Join 3,558 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


God damn it, you've got to be kind.
February 14, 2011 12:26 PM   Subscribe

15 Things Kurt Vonnegut Said Better Than Anyone Else Ever Has Or Will
posted by ThePinkSuperhero (107 comments total) 81 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Everybody ought to wear sunscreen"
posted by briank at 12:26 PM on February 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


You were sick, but now you're well, and there's work to do.
posted by schmod at 12:31 PM on February 14, 2011 [14 favorites]


I love the one about the mooooooooooooon.
posted by exogenous at 12:34 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's been a while, Kurt. I look forward to getting reacquainted real soon.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:35 PM on February 14, 2011


Reading this only makes me miss him. Never met him in life, only through his writings and interviews. But as much as I can feel the lack of someone on this planet that I've never really met, I feel that for Kurt Vonnegut.
posted by hippybear at 12:36 PM on February 14, 2011 [17 favorites]


I don't agree with this quote, "I have been a soreheaded occupant of a file drawer labeled 'science fiction' ever since, and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a urinal." Apparently, Vonnegut was in his own opinion too good a writer for his work to be classified as SF, a genre which includes much inferior work. Nonetheless, Vonnegut did typically write about SFnal themes and was, by any reasonable definition, an SF writer. And he was far from being the only good SF writer either. The fact that many people underestimate the value of SF does not alter the fact that there is such a thing as good SF, some of which was written by Vonnegut.
posted by grizzled at 12:36 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I really love Vonnegut and wish he were a real, live father-figure in my life. He's one of the few "adults" I've been able to both look up to and identify with in some way.

"We are here on Earth to fart around. Don't let anybody tell you any different."

Wikiquotes has an obscene number of his quotes. There goes my afternoon. Thankfully.
posted by callmejay at 12:38 PM on February 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


@grizzled
I think he was saying he wanted out of the drawer because of what "serious critics" were doing and saying, not because of the quality of the contents of the drawer.
posted by bastionofsanity at 12:39 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


When I grow up, I want to be a quote factory.
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:40 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


They forgot this one: *
posted by R. Mutt at 12:43 PM on February 14, 2011 [31 favorites]


I'd be pretty happy if they just did away with all sub-genres of fiction. It is not a perfect solution, but I have to admit to a growing weariness over the never ending debate over what is science fiction?
posted by edgeways at 12:43 PM on February 14, 2011


Walmart liked it so much they made it their logo and policy.
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:43 PM on February 14, 2011


When you got here, even when I got here, the industrialized world was already hopelessly hooked on fossil fuels, and very soon now there won't be any more of those. Cold turkey.
posted by rough ashlar at 12:44 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Genres are good at steering people towards books with concepts and themes they might like. Otherwise, they seem quite arbitrary. I mean, how many works great works have been made by the author sticking solely to a genre's conventions?
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:44 PM on February 14, 2011


@bastionofsanity, if the opinions of critics had nothing to do with the actual quality of the fiction that they are criticising, then there would be no reason for Vonnegut or anyone else to be concerned about those opinions.
posted by grizzled at 12:45 PM on February 14, 2011


15 Things Kurt Vonnegut Said Better Than Anyone Else Ever Has Or Will

I choose Will.
posted by hal9k at 12:45 PM on February 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


Vonnegut in 1972:
"The two real parties in America are the Winners and the Losers. The people do not acknowledge this. They claim membership in two imaginary parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, instead. Both imaginary parties are bossed by Winners. When Republicans battle Democrats, this much is certain: Winners will win."
posted by Daily Alice at 12:48 PM on February 14, 2011 [15 favorites]


Thanks for posting this.

Now I kinda wanna see the Mark Twain and/or Oscar Wilde version.
posted by Leta at 12:48 PM on February 14, 2011


When I grow up, I want to be a quote factory.

"The surest way to make a monkey of a man is to quote him." - Robert Benchley
posted by Celsius1414 at 12:50 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Vonnegut is the greatest man who ever took a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:50 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


5. "She was a fool, and so am I, and so is anyone who thinks he sees what God is doing."

I prefer David Milch's version:

"If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans."
posted by grumblebee at 12:51 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


The thing I love about Vonnegut is how he loved mankind with all his heart while simultaneously despairing of its folly.

I don't read "real" philosophy much, but I don't feel like I'm missing anything with Vonnegut to light the way. He was a much greater thinker than much of the literary world gives him credit for being, because he wrote so simply.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:54 PM on February 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


Q: When I was reading Dr. Kevorkian, I was reminded a bit of a Japanese film from a couple years ago called "Afterlife."

Vonnegut: I haven't heard of it.

Q: Its premise is that those who have recently died are taken to a waiting room for one week, during which time they must choose only a single memory from their entire lives which will endlessly replay for them, while all of their other memories are erased.

