Archive for Vonnegut

The Emperor New Clothes

Posted in G 1 with tags , , , , , on November 5, 2008 by Roberto Gravitazero

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Photo from The Big Picture – Boston Globe

OK, it’s been a while since I wrote my last post here. I imagine I could, with a small effort, build up a whole bunch of very good reasons for that. But the truth is,  I’m too lazy to do it. And that’s exactly why I skipped these last three months here. Laziness.

Anyway, I wanted to give it another try since some time, but after such a long vacation, the post subjects that came to my mind always seemed somehow unworthy of the occasion. Well. I guess today I have no more excuses. It’s indeed well possible that, in a few years, people will ask each other what the hell they were doing in such a day. Where they were, how did they live through the event. Exactly like it did happen for 9/11. History could be a whole different story from today on. Maybe. Then, indeed, maybe not.

So, the emperor today had donned new clothes. Magnificent ones, or so it seems. In any case undeniably much, much better than the old ones (not such a difficult task, I concede). And we, from our lookout at the borders of the empire, cannot but rejoice for that. Still, there is a possibility that eventually we’ll discover the naked truth hiding behind the clothes, and won’t like it so much.

In the past, I had expressed some perplexity about Obama, but I ended up liking him more and more. True, it somewhat helped that the alternative,  possibly the only decent candidate the Republicans could put in the field, had squandered his campaign by choosing a strategy based solely upon denigration and by banding together with the genius she-hunter from Alaska.

So, today I’m quite happy. The event in itself has at least a strong, positive symbolic relevance. Therefore I push at the back of my mind the doubts I still have. But I cannot resist to mention again a quote from the late Kurt Vonnegut:

“There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don’t know what can be done to fix it. This is it: only nut cases want to be president.”

I’m personally quite convinced of the truth of that. One must indeed be mad to be willing to bear such  a burden.

However,  there are things (just a few simple actions, indeed) that should absolutely be done for the progress of the US and the rest of the world, but are faced by such a strong resistance that only a madman would be willing to undertake them.

Let’s hope America has just elected such a madman, unlikely as it is.

Vonnegut and the Arrow of Time

Posted in G 0 with tags , , , on May 6, 2008 by Roberto Gravitazero

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Some time ago, triggered by a post on Universi Paralleli, I started re-reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. As everybody should know, the book is inspired by the author’s experience as a war prisoner in Dresden, during the Allied bombing that completely destroyed the city.

In the book, following a personal habit, Vonnegut fools around mischievously with time, going back and forth through it in almost every page. Not only that, but he actually has the protagonist travel subjectively in time, which he doesn’t experience in the usual, linear fashion. On the contrary, he goes through different moments of his life in a discontinuous way, jumping backward and forward in imitation of his author’s literary style.

Also featured are aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. The Tralfamadorians have as well a peculiar perception of time, since they see in four dimensions, the fourth being time. They thus perceive every instant of their lives simultaneously. So, for instance, nobody really dies for them. Any individual is only dead in given areas of the four-dimensional space, while in other spots he is indeed alive and well.

The book is full of time-based tricks. Let me offer you a taste of Vonnegut’s juggling with time. At a certain point, many years after the war, the protagonist is looking at a war documentary, while subjectively traveling backwards in time. Here is what he sees:

“American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses, took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen…

The bombers opened their bomb-bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes.

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.”

As it to happens quite often when confronted with something written by Vonnegut, I find this passage disturbingly poetic, utterly sad and outright beautiful at the same time.

Reading it, I almost wished for a moment that Vonnegut was still alive. Then I realized he is actually not quite dead. He only happen to be not very healthy in this particular moment.

So it goes.

On Obama

Posted in G 0 with tags , , , , on February 20, 2008 by Roberto Gravitazero

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Barack Obama is still winning. So, it looks like the US could really have their first not-quite-black president after some 220 years of history.

Well.

I must admit I don’t know a whole lot about Obama, but I like him more than the potential alternatives. Mc Cain is a republican. That alone would be enough for me but, on top of that, he comes after Bush junior. And anybody accepting even a suspicion of continuity with such a blunder, cannot really be considered. Hillary Clinton is the perfect example of a machine programmed to become US president. A very good one, as that. However, proficient machines built with a precise, narrow aim tend not to be good at anything else. Like, for instance, being a good president as opposed to becoming one.

Obama surely looks cool, and I must admit he has got style. I recall on this subject what was his answer when asked if he ever tried marijuana: “Yes. – he admitted – And yes, I inhaled. This was the point, you see.” No comparison to Bill “I-didn’t-exactly-did-it” Clinton.

However, I can’t avoid to be plagued by a quote from one of my personal gurus, the late Kurt Vonnegut:

“There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don’t know what can be done to fix it. This is it: only nut cases want to be president.”

Yes, Vonnegut was a well known pessimist. He was also right most of the time.