Since he promised it at the beginning, Kurt better have a really good payoff when the alternating accounts of Kilgore Trout & Dwayne Hoover finally intersect, or else I’ll be pissed off. Fair warning!
I’m probably the only one on this march who identifies with the incidental character who gives a ride in his Ford Galaxie to Kilgore Trout. I refer to the fact that Andy Lieber was a manufacturer’s representative, not necessarily to the dimensions of his penis.
The attitudes & armaments of the Midland City Police & Midland County Sheriff’s departments, if it were present day, calls for organizing Reindeer Lives Matter I think.
I don’t know about a “payoff,” but some shit is going to go down. KV has already pretty much told us everything that’s going to happen, though; he has little interest in the old-fashioned concept of “suspense.” Fair warning.
Some great turns of phrase in this week’s reading, from the sublime:
“Their imaginations were flywheels on the ramshackle machinery of the awful truth.”
To the elaborately deadpan:
“The key to their pleasure, they said, and scientists backed them up, was the clitoris, a tiny meat cylinder which was right above the hole in women where men were supposed to stick their much larger cylinders.”
To the just plain goofy:
“His great wang lay across his thigh like a salami.”
I took advantage of both a cold and a lull in work to fall back in line with the deathmarch. Huzzah!
Bill: That first phrase you mention is one that I highlighted, both because I liked the sound of it, but also because it took me a few readings to fully comprehend it.
I think it’s probably because of post election despair/anger, but for whatever reason Breakfast of Champions is really hitting home for me. I remember trying to read this a LONG time ago, and I was put off by the drawings and simple writing, probably because in those days I thought it was impressive that I had, like, read James Joyce and shit, but this time I actually find it almost profound. To be this reductive is of course overly simplistic, and bit obvious and heavy-handed as a way to get his points across — but that doesn’t make it wrong either, at least not to me. Military school IS “an institution devoted to homicide,” however else we might want to characterize it.
So I’m digging that in this particular moment in our history, when facts and truth absolutely do not seem to matter one bit, that we are reading a book in which Vonnegut is just pulling no punches and calling shi*t out as it is. I can only imagine how he’d feel if he were alive today–and I’m glad for his sake that he isn’t. (Likewise Bowie, Leonard Cohen etc—they got just in time.)
Also, in case you ever wondered what it would be like to see Breakfast of Champions as a movie, with Bruce Willis as Dwayne Hoover, you’re in luck. The full movie is on YouTube for free. If you can last longer than 10 minutes you have a stronger constitution than me.
The description of the West Virginia tortured landscape and mindless/hopeless way of life is bone chilling in its current relevance, and KV wrote this over 40 years ago! So is the majority of his anti-establishment jabs. And the women are either raped or “suicided,” hard to take. But, you’re channeling so much of our current anger, Kurt, and for that I am grateful to you.
Ironic to note that V’s imaginary sci-fi flights as coping mechanisms in the face of Earth’s self-destructive inhumanity are currently matched by actual space explorations as possible escape routes.
Vonnegut seems to have a scanner running to detect human frailties and bad behavior. Whenever he finds something objectionable, he takes off to either criticize or satirize it. Although there are some commonly repeated themes, his approach to finding fault with mankind seems rather random.
Nevertheless, I was surprised to see that mountain-top removal in West Virginia had caught his attention. I grew up in West Virginia and am still in touch with relatives there, so I have some personal perspective on his treatment of this particular failing. I’ve seen the impact of bulldozing mountain tops and filling valleys to get at a seam of coal that runs close to the surface along a ridge. For anyone who appreciates wilderness, it’s the worst rape imaginable, on a par with major oil spills. If you’re not familiar with this type of mining, it looks like this:
KV doesn’t exaggerate the complicity of local politicians in these horrors. Crony capitalism has long been rampant in W. Va.; legislators have cooperated fully with and protected mine owners at the expense of the natural environment and tourism, the state’s other major industry, always in the name of economic development and greater employment.
But there are other considerations. When I was a youth in W. Va., the bituminous coal was all extracted from deep mines, a mile or so beneath the surface. I still remember waking up at night when my house shook from blasting in the mines below. You could easily spot miners in town on weekends; they looked like scrawny raccoons, having distinctive black rings around their eyes, where they couldn’t scrub hard enough to remove the embedded coal dust. Deep mining was a very dangerous occupation. Aside from the major disasters that made headlines by killing a few dozen men or featuring heroic rescues, there was an constant stream of injury and disability caused by mining accidents. The worst mining disability was Black Lung Disease, a form of emphysema caused by coal dust collecting in the lungs. The life of deep miners was indeed “nasty, brutish, and short.”
So although Mountain Top Removal is hard on the landscape, it’s easier on the miners, who get to work above ground, suffer fewer injuries, and don’t develop Black Lung. Dust raised around surface mines, however, is increasing cancer rates in the nearby valley towns, so perhaps the health improvement is really just a trade-off.
Vonnegut writes (Chapter 14, American Library p.600) “The truth was that Rosewater’s ancestors had been the principal destroyers of the surface and the people of West Virginia” as a result of mining operations. But today most West Virginians are more worried about unemployment than either the surface of their land or their collective health. Almost to a man, they blame Obama’s regulations and global warming pseudo-science for the decline of the coal industry. The Marcellus Shale formation extends below West Virginia, but the infrastructure for moving gas to market won’t (yet) support large scale fracking.
The Donald won West Virginia by a wide margin by saying he would bring back mining in the state. He can’t accomplish that, and it’s the wrong solution to the problem, but it fed the frustration of a population that knows no other way of life. West Virginians would not resonate to Vonnegut’s take on their circumstances. They want their mining jobs back, screw any other consequences!
Some of Vonnegut’s other descriptions of rural life in Appalachia are true enough. The town roller rink was a favorite after-school hangout for my friends, along with the six-lane bowling alley. And just once, I went with a friend to a snake-handling service at a tiny rural church not far from my Beckley home in southern W. Va. We stayed in the back when they started passing the rattlesnakes around in front, and left when they started throwing them through the air to one another. Clearly my faith was not strong enough to pass such a test. Still isn’t, for that matter.
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