Vonnegut: So everybody's fucking, right?

posted by The Card Cheat at 12:55 PM on February 14, 2011 [22 favorites]


Look, I'm a pretty big Vonnegut fan. I was a pretentious shit about it through most of my late teens and early twenties. But there's really no such thing as "better than anyone else ever has," and I'm twice as sure that there's no such thing as "better than anyone else ever will." Steven Hawking theory-of-everything applies here: universal descriptions are only possible within tightly constrained frames of reference.

TL;DR: The only way to overstate the importance of Vonnegut is to say he is most important.
posted by spaceboy86 at 12:57 PM on February 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies — God damn it, you've got to be kind."
posted by Kinbote at 12:57 PM on February 14, 2011 [13 favorites]


"And if I should ever die, God forbid, I hope you will say, 'Kurt is up in Heaven now.' That’s my favorite joke."

posted by superfluousm at 1:01 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


"We must be careful about what we pretend to be."

See, I'll never be this elegant or concise. At best, I can hope to be so random that if history remembers me at all, it'll be in such a way that no mis-attributed quote, or hell, even random string of words, seems to be totally unlikely to have come from me.

Guy: "I think it was quin who said "After we get done fucking all these whiskey barrels, we need to eat that anvil and then burn down the moon."

Other Guy: "Yeah, that was so like him."
posted by quin at 1:06 PM on February 14, 2011 [12 favorites]


I was certain that this had been posted years ago when it was first published.

Still great, though.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:10 PM on February 14, 2011


;
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 1:10 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I really surprised that "You were sick, but now you're well, and there's work to do," didn't make this list. It's always struck me as the perfect partner to Vonnegut's more familiar mantra of "So it goes." The latter phrase has a certain intrinsic beauty to it -- it claims neither that which has happened to be good or bad, it simply is -- but that neutrality seems to lead directly to a kind of a ennui. It's a phrase that's gotten me through some rough times and helped me enjoy some good times, because it always reminded me that neither last.

Still, that reminder of transience and powerlessness in the face of the overwhelming bustle of the world can be a heavy psychic burden. When I read Timequake and witnessed Kilgore Trout going around rousing people with the former phrase I felt like I was witnessing a private conversation of Kurt Vonnegut with himself. It was if, some 3 decades after he made that first pronouncement, he felt the need to append it, just a bit. He hadn't grown less cynical, but he had realized that he had left unanswered the question of why, if everything just goes, should we even bother? So, when I read Kilgore Trout's simple benediction, I felt as though Vonnegut was saying, "So it goes, and so must you."
posted by Panjandrum at 1:19 PM on February 14, 2011 [18 favorites]


"Everybody ought to wear sunscreen"

That wasn't actually Vonnegut.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 1:21 PM on February 14, 2011


It is as if the writers have only read two or three of Vonnegut's books. Not that I've read more than that, but then I'm not trying to compile a list....

Player Piano: "Now, the engineers and managers believe with all their hearts the glorious things their forebears hired people to say about them. Yesterday's snow job becomes today's sermon."
posted by Chuckles at 1:21 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


IIRC, the "So it goes" features somewhat prominently in the Niven/Pournelle Inferno as a marker on an unnamed Vonnegut's tomb in the area for creators of fake religions.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:21 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


There were so many instances, while reading his books - especially Sirens of Titan, Hocus Pocus, and Breakfast of Champions - where I was compelled to grab whoever was nearby and read them a passage or two out loud. Like "dude, you HAVE to hear this one paragraph it'll blow your mind."

I couldn't stop myself. He was a master of crafting simple language that seemed to explode with meaning, thoughtfulness, tragedy, and love, and reading it out loud only made his words pack more punch.

I'm sure I annoyed a great many people this way.
posted by ORthey at 1:22 PM on February 14, 2011 [8 favorites]


This is a good post. thanks.
posted by theora55 at 1:25 PM on February 14, 2011


"The kids drive off, routed by the bristling whimsy of it all. Like last year's Pied Piper, Eugene McCarthy, Vonnegut appeals to young people precisely by not courting them, but by jousting with them on level terms. 'The most conceited generation in history,' he says amiably. 'They're bright, but I'm not sure that they're competent.' (A serious charge in his German-American book.) How does he account for his strange power over them? 'They're the only people who read anything anymore. If they don't discover you, nobody will.' " -- "The Now Generation Knew Him When," Wilfrid Sheed, Life Magazine, September 1969
posted by blucevalo at 1:27 PM on February 14, 2011


If I were dumb enough to try to label my grasp of The Way Shit Is, I would call it rueful humanism, and Vonnegut would be largely to blame.
posted by everichon at 1:27 PM on February 14, 2011 [14 favorites]


@bastionofsanity and @grizzled,

I think we also need to take into account the general public opinion of SF at the time as well. When Vonnegut wrote that essay, he did so from an era where even the best-known serious SF works were generally thought of as kiddie fodder designed to sell cheap toys and breakfast cereal. It wasn't really until the Seventies that New Wave SF really started to get noticed by the literary establishment, or anybody else outside of the core fanbase, for that matter. I don't begrudge Vonnegut his frustration at being pigeonholed at all.
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:27 PM on February 14, 2011


From the underrated Galapagos:
It is hard to believe nowadays that people could ever have been as brilliantly duplicitous as James Wait--until I remind myself that just about every adult human being back then had a brain weighing about three kilograms! There was no end to the evil schemes that a thought machine that oversized couldn't imagine and execute.

