Is Kurt Vonnegut a genius or just plain insane?

imported_Sandman

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I admit that when i read Slaughterhouse Five there was something about it that made me go wow. couldn't put my finger on it. still can't. they are definitely not your everyday books and he is definitely not your everyday author. i too would have to go with mad genius.
 

Dave

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Kurt Vonnegut

The author of 'Player Piano', 'Sirens of Titan', 'Mother Night', 'Cat's Cradle', 'God Bless You Mr.Rosewater', 'Welcome to the Monkey House', 'Slaughterhouse-Five', 'Breakfast of Champions', 'Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons', 'Slapstick', 'Jailbird', 'Palm Sunday', 'Deadeye Dick', 'Galápagos', 'Bluebeard', 'Hocus Pocus', 'Fates Worse than Death', and 'Timequake'.

Most of his work is SciFi but not exclusively, and it is characterized by its very dark humour. But Kurt Vonnegut is also an accomplished artist.

http://www.vonnegut.com/
http://www.duke.edu/~crh4/vonnegut/
 

Tabitha

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That www.vonnegut.com site is very pretty, and quite interesting too.
The only Vonnegut book I have read is 'Slaughterhouse Five', I enjoyed it quite a lot, it was quite surreal IIRC, but I don't really have anything interesting to say as it has been a while since I read it :rolleyes: Spammy post or what? Sorry....
 

Dave

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Slaughterhouse-Five

I've just read this for the first time. Slaughterhouse-Five, published in 1969, has been described Kurt Vonnegut's most powerful book, and is one of the world' greatest anti-war books. There is a 1972 film of the book, which I hadn't realised, but must try and see now.

Just as the book was being finished in 1968, America saw the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. The United States was involved in a costly and unpopular war in Vietnam, while in the south, Blacks were struggling to overturn centuries of racial inequality under the law. It deals with many issues that were vital to the late sixties: war, ecology, overpopulation, and consumerism. But it was a book that Vonnegut had also been trying to write for 30 years. He tells that he wrote five thousand pages and then threw them all away. He realises that he can never stop War, comparing being anti-war to being anti-glacier, but wanted to write an antidote to the wonderful glamorous War stories, when War is usually really a modern 'Children's Crusade'.

Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes 'unstuck in time' after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. As he shifts backwards and forwards in time, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, centering on his (and Vonnegut's) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the infamous firebombing of Dresden, while imprisoned underground in schlachthof-fünf.

It sounds an absurd idea, and the structure of novel is disjointed and unconventional, but it works. I can relate to someone becoming 'unstuck in time' after being affected by such a powerful event. The cyclical nature of the story is enforced by the phrase "And so it goes" following every death in the book. He also uses the biblical story of Lot's wife being turned into a pillar of salt to demonstrate that to look back means being frozen in time, paralyzed forever. But it is also, according to Vonnegut, very human.

I felt 'stuck in time' after my brothers death. Many people felt the same after 9/11. Digging corpses out of the ground the way Vonnegut describes is so shocking that it's surprising he can even write about it at all.

I'm now reading 'Cat's Cradle'. It's an earlier book, but I see many repeated ideas, and it is just as weird. I vote 'just plane insane'. I'll do a review of 'Cat's Cradle' soon.
 

Dave

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Vonnegut, Kurt Jr., Cat's Cradle

You absolutely must read this book!

On the surface, Cat’s Cradle is the story of ice-nine and just what it meant when the stuff got loose. The story concerns the narrator, Jonah, who is called by name only once in the entire book. He is an author; we are told that he is writing a book on the events of the day the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan, then later that he is sent to interview Julian Castle for a magazine article. His research leads him to a correspondence with Newt Hoenikker, the midget son of Doctor Felix Hoenikker, father of the atomic bomb. After meeting with Newt, destiny leads our protagonist to the impoverished island republic of San Lorenzo, where he finds religion, falls in love, and becomes president.

Ice-nine is a room temperature crystalline form of Water with a melting point of 114 °F (45.6 °C) and different properties to hexagonal shaped ice-one . Dr. Felix Hoenikker, a father of the Atom bomb, and an ‘out-of-the-box’ thinker, discovered it as a solution to marines getting bogged down in mud. It would now be possible to get rid of mud, without having to carry anything heavy. Marines already had too much to carry. One single crystal of ice-nine could seed all the water on the Earth, and teach it to crystallise that particular way.

