Friday, May 13, 2005

A Tale of Two Architects (PDS)

If it is true that life sometimes imitates art, then it should be no great surprise when life sometimes imitates one's favorite books.

I am not an architect, but my two favorite novels are about architects. Both were written by foreign authors. Both are, in essence, about the cardinal virtue, the virtue of integrity. And both paint a psychological portrait or trajectory of the novels' protagonists not unlike the trajectory of my life as an adult.

I speak of The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand, and perhaps less obvious, A Burnt Out Case, by Graham Greene. If you haven't yet read these books, I envy you. If you happened to read them a long time ago, I recommend that you read them again. Forgive a bit of overstatment here, but in terms of essentials, it could be said that we have two choices about who we might become when we grow up: Roark or Querry.

As a younger man, I devoured The Fountainhead at least a dozen times. The thought of Howard Roark's passion for his life's work took hold and did not let go. At the ripe age of 43, the book still hasn't loosened much of its grip on me. Ayn Rand's writing sparkles in The Fountainhead, and because she had not yet reached her fame, the plot does not suffer from the ponderous tone that plagues Atlas Shrugged. There is a great deal to learn about life from the very first line of The Fountainhead: "Howard Roark laughed."

I stumbled onto A Burnt Out Case 7-8 years ago, while in the middle of a six-month Graham Greene reading frenzy. If you have not yet had the pleasure or the sadness that comes from a Graham Greene novel, please see what you can do to give him a try, but a word of caution: do not start with A Burnt Out Case. Try instead Our Man In Havana, or even The End of the Affair. Just as a teetotaler should not begin a bender with the finest scotch, crawl a bit before you walk when in comes to Greene. Paradoxically, the first lines of A Burnt Out Case begin with a parody of Descartes: "I feel discomfort, therefore I am alive."

Two architects, both commited to integrity, one an atheist, the other struggling with his faith, each a compelling figure, both created by master craftsmen. The juxtaposition could hardly be greater, or hardly be more relevant.

If you've gotten this far in this post, you are likely wondering why I am talking about this subject, or what it has to do with Pursuit's blog. This post is the beginning of an answer to an inquiry to me from a frequent commenter to this site, The Gnat's Trumpet (the inquiry is buried near the end of the comments section), but the topic also raises questions everybody might wish to ponder: Are you a Roark or a Querry? Is there a difference between the two? Do you have a choice in the matter?

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