So I raise this question, although there is nobody around to answer it: Can it be doubted that three-kilogram brains were once nearly fatal defects in the evolution of the human race?

A second query: What source was there back then, save for our overelaborate nervous circuitry, for the evils we were seeing or hearing about simply everywhere?

My answer: There was no other source. This was a very innocent planet, except for those great big brains.
My absolute favourite Vonnegut line - the one about being careful who you pretend to be, from the preamble of Mother Night - is thankfully on the list itself, but at least a dozen spaces too low on it.
posted by gompa at 1:31 PM on February 14, 2011 [8 favorites]


except for those great big brains

One of my favorites, too. When I'm tipsy and rambling and Vonnegut comes up, that line of thought usually comes out.
posted by everichon at 1:33 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


On the subject of my first comment in this thread, can we talk about how Kurt Vonnegut is probably the only writer in existence who could have gotten away with writing Timequake without seeming insane or pretentious?

For the uninitiated, Timequake is the title of a book Vonnegut started writing, and decided not to finish. He eventually did publish a book named Timequake, which used the unfinished book as an extensive allegory for Vonnegut's personal opinions about Life, The Universe, and Everything, which he coherently rants and rambles about for 63 glorious chapters.
posted by schmod at 1:34 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Orthey, if you stopped me in the street to read me some Kurt Vonnegut, I'd probably be delighted, not annoyed. :)
posted by LN at 1:39 PM on February 14, 2011


"I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'"

This is honestly one of the most wonderful things that I ever learned from Kurt, and 15 years later, I still take the time to think this during moments of awesomeness.

He was a magnificent human being.
posted by eunoia at 1:42 PM on February 14, 2011 [9 favorites]


I love Vonnegut, though I find him too depressing to read for long. But:
"My answer: There was no other source. This was a very innocent planet, except for those great big brains."

Strikes me as horribly anti-intellectual and incoherent. The planet isn't 'innocent'. It's the source of death. And our brains may make us 'evil' but they also make us great

Vonnegut is too depressing for me to read for long. I share his nihilism, but I wish I had his humor about it. That said, "Be kind" is perfect
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 1:51 PM on February 14, 2011


"I still believe that peace and plenty and happiness can be worked out some way. I am a fool." — Jailbird
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:58 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


SLightly beside the point, but was he in Back to School....? Was pretty sure he was but imdb says it's not so. Only added to his coolness.
posted by skepticallypleased at 2:01 PM on February 14, 2011


Slightly beside the point, but was he in Back to School....? Was pretty sure he was but imdb says it's not so. Only added to his coolness.

I've never seen the movie, but are we looking at the same imdb page?
posted by phunniemee at 2:03 PM on February 14, 2011


SLightly beside the point, but was he in Back to School....? Was pretty sure he was but imdb says it's not so. Only added to his coolness.
posted by skepticallypleased


I remember him being in it.
posted by COBRA! at 2:04 PM on February 14, 2011


I prefer David Milch's version:

"If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans."
posted by grumblebee


Huh? I first heard that in the movie Amores Perros (2000)

What are you saying is the origin of that phrase?
posted by vacapinta at 2:05 PM on February 14, 2011


The statement is a little more complex than that and is better captured by the book, Lovecraft. Basically, the good/evil dichotomy is only called into existence by our brains. Ignorance is bliss and all that.
posted by mek at 2:05 PM on February 14, 2011


I share his nihilism, but I wish I had his humor about it. That said, "Be kind" is perfect.

Maybe you don't share his humor because you aren't looking deeply enough into the void. If you were, you'd see he's not a nihilist after all.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:07 PM on February 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Lovecraft, I take you haven't read Galapagos, which features the premise of small group of people with very complicated lives evolving over a million years into basically a kind of seal. The innocence Vonnegut is referring to in that quote is less a deathless sanitary utopia than a world without the complications and deceptions that our sentience can lead us too.

And for the record, I would never call Kurt Vonnegut a nihilist, nor his writings depressing. Come to think of it, I can't think of a single book or story by him that ends with any of the protagonists in despair, even the ones where everyone dies in the end.
posted by Panjandrum at 2:13 PM on February 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


What are you saying is the origin of that phrase?


I think it comes from a yiddish saying: מענטש טראַכט, גאָט לאַכט (Mentsch tracht, Gott lacht), which means "Man plans, God laughs"
posted by milestogo at 2:13 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Strikes me as horribly anti-intellectual and incoherent. The planet isn't 'innocent'. It's the source of death.

