“You were sick, but now you’re well again, and there’s work to do.”
It is amazing to me that I can still pick up any Kurt Vonnegut book and find something thrillingly new and yet wholly familiar. He is one of my favorite writers for many reasons, but the most significant of these is because he somehow manages to maintain his sense of humor while exploring the human condition (a depressing exercise in futility, for the most part). Vonnegut does not have much hope for humankind, and yet, the spark of something remains and shines through in each of his pieces; there is always that one last glimmer of possibility.
Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes writes in his lyrics to the song “Poison Oak,” that “the sound of loneliness makes [him] happier.” There’s something of a philosophy, there, and it is in Vonnegut’s worldview. Timequake is a paradox of memoir and fiction, starring Vonnegut and his long-time fictional stand-in, Kilgore Trout. It is a beautiful elegy, wholly unique, and filled with humor and wisdom.
In the “story,” the universe suffers a kind of existential “crisis in self-confidence.” The narrator describes this as the universe asking itself, “should I go on expanding indefinitely? What’s the point?” This momentary self-doubt from the mind (soul?) of the galaxy causes a time-loop on Earth. Everyone on the planet is forced to go back in time 10 years and to relive every moment of those 10 years over again, without the ability to change a single thing, and always knowing what is coming.
Imagine knowing the moment you or someone you love is going to die, and not being able to change it. Imagine knowing that you do something to harm someone, regret it for 8 years, and then are forced back in time to do it again. Imagine knowing you are going to be injured, hurt, poisoned… living each minute of each day up to the point of injury, entirely helpless to protect yourself.
In other words, history repeats itself. We know what we are doing. We know where we have been, how we have hurt others and ourselves in the past. And we know how to prevent these things in the future. But we refuse. As a people, a society, a race, we refuse to learn from our mistakes and we continue to make matters worse for ourselves and others, all the while asking, “why, why, why?” This is dark comedy at its best, and its worst. If you pay close attention, you realize that Vonnegut is painfully right about us, and that things have only gotten worse in the 20 years since he published his lament.
Vonnegut is our modern-day Cassandra. Always right, but never heard.
So it goes.
“Many people need desperately to receive this message: ‘I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.”
“I am eternally grateful for my knack of finding in great books, some of them very funny books, reason enough to feel honored to be alive, no matter what else might be going on.”
“If your brains were dynamite there wouldn’t be enough to blow your hat off.”
“That there are such devices as firearms, as easy to operate as cigarette lighters and as cheap as toasters, capable at anybody’s whim of killing Father or Fats or Abraham Lincoln or John Lennon or Martin Luther King, Jr., or a woman pushing a baby carriage, should be proof enough for anybody that being alive is a crock of shit.”
“But by accident, not by cunning calculation, books, because of their weight and texture, and because of their sweetly token resistance to manipulation, involve our hands and eyes, and then our minds and souls, in a spiritual adventure I would be very sorry for my grandchildren not to know about.”