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Kurt Vonnegut

Iterations of the Same | Sheldon on Slaughterhouse-Five

Billy Pilgrim can’t stay in one place. Like Winston Niles Rumfoord before him, Pilgrim has become unstuck. But while Rumfoord bounces around in space, appearing in his sitting room on Earth for only a few minutes at regularly scheduled intervals, Pilgrim is smeared across time, living many moments and timelines at once. He is a baby, a middle-aged optometrist in …

“How Permanent All the Moments” | Sandweiss on Slaughterhouse-Five

Greetings, Mr. and Mrs. America, from Earth to Titan and past to present, and all the ships in space. Let’s go to Dresden Slaughterhouse, Building Five. <***> Nice to see Kilgore Trout, Eliot Rosewater, Howard W. Campbell, Prof. Rumfoord (of the Rhode Island Rumfoords), and all of the others who’ve joined us from Kurt Vonnegut’s earlier stories. Here’s Kurt himself, …

Pilgrim’s Lack of Progress | Elmer on Slaughterhouse-Five

We know that Slaughterhouse-Five took a long time to write because Vonnegut tells us so: “I would hate to tell you what this lousy little book cost me in money and anxiety and time” (2). The first approach was documentary: “I thought it would be easy for me to write about the destruction of Dresden, since all I would have …

Where Dead Men Go | Castronova on Slaughterhouse-Five

The boss cleans up after, the boss is always the last one to turn out the lights and lock the door, which means the boss is the last one to look for spills and messes and things-out-of-place that will be a nuisance tomorrow. A good boss does that, anyway. She’d worked for jerks who left clean-up for others, went off …

They Are Not Needed: Vonnegut and the Uselessness of Art | Elmer on God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

Jonathan Elmer   In my last installment, on Cat’s Cradle, I suggested that Vonnegut was playing some interesting games with his literary precursors, especially Melville’s epic whaling tale, Moby-Dick. That mythic beast makes a cameo appearance in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater as well. The scene is “The Jolly Whaler,” the shop run by Bunny Weeks, “the great-grandson of the …

The Grand Social Experiment | Van Kooten on God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

Rick Van Kooten   Following the bleak nihilism of Cat’s Cradle, the next novel written by Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, presents a more optimistic side of Vonnegut’s philosophy, even as it is presented as a blistering satire as in Cat’s Cradle. In many ways, Vonnegut’s body of work up to this point could be considered not only a literary project …

Follow the Money | Sandweiss on God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

Eric Sandweiss   “A sum of money,” Vonnegut’s narrator alerts us, will be “a leading character” in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, the novelist’s 1965 tale of the hazard of old fortunes (1). Like his creator, Eliot Rosewater—the holy fool who fills that lead role in a more conventional sense—is also struck by money’s personal charisma. Mr. Rosewater, a science …

Eliot Rosewater for President, or, Nimium capto aut ut omnino nihil | Phillips on God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

Sarah Phillips   Kurt Vonnegut was a prophet, albeit a satiric and stridently earthly one. Vonnegut’s 1965 book God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater: Or Pearls before Swine diagnosed and warned us about the growing problems that got us where we are today. Those problems were (and are) unfettered free market capitalism, run-away greed, income and wealth inequality, and media-palooza.1 I …

Rave on, Eliot Rosewater | Harriss on God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

Cooper Harriss   I take satisfaction in observing the ways that Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater rehearses with some precision a number of specific themes I’ve discussed in the first four installments of this project. The title’s benediction (“God bless you!”), which we see recur among the townspeople even to the point of betrayal, registers secularism’s religious unconscious, mirroring …

Utopian Lanes: The Project Logic of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater | Comentale on God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

Ed Comentale   As self-appointed dean of Salo University, an institution dedicated fully to training in the liberal arts, I have been tracking Vonnegut’s shifts in thinking about the human and his uneasy relationship with humanism as a system of thought and value. As I see it, his first few novels are marked by an increasing pessimism about human nature …

No Damn Cat, and No Damn Cradle | Van Kooten on Cat’s Cradle

Rick Van Kooten   John, the intrepid narrator of Cat’s Cradle, is working on a book describing what Americans were doing at the precise moment the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. He tries to contact the three children of the late Felix Hoenikker, Nobel Laureate and so-called “father of the atomic bomb,” for greater insight. We learn of Dr. Hoenikker’s …

Vonnegut’s Pessimism | Sheldon on Cat’s Cradle

Rebekah Sheldon “We do, doodley do, doodley do, doodley do, What we must, muddily must, muddily must, muddily must; Muddily do, muddily do, muddily do, muddily do Until we bust, bodily bust, bodily bust, bodily bust” —The Books of Bokonon Mud recurs throughout Cat’s Cradle. Most prominently, it is the scourge of marching armies that inspires Dr. Felix Hoenikker to …

“Vonnegut’s Struggle with Nihilism in Cat’s Cradle” | Shapshay on Cat’s Cradle

Sandy Shapshay   Of all of his novels up to this point, Vonnegut’s 1963 Cat’s Cradle strikes me as the most Nietzschean. It’s in this novel that our Hoosier author—through the formerly Christian (p. 1), now Bokononist narrator Jonah (a.k.a. John)—struggles to overcome a nihilistic pessimism, the same –ism that exorcised Nietzsche throughout his writings. In Nietzsche’s first philosophical book, …

“No damn cat, and no damn cradle!” | Sandweiss on Cat’s Cradle

Eric Sandweiss   In Cat’s Cradle, his first novelistic foray out of the postwar gloom of Mother Night, Vonnegut awakens to find the shell-shocked, the disillusioned, the displaced—here a Soviet dancer, there a Nazi doctor, an American defense contractor, a dissipated playboy-turned-humanitarian, and so on—still bouncing about a world turned upside down by generations of global war. We know little …

Untitled | Phillips on Cat’s Cradle

Sarah Phillips   Dr. Angela Hoenikker Conners, PhD Planet Titan (previously of 4918 North Meridian Street Indianapolis, Indiana, USA, Planet Earth) Mr. Jonah Breit San Lorenzo, Planet Earth (Forwarding Service Requested) Dear Mr. Jonah Breit (“dear” in this case being over-generous): No doubt you will be surprised to hear from me, convinced as you are that I met my demise …

Apocalypse Then | Elmer on Cat’s Cradle

Jonathan Elmer   Although it takes him six novels—until Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)—to directly confront his personal trauma of surviving the firebombing of Dresden, Germany, all of Vonnegut’s early work seems simultaneously to approach, and retreat from, the cataclysm of the Second World War. Maybe “directly” is not the right word, even for the apparently autobiographical Slaughterhouse; but certainly before Slaughterhouse, Vonnegut …