Death is a natural part of life, and is inherently neutral along any continuum of extremes you would like to try to map it on. The planet it innocent, in that it would function just fine without all us big brains wandering around. In fact, the parts of the planet with the fewest big brains wandering around seem to be pretty content not to have us there, as those sections are allowed to continue their cycle of life and death without big brain plans to disrupt the cycle.
posted by hippybear at 2:14 PM on February 14, 2011


Mentsch tracht, Gott lacht

Which might be a gloss of or a derivation from Proverbs 16:9: A man's heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps. (KJV)
posted by Iridic at 2:16 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Everybody ought to wear sunscreen"

That wasn't actually Vonnegut.


Yes, I know. We all know. That's the point of the joke. Sheesh.
posted by briank at 2:36 PM on February 14, 2011


Strikes me as horribly anti-intellectual and incoherent. The planet isn't 'innocent'. It's the source of death. And our brains may make us 'evil' but they also make us great.

Death-in-of-itself isn't evil (or good). Hell, you could argue convincingly that the absence of death would be pretty damn horrible. "The planet" as a system is indeed pretty innocent (absent of evil), and while I do agree with you that we have capacity for greatness, we not-quite-absolutely-but-almost-nearly have a monopoly on the "evil" part.

Intention is the difference.
posted by edgeways at 2:42 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


YOU ALSO COULD POST TO THIS THREAD
BUT YOU ARE TOO DOGGONE CHEAP TO
SPEND $5
posted by humanfont at 2:47 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


And for the record, I would never call Kurt Vonnegut a nihilist, nor his writings depressing.

Me, either. In fact, one of his underlying constant themes is how wonderful and amazing humans can be. He mourns that we can't behave to our potential, but he usually shakes his head instead of pointing his finger.

KV makes humanists proud.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:48 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Tiger gotta hunt
Bird gotta fly
Man gotta sit and wonder "why? why? why?"
Tiger gotta sleep
Bird gotta land
Man gotta tell himself he understand

God I love Vonnegut, and every reason why is present and accounted for in that calypso.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:03 PM on February 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Lists of 15 things say everything so much better than lists of 10 things ever will.
posted by StrangerInAStrainedLand at 3:14 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


"The chief weapon of sea pirates, however, was their capacity to astonish. Nobody else could believe, until it was too late, how heartless and greedy they were."

Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions.

I always wonder what Bill and Kurt had to say to another.
'Bill and Kurt go hunting?'.

posted by clavdivs at 3:15 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


We do, doodley do, doodley do, doodley do
What we must, muddily must, muddily must, muddily must
Muddily do, muddily do, muddily do, muddily do,
Until we bust, bodily bust, bodily bust, bodily bust

Agreed he wasn't a nihilist. One of his critics once said that he put bitter coatings on sugary pills.
posted by Daily Alice at 3:16 PM on February 14, 2011


Yeah, I always read KV when I'm feeling too nihilistic, it reminds me that despite my black clothes and snarky attitude, I am at heart an optimist...even though I don't know why.
posted by dejah420 at 3:25 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I never got the sense that he was a nihilist. At least from his earlier work, there was a sense that we could be better, if not perfect. His essays and writings after 2001 though were intensely bitter at humanity's lost potential, with the only bright spot being that he wouldn't be around to witness the ugliness to come.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:27 PM on February 14, 2011


"If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans."
posted by grumblebee

Huh? I first heard that in the movie Amores Perros (2000)

What are you saying is the origin of that phrase?


The origin of that phrase is much older than David Milch, Alejandro González Iñárritu or Noah Baumbach.

Oh, somebody else got it. Yeah, old.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:36 PM on February 14, 2011


I prefer David Milch's version:

"If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans."


This platitude drives me bug-shit crazy. The only people I ever hear quote it are weak-minded religious people who need a way to explain the horrible things that are going on in their lives. Seriously, you worship a being that delights in actively thwarting your plans? The god thing is just so frigging bizarre.
posted by Huck500 at 3:39 PM on February 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


I was fortunate enough to see Vonnegut lecture at Northwestern University. He covered a wide range of topics, including a (I'm estimating, here) twenty-five minute segment about why Hamlet is the single greatest work of literature of all time--and it's not for any reason that anyone else thinks it is. He used a big white-board and write-on/wipe-off markers. He made an x-and-y axis chart, where the x-axis was the length of the story, and the y-axis was the level of emotional joy/despair. He illustrated the various standard fictional tropes with parabolas and steep declines and steep inclines, and finished by graphing Hamlet. The lecture was planned for two hours; this segment took place about 40 minutes in, and received a standing ovation of nearly three minutes.

