Thursday, April 12, 2007

Everything Was Beautiful, And Nothing Hurt

Rest In Peace, Mr. Vonnegut

"When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in a bad condition in that particular moment, but that same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is 'So it goes'."

The first book of Vonnegut's that I ever read was Cat's Cradle. I believe it was on the suggested reading list upon entering NYU. I was completely blown away. Vonnegut creates his own language, his own history, his own world-- his own religion. And the amazing part about it is that nothing sounds like fantasy. The often bizarre and ridiculous actions undertaken by the characters in the novel do not seem unrealistic... indeed, contrasted with the real life actions of mankind, which Vonnegut reminds us of time and time again, the actions and events in Cat's Cradle seem to fit a tragic pattern of human absurdity. If man can drop the atom bomb and label it a success, then it's not that far a leap to imagine the end of the world arising from horrific human ignorance and arrogance. In times like this, with our government seemingly bent on bombing the world in order to save it, a novel like Cat's Cradle (published in 1963) is as poignant as ever. Breakfast of Champions and Slaughterhouse-Five tackle the same theme. They follow mankind's blissful blindness and chronicle it. In each, Vonnegut's main character (a stand-in for himself) learns he needs to wake up before it's too late-- but struggles to bring that message to the rest of the world.

Unfortunately, no books by Vonnegut were on Bush's reading list. But they should be on yours.

His books draw you in with their humor, their unique outlook on life, their quirky characters-- who often are much like people you know. His most bizarre creations, like the Tralfamadorians (aliens who can see the past, present and future all at once), and Bokonon (an island religious prophet who writes in calypsos), are outsiders who are able to view our world objectively, and offer philosophies that are genius in their simplicity:

"I once knew an Episcopalian lady in Newport, Rhode Island, who asked me to design and build a doghouse for her Great Dane. The lady claimed to understand God and His Ways of Working perfectly. She could not understand why anyone should be puzzled about what had been or about what was going to be.

And yet, when I showed her a blueprint of the doghouse I proposed to build, she said to me, "I'm sorry, but I never could read one of those things."

"Give it to your husband or your minister to pass on to God," I said, "and, when God finds a minute, I'm sure he'll explain this doghouse of mine in a way that even you can understand."

She fired me. I shall never forget her. She believed that God liked people in sailboats much better than He liked people in motorboats. She could not bear to look at a worm. When she saw a worm, she screamed.

She was a fool, and so am I, and so is anyone who thinks he can see what God is Doing" --Bokonon's Autobiography
A brilliant storyteller, and perhaps even more brilliant philosopher, Vonnegut will be missed.


Laura said...

I stumbled across something else you wrote that linked me to here: this place you've created. I've been in a Hemingway/Welles kick, and I've never read Vonnegut, but I think I'll head right to the used book store around the corner (umbrella in hand, of course) and pick something of his out. Thanks for the suggestion, and I look forward to meandering through your archives...

Have a fabulous rainy day in the city!

Adam said...

Thanks for your comments Laura! I was in a rush this morning to get to work and didn't look out the window... and as a result, didn't bring an umbrella. I got drenched. I figure I'll dry off sometime around May. Vonnegut's work is amazing. I suggest you read Cat's Cradle first. It's my favorite.

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