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The Fountainhead: Howard Roark Tells Austen Heller About Artistic Integrity

February 14th, 2020 • Share

From “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand:

Austen Heller came to look at the house frequently, and watched it grow, curious, still a little astonished. He studied Roark and the house with the same meticulous scrutiny; he felt as if he could not quite tell them apart.

Heller, the fighter against compulsion, was baffled by Roark, a man so impervious to compulsion that he became a kind of compulsion himself, an ultimatum against things Heller could not define. Within a week, Heller knew that he had found the best friend he would ever have; and he knew that the friendship came from Roark’s fundamental indifference. In the deeper reality of Roark’s existence there was no consciousness of Heller, no need for Heller, no appeal, no demand. Heller felt a line drawn, which he could not touch; beyond that line, Roark asked nothing of him and granted him nothing. But when Roark looked at him with approval, when Roark smiled, when Roark praised one of his articles, Heller felt the strangely clean joy of a sanction that was neither a bribe nor alms.

In the summer evenings they sat together on a ledge halfway up the hill, and talked while darkness mounted slowly up the beams of the house above them, the last sunrays retreating to the tips of the steel uprights.

“What is it that I like so much about the house you’re building for me, Howard?”

“A house can have integrity, just like a person,” said Roark, “and just as seldom.”

“In what way?”

“Well, look at it. Every piece of it is there because the house needs it — and for no other reason. You see it from here as it is inside. The rooms in which you’ll live made the shape. The relation of masses was determined by the distribution of space within. The ornament was determined by the method of construction, an emphasis of the principle that makes it stand. You can see each stress, each support that meets it. Your own eyes go through a structural process when you look at the house, you can follow each step, you see it rise, you know what made it and why it stands. But you’ve seen buildings with columns that support nothing, with purposeless cornices, with pilasters, moldings, false arches, false windows. You’ve seen buildings that look as if they contained a single large hall, they have solid columns and single, solid windows six floors high. But you enter and find six stories inside. Or buildings that contain a single hall, but with a facade cut up into floor lines, band courses, tiers of windows. Do you understand the difference? Your house is made by its own needs. Those others are made by the need to impress. The determining motive of your house is in the house. The determining motive of the others is in the audience.”

“Do you know that that’s what I’ve felt in a way? I’ve felt that when I move into this house, I’ll have a new sort of existence, and even my simple daily routine will have a kind of honesty or dignity that I can’t quite define. Don’t be astonished if I tell you that I feel as if I’ll have to live up to that house.”

“I intended that,” said Roark.

“And, incidentally, thank you for all the thought you seem to have taken about my comfort. There are so many things I notice that had never occurred to me before, but you’ve planned them as if you knew all my needs. For instance, my study is the room I’ll need most and you’ve given it the dominant spot — and, incidentally, I see where you’ve made it the dominant mass from the outside, too. And then the way it connects with the library, and the living room well out of my way, and the guest rooms where I won’t hear too much of them — and all that. You were very considerate of me.”

“You know,” said Roark. “I haven’t thought of you at all. I thought of the house.” He added: “Perhaps that’s why I knew how to be considerate of you.”

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