In the book Vonnegut mourns his wife, Jane, his dying brother, the death of the short story, of words written in black ink on flattened wood pulp. He admits he writes so well because he suffers from mono-polar depression. He champions humanism, celebrates the luxury of skepticism about religion while respecting the necessary comfort it provides to so many people. At one point the book becomes a meditation on holding self-respect together.
I bothered to write down a few passages:
Many years earlier, so long ago that I was a student at the University of Chicago, I had a conversation with my thesis advisor about the arts in general. At that time, I had no idea that I personally would go into any sort of art.
He said, "You know what artists are?"
"Artists," he said, "are people who say, 'I can't fix my country or my state or my city, or even my marriage. But by golly, I can make this square of canvas, or this eight-and-a-half-by-eleven piece of paper, or this lump of clay, or these twelve bars of music, exactly what they ought to be!'"
Perhaps I fail to create great art because I operate under the possibly delusional mindset that we can fix our state and our city.
My first wife Jane and my sister Allie had mothers who went nuts from time to time. Jane and Allie were graduates of Tudor Hall and had once been two of the prettiest, merriest girls at the Woodstock Golf and Country Club. All male writers, incidentally, no matter how broke or otherwise objectionable, have pretty wives. Somebody should look into this.
That is enough to inspire me to conquer my writer's block! I have to capture a pretty wife with my charming words before writing becomes completely irrelevent, and reading is a lost art practiced only by legal clerks and prisoners.
Quoting and commenting about Eugene Debs:
"While there is a lower class I am in it, while there is a criminal element I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free"
In recent years, I have found it prudent to say before quoting Debs that he has to be taken seriously...
it is a sign of these times that such a moving echo of the Sermon on the Mount can be perceived as outdated, wholly discredited horsecrap.
Which it is not!
Some of Timequake is not of this literal, autobiographical and confessional nature. There is this sort of building energy towards a meeting with his fictional, short story writing alter ego, Kilgore Trout. After years of obscurity, after compulsively writing and binning hundreds of short stories while living as a vagabond (and looking like a bag lady), Kilgore finds himself in the unique position of being the only human being who understands that he has free will. Unable to convey the message using that term, he invents a story of a nerve gas attack that has left the world in a form of psychosis instead of the paralysis he knows to be Post Timequake Apathy.
He gives us a new mantra, that becomes known as Kilgore's Creed:
"You were sick, but now you are well, and there is work to do"
Truly, we live in a time "years after free will has ceased to be a novelty." The implication of free will, that we are made in God's image and likeness, co-creating reality and capable of mastering our destiny, if we can just get out of this post-modern malaise, away from the TV sets that have killed the advertising revenue that once made writing in print a respectable profession and not an eccentric, obsessive compulsive disorder...
Maybe we could write for ourselves a new code that doesn't lead inexorably towards ultimate extinction. Maybe we could avoid the fate Vonnegut warns about in his last printed words:
When the last living thing
Has died on account of us,
How poetical it would be
If Earth could say,
In a voice floating up
From the floor
Of the Grand Canyon,
"It is done."
People did not like it here.
I like it here. I used to love it, grew up in the woods. I once had a dream that said, "Those who have been initiated know - God exploded in the woods". I think that is true. God had an inordinate fondness for beetles. I have had the luxury of studying biodiversity - bees and wasps and ants, flowering plants, molluscs. I knew my best chance for transmitting this wonder was to embed it in porn, to make hybrid nature documentaries that seamlessly interweave with naughty frolicking in the landscape. I hope there is still time to make a proper record of who we were and what we destroyed.
Vonnegut, and Kilgore Trout, came close.