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Thread: Kurt Vonnegut Appreciation Thread

  1. #1
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    Kurt Vonnegut Appreciation Thread

    I figured I'd start one. I'm sure a lot of people would be able to contribute. It's interesting to me that a lot of the great counter-cultural figures of the latter half of the 20th century were WWII vets. In addition to Kurt Vonnegut, off the top of my head, there's Joseph Heller, and Howard Zinn... it seems like they all had really interesting things to say.

    I suppose we can start by discussing favorites.

    I'd have to go with Mother Night. It's probably his least funny book; it's doing something else other than pure satire. The main character seems to be inspired by Ezra Pound to an extent; he's a playwright who gets caught up in doing propaganda broadcasts who later comes to feel regret for his actions. A major theme of the book is propaganda and espionage, and the ambiguities of identity, and the nature of the totalitarian mind. It's "upsetting", it's not "safe", and it's definitely an uncomfortable read, but it is important.

    I think a large part of why I like it so much is that it focuses on the German perspective. Vonnegut's history as a German-American POW informs the text in a unique way. The Germans in Vonnegut's book are less inhuman monsters than uncomfortable reflections of ourselves. It was incredibly ballsy of him to ask "well, what do we have in common with the Germans?", and the result is fantastic. I'm not sure that someone could get away with doing something comparable in today's political climate, which is unfortunate.

    The only really humorous part deals with a group of American fascists. There's a dentist, a Dr. Jones, who appears to have had some kind of mental illness. During one particular bout of insanity, he created a pamphlet about how to spot Jewish teeth, and analyzed the teeth of Renaissance paintings to conclude that Jesus was not a Jew. But my favorite part was a figure called the Black Fuhrer of Harlem, who wanted Japan to get it's own atomic bomb and drop it on China because the Chinese "aren't really colored."

    There's this section:

    I have never seen a more sublime demonstration of the totalitarian mind, a mind which might be linked unto a system of gears where teeth have been filed off at random. Such snaggle-toothed thought machine, driven by a standard or even by a substandard libido, whirls with the jerky, noisy, gaudy pointlessness of a cuckoo clock in Hell.The boss G-man concluded wrongly that there were no teeth on the gears in the mind of Jones. 'You're completely crazy,' he said.
    Jones wasn't completely crazy. The dismaying thing about classic totalitarian mind is that any given gear, thought mutilated, will have at its circumference unbroken sequences of teeth that are immaculately maintained, that are exquisitely machined.
    Hence the cuckoo clock in Hell - keeping perfect time for eight minutes and twenty-three seconds, jumping ahead fourteen minutes, keeping perfect time for six seconds, jumping ahead two seconds, keeping perfect time for two hours and one second, then jumping ahead a year.
    The missing teeth, of course, are simple, obvious truths, truths available and comprehensible even to ten-year-olds, in most cases.
    The wilful filling off a gear teeth, the wilful doing without certain obvious pieces of information -
    That was how a household as contradictory as one composed of Jones, Father Keeley, Vice-Bundesfuehrer Krapptauer, and the Black Fuehrer could exist in relative harmony -
    The ending kind of surprised me, and is by far Vonnegut's most satisfying ending. It includes this gem:


    “Let there be nothing harmonious about our children's playthings, lest they grow up expecting peace and order, and be eaten alive.”
    Finally, this quote (I can't recall where it's from in the narrative) sums up my attitude towards knowledge, my understanding of it as a moral good, not just a hobby or pastime:

    “Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile.”
    What's your favorite Vonnegut, and why?
    Last edited by msg_v2; 03-09-2015 at 08:23 PM.

  2. #2
    my first exposure to him was harrison bergeron in school and the first novel I read was the player piano followed by slaughterhouse-five. I remember seeing a film adaptation of that one too.

    I liked breakfast of champions best but it's been so long since I read it...

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    Quote Originally Posted by last_caress View Post
    my first exposure to him was harrison bergeron in school and the first novel I read was the player piano followed by slaughterhouse-five. I remember seeing a film adaptation of that one too.

    I liked breakfast of champions best but it's been so long since I read it...
    I ought to give Harrison Bergeron a try.

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