotopes, and Blues For The Red Sun. [source: Bug Jar calendar]

Today is the opening of Kate Laux's Self-Portrait Collaboration Project from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. with music from Pengo at artsound (#8 in the Public Market, off N. Union St., formerly The All-Purpose Room) The installation runs until September 12. [source: artsound website]

Over at Craft Company No. 6 (785 University Ave.) starting around 2 p.m. is ARTWalk's Music on the Block Series featuring Out of the BluesIUMA link. [source: Freetime]

The Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) will be showing Taxi Driver starting at 8 p.m. DeNiro is one scary, messed-up dude. [source: Eastman House calendar]

Bat Boy: The Musical closes tonight at Shipping Dock Theatre (31 Prince St., new location at Visual Studies Workshop) at 8 p.m. [source: Shipping Dock Theatre mailing]

JayceLand Pick Monty's Krown (875 Monroe Ave.) will be hosting Irish-slanted punk band Tom Foolery and the Shenanigans, awesome punk-rock band The Blastoffs, and Sara Strusz starting around 10:30 p.m. [source: Monty's Krown calendar]

Excellent acoustic solo cover band guy John Akers will be at Johnny's Irish Pub (1382 Culver Rd., still smoke-free) starting around 9:30 p.m. [source: Johnny's Irish Pub calendar]

Over at Starry Nites (696 University Ave., formerly Moonbeans) starting around 9 p.m. is modern-rock band with excellent vocal harmonies, Free Air. [source: Rochester Music Coalition calendar]

Over at The Black Box Theatre (34 Elton St.) starting around 8 p.m. (maybe) is The Blackwater Ensemble. [source: WITR calendar]

McFadden's Restaurant and Saloon (60 Brown's Race) will be hosting reggae-influenced funk-rock band Mountain Mojo Authority (click here to skip their annoying flash intro) starting around 10 p.m. [source: Freetime]

JayceLand Pick ARTWalk's Music on the Block Series continues today with Allen Hopkins at Starry Nites (696 University Ave., formerly Moonbeans) starting around 2 p.m. [source: Freetime]

Tonight at Bullard Park (East Ave. (Rt. 31) at Clarendon St., Albion) is an American Kennel Club (AKC) Dog Show starting around 8 a.m. [source: Freetime]

Today is the last day of the 14th Annual Members Exhibition at Rochester Contemporary Art Gallery (137 East Ave.) [source: Rochester Contemporary calendar]

The Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) will be showing It's Alive! starting at 5 p.m. A newborn is really a mutated monster... [source: Eastman House calendar]

Today is the last day to see Jeanne Sozio's Jungle Gym Dreams at The Community Darkroom at The Genesee Center for the Arts (713 Monroe Ave.) [source: Genesee Center for the Arts calendar]

JayceLand Pick Over at The Bug Jar (219 Monroe Ave.) starting around 10:45 p.m. is The Skeleton Witch, heavy metal band Blüdwülf, Primordial, and Finisher. [source: Bug Jar calendar]

Tonight at RIT (One Lomb Memorial Dr., campus map image) is Uncle PlumGarageBand link starting around 10 p.m. [source: RIT CAB calendar]

JayceLand Pick Tonight's another Wide Open Mike with Norm Davis at Verb Café at Writers and Books (740 University Ave.) starting around 7:30 p.m. [source: Writers and Books calendar]

RIT (One Lomb Memorial Dr., campus map image) will be hosting very good acoustic soloist (although she may bring her band to this one) Mary Simon starting around 10 p.m. [source: RIT CAB calendar]

Please note that both The Burning Man Project and The 2004 Republican National Convention start today. It's a tough decision which one you'll want to attend. [source: the proverbial grapevine]

Tonight is a Tuesday Nature Nights Guided Bike Ride along Rochester's trail system starting at 6:15 p.m. (helmets required, weather cancellations will be made on site at the start time ... I guess unless it's obvious.) Tonight's ride is along the Genesee Riverway Trail and Erie Canal Trail starting at The Genesee Waterways Center (149 Elmwood Ave., in Genesee Valley Park.) [source: City Hall press release]

