Literature

Kurt Vonnegut, RIP

|

The author of three of my favorite books—the dark Phildickian comedy The Sirens of Titan and two novels of World War II, Mother Night and Slaughterhouse-Five—has died at age 84. At his worst his whimsy could be cloying, and I have to admit I stopped reading his books altogether after the disappointing Galapagos. But at his best, Kurt Vonnegut wrote powerfully about cruelty, absurdity, and meaninglessness. He even managed to make them funny.

Mother Night was his best book. Published in 1961, it tells the story of an American expatriate who does radio propaganda for the Nazis in World War II; he is actually a spy, and his broadcasts incorporate coded messages for the Allies. The novel nestles ironies within ironies, including the possibility that his propaganda did more good for the Axis than his "real" work did for the other side. "We are what we pretend to be," Vonnegut writes, "so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."

Vonnegut's political sympathies were always with the left—he cast his first presidential ballot for Norman Thomas—but it wasn't a collectivist left. He did, after all, write the anti-egalitarian fable "Harrison Bergeron," a fixture in public-school reading lists. His chief political interest was his fierce opposition to war, from his youthful support for the America First Committee to his strong disapproval of the ongoing adventure in Iraq. He always was more of a fatalist than an activist, though. As he wrote in the introduction to Slaughterhouse-Five:

Over the years, people I've met have often asked me what I'm working on, and I've usually replied that the main thing was a book about Dresden.

I said that to Harrison Starr, the movie-maker, one time, and he raised his eyebrows and inquired, "Is it an anti-war book?"

"Yes," I said. "I guess."

"You know what I say to people when I hear they're writing anti-war books?"

"No. What do you say, Harrison Starr?"

"I say, why don't you write an anti-glacier book instead?"

What he meant, of course, was that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers. I believe that, too.

And now the man is dead. Some of you are planning to enter the phrase "So it goes" in the comments. Resist the temptation.

NEXT: Let Us Now Praise Famous Race Hustlers

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Ironically, we have found a way to stop the glaciers.

  2. I guess he was done farting around.

  3. When I was 14 I read everything Kurt had written to that time, mostly in a short period of time. Most of it was outstanding, some of it awe-inspiring, at least for a 14 year-old–which means it has stuck with me to this day. More than anything I have read since about history’s horrors, his essay about Biafra opened my eyes to how the world truly is.

    Poo-too-weet.

  4. Well, shit.

  5. “And now the man is dead. Some of you are planning to enter the phrase ‘So it goes’ in the comments. Resist the temptation.”

    Preempted. Damn you!

  6. We won’t be seeing an author of his like any time soon.

    RIP

  7. I abandoned “Galapagos” in despair (disgust) after about eight pages, but I remember the early books as awesome. Vonnegut never (to me, at least) came off as mean-spirited, which is a pretty good trick.

  8. I always liked Galapagos, though I wouldn’t recommend it as a way to introduce Vonnegut to someone who hasn’t read him before. Reading his death notice was one hell of a crummy way to start this morning off.

  9. You know, I never read anything he wrote. Strangely, though, I know lots of really swell people who claim his writings are a large part of what made them so cool, in my opinion. So, for that, I guess I’ll miss him. RIP.

  10. On the off chance there’s an afterlife, I hope he meets up with some nice folks and is

    LONESOME NO MORE!

  11. Look on the bright side, Jennifer. Whenever an artist dies, there is usually a resurgence of interest in his works. So, maybe a few more people who’ve never read him will place some orders on amazon.

  12. Well, everybody remembers “So it goes”. And, it is much easier to replicate online than that equally memorable asshole drawing from Breakfast of Champions!

    It has been over thirty years since I’ve read that one, and much of it is still fresh in my mind–suicide by Drano, yuck!

    And in The Sirens of Titan he posited the only church I could ever belong to: The Church of God the Utterly Indifferent.

  13. (arwoo? previous comment disappeared. this has happened several times. should that be a hint, east coast style?)

    RIP.

    see the cat. see the cradle.
    10 lbs in a 5 lb bag…

    (sigh – d’oh! you beat me to it. was gonna say it.)

  14. Good riddance.

    Does any sane person believe we shouldn’t have dropped the bomb on Japan?

  15. Enjoy non-existance Kurt.

    Never read a book that he wrote.

    joe,

    That may or may not be the case, but I do know that we’ll never see the likes of William Styron and walker Percy again.

  16. Look on the bright side, Jennifer. Whenever an artist dies, there is usually a resurgence of interest in his works.

    True, but he’ll never produce any more. Maybe we’ll luck out and discover some brilliant but unpublished manuscripts in his attic.

  17. “Harrison Bergeron” is a seminal libertarian text in my opinion. If you haven’t read it, an on-line copy is here.

  18. Grand Chalupa

    I believe we should have invited leading personnel from the Imperial High Command, under a guarantee of safe conduct, to witness the first tests. I doubt they would have come, but if they did, we could have said to them, “We have more of these, and unless you surrender now, we will have no choice but to use them.”

    I doubt, however, that they would have surrendered. After all, they did refuse to do so after Hiroshima. Thus, Nagasaki. So, in my unworthy estimation, we deserve some moral opprobrium for Hiroshima, but the Japanese government is wholly to blame for Nagasaki.

    But, to address your question more directly, had I been the Pres. at the time, I would have ordered both bombings. I may have thrown up and prayed for forgiveness from every deity I could think of, but I stil would have done it.

  19. No mention of Cat’s Cradle, Player Piano?

    While Galapagos was not very good, those two more than make up for it.

    I’m a bokonist btw, but don’t tell anyone, its illegal. 😉

  20. Jennifer, cheer up! Remember the first rule of a good show: “Always leave them wanting more.” The fact they you want more from him is the greatest compliment you can pay him.

    And, now that my attention has been drawn to this author unknown to me except by repute, I may be placing an order on amazon myself.

  21. I, too, had to abandon Galapagos before the end. The concept of it made me feel like I was just reading Cat’s Cradle over again.

  22. Here’s Kurt on 9/11

    They [suicide bombers] are dying for their own self-respect. It’s a terrible thing to deprive someone of their self-respect. It’s [like] your culture is nothing, your race is nothing, you’re nothing … It is sweet and noble – sweet and honourable I guess it is – to die for what you believe in.

