AN INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR FREDERICK COOKINHAM ON HIS NEW BOOK
Q: Tell us what your new book is about. What’s your thesis of Man in the Place of the Gods: What Cities Mean.
A: It’s hard to say, because the book is so interdisciplinary. The short answer is: Ayn Rand and cities.
iUniverse, the publisher, requires authors to pick one category they can put in the upper left corner of the back cover of their books. I chose “architecture.” But I might as well have chosen “religion” or “spiritual self-help.” A large part of the book is devoted to showing how cities, as the biggest repositories of human achievements, are, for modern, secular man, his temples. What I put on the top of the back cover was the question “Who says secular people can’t be spiritual?”
Q: A lot of people might not associate Ayn Rand’s work with “spirituality,” which has such religious overtones. I assume you think they’re wrong.
A: Skim Rand’s fiction and non-fiction and notice how many times she uses words like “spirit” and “reverence,” and other words suggesting religion. But she found new and deeper meanings for old religious formulas – just like Nietzsche. Indeed, in her “Introduction “to the 25th Anniversary Edition of The Fountainhead she said, while disagreeing with Nietzsche, that “he projects at times (not consistently) a magnificent feeling of man’s greatness, expressed in emotional, not intellectual, terms.”
Q: Of course Howard Roark, the hero of The Fountainhead, is an architect. So there’s the link to you new book, right?
A: I give Ayn Rand focused walking tours of New York, so my book is in part a guide to certain sights and sites in New York. But this book is a spiritual walking tour. I want you to get excited about things like shop fronts. I come from a rural area near Syracuse, New York. The first time I came to the big city, I was impressed by the shop fronts – shop after shop, block after block, and then mile after mile of small businesses. Here truly was the land of the free and the home of the brave, because it takes courage to take advantage of your freedom of enterprise and start a small business.
Q: And your book wants them to attend to things that so many might miss?
A: Yes! I want you to get excited about pipes. In subway stations, in oil refineries, and other places, you will see collections of pipes, each one carefully planned by someone to carry something somewhere – either electricity or data or water or something. Pipes signify purpose and rational planning and man’s mind making human life possible. Similarly, Rand hung a picture of an industrial plant on the wall of her study, in her New York City apartment, while writing Atlas Shrugged. It was her icon.
Q: And other points of interest?
A: I want you to get excited about the New York and other stock exchanges. These are the economic hearts of the world. Money is gathered in and then pumped out to where it will make more jobs and businesses possible.
Q: Like lifeblood?
A: Yes! And I want you to get excited about landfills – mountains of resources waiting for man’s ingenuity to turn them into mountains of new salable products.
Q: Can you bring us back to spirituality?
A: “Religion” means to “re-connect.” See the forest even as you see the trees. Become sensitized to the layers and ever-deeper layers of meaning implied by everyday items in the built environment around you. Even nature itself becomes more and more dependent on humans to plan and preserve it, and so becomes so many amenities and ornamentation on man’s planet.
Our primitive ancestors saw personalities in trees and springs and volcanoes and thunderstorms, and called them gods. We see layers and layers of deeper meanings in those things and, especially, in man-made things.
The humans who make cities possible will appreciate a word of congratulations from you for their creative work. They will appreciate your appreciation. Then you, by making man’s achievements a temple to man, have also made man’s achievements a temple to you.
Q: Thanks for these inspiring thoughts an inspiring book! I hope when our readers visit New York they’ll take one of your tours, your book in hand. And I hope they will check out your earlier book, The Age of Rand: Imagining an Objectivist Future World.
A: You and your readers are most welcome!