When we finally sat down, he looked out at us with that hang-dog face, and said "You've denied yourself a few minutes of my genius. But that's okay, since I was going to talk about L.A. Law, the finest program on television. I mean that sincerely. Still, I'd rather skip that then my my thoughts about your university education, and I'm sure you would too."
posted by tzikeh at 4:05 PM on February 14, 2011 [10 favorites]


I am pretty a-religious but I think that is a bit of an uncharitable reading Huck500. I would assume that the counter to it runs: "God" is not actively thwarting your plans, but, rather, proceeding with his already laid down plans irregardless of what you want. You could just as easily say "Want to make your boss laugh, tell her your plans to balance the budget". Now, you may well not agree (and I don't agree) with the whole god thing but we don't need to go about randomly insulting people because of your disagreement.
posted by edgeways at 4:05 PM on February 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


tzikeh: Here's a summary of that lecture.

I know I saw it on video. I could swear it was linked here on the Blue, but my cursory google-fu is failing me. Maybe someone else has the link. I know it's out there.
posted by hippybear at 4:14 PM on February 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


Come to think of it, I can't think of a single book or story by him that ends with any of the protagonists in despair, even the ones where everyone dies in the end.

I get melancholic when reading Vonnegut not because of the narratives themselves but because of the way he creates this honest, broad brush of humanity that makes me feel like I'm staring into an abyss that I can never fully comprehend or help. So it goes, indeed.
posted by girih knot at 4:24 PM on February 14, 2011


I just wish he could have lived to see the 2008 U.S. election results. Not that everything has been peaches and cream since then, but after reading A Man Without A Country, I can't imagine he wouldn't have enjoyed that November night.
posted by smcameron at 4:48 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


"The planet" as a system is indeed pretty innocent (absent of evil), and while I do agree with you that we have capacity for greatness, we not-quite-absolutely-but-almost-nearly have a monopoly on the "evil"

Again, this is why that quote bugs me. It leads to that Gaia-theory, Earth-over-humanity view that strikes me as really anti-human

I love Cat's Cradle but it's depressing because it talks about the ultimate insignificance of humans in the face of death. And the Golgafrinchians. He's Livecraft with a twinkle in his eye, which just makes the pain worse

I do agree with him that in the face of all that we must be kind to one another, and i've taken it to heart
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:53 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


This makes me think of a Gene Wolfe short story, Forlesen.

"Didn't you read your orientation? Everyone's entitled to an Explainer--in whatever form he chooses--at the end of his life. He--"

"It seems to me," Forlesen interrupted, "that it would have been more useful at the beginning."

"--may be a novelist, aged loremaster, National Hero, warlock, or actor."

"None of those sound quite right to me," Forlesen said.

"Or a theologian, philosopher, priest, or doctor."

"I don't think I like those either."

"Well that's the end of menu as far as I know," his son said. "I'll tell you what--I'll send him in and you can talk to him yourself; he's right outside."

After a moment the small man came in carrying his bag, and Forlesen's son placed a chair close to the coffin for him and went into the bedroom. "Well, what's it going to be," the small man asked, "or is it going to be nothing?"

"I don't know. I want to feel, you know, that this box is a bed--and yet a ship, a ship that will set me free. And yet...it's been a strange life."

"You may have been oppressed by demons." the small man said. "Or revived by unseen aliens who, landing on Earth eons after the death of the last man, have sought to re-create the life of the twentieth century. Or it may be that there is a small pressure exerted by a tumor in your brain."

"Those are the explanations?" Forlesen asked.

"Those are some of them."

"I want to know if it's meant anything," Forlesen said. "If what I've suffered--if it's been worth it."

"No," the little man said. "Yes. No. Yes. Yes. No. Yes. Yes. Maybe."

posted by Sebmojo at 4:54 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Mother Night one is good, but I like its rephrasing from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater better:

"Pretend to be good always, and even God will be fooled."
posted by equalpants at 4:58 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Again, this is why that quote bugs me. It leads to that Gaia-theory, Earth-over-humanity view that strikes me as really anti-human

I love Cat's Cradle but it's depressing because it talks about the ultimate insignificance of humans in the face of death. And the Golgafrinchians. He's Livecraft with a twinkle in his eye, which just makes the pain worse


I really don't feel like that's the point. "The planet" is a neutral thing, to him, that we humans have the unique capacity to fuck up. And the smarter we are, well, the more powerful we all are individually, and the more damage we are likely to do. When we act selfishly. That's the key.

Vonnegut's view, the best I can explain it, is that of someone who knows logically that the world and humanity deserve nothing better than pessimism, but who feels like he must be optimistic in spite of it all. I don't think he believes that humanity is fundamentally evil, and if you re-read Cat's Cradle (my favorite of his) you'll find that the people who screw things up so badly are generally halfway decent pinballs who can't hope to understand what they are about to bring about. But they can (and do) learn to see one another and be a little less selfish, which is all we can do, really.