Unfortunately if it was ever to be released into the environment, it would crystallise all water on Earth, locking it into the ice-nine configuration. So, its existence was denied by the laboratory. When it is deliberately released:
I opened my eyes- and the sea was ice-nine.
The moist green earth was a blue-white pearl.
The sky darkened. Borasisi, the sun, became a sickly yellow ball, tiny and cruel.
The sky filled with worms. The worms were tornadoes.

…There were no smells. There was no movement. Every step I took made a gravelly squeak in blue-white frost. And every squeak was echoed loudly. The season of locking was over. The Earth was locked up tight.
It was winter now and forever.
The story of chemical, ice-nine , takes up only a few pages of the book, in reality this is a book on human stupidity. It is also another anti-war book in which Vonnegut takes pot shots at religion, scientific progress, McCarthy-style anti-communism, the Cold War arms race and scientists who work in military science, American tourists abroad, petty government officialdom, Banana Republics and American foreign policy; practically anything is a target. His deadpan humour makes this a very funny book, with great insights into the human condition, despite it being a chilling account of how the Earth ends.

It is religion that he attacks with the greatest zeal. The whole essence of the ‘Cat’s Cradle’ references is that it is a pointless exercise, just like religion, and politics, and the arms race, and those who now see science as a replacement for religion. The most biting quote of all is when Mona dies: “It’s all so simple, that’s all. It solves so much for so many, so simply.â€

This book is way before it’s time. Bokonism or to give it its full title, The Church of God The Utterly Indifferent, is wonderful. It was founded by a refugee lounge-singer and his goddess-like daughter. If this book had been written today there would be practising Bokonists doing the Boko-maru in the same way as there are Jedi who believe in the Force.

And the Duras: a Karass of only two people, sometimes married who usually die within minutes of each other.

In the real world Granfalloons are everywhere. Usually, when I encounter them they are attempting to get me to donate money, pay them a cut-price membership fee, or else when they are sure that they can make me more productive in my work or business. I guess that religions themselves are the greatest Granfalloons of all. I should really invest more time in my Karass , discover my own Wampeter and ignore all the Foma . I could become a Bokonist myself, if I haven’t already. :D

The characters and the situations are crazy: a bicycle manufacturer and his fat Hoosier wife who want set up in business to use the islands cheap labour, a diplomat and his wife, Horlick and Claire Minton who don’t believe in patriotism and nationalism.

And there is the repentant, former S.S. officer, Dr von Koenigswald, “the humanitarian with the terrible deficit of Auschwitz in his kindliness account.â€

"If he keeps going at his present rate, the number of people he's saved will equal the number of people he let die... in the year 3010"

There is a foreshadowing of Slaughterhouse-five too. The phrase “As it happens†keeps appearing just as “So it goes†does, and after the release of ice-nine into the world the birds sing “Poo-tee-phweet.â€

According to comments made at http://technovelgy.com:
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. graduated from Cornell University with a major in chemistry. He worked in the public relations office at General Electric where his older brother, Bernard, was working in the lab using silver iodide particles for seeding clouds to precipitate rain and snow. Vonnegut credits the idea of ice-nine to Irving Langmuir, who pioneered the study of thin films and interfaces. Vonnegut came across a story of how Langmuir, who won the 1932 Nobel Prize for his work at General Electric, was charged with the responsibility of entertaining the author, H.G. Wells, who was visiting the company in the early 1930’s. Langmuir is said to have come up with an idea about a form of solid water that was stable at room temperature in the hopes that Wells might be inspired to write a story about it. Apparently, Wells was not inspired and neither he nor Langmuir ever published anything about it. After Langmuir and Wells had died, Vonnegut decided to use the idea.

Ice-nine could also be based on a science fad of the 1960’s called Polywater. Polywater was the focus of much serious science research and even gave rise to a sort of "Polywater arms race" with the USSR. It has since been proven to be a bunch of bunkum. There is a very good book on this called "Polywater" by Felix Franks (1982 MIT press).
However, it came about; it is one of the great Science Fiction ideas.

The book was published in 1963, about a year after Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ eloquently questioned humanity's faith in technological progress and helped to launch the environmental movement, and also during the era of protests against nuclear proliferation. So, it was right there at the forefront of those movements.
 

BAYLOR

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Ive read several of his books Slaughter House 5, Breakfast of Champions, Cats Cradle. I think he's crazy and a genius. Sometimes the tow seem to go hand in hand. He's also hilariously funny.(y)
 
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