Use | Sheldon on The Sirens of Titan

Rebekah Sheldon

“Don’t truth me and I won’t truth you.”

Here’s a little paradox courtesy of The Sirens of Titan: There is nothing worse than being used, and nothing worse than not being used.

Picture The Sirens of Titan as a map. It’s a map of the Solar System. Mars is on it, and Earth too, and so is Mercury and Saturn’s moon Titan. Draw a dotted line from Earth to Mars, another from Mars to Earth, and a third veering off from Mars to Mercury. Send a line from Mercury to Earth and one more from Earth to Titan. Now make an elliptical solid line between Newport, Rhode Island, Earth, Mercury, Titan, Mars, and the Betelgeuse system. This is Winston Niles Rumfoord, chrono-synclastic infundibulated. A long way away, outside of the Solar System entirely, put the planet of Tralfamadore and draw a wavy line from it to Titan.

Do it again, this time on the vertical. At the bottom of the map put the caves of Mercury. In the middle, Winston Niles Rumfoord standing on the sun in the zodiac mosaic of the foyer of the Rumfoord estate. Just above him, Malachi Constant, Beatrice Rumfoord, and Chrono climbing up the golden ladder. Above them, Salo and his sculptures. And high above, Chrono in flight with the Titanic bluebirds.

It is impossible to map far enough out to know the exact conditions of one’s actions, but any action implies the existence of such a map.

Or, to put that otherwise, to be of use implies that there is someone who uses.

Some synonyms for use: practice, employment; meaning, purpose; destiny, will, message; care, concern, interest; operation, manipulation, control; ply; fate.

Here are some of the instances of use in Sirens.

  1. Exo- and endo-skeletons (19)
  2. Bobby Denton (28)
  3. Martin Korabudian (46)
  4. Noel Constant (70)
  5. Ransom K. Fern (75)
  6. George M. Helmholtz and Roberta Wiley (86)
  7. Unk (99)
  8. Boaz (110)
  9. Unk (160)
  10. Mother nature (163)
  11. Winston Rumfoord (164)
  12. The people of Earth (168)
  13. Salo (175)
  14. Marlin T. Lapp (181)
  15. The planet Mercury (190)
  16. Harmoniums (214)
  17. The Creator of the Universe (225)
  18. Malachi Constant (260)
  19. Salo (274)
  20. Stonehenge, the Great Wall of China, the Golden House of the Roman Emperor Nero, the Kremlin, and the League of Nations (277)
  21. Winston Rumfoord (287)
  22. Chrono (302)
  23. Beatrice (317)
  24. Constant (324)

Stuck in the caves of Mercury, Boaz uses the harmoniums. Stuck in the caves of Mercury, the harmoniums use the planet. Stuck on the surface of Titan, Salo uses Winston Niles Rumfoord. Stuck in the Solar System, the Tralfamadorians use human civilization. Stuck in the chrono-synclastic infundibulum, Winston Niles Rumfoord uses the Army of Mars. Stuck in poverty, Noel Constant uses the Holy Bible. Stuck in a ship on the way to Mars, the enlisted men use Malachi Constant. Stuck in carbon-based life forms, Mother Nature uses Beatrice. Stuck in a mansion on Titan, Bee uses The True Purpose of Life. Stuck on the question of purpose, the original Tralfamadorians build intelligence machines. “The machines reported in all honesty that the creatures couldn’t really be said to have any purpose at all” (280).

So what’s the point, eh?

One of these uses is a rape.
One of these uses is a murder.
One of these uses is a war.
One of these uses is a book.
One of these uses is a building.
One of these uses is a religion.
One of these uses is a genocide.
One of these uses is a business.
One of these uses is a child.

Winston uses Malachi who uses Beatrice who is used by Chrono who delivers the missing piece.

Tralfamadore uses Salo who uses human history. Winston uses Malachi who uses Beatrice who has no use for him.

Start over. The Sirens of Titan is a novel about a lonely robot named Salo. Salo is trapped on Titan, a moon of Saturn. His space ship needs a part so he can resume his mission to deliver a message to a faraway galaxy. The message is “Greetings.” The robot comes from the planet Tralfamadore. He has been stuck on Titan for all of human history. Every couple of hundred years, the Tralfamadorians send a message to Salo through large-scale earthworks. They say things like, “Pack up your things and be ready to leave” (277). Eventually, they find a messenger. It takes a war, a new religion, a rape, a goodly supply of Universal Will to Become, a game of batball, and a library’s worth of books, but eventually the part arrives.

So: Maybe it is Salo after all; maybe he’s the point.

Start over.