Vonnegut, as I read him, was a man who didn't believe that life or humanity had any purpose or meaning, but who loved it all despite and because of its quirks and flaws, and begged others to do the same. That's all.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:09 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


To put it another way, consider Ice-9. Now, a few years ago, I proposed a question over gchat as to which concept people found more terrifying: Ice-9 or Cthulhu. A shocking number of people responded, and the results were overwhelmingly in favor of Ice-9, which I have to agree with.

But the origins of Ice-9 were not malicious, let's remember. Hoenikker just loved the science of it for it's own beauty. In fact, it is implied that Hoenikker even developed the concept in the hopes that the horror of the idea would get the military off of his back after his work on the Manhattan project.

(It is worth noting here that Vonnegut was severely shaped by both the Dresden bombing, which he lived through, and his time at G.E., where many of the researchers he met there had apparently no consideration to the uses to which their discoveries would be put. As Patton Oswalt put it far more recently, "Hey! We just made cancer airborn and contagious! You're welcome! We're Science! All about 'coulda,' not 'shoulda!'")

And when the accident happens which brings the power of Ice-9 on the world, as it inevitably would, it's just that - an accident. I guess what I'm saying is that Vonnegut wasn't bemoaning our intellectualism, but rather a lack of wisdom. The intelligent man might think up something like Ice-9, but the wise man would never create it, even if just to satisfy his own curiosity.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:24 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


5. "She was a fool, and so am I, and so is anyone who thinks he sees what God is doing."

I prefer David Milch's version:

"If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans."


I don't think these quotes mean the same thing. The first is about people who think they know and understand what God's plan is, the second is about people who think their own plans are unquestionably going to succeed. Both are about how we are ignorant in a way relating to God, but the form of ignorance is different.
posted by meese at 5:25 PM on February 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


"When a couple has an argument nowadays, they may think it's about money or power or sex or how to raise the kids or whatever. What they're really saying to each other, though without realizing it, is this: 'You are not enough people!'"

I read that during a period of huge introspection during a relationship breakdown, it profoundly influenced my thinking. My favourite Vonnegut.
posted by deadwax at 5:29 PM on February 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


Kurt Vonnegut died a few days before my grandfather. They were roughly the same age, WWII veterans, witty atheists who had both suffered enormous losses in their lives. With their deaths happening so close together, I honestly don't recall who I grieved for more.

Vonnegut was so deeply human. And humane.

I write this an hour or so after getting a phone call from my brother relaying the news that my grandma is in the hospital following a heart attack. She's 93, and in another city. The prognosis is not good. This is happening in the midst of an extraordinarily shitty breakup (not to be all self-centered and shit), and I'm feeling particularly lost right now. This bit leapt out at me, and I'm going to try and remember it:

"Many people need desperately to receive this message: 'I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.'"
posted by the_bone at 5:54 PM on February 14, 2011 [10 favorites]


"I really don't feel like that's the point. "The planet" is a neutral thing, to him, that we humans have the unique capacity to fuck up. And the smarter we are, well, the more powerful we all are individually, and the more damage we are likely to do"

'Damage'?
Why not say that the smarter we are the more ability we have to control and mold our environment?

And Ice 9 was beautiful, or at least the manner in which it destroyed everything was beautiful. But the random, arbitrary nature of it - the people just waiting to die at the end - were so sad

I remember understanding Vonnegut better a few years ago. I eulogized him on the radio when he died. But I feel like I'm moving away from his lessons.... maybe I need to reread him
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:08 PM on February 14, 2011


I love Cat's Cradle but it's depressing because it talks about the ultimate insignificance of humans in the face of death. And the Golgafrinchians. He's Livecraft with a twinkle in his eye, which just makes the pain worse.

One of the things that comes out of Vonnegut's flawed Requiem (JSTOR link) is a zen-like sense that the flickering impermanence of humanity is a good thing. To be immortal, perpetually reborn, or given the resurrection of the body, is to be shackled to our mistakes and flaws for eternity.

It's something I find comforting as I ponder the deaths of my grandparents because I can't imagine any of them in an afterlife as I knew them. Most acute in my fears is the steaming whirlwind of anger, fear, hatred, and unfulfilled desire for love that was my paternal grandmother. And then there's the man I loved deeply whose methodical scientific mind dwindled in his last years. Does providence rewind him to a better time, and would we recognize each other if we did?

And then there's the adult realization that my grandparents were not always perfectly nice people. Would they, like the Gods in a comic by Gaiman or Moore, be doomed to relive the painful conflicts that made them who they are along with the triumphs?

Somewhere in the midst of this, I read his Requiem, and misread and mis-remembered a chunk of it by mashing up two different lines:
Let ashes remain as ashes
And let not light perpetual
Disturb their harmless sleep.

Coming back to it again later, I agree with Vonnegut's critical assessment that it's a ham-fisted parody of a sadistic hack of the counter-reformation. But reading it while I was struggling to put to rest the ghost of my hedgehog grandmother, while pondering from a Buddhist view if she was more in the realm of demons or hungry ghosts (both likely better than her Baptist hell), Vonnegut's appeal to endless and harmless sleep clicked for me.