    “Sweet and honorable” to die for your “race” and Whabbist culture.

    Once again, good riddance.

  23. Chalupa:

    Are you arguing that the people who blow themselves up as suicide bombers are doing it because they hate the idea of doing so?

    It’s tautological that the people who would take such an action are taking it because THEY think it’s a good idea.

  24. Grand Chalupa

    I’m trying to be kind, although I am now considering cancelling that amazon order. In kindness, I’ll offer just one word of excuse:

    SENILITY

  25. It’s called a literary allusion, Chalupa:

    If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
    Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
    And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
    His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
    If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
    Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
    Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
    Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
    My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
    To children ardent for some desperate glory,
    The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
    Pro patria mori.

    The Latin means “It is sweet and honorable to die for your country.”

    Now stop being the boor at the funeral and go piss on another thread.

  26. Up til now I have never called anyone on H&R a fucking asshole. I have never even been tempted to call anyone on H&R a fucking asshole.

    Grand Chalupa, you’re a fucking asshole.

  27. Grand Chalupa,

    Kurt Vonnegut was the king of dry satire. He would say things with an absolute straight face just to watch the horror in other peoples. Reading his books, his characters were the same way. They’d make rediculous statements just to emphasize the insanity of it all. Do you think, just possibly, his comment was laced with the dark humor he was famous for?

  28. “When you get to my age, if you get to my age, and if you have reproduced, you will find yourself asking your own children, who are themselves middle-aged, “What is life all about?” I have seven kids, three of them orphaned nephews.

    I put my big question about life to my son the pediatrician. Dr. Vonnegut said this to his doddering old dad: “Father, we are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.”

  29. Yeah – but Kurt Vonnegut wouldn’t have been broken by the Iranians, either!

    Deadeye Dick was also good.

    Does anybody remember the scene where KV shows up in the Dangerfield film, “Back to School”?
    🙂

  30. “Goodbye, cruel world. Auf wiedersehen?”


  31. Grand Chalupa, you’re a fucking asshole.

    He can honestly plead ignorance here, which is obvious, even though it’s not an excuse. He had no idea what Vonnegut was going for with that statement and reacted accordingly. Jesse, and any well-read person, did.

    Chalupa explains the Southern US pretty well, actually.

  32. Wow! The f-ing a-hole insult has been hurled.

    I know an a-hole can be f-ed, but I’ve always wondered how the a-hole itself could f.

    Now I will quietly exit this thread, because I don’t have a dog in this hunt, and frankly, I’m a bit scared by all those who do.

  33. “Harrison Bergeron,” a fixture in public-school reading lists

    Really? Not in mine. I wish I had found it then instead of after college.

    And given its message, it’s hard to imagine today’s schools assigning it at all.

  34. And, it is much easier to replicate online than that equally memorable asshole drawing from Breakfast of Champions!

    …which happens to be the favicon of Vonnegut.com, something I discovered to my delight this morning.

  35. I was at a Vonnegut event about 8 years ago and he walked into the room, in a university building, and promptly lit a cigarette. You can imagine the shock. But the man had balls. He knew the score. He pulled an ashtray from his tattered coat pocket just before lighting up. Then he looked around the room at the creative writing students present and said, as serious as could be, “I bet half of you are still virgins.” One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

    RIP, Vonnegut.

    Grand Chalupa, keep pissing out of your mouth. Vonnegut took great pleasure in allowing fools to expose their own foolishness. You do the departed an honor by proving his point one last time.

  36. Chalupa,
    Get your facts straight first and then you won’t make an ass out of yourself (see above). Vonnegut made his views on war perfectly clear, but it was easier for you to pull this one quote from Wikipedia, or wherever, and not look at its context.

    “Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith. I consider a capacity for it to be terrifying and absolutely vile.”
    -KV

    Goodbye,Kurt… Auf viedersehen?

  37. GC was most likely regurgitating some boilerplate from some predictable right-wing fucktard.

    The matter is addressed in Vonnegut’s Wikipedia entry:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurt_Vonnegut#Politics

    His son also wrote a good response:

    http://snipurl.com/1g7vz

    It’s the Bill Maher bullshit all over again, although he was more literate about it, so it befuddles the rightwing dumbfucks even more.

  38. Although they’re rarely mentioned in the same breath, “Harrison Bergeron” and the film Amadeus (which Vonnegut had nothing to do with, as far as I know) serve as anti-egalitarian companion pieces. Salieri’s insistence that he and Mozart have equal opportunity to excel in music is like the dystopian handicapping of Vonnegut’s story.

    Ignore the preachy, scattershot 1995 movie version of “HB.” For a better movie on similar themes, rent Idiocracy.

  39. Does anybody remember the scene where KV shows up in the Dangerfield film, “Back to School”?

    Yeah. One of my favorite completely-unexpected movie cameos. I almost mentioned it in the post but couldn’t make it fit.

    Then he looked around the room at the creative writing students present and said, as serious as could be, “I bet half of you are still virgins.” One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

    The one time I saw him speak, in the mid-’80s, he announced, “The one question I always get these days is ‘Do you use a word processor?’ Twenty years ago it was, ‘Does penis size matter?’ (pause) Well, it doesn’t matter…”

    He had no idea what Vonnegut was going for with that statement and reacted accordingly. Jesse, and any well-read person, did. Chalupa explains the Southern US pretty well, actually.

    Harrumph. Jesse is a southerner, too.

  40. I doubt, however, that they would have surrendered.

    God dammit. Not this argument again.

  41. Hrrumph. I liked Galapagos. We’ve lost a keen observer of the human race.

  42. Between his cameo and the phone call a few minutes later, you have a winner. Makes up for the krappy love story (TM).

    cheers, Jesse!

    “o it befuddles the rightwing dumbfucks even more.”

    just apply the Princess Leia answer, “that shouldn’t be too hard”

  43. I’ve been reading and re-reading Kurt’s books for the last twenty years…I never fail to find new insights, ironies, perspectives. His words continue to speak to me as if I was his intended audience. Such a strange feeling I have knowing he is no longer with us…

    My thoughts are with Jill and his children.

