Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons (1979)
Taken as a body of work, Kurt Vonnegut's writing can be frustrating in so much as that whilst its value is always quite clearly discernible, often it is defeated by the narrative chaos in which his pearls of genuine wisdom are bedded; and yet the narrative chaos may be integral to the communication of the aforementioned pearls of genuine wisdom. So, to put it simply, it's a balancing act of just enough randomly surrealist swerves to keep it interesting without getting boring and losing the reader. When he's on form, he's amazing, but when the balance is off, his books can be a real chore.

Excepting Fortitude, a screenplay for a short film, Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons is non-fiction - the essays, reviews, articles, and public oratory of Kurt Vonnegut, plus one lengthy interview which first appeared in Playboy. Of course, with Vonnegut, the distinction between fiction and non-fiction refers to the least important aspects of the narrative; and - happily - the discipline of this shorter form brings his thoughts into much sharper focus. There's still the sense of him running into a sweet shop and simultaneously grabbing at everything within reach, all at the same time, but the points made are bolder, more direct, particularly as an admission of the pessimism which informs his writing.

I saved my marriage many times by exclaiming, 'Wait! Wait! I see light at the end of the tunnel at last!' And I wish I could bring light to your tunnels today. My wife begged me to bring you light, but there is no light. Everything is going to become unimaginably worse, and never get better again. If I lied to you about that, you would sense that I'd lied to you, and that would be another cause for gloom. We have enough causes for gloom.

He even applies the same ruthless honesty to his own tendency to frame everything as satire, albeit dark satire.

I had the feeling [Abbie Hoffman] wasn't going to be clowning much more. A lot of naturally funny people who want to help Losers aren't going to clown anymore. They have caught on that clowning doesn't throw off the timing or slow down cruel social machinery. In fact, it usually serves as a lubricant.

Every so often somebody tells me that it is a delicious fact of history that clowns have often been the most effective revolutionaries. That isn't true. Cruel social machines in the past have needed clowns for lubrication so much that they have often manufactured them. Consider the Spanish Inquisition.

When the Inquisition was about to burn somebody alive in a public square, it shaved that person from head to foot. It tortured the person to the point of babbling idiocy, fitted him out with a dunce cap and a lurid paper cloak. His or her face was painted or masked.

Hey presto! A clown!

The idea, of course, was to make the victim comical rather than pitiful. Pity is like rust to a cruel social machine.

This all adds up to a collection which carefully explains everything that is wrong with western civilisation, even the human race itself, and explains it in clear and concise terms which even a fucking idiot would understand, and in generous, good humoured spirit without either sneering or pointing fingers - which Vonnegut identifies as at least part of the broader problem.

Seeing as everything is only going to get worse anyway, one more finger isn't going to make much difference. If you happen to be, for example - a 2018 Congressional candidate still campaigning on the basis of something Obama may or may not have done, a dangerous orange draft dodger who shouldn't be left in charge of a pot plant let alone an entire country, or just my wife's dumbass facebook friend posting about how much she resents her taxes paying for welfare recipients to eat lobster - then you really, really, really, really need to read this book, because it will explain where you're going wrong and why you're making everything worse for the rest of us; except of course you won't because you're scared, and Vonnegut also explains that too.

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