It's what made me emotionally an atheist where before it was an intellectual dalliance. There are worse things in the human imagination than the likelihood that, in the end, we'll be ashes in an uncaring cosmos.

The cosmos could give a shit.

Which in a round-about way, is where Vonnegut and Lovecraft differ. The horror of the Lovecraftian cosmos is that it cares just enough to reflexively crush us like gnats. The comfort of Vonnegut's cosmos is that history will erase all of our mistakes given enough time.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:11 PM on February 14, 2011 [7 favorites]


Why not say that the smarter we are the more ability we have to control and mold our environment?

That is indeed a good way to put it, but doing so still requires wisdom separate from intellect. And I think (especially in Vonnegut's view) that 9 times out of ten wisdom would instruct the erstwhile molder to just leave well enough alone.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:17 PM on February 14, 2011


And I think (especially in Vonnegut's view) that 9 times out of ten wisdom would instruct the erstwhile molder to just leave well enough alone.

That's the view of non-Western societies, too. Take the Native Americans and their "seven generations" outlook on progress.
posted by hippybear at 6:20 PM on February 14, 2011


I always found this to be one of my favorites:

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.”
posted by tetsuo at 6:27 PM on February 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


I think he was saying he wanted out of the drawer because of what "serious critics" were doing and saying, not because of the quality of the contents of the drawer.

bastionofsanity, I think Vonnegut go with the classic SF genre. Consider his writing; cynical, pessimistic, barely concealing a massive contempt for humanity at large behind his sardonic humor...this much more closely matches the "comedy" of literary darlings like John Updike than Heinlein or Clarke.

Of course now SF is all about portraying futures so horrible that the reader will be content with whatever their current life is, so I think Vonnegut would fit right in.
posted by happyroach at 6:58 PM on February 14, 2011


barely concealing a massive contempt for humanity at large behind his sardonic humor

Apparently we read him very differently. Interesting.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:07 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've never read Vonnegut before. This thread inspired me to go down to the bookstore and buy slaughterhouse five and breakfast of champions. Wish me luck!
posted by bpdavis at 7:09 PM on February 14, 2011


Vonnegut's no more cynical than many other literary authors like, say, Stephen Crane (just to pick another celebrated literary author who explored the theme of the universe's basic indifference to the human condition). In fact, he's much less so, because he can clearly see the only real alternative we have to living in an indifferent universe: human kindness. If you can't understand that, it's a shame--for you. But it takes nothing away from the power or significance of his work.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:13 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


bpdavis: I wish you much luck, but I'm not kidding when I tell you that Cat's Cradle is probably his greatest and most representative work.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:13 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


2nding Navelgazer. Nothing wrong with Slaughterhouse Five. In fact you should read it first, but I'd put Cat's Cradle ahead of Breakfast of Champions. Also, he's not at all daunting. His books are short-ish, and his style is incisive and direct.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:39 PM on February 14, 2011


hippybear: "tzikeh: Here's a summary of that lecture."

Oh, cool -- but it doesn't give you the... I don't know. Watching him take his own sweet time with those infinite-upwards Cinderella and infinite-downards Metamorphosis lines, while describing them... it was just hilarious.
posted by tzikeh at 8:44 PM on February 14, 2011


Yeah, I will add that while I revere Breakfast of Champions, it is much like Charlie Kaufman's Adaptation that it is better the more familiar with the author one is. Save it for later.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:48 PM on February 14, 2011


Strange phun....his own page does not list it as him being in there as the actor at least.
posted by skepticallypleased at 8:55 PM on February 14, 2011


Now, you may well not agree (and I don't agree) with the whole god thing but we don't need to go about randomly insulting people because of your disagreement.

I'm not randomly insulting anyone, I'm insulting the people I know who have used this quote to explain the bad things that happen to them instead of attributing it to random happenstance or their own poor choices... again, in my experience, this quote has been used (and often misquoted) to explain bad luck by people who seem (to me) incapable of rational thought, more specifically thought about why bad things happen to them, either randomly or because of poor choices.

The god thing is another issue entirely; I know people who are capable of rational thought who also believe in god, but they have never attributed the bad things that happen to them to a philosophy that basically negates free will completely, which the "god laughs" concept does.

However, I still don't get how people can believe in god in the face of (my) evidence against, like mental retardation and child rape. In my view, a god who could prevent these things, and doesn't, might as well not exist. There's no "plan" that could justify these things.
posted by Huck500 at 8:59 PM on February 14, 2011


In that case, Huck500, I'd offer another quote from the linked article:

"Since Alice had never received any religious instruction, and since she had led a blameless life, she never thought of her awful luck as being anything but accidents in a very busy place. Good for her."
posted by Navelgazer at 9:03 PM on February 14, 2011


"The horse jumped over the fucking fence." — reportedly his entire output, certainly his final sentence, from his brief spell as a writer for Sports Illustrated.