  44. I still remember the first play I performed in high school. It was “Welcome To The Monkey House” and it featured “Harrison Bergeron.”

    Unfortunately, I’ve read precious little of Vonnegut’s work up to this point (which I plan to rectify), and have only been exposed to movie versions of his works, such as Mother Night (which stands out because of Nick Nolte’s friend, the African-American Nazi symptahizer) and Slaughterhouse Five.

    Also, I still recall this priceless exchange from Back To School:

    Thornton Melon: [on the phone] … and *another* thing, Vonnegut! I’m gonna stop payment on the check!
    [Kurt tells him off]
    Thornton Melon: Fuck me? Hey, Kurt, can you read lips? Fuck you! Next time I’ll call Robert Ludlum!

    RIP, Kurt. Thanks for being weird.

    P.S. Let’s leave Grand Chalupa alone. In a free society, every pedantic has the right to cherry-pick comments from a widely-respected author to reinforce their own rigid, right-wing worldviews. No less a man than Vonnegut himself would have defended that.

  45. I read “Harrison Bergeron” in school, but that was a while ago. I only remembered the basic idea of it. So, thanks, SugarFree.

    But…

    Are people of average intelligence really that dim? Hazel seems borderline retarded to me. Am I just that freaking amazing? I do well on standardized tests, but come on.

  46. Son of a!,

    I’ve always imagined they were being kept a little less than regular stupid so they wouldn’t object too much to the government.

  47. I’m also a Southerner.

  48. And so were a lot of great authors I must add.

  49. Harrumph. Jesse is a southerner, too.

    But you’ve read a book.

    You know? Booooooooook.

  50. Grotius

    I said I was going to exit, but I have to drop back in to say that I am also a proud Southerner (sort of). And the greatest of all American lit has come from the South. No one I have read so far even comes close to Flannery O’Connor. So, I’m really going now, but I warn all you anti-dixie bigots, I shall be watching you. 🙂

  51. One of the many little Vonnegut nuggets lodged permanently in my brain is a line from a short story (the one about the jazz pianist): the pianist tells his broker he got bawled out at work that day, and the broker says, “Buy the place and burn it down.”

  52. What makes so many southern writers so great is as much as they love the South, their writing is often a reaction against all that was wrong with it historically.

  53. hey the movie version of breakfast of champions is actually pretty good, too! (it surprised me as well)

    flannery o’connor is bitterly funny, though one can’t help but think about peacock farming when reading her.

  54. For all of you naysayers:
    Why don’t you take a flying fuck at a rolling donut. Why don’t you take a flying fuck at the mooooooooon!

  55. Life is no way to treat an animal.

  56. Really, I promise to leave now. Really!

    But, henry,

    You have almost hit the nail on the head.

    What makes so many Southern writers so great is that, as much as they love Humanity as a whole, their writing is often a reaction against all that is wrong with Humanity as a whole.

    Again, Flannery O’Connor. Start with the high-school-textbook-favourite “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” In all of English-language lit, the Misfit is the only perfect villain. Iago, Shylock, Milton’s Satan, even Hannibal Lecter, etc., pale in comparison. Southern writers plumb the very depths of human depravity, and by doing so, show us a way up and out which other English and northern American writers only dreamt of.

    Thus endeth the lecture. 🙂 🙂

    But, back to Kurt Vonnegut fans. My sympathies. Clearly, you’ve all lost someone important. I’ll read a few of his works and argue with you later. But, like I said before, the first rule is always leave them wanting more. Obviously he’s done that–the lucky bastard. Try to be civil to those who don’t like him, though.

    Sanjaya out.

  57. Son of a!,

    I teach English composition and Developmental/Pre-Standard/Remedial English at a small midwestern college. Sadly, we are approaching the point where “average” people really are that dim. No Child Left Behind, AFT, NEA, and all that shit.

    And I’m left to deal with the mess because someone convinced them that they should go to “collage.” “Recruitment and retention” are the new buzzwords for “any dumbass with a heartbeat and financial aid eligibility,” and “bend over backwards to keep these subliterate troglodytes in school.”

    Damn, I need a new job.

  58. …And in The Sirens of Titan he posited the only church I could ever belong to: The Church of God the Utterly Indifferent.

    I preferred The Church of Jesus Christ the Kidnapped.

  59. “In all of English-language lit, the Misfit is the only perfect villain. ”

    you’ve never read the magus, have you?

    LIT FIGHT LIT FIGHT RAH RAH RAH!

    i really like capote most of all, though, because of his simple lyricism and cattiness.

  60. i remember reading breakfast of champions while studying solipsism in a philosophy course.

    great stuff!

  61. Kurt Vonnegut fucked me up.

    Turned me into a shaggy visigoth.

    (I got better…)

    As a lad, I segued from Hardy Boys mysteries to Vonnegut (I couldn’t get enough).

    Goodness, what a ride.

    I loved Deadeye Dick as only a child could.

    Thanks Kurt.

    I hope I pull 84 years.

    (Half ways there…)

  62. I’ve never read anything by KV. The closest I’ve come (and it’s not that close really) was reading “Inferno” by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, which was a sci-fi remake of — you guessed it — Dante’s Inferno. Loved the book. KV had a spot in hell since he invented various religions. The protagonist described him as (to paraphrase), “a science fiction writer who denied being a science fiction writer, who intentionally wrote in childish prose when he had the talent to do better”. I got a sense they weren’t fans of his…

    I’m still going to pick up a book of his now. If I’m only going to read one, should it be “Slaughterhouse Five” or “Cat’s Cradle”?

    And it looks like “Inferno” is unfortunately out of print. Great book.

  63. “They [suicide bombers] are dying for their own self-respect. It’s a terrible thing to deprive someone of their self-respect. It’s [like] your culture is nothing, your race is nothing, you’re nothing … It is sweet and noble – sweet and honourable I guess it is – to die for what you believe in.”

    Hey, Chalupa? What are those three dot thingies in the middle of the quote?

    Why don’t you go take a Grand Chalupa at a donut? Why don’t you take a Grand Chalupa at the mooooooooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnn?

  64. David (Yes, you. You. YOU, standing RIGHT THERE),

    If you are only going to read one, read “Player Piano.”

  65. “He always was more of a fatalist than an activist, though.”

    I’ve only read “Slaughterhouse Five” and the fatalism bothered me. I’d harbored some hope that maybe I just didn’t understand him properly.

    The idea that the powerful know what they’re doing and where it will ultimately lead seems funny to me. I’d hoped he was poking fun at people who believed in such people and their predictions.

  66. I found KV before I found Rand. Read Breakfast Of Champions out of shear random chance. Rocked my world. I read several others after that, but none equaled that surrealistic bite. By the time I got to Player Piano, my school boy crush on Ayn was all hot and sweaty. I managed to finish Galapagos, but that was it for me. I never read another KV book.

    I too was blown away by his cameo in Back To School.
    I don’t know who wrote that paper for you. But he doesn’t know the first thing about Kurt Vonnegut

  67. Ken- He was. Oddly enough, a quote by Henry Rollins sums up a lot of what KV seemed to be getting at: “The human condition is a bad condition, because the human condition is all too human.”

    KV did not have faith in leaders or those in authority. Not even a little bit.

  68. If I’m only going to read one, should it be “Slaughterhouse Five” or “Cat’s Cradle”?

    Cat’s Cradle, hands down.

  69. joe,

    could you be more predictable. You pick a book which shows why the workers are dumb and the government REALLY does know whats best for them. LOL

  70. Iago? Not even close?

    I’m going to have to read some O’Conner.

  71. Number 6,

    KV didn’t have any faith in anybody. Even his protagonists were tragically comic inepts.

  72. Jennifer,

    Damn straight!

  73. L I T-Yep. Which is one reason I enjoy him so much. Oddly enough, KV is one of my fiancee’s favorite authors. The thing is, she’s an optimist who likes people. I, OTOH, don’t fit either of those descriptions. Yet she loves KV even more than I do.

    I’m working on a tribute piece for my paper. (Because I can) On reviewing it, I wondered if I was overstating how bleak KV was. On thinking about it, I don’t think it’s possible to overstate how bleak his worldview was.

  74. Number 6,

    If you had seen his interview on the daily show, you’d definitely realize you cannot overstate his bleakness. Jon Stewart was still laughing at his dark humor, but I bet he cried himself to sleep that night. KV sapped his will to joke.

  75. …And in The Sirens of Titan he posited the only church I could ever belong to: The Church of God the Utterly Indifferent.

    I preferred The Church of Jesus Christ the Kidnapped.

    And as long as we’re talking about Flannery O’Connor, we can throw in (from Wise Blood) The Church Without Christ “…that church where the blind don’t see and the lame don’t walk and what’s dead stays that way.”

  76. Instead of decrying the “bleakness” of his worldview, or his “fatalism”, perhaps someone troubled by these aspects could, after even briefly perusing a history book, offer some tangible refutation of them (“tangible” requires that one avoid the invocation of Magical Invisible Beings to get there).

    As I said early in this thread, his essay on Biafra told me all I needed to know as a youth. The details of the Holocaust, the Gulag, Pol Pot, which came later, and every other lesser included offense just confirmed it. I would put that essay, along with the back-to-back chapters of Rebellion/The Grand Inquisitor, as the most intellectually stimulating things I ever read in my youth.

  77. To David (the other one),

    I’d recommend “Welcome to the Monkey-House” as your intro to Vonnegut. There are multiple stories in it that are well worth your time. (Besides the already mentioned Harrison Bergeron). I really need to re-read Slaughterhouse Five. My vaguely remembered dislike of it was at a time when I was a lot less tolerant of allegory; I’m sure I’d like it a lot more now.

    On Inferno, I couldn’t get why Niven/Pournelle were so pissed off at Vonnegut either. Considering their writings, maybe they aren’t very comfortable with allegory either…

    On the plus side, maybe they’ll explain why when the sequel comes out. It should be soon, Jerry’s website mentions that they’re just about done with it.

    I’m agreeing with JasonL in that Flannery O’Connor sounds very interesting.

    So many books, so little time.

  78. I confess to having briefly posted a death notice at my blog using “So it goes” or, more precisely, “He died last night. So it goes.” (I subsequently removed the post, not for that reason but because it struck me shortly thereafter that I had nothing else worth saying about Vonnegut beyond the fact that I greatly admired his early novels.)

    Reading these comments, it has since occurred to me that Paul Lazzaro’s murmured comment was brilliantly stolen by Marlon Brando’s Paul in “Last Tango In Paris.” On the whole, I’d give the nod to “Slaughterhouse-Five” as the first if not the only book to read.

  79. L.i.T,

    Wow, are you a lousy reader. The government knows what’s best for the workers? That’s what you think “Player Piano” was meant to demonstrate?

    The Reverand character demonstrates that the workers are dumb? The widespread suicide and depression on the other side of the bridge was meant to demonstrate that the elite knew what was best for them?

    Did you miss the part where there was a freaking REVOLUTION against the established order?

    Lemme guess – your Math SATs were a little higher than the English. Am I right?

  80. I couldn’t get why Niven/Pournelle were so pissed off at Vonnegut either.

    A lot of people in the science-fiction world resented the fact that he got his start in their genre but never looked back after he entered the mainstream, even as he continued to use science-fiction concepts and plot devices in his books.

    There are also, of course, significant differences between the Vonnegut and Niven/Pournelle styles and worldviews.

  81. Harrumph. Jesse is a southerner, too.

    But you’ve read a book.

    You know? Booooooooook.

    I’m southern, and I got it. Read “Dulce et Decorum est” in the worst (or second worst – depending on whether we could still thank God for Mississippi at that point) public schools in the nation. Also read “Harrison Bergeron” in those same public schools, although I always got that story mixed up in my mind with “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”. Somehow I ended up conflating the two stories, so that “Harrison Bergeron” is Walter Mitty’s dream of grandeur. Would have made “Mitty” a helluva lot more interesting. In fact I think that the reason I do that is that I found Mitty’s daydreams kinda boring, so I subbed in a better daydream for him.

    What I will admit I didn’t get was Slaughterhouse V. Maybe I was a bit too literalist at the time (still a freshman in college) and had been wading around in a whole deep pile of hard SF and New Wave in the month before I read it, so it just seemed kind of obvious at the time.

    Need to go back and re-read it, and maybe Cat’s Cradle or Breakfast of Champions to see if it sinks in better.

  82. joe,

    Actually my English was slightly higher than my math, but you’ll have to forgive my assumed interpretation you might have had for the book. Of course the government was wrong in what it did in Player Piano, just like it is in real life.

    I love you joe, but you’re too much of a government fan for me to think you liked player piano not because the rebellion against the order failed miserably. If you actually saw the criticism of government as I interpreted it, bascially that the more government tries to “help” people, the less it effectively does, then I congratulate you and welcome you to libertarianism. Somehow though, I think that message is not what you heard.

  83. “KV did not have faith in leaders or those in authority. Not even a little bit.”

    But Vonnegut did seem to think that those who knew how the world was going to end–those who saw the stars as strings of light because they saw where the stars had been and where they were going–he seemed to accept they knew what was going to happen and how it was going to happen.

    It’s a Cold War idea. The world is going to be destroyed, and the people who will destroy it know it’s going to be destroyed. …and they know how it’s going to be destroyed, and they know that they’re the ones who will destroy it.

    Vonnegut may have poked fun at those who, unwittingly or otherwise, follow their leaders to the slaughterhouse, but he seemed to shoot down the question of whether what our leaders “know” is going to happen is actually going to happen.

    Part of what makes me a libertarian is my skepticism that our leaders, well intentioned or otherwise, know what’s going to happen in the future. He may think that our leaders’ expectations are part of the determination equation…

    …but he seems to reject the possibility that maybe the train isn’t necessarily rolling down a slippery slope beyond our control.

  84. Well, L.i.T, now that I’ve proven your assumptions wrong about what I believe, again, maybe you won’t be so quick to make the same mistake over and over and over and over and over.

    No. Not really. But a guy can hope.

    “If you actually saw the criticism of government as I interpreted it, bascially that the more government tries to “help” people, the less it effectively does…”

    Maybe you should thin in less “basic” terms, because this above is one degree more sophisticated than “sin is bad.”

  85. I thought the sirens on the cover of my paperback Sirens of Titan that I had to read for Sci-Fi class were kinda sexy but I don’t remember a damned thing about the novel. Same for Slaughterhouse Five. I thought he was great when I was a know-it-all lefty college sophomore. I was probably stoned at the time.

  86. “Vonnegut may have poked fun at those who, unwittingly or otherwise, follow their leaders to the slaughterhouse, but he seemed to shoot down the question of whether what our leaders “know” is going to happen is actually going to happen.”

    Similarly, in “Player Piano,” he accepts that rational central planning – real central planning, where the economy is run by the govenrment, not the existence of Medicare and pollution laws – can produce the most efficient, pro-growth economic system. In the book, it does.

    Instead, he asks whether it is a good idea to do so, based on other concerns about justice, equality, social stratification, non-material progress, and the meaningfulness of life in an overly-determined society.

  87. Now stop being the boor at the funeral and go piss on another thread.

    Unconscious Self-Parody Alert! Or did I miss the part where all H&R writers pledged to refrain from snarky, kick-em-while-they’re down attacks? Sure there’s not some kind of double standard here…

  88. Similarly, in “Player Piano,” he accepts that rational central planning – real central planning, where the economy is run by the govenrment, not the existence of Medicare and pollution laws – can produce the most efficient, pro-growth economic system. In the book, it does.

    Instead, he asks whether it is a good idea to do so, based on other concerns about justice, equality, social stratification, non-material progress, and the meaningfulness of life in an overly-determined society.

    Thanks for proving me right joe, you’re always good for central planning shilling.

    Have a nice day.

  89. On Inferno, I couldn’t get why Niven/Pournelle were so pissed off at Vonnegut either. Considering their writings, maybe they aren’t very comfortable with allegory either…

    I’m agreeing with JasonL in that Flannery O’Connor sounds very interesting.

    While I’m no expert, and have only read a handful of either Niven/Pournelle’s or Vonnegut’s work, I suspect that they’ve got the same literal-interpretation problems with Vonnegut that I had when I read S-V. Dunno, I could see their reaction being that it was kinda ‘cute’.

    I always liked O’Connor. Or rather, found it fascinating, because it was often not the kind of thing that you could ‘like’, per se. Or maybe it was just the first time I’d really seen the mundane described in such dreadful terms. She’s almost anathema to any idea of Southern pride.

  90. Wow, I hit a nerve with that.

    I know what the quote was referring to, it doesn’t change the meaning of the statement.

    For your information, I read 90% of Cat’s Cradle but eventually quit because it got too fucking predictable. And the message was that science is evil and we need to cut it out and live like animals again. The only interesting character was the scientist who was the villan for minding his own business and being good at his job. It was the inverse of Atlas Shrugged.

    Here’s more Vonegut. Use the senility defense if you like, but this had become a pattern.


    Work persons have been sent home from that site because American “conservatives,” as they call themselves, on Wall Street and at the head of so many of our corporations, have stolen a major fraction of our private savings, have ruined investors and employees by means of fraud and outright piracy.

    Shock and awe.

    And now, having installed themselves as our federal government, or taken control of it from outside, they have squandered our public treasury and then some. They have created a public debt of such appalling magnitude that our descendants, for whom we had such high hopes, will come into this world as poor as church mice.

    Shock and awe.

    What are the conservatives doing with all the money and power that used to belong to all of us? They are telling us to be absolutely terrified, and to run around in circles like chickens with their heads cut off. But they will save us. They are making us take off our shoes at airports. Can anybody here think of a more hilarious practical joke than that one?

    Smile, America. You’re on Candid Camera.

    And they have turned loose a myriad of our high-tech weapons, each one costing more than a hundred high schools, on a Third World country, in order to shock and awe human beings like us, like Adam and Eve, between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

    The other day I asked former Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton what he thought of our great victory over Iraq, and he said, “Mohammed Ali versus Mr. Rogers.”

    What are conservatives? They are people who will move heaven and earth, if they have to, who will ruin a company or a country or a planet, to prove to us and to themselves that they are superior to everybody else, except for their pals. They take good care of their pals, keep them out of jail-and so on.

