The Guy Quote – Kurt Vonnegut

“I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.”

Blending satire, gallows humour and science fiction, Kurt Vonnegut was one of the twentieth century’s great pacifists. You’ll understand why when you know about his time in WWII as soldier and prisoner of war.

He was captured in 1944 at the Battle of the Bulge, where he was an an infantry private. His regiment got cut off from the rest of the army. As he said: “The other American divisions on our flanks managed to pull out: We were obliged to stay and fight. Bayonets aren’t much good against tanks…”

Imprisoned in Dresden, Vonnegut was chosen as a leader of the POWs because he spoke some German. After telling the German guards “…just what I was going to do to them when the Russians came…” he was beaten and had his position as leader taken away. While a prisoner, he witnessed the fire bombing of Dresden in February 1945 which destroyed most of the city.

Vonnegut was one of a group of American prisoners of war to survive the attack in an underground slaughterhouse meat locker used by the Germans as an ad hoc detention facility. The Germans called the building Schlachthof Fünf (Slaughterhouse Five), which the Allied POWs adopted as the name for their prison. Vonnegut said the aftermath of the attack was “utter destruction” and “carnage unfathomable.” This experience was the inspiration for his famous novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, and is a central theme in at least six of his other books.

In Slaughterhouse-Five he recalls that the remains of the city resembled the surface of the moon, and that the Germans put the surviving POWs to work, breaking into basements and bomb shelters to gather bodies for mass burial, while German civilians cursed and threw rocks at them. Vonnegut eventually remarked, “There were too many corpses to bury. So instead the Germans sent in troops with flamethrowers. All these civilians’ remains were burned to ashes.”

Vonnegut was liberated by Red Army troops in May 1945 at the Saxony-Czechoslovakian border. Upon returning to America, he was awarded a Purple Heart for what he called a “ludicrously negligible wound,” later writing that he was given the decoration after suffering a case of “frostbite”.

When he got home, he jobbed around as a writer whilst studying for an anthropology degree. Then carried on writing his own stories on the side. In the mid 1950s, he worked very briefly for Sports Illustrated magazine, where he was assigned to write a piece on a racehorse that had jumped a fence and attempted to run away. After staring at the blank piece of paper on his typewriter all morning, he typed, “The horse jumped over the fucking fence,” and left.

He was on the verge of giving up writing when his novel, Cat’s Cradle, became a bestseller, and he started Slaughterhouse Five – one of the most important American books of the 20th century.

*

A word on “so it goes”. The amazing thing about “so it goes”, the repeated refrain from Slaughterhouse Five, isn’t so much its plainness as the way it can pack so much emotion — and dismissal of emotion — into three simple, world-weary words. It neatly encompasses a whole way of life. More crudely put: “Shit happens, and it’s awful, but it’s also okay. We deal with it because we have to.” Damn right.

Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armour and attacked a hot fudge sundae.

I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.

Literature should not disappear up its own asshole, so to speak.

If you can do a half-assed job of anything, you’re a one-eyed man in a kingdom of the blind.

Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.

Life happens too fast for you ever to think about it. If you could just persuade people of this, but they insist on amassing information.

Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile!

Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.

Human beings will be happier – not when they cure cancer or get to Mars or eliminate racial prejudice or flush Lake Erie but when they find ways to inhabit primitive communities again. That’s my utopia.

I really wonder what gives us the right to wreck this poor planet of ours.

Those who believe in telekinetics, raise my hand.

About astrology and palmistry: they are good because they make people vivid and full of possibilities. They are communism at its best. Everybody has a birthday and almost everybody has a palm.

All this happened, more or less. The war parts, anyway, are pretty much true.
From “Slaughterhouse Five

Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before… He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way.
From “Cat’s Cradle

One of the few good things about modern times: If you die horribly on television, you will not have died in vain. You will have entertained us.
From “Cold Turkey

Thanks to TV and for the convenience of TV, you can only be one of two kinds of human beings, either a liberal or a conservative.
From “Cold Turkey

There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don’t know what can be done to fix it. This is it: Only nut cases want to be president.
From “Cold Turkey

Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.
From “A Man without a Country

Humor is an almost physiological response to fear.
From “A Man without a Country

I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’
A Man without a Country

I think that novels that leave out technology misrepresent life as badly as Victorians misrepresented life by leaving out sex.
From “A Man without a Country

1492. As children we were taught to memorize this year with pride and joy as the year people began living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America. Actually, people had been living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America for hundreds of years before that. 1492 was simply the year sea pirates began to rob, cheat, and kill them.
From “Breakfast of Champions

New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become.
From “Breakfast of Champions

The chief weapon of sea pirates, however, was their capacity to astonish. Nobody else could believe, until it was too late, how heartless and greedy they were.
From “Breakfast of Champions

Charm was a scheme for making strangers like and trust a person immediately, no matter what the charmer had in mind.
From “Breakfast of Champions

I can have oodles of charm when I want to.
From “Breakfast of Champions

Maturity is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter can be said to remedy anything.
From “Cat’s Cradle

Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.
From “Cat’s Cradle

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.
From “Cat’s Cradle

Here’s what I think the truth is: We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to face cold turkey.
From “Cold Turkey

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.
From “God Bless You Mr Rosewater

Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.
From “Hocus Pocus

During my three years in Vietnam, I certainly heard plenty of last words by dying American footsoldiers. Not one of them, however, had illusions that he had somehow accomplished something worthwhile in the process of making the Supreme Sacrifice.
From “Hocus Pocus

Well, the telling of jokes is an art of its own, and it always rises from some emotional threat. The best jokes are dangerous, and dangerous because they are in some way truthful.
From an interview on Mcsweeneys.net

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.
From “Mother Night

There are plenty of good reasons for fighting, but no good reason ever to hate without reservation, to imagine that God Almighty Himself hates with you, too.
From “Mother Night

Just because some of us can read and write and do a little math, that doesn’t mean we deserve to conquer the Universe.
From “Hocus Pocus

A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.
From “Sirens of Titan

Since Alice had never received any religious instruction, and since she had led a blameless life, she never thought of her awful luck as being anything but accidents in a very busy place. Good for her.
From “Slapstick

Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.
From “Slaughterhouse Five

All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber.
From “Slaughterhouse Five

How nice–to feel nothing, and still get full credit for being alive.
From “Slaughterhouse Five

Many people need desperately to receive this message: ‘I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.’
From “Timequake” (his last novel)

All persons, living and dead, are purely coincidental.
From “Timequake

EDIT: An excellent late addition, spotted by Charlie:
“Moderate giftedness has been made worthless by the printing press and radio and television and satellites and all that. A moderately gifted person who would have been a community treasure a thousand years ago has to give up, has to go into some other line of work, since modern communications put him or her into daily competition with nothing but world’s champions.”

(thanks for the idea to do Kurt, Adam – good shout!)
+

[[ps – please check out some of my other quote collections here – The Guy Quote]]

One response to “The Guy Quote – Kurt Vonnegut

  1. Pingback: The King of Satirical Post-Apocalptic Doom | the official kb

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s