"Everything had turned to shit and beer cans and old automobiles and Clorox bottles." — from The Big Space Fuck
posted by stargell at 9:13 PM on February 14, 2011


I have a kitchen
But it is not a complete kitchen
I will not be truly gay
Until I have a dispose-all
posted by NoraReed at 9:29 PM on February 14, 2011


Vonnegut taught me to curse at babies.
posted by Eideteker at 11:05 PM on February 14, 2011


So, anyone wanting a fresh EXTENDED dose of Kurt in your life after reading this thread, check out this 90 minute long speech from 1992. It's a long deep draw from a refreshing well, and his insights back then apply remarkably well today.

My apologies that it's a RealAudio link. Please don't hurt me. That's how it came.
posted by hippybear at 11:06 PM on February 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


"God damn it!" yelled Kurt Vonnegut. "You've got to be kind!" The cruel, violent people all around him instantly bowed their heads, shamed by these wise words. "Hrumf!" said Kurt Vonnegut, and stamped off, shaking his old, grey and very wise head.

But, he had moved off only a few feet before he tripped over the corpse of an innocent that one of the arrogant and stupid people had killed only a moment before. "So it goes!" Kurt Vonnegut wept, a plaintive human cry reverberating throughout the night air. It was the wisest saying that had ever been uttered in that bleak landscape.

A young woman rushed to the side of the wise, old man and suggested that he try to get up, with her assistance. "Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God," Kurt Vonnegut commented. The young woman was shocked by the profoundness of the comment. She would remember it for the rest of her life, and always cherish her time spent looking at the old, wise man's wise, old face.

Then Kurt Vonnegut paused, but for two carriage returns, not just for one. It was a pause full of unspoken wisdom, which allowed the unwise time to catch up with his profound train of thought, and think about how his words applied to their own lives.


"Let me give your babies some advice!" Kurt Vonnegut yelled, shaking the woman and staring at her bulging, pregnant belly. "Why don't you take a flying fuck at the mooooooooooooon?" he screamed into her navel. It was a scream full of wisdom, of profound insight and intelligence and also it was so beautiful that people all around the world stopped and thought about what it must be like to be so wise and so profound.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 3:42 AM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


A modest idea, cleverly executed.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:50 AM on February 15, 2011


I remember seeing him do the same thing in 1996 tzikeh. It was a talk he gave at Southern Mississippi Univ. that me and three friends drove two hours to see, and it was worth every minute of being crammed into the back seat of a Gran Prix coupe driving across rough Mississippi roads. I remember anxiously picking up Timequake when it came out and happily discovering it was basically his notes for that lecture, which may make me one of the few people who loved it from the word go, because a glorious rambling mess of a story was what I was expecting, and it didn't disappoint.

The one quote that stuck with me from that speech was where he was talking about a woman who wrote him a corny letter to ask if she should have a baby with the world in the shape it was in, and he, being a fellow corny person, replied that yes, she should because if she didn't, the shape would never change.

If that really did happen, I suppose that kid is out there now, hopefully just entering college, and I hope he/she is ready to take on the world, because some days it seems like too much, and I could use some help.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 7:11 AM on February 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


Apparently we read him very differently. Interesting.

It's no big. You can't be a literary writer without a massive contempt for humanity. It doesn't even preclude liking humanity. Just you have to like humanity in the same way you like a dyspeptic insane poodle that attacks everybody's ankles in between bouts of crapping on the floor.

Anyway, pretentious, cynical, pessimistic and all the rest? I think it's a certainty that Vonnegut is the patron saint of Metafilter. Every page should have his face staring out of the background.
posted by happyroach at 12:25 PM on February 15, 2011


You can't be a literary writer without a massive contempt for humanity.

Where in the hell do you find this massive contempt for humanity you keep babbling on about in any of Vonnegut's work? You haven't yet offered a single example to support that bizarrely monotonous drone I suppose you consider an argument.

You know, the guy fought in World War II and personally witnessed the bombing of Dresden as a POW. It's not like he hates your freedom, if that's what you think. And anyone who could live through such a thing and not carry some imprint of the experience throughout the rest of his life would truly be an example of someone with a contempt for humanity.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:57 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm a fan of Kurt, his writing is casual, funny and accessible, with interesting philosophical insights and digressions. If, like Mark Twain, you want to argue about if he as a person was a pessimist rather than a humanist, you can.

But some of his aphorisms sure are corny.
posted by ovvl at 4:00 PM on February 15, 2011


I just appreciate him for coining granfalloon! Go Hoosier.
posted by MidSouthern Mouth at 9:24 PM on February 18, 2011


« Older "The more devices, the more harmonic possibilities...  |  LOST Magazine covers things ab... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments