Tag Archives: Kurt Vonnegut

The Tralfamadorian experience…


“There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.”

A Tralfamadorian explaining literature and the nature of time to Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five

Aldous Huxley’s “A Brave New World” (1932)

Realizing I probably should have read this book back in high school, I was a bit amazed both at how pleasurable reading Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” was and that I hadn’t read it sooner. I think I had something built up in my mind, the false idea that this book would be more challenging and dry than it was. In reality, I found Huxley’s most prized piece of writing to have some genuine humor throughout it. The absurdity of situations are elevated to comedy. For example, police spraying soma gas (a universally popular and near mandatory narcotic distributed by the government meant to provide feelings of bliss and absent-mindedness) at a crowd on the verge of aggressively rioting and altering the mass into a sobbing horde of groping bodies drugged out of their dissent.

Alas, there is also violence present within the novel that is raw and not intermingled with the light-hearted. An earnestness underlines the entire work and reminds the reader that what they are in fact engaged in reading is a tragedy, putting the problems of peace under scrutiny.

This is a theme I find interesting, an alternative among the abundance of post-apocalyptic scenarios drawn out in countless science-fiction tales where the world is burned out or neglected to the point of being uninhabitable. In this version of the future, the apocalypse as a cataclysmic event is stunted by the control of a governing body that works to maintain peace and order, to preserve and progress human society to a point of thoughtlessness, in effect ruling out the possibility of war altogether.

The point made with “Brave New World” is there can no great tragedies or art in the absence of social instability. In a societal structure shaped through conditioning, culture is necessarily mass-produced and insubordination beyond the realm of the imagination. Religious over-tones aside, Huxley at times coming across as a tinge conservative in beliefs and possibly a racist, “Brave New World” certainly deserves the title of “required reading” among any literate person interested in ideas of social structure or visions of the future.

I found Kurt Vonnegut through a high-school English class after reading “Harrison Bergeron”, an author undoubedtly influenced by Huxley. Perhaps this particular novel would have soared over my head in my teenage years. Some would even go so far as to say that books like “Brave New World” and “1984” are so dated that they don’t elicit the same level of shock as they used to amongst young readers, the fantasy described in the novels already being a reality. Be that as it may, well-formed ideas of the future, even if written over a half-dozen decades ago, still elicit some excitement from me and seem worthy of sharing.

Also, I’ve been meaning to find the cartoon comparing and contrasting Huxley and Orwell. I had seen it awhile ago and it sort of fell out of my mind until I started reading “Brave New World” and found it on chimac.net. Read the cartoon “Amusing Ourselves to Death” by Stuart McMillen here.

Player Piano – Kurt Vonnegut’s first novel

“Better to be nothing than a blind doorman at the head of civilization’s parade.”

Vonnegut’s earliest novel “Player Piano”, published in 1952, expresses a fear of a technologically-dominated society in which the basic mechanisms of life are mediated by calculated machinery. All but the most educated of men, the engineers and managers, are left with little to do, they’re basic sense of pride and purpose stripped by society at large. Albeit, this automated America provides levels of luxury and domestic comfort previously unattainable by the majority prior to the war which the premise of this book proceeds. Here Vonnegut presents the interesting problems present in times of peace, where the existential dilemma that is faced by many of his characters is one of normalcy and boredom and how to create change regardless of whether it is for the better.

As with nearly all of Vonnegut’s work, this was a pleasure to read. Showcasing the authors attraction to all things apocalyptic and his bittersweet, optimistic dread, it’s an intriguing window into the development of Vonnegut’s trademark brand of sardonic, humanistic science-fiction.