    Conservatives are crazy as bedbugs. They are bullies.

    Shock and awe.

    Class war? You bet.

    They have proved their superiority to admirers of Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain and Jesus of Nazareth, with an able assist from television, making inconsequential our protests against their war.

    You guys can have the rest of the thread to mourn. Sorry for thinking this was Reason and not Pravada.

    Shock and awe.

    Once again, good riddance.

  91. “Thanks for proving me right joe, you’re always good for central planning shilling.”

    Thanks for proving me right, Lost, you have really lousy reading comprehension.

  92. You guys can have the rest of the thread to mourn. Sorry for thinking this was Reason and not Pravada.

    is this close enough that I can drink?

    grand chalupa,

    I don’t care what you can quote from Vonnegut’s daily life. he was a brilliant writer of good satire and that’s that.

    Maybe you’d hate Bach too if you found out he was a social revolutionary, but that does not deny the brilliance of his work.

  93. Listen, Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck from time.

    Ah, the former SAAB salesman and General Electric (“Illium Works”) PR guy did pretty well for himself in the end. He and Twain were the best humanist satirists the US produced. IMHO. 🙂

    One of Vonnegut’s later essays (and the only redeeming feature of the otherwise unreadable “In these times” can be found here:

    http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/cold_turkey/

    There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don’t know what can be done to fix it. This is it: Only nut cases want to be president.

    Even crazier than golf, though, is modern American politics, where, thanks to TV and for the convenience of TV, you can only be one of two kinds of human beings, either a liberal or a conservative.

    Can I tell you the truth? I mean this isn’t like TV news, is it?

  94. Criticizing Bush and the Iraq War, arguing in favor of suicide bombings…sure, that’s the “same pattern.”

    What a shocker that someone who would make that claim would write “good riddance” in a thread about a beloved author dying.

  95. joe,

    Vonnegut doesn’t “accept” that central planning produces those things. He posits for the sake of argument. That you read into it that he came to the same conclusion you draw is your own interpretation, based on your desire to see agreement in your own arguments. We could go round and round on this, but subjected to the court of public analysis, I believe I’ll be the one agreed with.

  96. LiT:

    drink away, my friend. Drink away.

    And a snak pak of candy cigarettes for Grand C. Don’t want him to feel left out of the grown ups’ party!

    Although the interesting part is that he demonstrated his lack of knowledge, but did supply us with a knee jerk reaction with enough energy to reduce his carbon footpring by a whopping 28.7%!

    Looked stoopid (sic), and comes back with insults.

    How very interesting, indeed.

    Now run along, Chaloopa, in case you get dropped again.

    Or is it “Shaken Chaloopa Syndrome” (you know, you’ve seen the bilboards with David Hasselhoff warning you not to shake the Chalupa. oh. he warns against spankin the chaloopa. Thank you Norbert.)

    anyhow, how very interesting.

  97. I know what the quote was referring to, it doesn’t change the meaning of the statement.

    Of course not. It’s not that the meaning has changed; it’s that it went right over your head.

  98. Grand Chalupa writes:

    Wow, I hit a nerve with that.

    No, you didn’t, but if that’s how you want to read the reaction you set off, be my guest.

    Grand Chalupa’s pal “Anonymous” writes:

    Unconscious Self-Parody Alert! Or did I miss the part where all H&R writers pledged to refrain from snarky, kick-em-while-they’re down attacks? Sure there’s not some kind of double standard here…

    I can’t speak for “all H&R writers,” but: While I haven’t always spoken well of the dead, I try to make sure I know what I’m talking about when I put them down. I also refrain from bursting into memorial threads to say things like “good riddance.”

    These distinctions should be pretty obvious to most readers, though perhaps not to people who don’t know what “self-parody” means.

  99. Henry- I didn’t decry KV’s bleakness. I tend to agree with him. I tend to agree with him because I have read history books.

  100. “Maybe you’d hate Bach too if you found out he was a social revolutionary, but that does not deny the brilliance of his work.”

    I’d argue, by the way, that the determinism–the sense that the world will end in a nuclear war and that no one can stop it–ultimately doesn’t ruin the book. It just timestamps it.

    But five hundred years from now, people will still read “Slaughterhouse Five” to get a sense of Cold War literature, and they’ll find much of it applicable to their own time.

  101. Ken, if you consider the idea of nuclear annihilation passe in any way, I’d say you are an optimist. Cockeyed, also.

  102. L.i.T.,

    If you want me to leave you along, and withdraw gracefully from the thread, you’re going to have to do so without launching btichy covering fire over your shoulder.

    ‘Vonnegut doesn’t “accept” that central planning produces those things. He posits for the sake of argument.’ I guess you haven’t read much else that he’s written. He was a middle-century technocrat, leaning to the left, before becoming a writer. His books are full of references to the irrational economic behavior of individuals, behavior that doesn’t make economic sense, but which people engage in for emotional reasons. The player piano in the book’s title, for example, or the four door Mercedes bought by the solitary hero in “Deadeye Dick.”

    “That you read into it that he came to the same conclusion you draw is your own interpretation, based on your desire to see agreement in your own arguments.” And your evidence that I agree with Vonnegut’s position on this is…what? That I’m a Democrat and you JUST KNOW that we all believe in a Player-Piano-style centrally planned economy?

    “And your evidence that We could go round and round on this, but subjected to the court of public analysis, I believe I’ll be the one agreed with.”

    You’re good at belief, less so at thought and argument.

  103. Oh, and Chalupa- Yes, Vonnegut was a leftist. What’s your point?
    Dismissing artists because they don’t share your worldview may make you feel superior and ideologically pure, but it strikes me as a pathetic, blinkered way to live.

    Incidentally, I hope you don’t enjoy Steinbeck, Dos Passos, Joseph Heller (He was anti-war! The treasonous bastard!), Ken Kesey, or any of dozens of other American authors who were left-leaning. You don’t like the paintings of Thomas Hart Benton, do you? Or the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright? The movies of Stanley Kubrick? The poetry of Whitman? I hope all of your art is ideologically pure and that no bad thoughts have polluted your pure essences.