Use 2

At the close of The Sirens of Titan, Beatrice Rumfoord thanks Malachi Constant. She explains, “The worst thing that could possibly happen to anybody . . . would be to not be used for anything” (317). By use, Beatrice means rape. Beatrice is thanking Malachi for raping her, a rape that left her pregnant with her son Chrono. His birth is ultimately responsible for her entrapment on the nearly lifeless Titan, the eponymous moon of Saturn.

Beatrice is not one of the Sirens of the title, though it is probably worth remembering that the mythical sirens cause trouble by confusing men’s will with their own. The Sirens of Sirens are sculptures that sit at the bottom of a pool on Titan. They were made by Salo, a sentient robot from the planet Tralfamadore. He is also trapped on Titan. (A chance breakdown; a broken piece.) The Sirens are one of many sculptures he made over the course of his long wait for the arrival of the replacement part.

While the accidental grounding of his ship waylays him, he makes art.

When Malachi Constant realizes that he has raped Beatrice, and not the Siren his shipmates had promised him, he makes philosophy.

When Beatrice realizes that the man who raped her believes that she is his mate and that her son is his heir, she writes poetry.

And while Salo sits on Titan making sculptures, the Tralfamadorians who voted him the most charmingly good-looking of all robots twist skeins of fate to bring him word that his replacement part is coming. These words can only be read from space. The letters are buildings on Earth: the Kremlin, the palace of Nero. Sometimes they are bigger structures: Stonehenge, the Great Wall of China.

Bee is the only one who expresses gratitude.

Winston Niles Rumfoord sailed a space ship into a chrono-synclastic infundibulum and so is trapped in wave form. When first he meets Rumfoord, Malachi Constant, whose father named him “messenger,” whose last name is Constant for no particular reason, who is therefore “constant messenger,” but who soon becomes Unk, and then Space Wanderer, and then Constant again (alas! inconstant Constant!), all well before he rapes Beatrice, he exclaims, “It looks like the messenger is finally going to be used” (30). But no.

“‘Sorry,’ said Rumfoord, ‘I know nothing about any message.’ He cocked his head quizzically. ‘Somebody said something to you about a message?’” (30).

Salo tries not to know that Tralfamadore has likely trapped Rumfoord in the chrono-synclastic infundibulum. He pretends because of the new thing Winston brings: friendship.

Rumfoord uses the people of Earth to build an army. He uses the army to make people on Earth feel ashamed. He uses shame to institute a new religion, the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent. He uses the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent to put Constant, Beatrice, and Chrono on a ship to Titan.

Tralfamadore uses an army, a group of boys, and a game of batball to create a piece of scrap metal.

Rumfoord uses the army of Mars to build a replica of the Taj Mahal on Titan.

Why not just have the army manufacture the metal piece?

Rumfoord to Beatrice: “Stop and think sometime about the roller coaster I’m on. Some day on Titan, it will be revealed to you just how ruthlessly I’ve been used, and by whom, and to what disgustingly paltry ends” (60–61).

Rumfoord to Salo: “Let’s say we’ve managed to be of some use to each other, and let it go at that” (287).

“As far as I’m concerned,” said Constant, “the Universe is a junk yard…”

“If anybody ever expects to use me again in some tremendous scheme of his,” said Constant, “he is in for one big disappointment.”

“I resign,” said Constant.
“I withdraw,” said Constant.
“I quit,” said Constant. (295)

The Universal Will to Become uses them all.
His name is Kilgore Trout.

Sirens, creators.

Why does she say thank you?

Trapped in her husband’s isolated estate, trapped with her rapist, trapped on a moon of Saturn, trapped by the needs of an alien messenger, trapped by the machinations of an alien civilization, trapped by human history, trapped by a crowd of enraged congregants, Bee writes a book.

It’s called The True Purpose of Life in the Solar System and it refutes the importance of Salo’s message. Her argument is nuanced. She writes, “Those persons who have served the interests of Tralfamadore have served them in such highly personalized ways that Tralfamadore can be said to have had practically nothing to do with the case” (315).

It’s the last thing she writes; her thank you to Constant is the last thing she says.

Constant dies in the warmth of Salo’s false vision of his reunion with Stony, the best friend he killed.

Let’s do Bee the justice of taking her seriously, as she asks us to do. Her claim: We may be guided by unseen forces, but our lives are lived as our own.

Translation: Each thing retains its own purpose, even as it is scripted into the purposes of others.

Example: The Harmoniums, Boaz, Mercury. Boaz loves the Harmoniums and they love him “as best they can” (217). And the planetary songs they eat . . . well, who could say what planetary songs love.

“’You finally fell in love, I see,’ said Salo.

“‘Only an Earthling year ago,’ said Constant. ‘It took us that long to realize that a purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved’” (320).

Love is the name use takes from the inside. Love is the name use takes in the full recognition of absolute exteriority. Love is resignation to unknowing.

Then again, Bee never says she loves anyone.

A question: Who sings to us?