📚 Cat’s Crade (Kurt Vonnegut)

Read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cat%27s_Cradle

Cat’s Cradle is a satirical postmodern novel, with science fiction elements, by American writer Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut’s fourth novel, it was first published in 1963, exploring and satirizing issues of science, technology, the purpose of religion, and the arms race, often through the use of morbid humor.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cat%27s_Cradle

I had never read any of Kurt Vonnegut’s work and had little idea of what to expect. I could tell you that he wrote Slaughter House Five, but have no knowledge what the novel is about. I was watching The Deadliest Infectious Disease of All Time | Crash Course Lecture and John Green referenced a poem from Cat’s Cradle.

“Don’t try,” he said. “Just pretend you understand.”

“That’s—that’s very good advice,” I went limp.

Castle quoted another poem:

Tiger got to hunt,

Bird got to fly;

Man got to sit and wonder, “Why, why, why?”

Tiger got to sleep,

Bird got to land;

Man got to tell himself he understand.

This led me to the library and borrowing the book.

The book traces the narrator’s effort to write a book about the day of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. This leads him (and us) down one rabbit hole after another, from Felix Hoenikker’s creation of ‘ice-nine’, the island of San Lorenzo, Bokononism and the destruction of the world where all the world’s oceans are turned to ice.

There is so much to take in with Cat’s Cradle, whether it be the science, the absurdity and the modern world. Some novels capture their time, while others send messages that linger on. I had to check when it was written (1963) as so much of it still seemed relevant, especially working on a complex project. I now respond to colleagues about my work with ‘Busy, busy, busy’.

Had I been a Bokononist then, pondering the miraculously intricate chain of events that had brought dynamite money to that particular tombstone company, I might have whispered, “Busy, busy, busy.”

Busy, busy, busy, is what we Bokononists whisper whenever we think of how complicated and unpredictable the machinery of life really is.

But all I could say as a Christian then was, “Life is sure funny sometimes.”

It is much better than talking about magic.

Vonnegut has explained the short chapters as a ‘mosaic of tiny jokes’:

Cat’s Cradle, despite its relatively short length, contains 127 discrete chapters, some of which are verses from the Book of Bokonon. Vonnegut himself claimed that his books “are essentially mosaics made up of a whole bunch of tiny little chips… and each chip is a joke.”[1]

Cat’s Cradle by Wikipedia

Alternatively, Kleon claims Vonnegut wrote ‘everything for his sister’:

Vonnegut said that in hindsight he realized that he wrote everything he wrote for his sister, just trying to make her laugh…

Be a Good Date by Austin Kleon

The fear I had was that the greatest joke in the end was us as a reader in taking the world so seriously at times?

Stylistically, the way in which the narrator incidentally unpacks Bokononism reminded me of the creative way in which Thomas More explores Utopia. I was also left wondering whether I am missing the modern humourist in my reading, as I would place Vonnegut along side other modern authors, such as Paul Auster, Thomas Pynchon and Joseph Heller. To me they all encapsulates the saying, “Cartoon descriptions? How else to describe a cartoon world?” However, someone else made the case to me that the best way to explain these authors is drugs. Think I will stick to cartoon descriptions.

In the end, I feel that Cat’s Cradle is one of those books that I could come back to again and again and get something different each time as it is so overloaded with information that we can never quite understand everything all at once. Of course this is the case with all readings, but I feel Vonnegut makes us strangely aware of this.

Marginalia

THE MOST VALUABLE COMMODITY ON EARTH

It isn’t looking for a better cigarette filter or a softer face tissue or a longer-lasting house paint, God help us. Everybody talks about research and practically nobody in this country’s doing it.

DYNAMITE MONEY

Had I been a Bokononist then, pondering the miraculously intricate chain of events that had brought dynamite money to that particular tombstone company, I might have whispered, “Busy, busy, busy.”

Busy, busy, busy, is what we Bokononists whisper whenever we think of how complicated and unpredictable the machinery of life really is.

But all I could say as a Christian then was, “Life is sure funny sometimes.”

MEOW

My second wife had left me on the grounds that I was too pessimistic for an optimist to live with.

THE BOKONONIST METHOD FOR HANDLING CAESAR

There was a quotation from The Books of Bokonon on the page before me. Those words leapt from the page and into my mind, and they were welcomed there.
The words were a paraphrase of the suggestion by Jesus: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s.”
Bokonon’s paraphrase was this:
“Pay no attention to Caesar. Caesar doesn’t have the slightest idea what’s really going on.”

A BIG MOSAIC

You’ll forget it when you’re dead, and so will I. When I’m dead, I’m going to forget everything—and I advise you to do the same.”
“Has she been posing for this or are you working from photographs or what?”
“I’m working from or what.”
“What?”
“I’m working from or what.” He tapped his temple. “It’s all in this enviable head of mine.”

RING OF STEEL

Truth was the enemy of the people, because the truth was so terrible, so Bokonon made it his business to provide the people with better and better lies.”

A WHITE BRIDE FOR THE SON OF A PULLMAN PORTER

“Don’t try,” he said. “Just pretend you understand.”
“That’s—that’s very good advice,” I went limp.
Castle quoted another poem:
Tiger got to hunt,
Bird got to fly;
Man got to sit and wonder, “Why, why, why?”
Tiger got to sleep,
Bird got to land;
Man got to tell himself he understand.

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