From the fountainhead to art for art’s sake discussion

Until the clock moves closer to 6.30, I was still hesitating, curling inside the usual thick blanket and indulge in my very own pathetic self-pity which has somehow becomes a habit. Just to add up to the blues, I don’t forget to check with a friend

“Will you come?”


“Hey, do you think a person who never read Fountainhead will benefit from the discussion? Do you think it will be deep or just gibberish? Do you think the host really knows anything about the book?”

To that blizzard wave of skepticism, my friend just laughed. “How do I know? Just consider that a social meetup”. Will this be a meetup when youngsters boast about their ego, so-called freedom and selfishness?

Organized in the 8th floor of August cafe, a venue known more exclusively among friends via word-of-mouth, I found myself just on time when the leader and around 10 others are already set themselves up around a cozy line of tables. Within 10 minutes, around 6 others came, filled the space. The leader gradually introduce himself and the group before letting the guest speaker present and actively involve people in Q&As.


From Fountainhead to “Suối nguồn” in Vietnamese

Fountainhead was first translated into Vietnamese in 2007 . The contract with an American publisher requires the book to be translated within a certain time limit, leading to collaboration of  a group of Vietnamese translators overseas. Being in charge by a female young author, the book in local language possesses a surprisingly smooth word flow and structure. The title of the book itself transcends original “fountainhead” to a word more relevant to Vietnamese (“Suối nguồn” – the source of stream) without losing its most important meaning.

In an interview with Tuoi Tre magazine in that very same year, Phan Viet, the leading translator said


I (Interviewer)Why did you choose Fountainhead to translate and introduce to Vietnamese audience?

V (Phan Viet) – We can use a number to illustrate this. In a poll conducted in 1998 by Modern Library publisher to vote for the most influential novels in 20th century, Ayn Rand wrote 4 out of 10 leading ones.

However, to look closer, Ayn Rand was very determined to create a world where humans being immersed in passion bliss, bring self and individual life to a sacred level and not settle for something different. Which, I think, is a world we all yearn for.

I – Ideally there should be only one translator for a book. Did you face any difficulty and how long did it take you in finishing the book?

There are obvious obstacles translating in group – the tone, vocabulary limit, as well as each translator’s living experiences. We divided into many steps. Initially, each person tried translating just one page to post in a website we devoted for this project. Afterwards, 2-3 pages. After each finishes their first 10 pages, we figured out a way to combine literature style and let them work independently with constant peer-to-peer review. When they finish, I edit the whole book one last time.

The whole project took us one year to complete.

Have you read “The fountainhead”?

Out of nearly 20 people participating, only around 8 read the book with a wide age range. When being asked about their perceptions, a girl in blue shirt started to open up, first shyly and become more engaging

“I started to read The Fountainhead 7 years ago, when I was 20. How to say, at that time, it was very difficult for me, but at the same time, really engaging. Like a mountaintop in reading list I strive for to absorb.

How do you think about the character in the novel?”, we asked.

“I was appealed by the world of the characters. To me, his idealism is like a push to yearn for something higher”

A lecturer from Vietnam national university then said

It took me only 8 hours to read that book

“Really?”, faces turned around, astonished.

“Yeah, I read at night and cannot put it down. It’s a page turner”

“That’s because the plot is smooth and easy to follow”, the facilitator commented calmly.

At that time, Hoang, the guest speaker, a 25 year old author commented

“I think it’s just like a Hollywood movie. We are attracted but we cannot relate to the characters”

His saying felt in a void when no one argue and at the same time, still keeping their sentiments. Eventually, people’s reactions to a book are very subjective, fixated in very personal mix of place and time.

Art for art’s sake or Art for humanity’s sake?


We actually did not talk about impressions on Fountainhead until quite long after Hoang, the guest speaker (also author of a novel named “October girl”) gives a presentation about art for art’s sake or art for humanity’s sake. The talk was presented smoothly, revolving around empathy as the connection between the extreme artist and his audience.

“The artist may or maynot think about his audience when he created art. Roark in Fountainhead is an example – he only cares about his own standards, idealism and perfection (art for art’s sake). On the other hand, we may encounter authors like Maxim Gorky who always write for poor people (art for humanity’s sake). Their starting point in art creation is different, however, both kinds of artists and artworks can only survive thanks to the existence of empathy. If nobody understand and value Roark’s work, it will lose in dark black hole.

Hoang’s quite succinct observation closes our discussion and at the same time, open it up to other doors. In a series of free talk, Life of Pi, classical music, culture preservation and Van Gogh was gradually mentioned in a spontaneous, vibrant exchange.

When we were about to leave, I notice a girl who is still reading “Fountainhead”

“Hi, you don’t go home?”, I asked, remember clearly that this bookworm read this novel at least once.

“No, I will go back later”

She replied shortly then immersed in the thick book with an interrupted, intense attention. I suddenly got my Kindle out. The Fountainhead items says “2 %”

Hmm, it’s a long way to go



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