  104. “I hope all of your art is ideologically pure and that no bad thoughts have polluted your pure essences.”

    #6:

    he can’t hear you. He got his U2 cranked up way high! 🙂

    cheerio!

  105. Oh, and Chalupa? This isn’t Pravda. Nor is is a John Birch Society meeting. Perhaps you’d be more comfortable at LGF.

  106. Grand Chalupa denigrated:

    because American “conservatives,” as they call themselves

    I ask, what is incorrect about that entire article? Modern “conservatives” are not conservative. They prefer government intervention into business that they can control over true free markets. They have racked up the largest Federal spending increase in history, hardly a conservative trait. They prefer government interference in foreign nations to minding thier own business. They prefer spying on their own citizens to actually protecting them. They believe in interfering in the day to day life of the citizenry in the name of “morals” and “freedom”. Indeed, Mr. Vonnegut was correct, “conservatives,” as they call themselves are crazy, not conservative after all.

  107. Ken,

    “I’d argue, by the way, that the determinism–the sense that the world will end in a nuclear war and that no one can stop it–ultimately doesn’t ruin the book. It just timestamps it.”

    Ditto with his assumption of the efficiency of central planning in Player Piano. The book is very much an artifact of its time and author in that way. In the 1950s, when it was written, most of the country (or nation, hmmm…) believed that the end of the Great Depression under New Deal technocrats, and the stunning economic growth in Russia since the revolution, demonstrated the greater efficiency of central planning. The Hayek/Freedman view that informs the modern right was a minority even on the right, with most of them believing that we needed to create a capitalistic alternative central planning model in order to compete and keep up with the Communists. The book even postulates a war between the west, with its superior central planning, and the Communist block, which loses because of our technological advantage.

    The government/industry/academic partnership Vonnegut created was, like all good science fiction, his projection of contemporary developments into the future. Only somebody in the 1950s could have projected an uber-competant, higly-successful corporatist central planning as a possible future.

  108. “Wow, I hit a nerve with that.”

    the only nerve you’ll be hitting, if you know what i mean!

  109. Though I have not read much Vonnegut, anybody who is a pessimist in life is a friend of mine. Rest in Peace.

  110. Grand Chalupa-

    Just about the vast majority of historians on the planet think dropping two nukes on Japan was a horrendous mistake.

  111. “Just about the vast majority of historians on the planet think dropping two nukes on Japan was a horrendous mistake.”

    that’s because they’re pussies!

  112. “Ken, if you consider the idea of nuclear annihilation passe in any way, I’d say you are an optimist. Cockeyed, also.”

    I didn’t mean to suggest it was passe. I meant to suggest that nuclear annihilation isn’t necessarily unavoidable.

    …and that the assumption that nuclear annihilation is unavoidable is emblematic of a certain time.

    Over the past few years, I’ve seen people suggest that massive destruction due to biochemical terrorism and global warming are also unavoidable. If I suggest that, actually, global destruction by terrorism or greenhouse gases may not be unavoidable, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I think those concerns are passe.

    People in the future will probably have to deal with leaders who predict other allegedly unavoidable catastrophes. Isn’t that interesting?

  113. “dhex | April 12, 2007, 3:33pm | #
    “Just about the vast majority of historians on the planet think dropping two nukes on Japan was a horrendous mistake.”

    that’s because they’re pussies!”

    merge. Fletch. and. Back. 2. School.

    “[Truman] dropped two big ones. He was a real fighter.”

    “cuz MacArthur was too much of a pussy wimp to go in there and nuke those commie bastards!”

    pppstttt. Henry – he’s sensitive about his eye. he prefers to call it “lazy”. hokae?

  114. I guess you haven’t read much else that he’s written. He was a middle-century technocrat, leaning to the left, before becoming a writer. His books are full of references to the irrational economic behavior of individuals, behavior that doesn’t make economic sense, but which people engage in for emotional reasons. The player piano in the book’s title, for example, or the four door Mercedes bought by the solitary hero in “Deadeye Dick.”
    Irrational economic behavior by individuals has little to do with the efficiency or inefficiency of central planning. I reiterate that Vonnegut was not rationalizing that central planning was more efficient, he was putting it forth for the sake of analyzing it.

    And your evidence that I agree with Vonnegut’s position on this is…what? That I’m a Democrat and you JUST KNOW that we all believe in a Player-Piano-style centrally planned economy?
    Did I mention that you’re a democrat? You have a faith in central planning. You have repeatedly demonstrated it in discussions about eminent domain, zoning, utlities, etc. Whether or not you think there are flaws in Vonnegut’s particular example, your intimation of economic efficiency suggests you agree with the premise that things should be more centrally organized.

    You’re good at belief, less so at thought and argument.
    That remains to be seen…I’m definitely doing better at quoting responses. Learn the italics tag,joe. It’ll help, I swear.

  115. “People in the future will probably have to deal with leaders who predict other allegedly unavoidable catastrophes. Isn’t that interesting?”

    The future? Don’t we already have enough leaders who think Jesus is going to torch the world any minute now?

    Hey, speaking of that:

    http://www.theonion.com/content/news/christ_getting_in_shape_for_second

  116. “Irrational economic behavior by individuals has little to do with the efficiency or inefficiency of central planning.” I know that. YOU know that. The thing is, Vonnegut didn’t seem to think so, nor did a lot of people at that time in American (and world) history.

    “I reiterate that Vonnegut was not rationalizing that central planning was more efficient, he was putting it forth for the sake of analyzing it.”

    Yes, which is why I wrote, “Similarly, in “Player Piano,” he accepts that rational central planning – real central planning, where the economy is run by the govenrment, not the existence of Medicare and pollution laws – can produce the most efficient, pro-growth economic system. In the book, it does.

    Instead, he asks whether it is a good idea to do so, based on other concerns about justice, equality, social stratification, non-material progress, and the meaningfulness of life in an overly-determined society.”

    He doesn’t argue for the efficiency of central planning in the book, he just assumes it, in order to examine it from another direction.

    What are you arguing against? That I described what Vonnegut wrote about central planning, without addressing its accuracy, while being of a different polition persuasion than you?

    Get over it.

