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Examining Art And Reason As Depicted In Atlas Shrugged

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As Dagny enters Richard Halley’s valley cottage in the cool calm of the night, she is enveloped with music that hits her as a “symbol of moral pride” (717) This pride is not built on what the heart feels is valuable, but on what the mind knows to be of value. Richard Halley is a music composer, he is an artist, and yet he understands that “all work is creative work if done by a thinking man”(933).  He approaches his art with the same moral productiveness as a businessman.

The act of playing his music and of Dagny experiencing it is “mutual trade for mutual profit” (717). Halley however explains to Dagny that when he plays for general audiences in the outside world, there is no reciprocal trade for his music: “I do not care to be admired causelessly, emotionally, intuitively, instinctively– or blindly.”(717) Halley’s work has typically been judged by unthinking men, who themselves know and produce very little and yet, Halley bemoans, it’s these very people who evaluate a man of the mind. The reason Halley had to leave the outside world and take his work with him is in essence why every member of John’s Gulch comes to live inside the valley.

For Halley, his art is a testament of his “capacity to see,” and his relentless “devotion to the pursuit of truth.”(718) Spontaneous invocations, platitudes and daydreaming cannot exist for the truth seeking artist, only through the laborious and “unrelenting strain upon one’s power of clarity” can the businessman and artist reach the summit of their mind potential.

Halley pursues his creations to their logical and brilliant end, but “the nature of the looter”(682) is to deny this process – the process of mental evolution, of identifying that which is real, sticking with it and nurturing the idea into thought. Dagny wonders why Halley doesn’t share his music genius with the world anymore but Halley explains clearly that the ordinary public believed they owned his talent and these “worshippers of zero”(937) could not fully grasp the totality of his work.  Only when they were ready to embrace his work, were Halley’s efforts deemed successful. In effect, he had been giving his mind, and the mastered product of his mind, away for free, to people who had neither the rigour to comprehend it, nor the capability to exchange anything of substantial value.

Those without an understanding of genuine value cannot bestow their own ideas of worth on a creation, so the only thing they can do is to destroy it and debase it in accordance with their own decrepit soul. Galt proposes the notion to Halley that his “work is the purpose of [his] life”(934), in so much as what he does is an external exhalation of who he is: work is the branch, body the vessel of the life force and both are rooted in the capacity of the mind to seek the light of its own maturity and growth. Everyone who discovers the valley approaches their work and life with the same “mathematical precision” (719) – their ability relies on the logical calculation of their mind and their body is the reinforced effect of their mind. They are truly powerful in their efforts because of their unrelenting desire to seek that which is rational, to be “the man not only of self-made wealth, but…of self-made soul.”(934)

It is because of Halley’s “intransigent devotion to the pursuit of truth”(718) he explains to Dagny, that he walked away from the “life haters” and refused to allow their destruction of his highest moral code.

His thirst for knowledge and hunger for the truth, his desire to facilitate the expansion of his whole-self as a shining example of human achievement is how he hopes to build “his world in his own image” (725).  

It is in this mental acceptance of the true nature of the looters that Galt finds him. Each character who lives in Galt’s Gulch had to uncover for themselves what they always knew inside: “Sacrifice could be proper only for those who have nothing to sacrifice” (942) Halley, like the others refused to sacrifice himself for looters who stood for nothing.  Not being able to sustain their own irrational existence, they leached off the production of “men of ability”.

There is no “loophole in the law of causality”(935) Whether your work is painting, architecture, engineering or running a company, the magnitude of your thinking and the extent of your mind’s dimensions dictate your efficiency in any endeavour: “ability is quality and capacity is quantitive.” If you value that which is anti life, then you are paralyzed in rotted decay of weakness. Why are Halley and the others finally happy when they join John in the valley? It is because now they are truly free to have their work “without penalty or guilt”(935).

Halley tells Dagny that he created the “Concerto Deliverance” for John. Galt helped him define what none of them had previously managed to: the creed that was inside them all. Galt helped them to uncover the truth – something that he had fought himself to earn. Thus Halley’s “Concerto Deliverance”(683) is finally the trade for trade value he has been looking for.

Ayn Rand is able to brilliantly portray man’s motivation to leave the world of the creative dead. In the end, Dagny also joins them in the valley because she too realises that “the moral symbol of respect for human beings, is the trader”(935).

Works Cited

Rand,  Ayn.  Atlas Shrugged:  50th Anniversary  Edition.  New York. 1996. Print

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