Tag Archives: Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut, Timequake

At the time of their invention, books were devices as crassly practical for storing or transmitting language, albeit fabricated from scarcely modified substances found in forest and field and animals, as the latest Silicon Valley miracles. But by accident, not by cunning calculation, books, because of their weight and texture, and because of their sweetly token resistance to manipulation, involve our hands and eyes, and then our minds and souls, in a spiritual adventure I would be very sorry for my grandchildren not to know about.

—Kurt Vonnegut, Timequake

I was obviously born to draw better than most people…. Other people are obviously born to sing and dance or explain the stars in the sky or do magic tricks or be great leaders or athletes, and so on.

I think that could go back to the time when people had to live in small groups of relatives–maybe fifty or a hundred people at the most. And evolution or God or whatever arranged things genetically, to keep the little families going, to cheer them up, so that they could all have somebody to tell stories around the campfire all night, and somebody else to pain pictures on the walls of the caves, and somebody else who wasn’t afraid of anything and so on….

And of course a scheme like that doesn’t make sense anymore, because simply moderate giftedness has been made worthless by the printing press and radio and television and satellites and all that. A moderately gifted person who would have been a community treasure a thousand years ago has to give up, has to go into some other line of work, since modern communications put him or her into daily competition with nothing but world’s champions.

The entire planet can get along nicely now with maybe a dozen champion performers in each area of human giftedness. A moderately gifted person has to keep his or her gifts all bottled up until, in a manner of speaking, he or she gets drunk at a wedding and tap-dances on the coffee table like Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers. We have a name for him or her. We call him or her an ‘exhibitionist.’

How do we reward such an exhibitionist? We say to him or her the next morning, ‘Wow! Were you ever DRUNK last night!’

Kurt Vonnegut, Blackbeard

When the United States of America, which was meant to be a Utopia for all, was less than a century old, Noah a few men like him demonstrated the folly of the Founding Fathers in one respect: those sadly recent ancestors had not made it the law of the Utopia that the wealth of each citizen should be limited. This oversight was engendered by a weak-kneed sympathy for those who loved expensive things, and by the feeling that the continent was so vast and valuable, and the population so thin and enterprising, that no thief, no matter how fast he stole, could more than mildly inconvenience anyone.

Noah and a few like him perceived that the continent was in fact finite, and that venal office-holders, legislators in particular, could be persuaded to toss up great hunks of it for grabs, and to toss them in such a way as to have them land where Noah and his kind were standing.

Thus did a handful of rapacious citizens come to control all that was worth controlling in America. Thus was the savage and stupid and entirely inappropriate and unnecessary and humorless American class system created. Honest, industrious, peaceful citizens were classed as bloodsuckers, if they asked to be paid a living wage. And they saw that praise was reserved henceforth for those who devised means of getting paid enormously for committing crimes against which no laws had been passed. Thus the American dream turned belly up, turned green, bobbed to the scummy surface of cupidity unlimited, filled with gas, went bang in the noonday sun.

E pluribus unum is surely an ironic motto to inscribe on the currency of this Utopia gone bust, for every grotesquely rich American represents property, privileges, and pleasures that have been denied the many. An even more instructive motto, in the light of history made by the Noah Rosewaters, might be: Grab much too much, or you’ll get nothing at all.

Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

‘You hate America, don’t you?’ she said.
‘That would be as silly as loving it,’ I said. ‘It’s impossible for me to get emotional about it, because real estate doesn’t interest me. It’s no doubt a great flaw in my personality, but I can’t think in terms of boundaries. Those imaginary lines are as unreal to me as elves and pixies. I can’t believe that they mark the end or the beginning of anything of real concern to the human soul. Virtues and vices, pleasures and pains cross boundaries at will.’

Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

[E]liza and I composed a precocious critique of the Constitution of the United States of America, too. We argued that it was as good a scheme for misery as any, since its success in keeping the common people reasonably happy and proud depended on the strength of the people themselves–and yet it described no practical machinery which would tend to make the people, as opposed to their elected representatives, strong.

We said it was possible that the framers of the Constitution were blind to the beauty of persons who were without good wealth or powerful friends or public office, but who were nonetheless genuinely strong.

We thought it was more likely, though, that the framers had not noticed that it was natural, and therefore almost inevitable, that human beings in extraordinary and enduring situations should think of themselves as composing new families. Eliza and I pointed out that this happened no less in democracies than in tyrannies, since human beings were the same the wide world over, and civilized only yesterday.

Kurt Vonnegut, Slapstick

You understand, of course, that everything I say is horseshit…. But it’s a useful, comforting sort of horseshit, you see? That’s what I object to about preachers. They don’t say anything to make anybody any happier, when there are all these neat lies you can tell. And everything is a lie, because our brains are two-bit computers, and we can’t get very high-grade truths out of them. But as far as improving the human condition goes, our minds are certainly up to that. That’s what they were designed to do. And we do have the freedom to make up comforting lies. But we don’t do enough of it.

Kurt Vonnegut, “Playboy Interview”, Wampeters, Foma, And Granfalloons

[I] am suspicious of belly laughs as entirely happy experiences. The only way to get a belly laugh, I’ve found, is to undermine a surface joke with more unhappiness than most mortals can bear.

Kurt Vonnegut, “Oversexed In Indianapolis”, Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons

America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves…. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power or gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters….

Americans, like human begins everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say, Napoleonic times.

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before. He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way.

Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle

Perhaps, when we remember wars, we should take off our clothes and paint ourselves blue and go on all fours all day long and grunt like pigs. That would surely be more appropriate than noble oratory and shows of flags and well-oiled guns.

Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle