April 11, 2007

A Literary Loss

Kurt Vonnegut died today at the age of 84.  You might be surprised to find me a Vonnegut fan, given his politics, but he had a GENIUS way with words.

Breakfast of Champions was the first Vonnegut I read.  In high school.  In between giggling at his picture of an a$$hole....

I discovered the first REALLY SMART book I ever read.  Admittedly it took me a couple of trips through before I really got it.

And I was hooked.  Over the years, I've put a lot of Vonnegut between my ears, including many of the lesser known books, especially Hocus Pocus, which gave me one of my favorite phrases ever, "When the Excrement Hit the Air Conditioning".... And yes, he capitalized it just like that.

His sense of the euphemism was unmatched, and he used them like metaphors.  In a world of fumbling double entendre and pathetic punnery, his phrases stand out for their lack of self-importance.

My favorite of his works, though, was his last novel, Timequake, a book I love so dearly that I have thumb tabbed a number of quotes.
I have two favorite passages, a short one I will share with you here, and a longer bit below the jump (profanity below the jump, BTW).

Vonnegut's advice to the physicist Leo Seren, who apologized for participating in the atomic bomb production:

"Somebody should have told him that being a physicist on a planet where the smartest animals hate being alive so much means never having to say you're sorry."
h/t Jack of Random Fate

Vonnegut's alter ego Kilgore Trout addresses the author over lunch on the subject of the creation:

"In the beginning, there was absolutely nothing, and I mean nothing," he said.   "But nothing implies something just as up implies down and sweet implies sour, as man implies woman and drunk implies sober and happy implies sad.  I hate to tell you this friends and neighbors, but we are teensy-weensy implications in an enormous implication.  If you don't like it here, why don't you go back where you came from?

"The first something to be implied by all the nothing," he said, "was in fact two somethings, who were God and Satan.  God was male.  Satan was female.  They implied each other, and hence were peers in the emerging power struggle, which was itself nothing but an implication.  Power was implied by weakness."

"God created the heavens and the Earth," the old, long-out-of-print science fiction writer went on.  "And the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.  And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.  Satan could have done this herself, but she thought it was stupid, action for the sake of action.  What was the point?  She didn't say anything at first.

"But Satan began to worry about God when He said, 'Let there be Light,' and there was light.  She had to wonder, 'What in heck does He think He's doing? How far does He intend to go, and does He expect me to help him take care of all of this crazy stuff?'

"And then the shit really hit the fan.  God made man and woman, beautiful little miniatures of Him and her, and turned them loose to see what might become of them.  The Garden of Eden," said Trout, "might be considered the prototype for the Colosseum and the Roman Games."

"Satan," he said, "couldn't undo anything God had done.  She could at least try to make existence for his little toys less painful.  She could see what He couldn't: To be alive was to be either bored or scared stiff.  So she filled an apple with all sorts of ideas that might at least relieve the boredom, such as rules for games with cards and dice, and how to fuck, and recipes for beer and wine and whiskey, and pictures of different plants that were smokable, and so on.  And instructions on how to make music and sing and dance real crazy, real sexy.  And how to spout blasphemy when they stubbed their toes."

"Satan had a servant give Eve the apple.  Eve took a bite and handed it to Adam.  He took a bite, and then they fucked."

"I grant you," said Trout, "that some of the ideas in the apple had catastrophic side effects for a minority of those who tried them."  Let it be noted here that Trout himself was not an alcoholic, a junkie, a gambler, or a sex fiend.  He just wrote.

"All Satan wanted to do was help, and she did in many cases," he concluded.  "And her record for promoting nostrums with occasionally dreadful side effects is no worse than that of the most reputable pharmaceutical houses of the present day."

Posted by caltechgirl at April 11, 2007 11:10 PM | TrackBack

I will take your advice then and read Breakfast of Champions to start.

Posted by: Bou at April 12, 2007 12:40 PM