  117. Lost, you are reading approval of Vonnegut’s ideas about efficiency where I haven’t suggested any.

    Knock it off.

  118. “Sorry for thinking this was Reason and not Pravada.”

    As soon as I get some work done, I’ll be tipping a few back, courtesy of the Grand Chugalugalupa.

  119. Whether Vonnegut was trying to present central planning as a good idea or not, his novels were so often dystopian that I never got the idea that they were great arguments for The Omnipotent State.

    Wasn’t Cat’s Cradle sort of his “glacier novel?”

    I won’t wish that Kurt R.I.P., `cause when he was alive he wasn’t any kind of believer in the supernatural. If his consciousness survived his mortal coil, he’s one surprised freethinker.

    Kevin

  120. RIP KV. From one ex-Hoosier to another.

    And that Flannery O’Connor, I really dig his stuff.

  121. “Sorry for thinking this was Reason and not Pravada.”

    That’s a quadruple drink, I believe. Plus an extra “a” in there!

  122. And that Flannery O’Connor, I really dig his stuff.

    She was a woman.

  123. the anti-egalitarian fable “Harrison Bergeron,” a fixture in public-school reading lists.

    I’ve never figured out why this is the case, considering how schools try so hard to erase competitive differences, these days.

  124. Just about the vast majority of historians on the planet think dropping two nukes on Japan was a horrendous mistake.

    Only the ones with 20/20 hindsight.

  125. Chalupe Fiasco,

    [I’ve really got nothing to say that everyone else hasn’t said already. I just wanted to show off his new name.]

    So, there!

  126. RIP.

    Breakfast of Champions was the one funniest things I’ve ever read.

  127. Oh, and Chalupa? This isn’t Pravda. Nor is is a John Birch Society meeting. Perhaps you’d be more comfortable at LGF.

    I wonder if he posts at Little Green Footballs already?
    Even the John Birch Society thought that it was wrong to use the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and so did commie liberals like Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

  128. “was one of the”, sorry.

  129. The woman was a believer. She wrote books for believers. I don’t get the love for O’Connor around here.

    …I’d think you all were just hostile toward protestants if I didn’t know what nice people you are.

  130. Just about the vast majority of historians on the planet think dropping two nukes on Japan was a horrendous mistake.

    BFD. If you can’t argue without resorting to fallacies, you can’t argue worth shit.

  131. The woman was a believer. She wrote books for believers. I don’t get the love for O’Connor around here.

    What does that have to do with the artistic merit? Every artist has a worldview or a belief. If it is too overwhelming it dates poorly and it overwrought. Which is why socialist realism and communist literature barely survives.

    One test of good literature is to see if it was banned or people attempted to get it banned.

    Several summers ago, the bishop of Lafayette, Louisiana, banned the racist texts of Flannery O’Connor from the schools in his diocese. You hardly know where to begin when faced with a proposition like that. The only Catholic admitted by mainstream secular literary critics to the canon of 20th-century American authors – now excised by Catolics. A major southern writer involved in the project of explaining southerners to themselves, now prohibited in a set of southern schools. A woman known in her own day for her anti-racism now placed on the forbidden list on the grounds of racism.

    Flannery O’Connor: Banned

  132. “The woman was a believer. She wrote books for believers. I don’t get the love for O’Connor around here. ”

    what?

    she was a good writer. who cares about her metaphysics?

  133. Oh, and Chalupa? This isn’t Pravda. Nor is is a John Birch Society meeting.

    I actually went by a place with a John Birch Society meeting, like, last year. Was surprised to find out they’re still around.

    And I don’t even live in the South.

    Vonnegut, though I disagree with his politics, was one of my favorite authors in high school, and will be missed.

  134. Commenters ’round here typically tee off on people like O’Connor. I have to wonder if she’s gettin’ a free pass ’cause the victims of her violent fantasies are protestants. Maybe I’m wrong, but it looks like pornography for pious Catholics to me.

    She effectively did to one of her characters what Shakespeare did to Shylock. I was raised protestant on the edge of the South–what am I supposed to say? …Look how beautifully she did that?

    It feels like reading “A Modest Proposal” except the author isn’t kidding.

  135. “Commenters ’round here typically tee off on people like O’Connor. I have to wonder if she’s gettin’ a free pass ’cause the victims of her violent fantasies are protestants. Maybe I’m wrong, but it looks like pornography for pious Catholics to me.”

    i think we’re reading different works. if anything, her catholicism was tempered by growing up around southern protestants.

  136. “Welcome to the Monkey House” is my favorite collection of short stories by any one author – amazing versalitily and range of subjects/pathos/bathos. And despite Vonnegut’s politics Harrison Bergeron is a classic libertarian text. No one’s going to remember his odd interviews on war in years to come but Harrison is one for the ages.

  137. btw, by ‘odd’ I meant ‘stray’ or ‘random’ not ‘strange.’

  138. I once say flyers for a John Birch Society meeting in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, in the late 1990s. I totally should have gone.

    “BFD. If you can’t argue without resorting to fallacies, you can’t argue worth shit.”

    The question wasn’t, “Was it a good idea to nuke Japan?” The question was “Is there any sane person who thinks it was a bad idea to nuke Japan?”

    So, no, pointing out the large number of apparently sane people who think it was a bad idea is not a fallacy.

    Although I don’t think bringing up Douglas MacArthur is relevant to question as asked.

  139. Although I don’t think bringing up Douglas MacArthur is relevant to question as asked.

    joe, MacArthur might have been pompous and tyrannical but I’m fairly sure that he was not insane.

  140. “i think we’re reading different works. if anything, her catholicism was tempered by growing up around southern protestants.”

    If I thought I understood that comment better, I’d reiterate that people seem to be giving her a pass ’cause they share her dislike of certain religions.

    …but I know you well enough to know that your comment can’t possibly mean what I think it means, so I’ll just assume that I don’t understand it.

  141. Isaac,

    I was bringin’ da smartass.

  142. Okey dokey, joe. 🙂

  143. Although I don’t think bringing up Douglas MacArthur is relevant to question as asked.

    Uh, MacArthur didn’t agree with nuking Hiroshima either, so I think it’s very relevant.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.