Wednesday, September 09, 2009

15 Things Kurt Vonnegut Said Better Than Anyone Else Ever Has Or Will,1858/

3. "Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly; Man got to sit and wonder, 'Why, why, why?' Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land; Man got to tell himself he understand."

Another koan of sorts from Cat's Cradle and the Bokononist religion (which phrases many of its teachings as calypsos, as part of its absurdist bent), this piece of doggerel is simple and catchy, but it unpacks into a resonant, meaningful philosophy that reads as sympathetic to humanity, albeit from a removed, humoring, alien viewpoint. Man's just another animal, it implies, with his own peculiar instincts, and his own way of shutting them down. This is horrifically cynical when considered closely: If people deciding they understand the world is just another instinct, then enlightenment is little more than a pit-stop between insoluble questions, a necessary but ultimately meaningless way of taking a sanity break. At the same time, there's a kindness to Bokonon's belief that this is all inevitable and just part of being a person. Life is frustrating and full of pitfalls and dead ends, but everybody's gotta do it.

4. "There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind."

This line from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater comes as part of a baptismal speech the protagonist says he's planning for his neighbors' twins: "Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind." It's an odd speech to make over a couple of infants, but it's playful, sweet, yet keenly precise in its summation of everything a new addition to the planet should need to know. By narrowing down all his advice for the future down to a few simple words, Vonnegut emphasizes what's most important in life. At the same time, he lets his frustration with all the people who obviously don't get it leak through just a little.

No comments: