I let the book fall open where it would. As it happened, it fell open to the chapter about the island's outlawed holy man, Bokonon.
There was a quotation from The Books of Bokonon on the page before me. Those words leapt from the page and into my mind, and they were welcomed there.
The words were a paraphrase of the suggestion by Jesus: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's."
Bokonon's paraphrase was this:
"Pay no attention to Caesar. Caesar doesn't have the slightest idea what's really going on."—Kurt Vonnegut. Cat's Cradle (1963).
Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.—Kurt Vonnegut. Hocus Pocus (1990).
This is my go-to line about the relative disdain of maintenance. I'm not offering it from a lofty place of superiority. Rather, I'm dealing with a result of the flaw.
The big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart.—Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan (1959)
Apropos of nothing, I suppose, but that line has been banging around in my head.
I'm sorry I never met Kurt Vonnegut. ("He's up in Heaven now." [laughtrack]) Or maybe I'm not. I'd probably bore him. I don't have anything to say to any heroes—living or dead, real or fictional—and it doesn't bother me that much. Let us all keep our distance.
I've gone months now, if not years, without reading much of substance. Some articles here, some books there, but nothing much that gave me the Batman slap that I got from reading (some) Vonnegut for the first time. Maybe it's time to go back. That or Ed Abbey or Hunter Thompson—something to make the time go by, something to make the words coming in and going out have a little more something, I don't know what. I don't if that's something that's missing, but I miss it.
I don't know if Vonnegut was the inspiration, or if finding his writing was like finding a fellow thinker and that's why I latched on, but I've always felt comfortable in what I felt was the underlying current to all of his works that I read:
Bergeron's epitaph for the planet, I remember, which he said should be carved in big letters in a wall of the Grand Canyon for the flying-saucer people to find, was this:
WE COULD HAVE SAVED IT
BUT WE WERE TOO DOGGONE CHEAP
Only he didn't say 'doggone.'
The darkest secret of this country, I am afraid, is that too many of its citizens imagine that they belong to a much higher civilization somewhere else. That higher civilization doesn't have to be another country. It can be the past instead—the United States as it was before it was spoiled by immigrants and the enfranchisement of the blacks.
This state of mind allows too many of us to lie and cheat and steal from the rest of us, to sell us junk and addictive poisons and corrupting entertainments. What are the rest of us, after all, but sub-human aborigines?
—Kurt Vonnegut. Bluebeard.
Well—I've got news for Mr. Santayana: we're doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That's what it is to be alive.
—Kurt Vonnegut. Bluebeard.
I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy, and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.
Armistice Day has become Veterans' Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans' Day is not.
So I will throw Veterans' Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don't want to throw away any sacred things.
What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance.
And all music is.
—Kurt Vonnegut. Breakfast of Champions.
Finnerty shook his head. "He'd pull me back into the center, and I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center." He nodded. "Big, undreamed-of things--the people on the edge see them first."
—Kurt Vonnegut. Player Piano.
"In order to get what we've got, Anita, we have, in effect, traded these people out of what was the most important thing on earth to them--the feeling of being needed and useful, the foundation of self-respect."
—Kurt Vonnegut. Player Piano.
We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.
—Kurt Vonnegut. Mother Night.
I quote the poet Kris Kristofferson: "Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose." There find encapsulated the benefit to a gifted person of being culled. Having nothing left to lose frees people to think their own thoughts, since there is no longer anything to be gained by echoing the thoughts of those around them. Hopelessness is the mother of Originality.
And the three lovely daughters of Originality in turn, the granddaughters of Hopelessness, as this volume demonstrates, are Hope, the Gratitude of Others, and Unshakable Self-respect.
--Kurt Vonnegut, "Appendix: Unpublished Essay by Me, Written After Reading Galleys of an Anthology of First-rate Poems and Short Prose Pieces by Persons Who Were or Are in Institutions for the Mentally Ill," Fates Worse Than Death (1990)