Vonnegut’s dark, sarcastic wisdom

I’ve been on a Kurt Vonnegut reading binge – thirstily absorbing everything this brilliant man has ever written – and, in my readings, I came across this seemingly whimsical yet very profound passage of one of his later novels, Hocus Pocus.  I will probably do a full review of this book later but for now I feel compelled to share this excerpt with you:

During our plebe year, I remember, Jack all of a sudden decided that he was going to be a cartoonist, although he had never thought of being that before.  He was compulsive.  I could imagine him back in high school in Wyoming, all of sudden deciding to build an electric chair for rats.

The first cartoon he ever drew, and the last one, was of 2 rhinoceroses getting married.  A regular human preacher in a church was saying to the congregation that anybody who knew any reason these 2 should not be joined together in holy matrimony should speak now or forever hold his peace.

[…]

We were roommates, and would be for all 4 years.  So he showed me the cartoon and said he bet he could sell it to Playboy.

I asked him what was funny about it.  He couldn’t draw for sour apples.  He had to tell me the bride and groom were rhinoceroses.  I thought they were a couple of sofas maybe, or maybe a couple of smashed-up sedans.  That would have been fairly funny, come to think of it: 2 smashed up sedans taking wedding vows.  They were going to settle down.

“What’s funny about it?” said Jack incredulously. “Where’s your sense of humor?  If somebody doesn’t stop the wedding, those two will mate and have a baby rhinoceros.”

“Of course,” I said.

“For Pete’s sake,” he said, “what could be uglier and dumber than a rhinoceros?  Just because something can reproduce, that doesn’t mean it should reproduce.”

I pointed out that to a rhinoceros another rhinoceros was beautiful.

“That’s the point,” he said. “Every kind of animal thinks its own kind of animal is wonderful.  So people getting married think they’re wonderful, and that they’re going to have a baby that’s wonderful, when actually they’re as ugly as rhinoceroses.  Just because we think we’re so wonderful doesn’t mean we really are.  We could be really terrible animals and just never admit it because it would hurt so much.”

What a fantasticly irreverent way to point out the arrogance of human beings, assuming they are somehow better, more noble, than other creatures, just because we can read, write, and do a little math (another  of Vonnegut’s phrases).  I will leave it at that for now.  Food for thought, at the very least.

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Deadeye Dick

While not as well-known as Slaughterhouse Five or Cat’s Cradle, Deadeye Dick exhibits Vonnegut’s classic dry wit and his ability to to satirize the state of American affairs.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The novel is full of loaded statements that require re-reading and moments of consideration.  The abundance of metaphors and lessons is truly astounding!

The premise?  A 12 yr old boy inadvertently becomes a double murderer when he shoots his father’s Springfiled rifle over the rooftops of Midland City, Ohio, killing a vaccuming pregnant woman.  There are numerous side-stories, as is typical with Vonnegut writing.

The novel explores the transformation of the 12 year old child as he quickly loses his innocence and learns to distance himself from anything he can touch and destry.  The narrator (the child in question – Rudolph Waltz), actually refers to himself as a “neuter.”  What really amazes me about Vonnegut is his ability to seem impartial as an authour.  He simply presents situations to the reader that cause the reader to have thoughts that Vonnegut has clearly experienced.

“It’s a widely accepted principle,” he says, “that you can claim a piece of land which been inhabited for tens of thousands of years, if only you will repeat this mantra endlessly: ‘We discovered it, we discovered it, we discovered it. . . .’ “

Beyond the loss of innocence, Vonnegut dabbles in many other topics, including America’s drug dependency, over-governance, melodrama, use of the mythical neutron bomb, death, dementia.  Overall a funny yet chilling novel; it has certainly made me question much of what I know.  A must read for any Vonnegut fan, which, as far as I am concerned, is anyone who has ever read Vonnegut.

If you haven’t, go read Slaughterhouse Five.  Right now.

Over and out.