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Kurt Vonnegut

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 …

The Weaponization of Knowledge in Cat’s Cradle | Comentale on Cat’s Cradle

Ed Comentale   Aren’t we all getting a little tired of this crap? Here at Salo U, we have to fight for knowledge on two fronts. Looking above, to the institutions of power, we confront shabby resources, political posturing, a fickle market, and meddlesome administrators. Looking below, to the public we hope to help, we find suspicion, resentment, outright hostility. …

Fun House | Castronova on Cat’s Cradle

Ted Castronova   Whatever anyone knows is known by no one. —Emerson Scott Boolard *** This does not reflect the actual opinions of its author. *** Stave I I am a professor. I had a thought to write an essay. It was to be about Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. I was walking across campus thinking about my essay. Some students …

I, John, Saw, or MAKE RELIGION LIVE! | Harriss on Cat’s Cradle

Cooper Harriss   The company line on Cat’s Cradle concerns Vonnegut’s invention of a religion—Bokononism—to satirize his contemporary vagaries of knowledge and authority. See the cat? See the cradle? Religion is a lie, the story goes; it’s not true but an invented dimension of human cultures. Like the lies we tell our children, religion arouses fear, provides comfort, establishes meaning, …

Reading Mother Night in Russia(n) | Phillips on Mother Night

Sarah Phillips   Kurt Vonnegut was the most popular American writer in the Soviet Union in the 1970s,1 and it will not surprise Vonnegut fans to learn that he predicted his own success. In Mother Night (1961), the protagonist Howard W. Campbell, Jr. provides a fictional account of one Stepan Bodovskov’s (plagiaristic) literary success in Russia, in particular the success …