The Fountainhead’s Gordon Prescott—Heidegger’s disciple?

fountainhead-50x83 Re-reading The Fountainhead makes me wonder: Is the character Gordon Prescott based on Martin Heidegger’s philosophy?

In Part II, Chapter 8, architect Prescott is giving a lecture to the nascent Council of American Builders, founded by Ellsworth Toohey. Reading it this time evoked in me a strong feeling of Heidegger’s “What Is Metaphysics?”, first delivered as a lecture at the University of Freiburg.

First, for your reading pleasure, here is Prescott’s speech:

“And thus the intrinsic significance of our craft lies in the philosophical fact that we deal in nothing. We create emptiness through which certain physical bodies are to move—we shall designate them for convenience as human. By emptiness I mean that which is commonly known as rooms. Thus it is only the crass layman who thinks that we put up some walls. We do nothing of the kind. We put up emptiness, as I have proved. This leads to a corollary of astronomical importance: to the unconditional acceptance of the premise the ‘absence’ is superior to ‘presence.’ That is, to the acceptance of non-acceptance. I shall state this in simpler terms—for the sake of clarity: ‘nothing’ is superior to ‘something.’ Thus it is clear that the architect is more than a bricklayer—since the fact of bricks is a secondary illusion anyway. The architect is a metaphysical priest dealing in basic essentials, who has the courage to face the primal conception of reality as nonreality—since there is nothing and he creates nothingness. If this sounds like a contradiction, it is not a proof of bad logic, but of a higher logic, the dialectics of all life and art. Should you wish to make the inevitable deductions from this basic conception, you may come to conclusions of vast sociological importance. You may see that a beautiful woman is inferior to a non-beautiful one, that the literate is inferior to the illiterate, that the rich is inferior to the poor, and the able to the incompetent. The architect is the concrete illustration of a cosmic paradox. Let us be modest in the vast pride of this realization. Everything else is twaddle.” (311)

heidegger-50x69Now let’s make some comparisons to Heidegger’s 1929 essay.

Heidegger’s prose is challenging and is often used as a clear example of obscurity. But there is a coherence there once you’re inside, so to speak. Page numbers refer to Heidegger’s essay in Walter Kaufmann’s anthology.

On the metaphysics:

* Prescott is “The architect is a metaphysical priest dealing in basic essentials, who has the courage to face the primal conception of reality as nonreality.”

* Heidegger too identifies Being and Nothing: “Nothing is that which makes the revelation of what-is as such possible for our human existence. Nothing not merely provides the conceptual opposite of what-is but is also an original part of essence. It is in the Being of what-is that the nihilation of Nothing occurs.” (251)

On the epistemology:

* Prescott is all about embracing the paradox: “If this sounds like a contradiction, it is not a proof of bad logic, but of a higher logic, the dialectics of all life and art.”

* Heidegger claims that “Because the truth of metaphysics is so unfathomable” (256) we have to set aside reason and logic: “If this breaks the sovereignty of reason in the field of enquiry into Nothing and Being, then the fate of the rule of ‘logic’ is also decided. The very idea of ‘logic’ disintegrates in the vortex of a more original questioning.” (253)

On our human relation to reality:

* Prescott: “certain physical bodies” (i.e., humans) move into “emptiness” (i.e., rooms).

* Heidegger’s term for humans is “da-sein,” which he chose as an abstract indicator with less baggage and which he defines as follows: “Da-sein means being projected into Nothing.” (251)

On the ethical implications:

* Prescott tells us that “‘nothing’ is superior to ‘something’” and so tells us to subordinate the beautiful, the literate, the rich, and the able to the non-beautiful, the illiterate, the poor, the incompetent. Which is to say, we subordinate the more to the less or the non-existent.

* Heidegger vigorously calls for us humans to sacrifice to Being: “Sacrifice is rooted in the nature of the event through which Being claims man for the truth of Being.” And: “sacrifice is the expense of our human being for the preservation of the truth of Being” (263). Of course, if the truth of Being is that it is Nothing, then Heidegger is calling for us to sacrifice ourselves for Nothing. Our actual human being is less significant than the non-being of Nothing.

Thus an intellectual history question: Did Rand base Prescott on a reading of Heidegger? Or did she absorb the themes from the zeitgeist and apply the logic of the illogic herself?

hegel-50x60Or we might make a connection to Hegel. Rand was exposed to Hegel, of course, so she could have taken these themes from him. In “What Is Metaphysics?”, Heidegger too acknowledges Hegel as a source: “‘Pure Being and pure Nothing are thus one and the same.’ This proposition of Hegel’s … is correct” (255). But Heidegger’s 1929 essay was current in the decade that Rand was doing the research for her 1943 The Fountainhead.

So: Is there a Heidegger connection for one of Rand’s lesser-icky characters?

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