After finishing the book, I went back to the link that Jim gave us in Week 7.
“…In the interview, which opens with his resonant voice, he reads excerpts from several of his novels, including SH5. I was intrigued to actually be able to hear him say, “So it goes.””
This changed the tenor of the book for me. First, the way he actually said “So it goes” changed the refrain from an irritating affectation of apathy to a much more matter of fact statement of…fact. When your birth and your death and everything else in between is taking place at the same time, as it does for the Tralfamadorians, it’s a natural thing to say.
The other thing that the interview confirmed for me is the work that went into SH5, especially compared to Mr. Rosewater and also (IMO) Cat’s Cradle. It shows.
Finally, I was intrigued by KV’s demeanor. It’s just like his books. Deadly serious at times, frank and unapologetic at times, and always ready with a guffaw.
Just got back from seeing the movie “Arrival,” and, hmmm… without saying too much, readers of “Slaughterhouse-Five” will definitely recognize some elements of the story. You might want to check it out.
Thanks for the tip Bill about Arrival. I was planning on seeing it already, but now even more so.
I think the first half dozen paragraphs at the start of chapter 10 is where Kurt makes explicit the philosophical underpinnings of his efforts: That Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” means that life only advances in the long run because death removes less useful adaptations from the gene pool.
Hence the refrain “so it goes.” It cannot go any other way! And our Tralfamadorians know this is correct because they see history all at once from start to finish. Vonnegut comes to accept the horrors he experienced in Dresden as just another of life’s long run necessities. So it went.
SH5 takes what strikes me as a curiously non-fictional, documentary tone for a few pages at the point where Vonnegut inserts lengthy quotes from military historians who disagree about the justification for the fire-bombing of Dresden. (Chapter 9, American Library Edition, pp/ 470-472.)
This reminded me of the long-running debate about the justification for the atomic bombing of Japan. My own pacifism-influenced questions about the necessity of using atomic weapons against Japan were answered by viewing a videotaped copy of the 1989 CBS documentary “Day One,” described in the following link.
For people who have looked closely at the history of that sordid event, the final arguments for using “The Bomb” now look dubious at best. The one most Americans still believe is that it saved up to a million lives that could have been lost in an invasion of the Japanese Islands. But before the first strike on Hiroshima, Japan had said that it’s only condition for a total military surrender was that the Emperor be allowed to stay on as a figurehead, rather than be deposed in disgrace. Nonetheless, America would accept nothing less than “unconditional” surrender.
Thus an atomic holocaust was unleashed on the Japanese due to a disagreement about face-saving political symbolism. More practically, the Russians had threatened to join any invasion of Japan, and the Americans wanted to keep them out. Hardly high moral ground for such an inhumane undertaking, even in the context of war. I have to believe that some strong desire for righteous revenge and punishment were not absent from this decision.
Given the nightmare of the past week, I found it all but impossible to read any fiction at all, even when it as relevant and brilliant and passionate as Vonnegut. I’ve read this book multiple times, and even this time I discovered new things. I’m going to try to start reading again with Breakfast of Champions, but I’m still struggling to find any refuge in fiction at the moment.
Jeff, I certainly understand how you feel, but I have to say I’ve found some comfort over the last week in taking the Tralfamadorian view of things. Looking at awful events like this as points along a continuum provides some much-needed distance, which is why Vonnegut does it in the first place, I think.
On the other hand, the Tralfamadorian view does raise the question of free will. It’s an essentially fatalist outlook – what’s going to happen is what’s going to happen, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Looking back, this can be a comforting way to view events; going forward, it’s not an especially helpful attitude. Limited beings as we are, traveling always one direction in time, we have to proceed on the assumption that our actions can affect the future. Otherwise there’s not much point.
I’m not sure exactly what I’m getting at here except to say, well, so it goes. And so it will continue to go. That happened. What can we do but continue to trudge on?
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