Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Awesome Quotes from Slaughterhouse Five

Today, I finished reading the novel Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, which was published in 1969.  It's a classic anti-war novel about the firebombing of Dresden, Germany during World War II.  It also involves elements of science fiction.  As I was reading it, I kept marking passages that I thought were awesome, and I have decided to share them.  Each passage is separated by three dots, like this:

Here are some awesome quotes from Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut:


"You know what I say to people when I hear they're writing anti-war books?"

"No.  What do you say, Harrison Star?"

"I say, Why don't you write an anti-glacier book instead?"

What he meant, of course, was that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers.  I believe that, too.


We went to the New York World's Fair, saw what the past had been like, according to the Ford Motor Company and Walt Disney, saw what the future would be like, according to General Motors.  And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.


I have told my sons that they are not under any circumstances to take part in massacres, and that the news of massacres of enemies is not to fill them with satisfaction or glee.  I have also told them not to work for companies which make massacre machinery, and to express contempt for people who think we need machinery like that.


He was doing nothing less now, he thought, than prescribing corrective lenses for Earthling souls.  So many of those souls were lost and wretched, Billy believed, because they could not see as well as his little green friends on Tralfamadore.


Billy was a chaplain's assistant in the war.  A chaplain's assistant is customarily a figure of fun in the American army.  Billy was no exception.  He was powerless to harm the enemy or to help his friends.  In fact, he had no friends.  He was a valet to a preacher, expected no promotions or medals, bore no arms, and had a meek faith in a loving Jesus which most soldiers found putrid.


Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.


Billy Pilgrim was having a delightful hallucination.  He was wearing dry, warm, white sweatsocks, and he was skating on a ballroom floor.  Thousands cheered.  This wasn't time travel.  It had never happened, never would happen.  It was the craziness of a dying young man with his shoes full of snow.


The speaker at the Lions Club was a major in the Marines.  He said that Americans had no choice but to keep fighting in Vietnam until they achieved victory or until the Communists realized that they could not force their way of life on weak countries.  The major had been there on two separate tours of duty.  He told of many terrible and many wonderful things he had seen.  He was in favor of increased bombings, of bombing North Vietnam back into the Stone Age, if it refused to see reason.


On the ninth day, the hobo died.  So it goes.  His last words were, 'You think this is bad?  This ain't bad.'


Billy Pilgriim says that the Universe does not look like a lot of bright little dots to the creatures from Tralfamadore.  The creatures can see where each star has been and where it is going, so that the heavens are filled with rarefied, luminous spaghetti.  And Tralfamadorians don't see human beings as two legged creatures, either.  They see them as giant millepedes-- 'with babies legs at one end and old people's legs at the other,' says Billy Pilgrim.


They made war look stylish and reasonable, and fun.


Only the candles and the soap were of German origin.  They had a ghostly, opalesent similarity.  The British had no way of knowing it, but the candles and the soap were made from the fat of rendered Jews and Gypsies and fairies and communists, and other enemies of the State.  So it goes.


My God--what have they done to you, lad?  This isn't a man.  It's a broken kite.

Kilgore Trout became Billy's favorite living author, and science fiction became the only sort of tales he could read.  Rosewater was twice as smart as Billy, but he and Billy were dealing with similar crises in similar ways.  They had both found life meaningless, partly because of what they had seen in war.  Rosewater, for instance, had shot a fourteen-year-old fireman, mistaking him for a German soldier.  So it goes.  And Billy had seen the greatest massacre in European history, which was the fire-bombing of Dresden.  So it goes.  So they were trying to re-invent themselves and their universe.  Science fiction was a big help.

Rosewater said an interesting thing to Billy one time about a book that wasn't science fiction.  He said that everything there was to know about life was in The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky.  "But that isn't enough anymore," said Rosewater.

Another time Billy heard Rosewater say to a psychiatrist , "I think you guys are going to have to come up with a lot of wonderful new lies, or people just aren't going to want to go on living."

You know--we've had to imagine the war here, and we have imagined that it was being fought by aging men like ourselves.  We had forgotten that wars were fought by babies.  When I saw those freshly-shaved faces, it was a shock.  "My God, my God," I said to myself, "It's the Children's Crusade."

So the Americans put their weapons down, and they came out of the woods with their hands on top of their heads, because they wanted to go on living, if they possibly could.

It was The Gospel from Outer Space, by Kilgore Trout.  It was about a visitor from outer space, shaped very much like a Tralfamadorian, by the way.  The visitor from outer space made a serious study of Christianity, to learn, if he could, why Christians found it so easy to be cruel.  He concluded that at least part of the trouble was slipshod storytelling in the New Testament.  He supposed that the intent of the gospels was to teach people, among other things, to be merciful, even to the lowest of the low.

But the gospels actually taught this:

Before you kill somebody, make absolutely sure he isn't well-connected.  So it goes.

The flaw in the Christ stories, said the visitor from outer space, was that Christ, who didn't look like much, was actually the Son of the Most Powerful Being in the Universe.  Readers understood that, so, when they came to the crucifixion, they naturally thought, and Rosewater read out loud again:

Oh, boy--they sure picked the wrong guy to lynch that time!

And that thought had a brother: There are right people to lynch.  Who?  People not well-connected.  So it goes.

The visitor made a gift to Earth of a new Gospel.  In it, Jesus really was a nobody, and a pain in the neck to a lot of people with better connections than he had.  He still got to say all the lovely and puzzling things he said in the other Gospels.

So the people amused themselves one day by nailing him to a cross and planting the cross in the ground.  There couldn't possibly be any repercussions, the lynchers thought.  The reader would have to think that, too, since the new Gospel hammered home again and again what a nobody Jesus was.

And then, just before the nobody died, the heavens opened up, and there was thunder and lightning.  The voice of God came crashing down.  He told the people that he was adopting the bum as his son, giving him the full powers and privileges of the Son of the Creator of the Universe throughout all eternity.  God said this: From this moment on, He will punish horribly anybody who torments a bum who has no connections.

Kurt Vonnegut Self-Portrait

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