JayceLand Pick The Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) will be showing These Are the Damned starting at 8 p.m. The last of the films "not on video" shown this month, this one's apparently a strange one, morphing from being about a street gang into an anti-nuclear sci-fi flick. However, it apparently never quite becomes campy. [source: Eastman House calendar]

Tonight at Geva (75 Woodbury Blvd.) is the start of a new play, Broadway Bound by Neil Simon and directed by Tim Ocel. It's apparently the third and final play in Simon's semi-autobiographical trilogy about a couple brothers who set out to be comedy writers after World War II but find the business unravels their family bonds. It runs until October 3. [source: Geva Theatre website]

Just a Fire, and solid, fast, rhythmic rock band Kalpana will be at The Bug Jar (219 Monroe Ave.) starting around 10:45 p.m. [source: Bug Jar calendar]

JayceLand Pick Over at RIT (One Lomb Memorial Dr., campus map image) starting around 10 p.m. is really funny comic Jamie Lissow. [source: RIT CAB calendar]

Not ready for mainstream Daily Perks (389 Gregory St.) is hosting an Acoustic Open Mic from 8 to 10. For this one, there's no microphones and it's pretty open ended. [source: Daily Perks calendar]

JayceLand Pick The Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) will be showing films in honor of The Three Stooges 70th "Anni-voisary" Celebration starting at 8 p.m. The films include Men in Black, Violent is the Word for Curly, In the Sweet Pie and Pie, Micro-Phonies, You Nazty Spy!, An Ache in Every Stake, and Brideless Groom. [source: Eastman House calendar]

Poor People United meets tonight and every Wednesday at 7 at St. Joseph's House of Hospitality (402 South Ave.) [source: the proverbial grapevine]

Not ready for mainstream Tonight from 8 to 10 is an Open-Mic Comedy Night at Daily Perks (389 Gregory St.) While once it was a workshop type of environment, it's now more-or-less a regular open mic ... by default it's still a place to try out new stuff. [source: Daily Perks calendar]

1970's rock cover band guy Todd East will be at On the Rocks (1551 Mount Hope Ave., formerly Michael's and before that Trios) starting around 8:30 p.m. [source: Freetime]

JayceLand Pick Tonight at Starry Nites (696 University Ave., formerly Moonbeans) is light bluesy jazz instrumental band The Lumiere Gypsy Jazz Trio starting around 8 p.m. [source: Freetime]

Find the Propaganda Box on Monroe Ave. at Sumner Pk. today from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. playing independently produced videos giving an alternative view of political events than the mainstream media. [source: the proverbial grapevine]

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Movie links courtesy The Internet Movie Database. Map links courtesy MapsOnUs. Some movie synopses courtesy UpcomingMovies.com

About the title ... Michel Bégon died 294 years ago in 1710 and was the French governor in the West Indies whose name gives us the begonia.

This page is Jason Olshefsky's list of things to do in Rochester, NY and the surrounding region (including Monroe County and occasionally the Western New York region) from Thursday, August 26, 2004 thru Wednesday, September 1, 2004. It is updated every week with daily listings for entertainment, activities, performances, movies, music, bands, comedy, improv, poetry, storytelling, theater, plays, and generally fun things to do. The musical styles listed can include punk, emo, ska, swing, rock, rock-and-roll, alternative, metal, jazz, blues, noise band, experimental music, folk, acoustic, and "world-beat." Events listed take place during the day, in the evenings, or as part of the city's nightlife as listed.

JayceLand Pick indicates an event that's a preferred pick of the day ... probably something worth checking out.

IUMA link links to a band's page on IUMA.com which offers reviews and information about bands.

GarageBand link links to a band's page on GarageBand.com which offers reviews and information about bands.

Not ready for mainstream. is an event that is "non-entertainment" for the masses such as practice sessions, open jams, etc.

Fly the flag today. is a day when you should fly the flag according to the Veterans of Foreign Wars calendar.

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