Saturday, January 25, 2014

Readings: from Breakfast of Champions - a meta-strategy of fiction


On page 209 (a little more than 2/3 of the way through) of the first hardback edition of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Breakfast of Champions, he reveals, while speaking as the author--presumably as Kurt Vonnegut--via the ongoing meta-narrative threaded amongst the various subplots, his vision of the connections between fiction, social culture, and history:

            As I approached my fiftieth birthday, I had become more and more enraged and mystified by the idiot decisions made by my countrymen. And then I had come suddenly to pity them, for I understood how innocent and natural it was for them to behave so abominably, and with such abominable results: They were doing their best to live like people invented in story books. This was the reason Americans shot each other so often: It was a convenient literary device for ending short stories and books.
            Why were so many Americans treated by their government as though their lives were as disposable as paper facial tissues? Because that was the way authors customarily treated bit-part players in their made-up tales.
            And so on.
            Once I understood what was making America such a dangerous, unhappy nation of people who had nothing to do with real life, I resolved to shun storytelling. I would write about life. Every person would be exactly as important as any other. All facts would also be given equal weightiness. Nothing would be left out. Let others bring order to chaos. I would bring chaos to order, instead, which I think I have done.
            If all writers would do that, then perhaps citizens not in the literary trades will understand that there is no order in the world around us, that we must adapt ourselves to the requirements of chaos instead.
            It is hard to adapt to chaos, but it can be done. I am living proof of that: It can be done.

It is hard to determine just how embedded was the authorial tongue in the narrative cheek when “the writer” (Vonnegut?) chose those words to describe the technique used in the composition of Breakfast of Champions. It is easier today to see the effects of story-telling on actual behavior through the media of TV, film, and now, especially, in video games. But these are all the offspring of the story book, so Vonnegut’s subjective viewpoint, even if over-simplified, has a certain plausibility, I think.