Monday, December 30, 2013

Readings: Kurt Vonnegut Revisited

Having decided that a good project for the New Year would be to reread the major works of one of the formative authors of my youth, Kurt Vonnegut, I have made an early start this morning by picking up his short-story* collection, Welcome to the Monkey House. The title story of that collection dates from 1968. The excerpt below shows how precisely Vonnegut had his finger to the pulse of the trends that have brought us to the sad place that we are in today:

There was a Howard Johnson's next door to every Ethical Suicide Parlor, and vice versa. The Howard Johnson's had an orange roof and the Suicide Parlor had a purple roof, but they were both Government. Practically everything was Government.

Practically everything was automated, too. Nancy and Mary and the sheriff were lucky to have jobs. Most people didn't. The average citizen moped around home and watched television, which was the Government. Every fifteen minutes his television would urge him to vote intelligently or consume intelligently, or worship in the church of his choice, or love his fellowman, or obey the laws--or pay a call to the nearest Ethical Suicide Parlor and find out how friendly and understanding a Hostess could be.

Although we don't yet have Ethical Suicide Parlors, and a larger percentage of the population still has jobs than Vonnegut predicts will be the case when world population is at 17 billion, practically everything is already the Government.

Vonnegut's protagonist in Welcome to the Monkey House, the underground revolutionary, Billy the Poet, towards the end of the story speaks some prophetic lines to Nancy, the Hostess whom he has kidnapped in order to forcibly detox her from the Government mandated drug that renders every citizen numb from the waist down, and to then deflower.  Nancy says to him: "The world can't afford sex anymore." Billy the Poet replies:

"Of course it can afford sex, ...All it can't afford anymore is reproduction. ...If you go back through history, you'll find that the people who have been most eager to rule, to make the laws, to enforce the laws and to tell everybody exactly how God Almighty wants things here on Earth--those people have forgiven themselves and their friends for anything and everything. But they have been absolutely disgusted and terrified by the natural sexuality of common men and women."

Tea Party, anyone?  This project is going to be fun!
*Actually, there are some short prose pieces other than stories in the book.