• In total there are 0 users online :: 0 registered, 0 hidden and 0 guests (based on users active over the past 60 minutes)
    Most users ever online was 871 on Fri Apr 19, 2024 12:00 am

Slaughterhouse-Five - Chapter 1

#185: Nov. 2022 - Jan. 2023 (Fiction)
Book Discussion Leader: Robert Tulip
User avatar
Robert Tulip

2B - MOD & SILVER
BookTalk.org Hall of Fame
Posts: 6502
Joined: Tue Oct 04, 2005 9:16 pm
18
Location: Canberra
Has thanked: 2730 times
Been thanked: 2666 times
Contact:
Australia

Re: Slaughterhouse-Five - Chapter 1

Unread post

The subtitle The Children’s Crusade reflects the anti-war message of Slaughterhouse Five. When Vonnegut goes to visit his old war buddy, the wife is angry to hear them talking about the war, so he promises to use this subtitle to reflect that far from glorifying war, like John Wayne and Frank Sinatra, he is condemning it as something that tricks the innocent to death.

He then reads a 1908 history of Dresden owned by his host, covering previous war described by the genius Goethe (in German) as the work of the devil.

He tells us his book is “short and jumbled and jangled because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre.” This reflects his sense of disorientation and grief produced by living through the Dresden fire-bombing.

He inveighs against “companies which make massacre machinery”, and directly expresses contempt for the whole military-industrial complex that dominates the US economy and society. Such a counter-cultural stance was not designed to win conservative friends or readers. He is effectively stating that the imperial politics of war is not morally legitimate. This is why this book is so celebrated in the anti-war movement. Coming out at the height of the Vietnam War in 1969, the politics of this book is something we can return to.

What this all makes me wonder is how we can imagine a transition from a state of debauched corruption into a situation that offers a more enlightened vision of a path toward stability and justice. Too often, readers of a writer like Kurt Vonnegut take a mainly emotional perspective, decrying the evils of the present without properly recognising why those evils exist or what can practically be done to safely shift to a better world.

Here are some questions arising: Has the role of the USA as world policeman been mainly for good or evil? To return to my main interest, can climate change be addressed by cutting emissions? Is religion something that should be opposed or reformed? Have nuclear weapons preserved peace?
User avatar
LanDroid

2A - MOD & BRONZE
Comandante Literario Supreme
Posts: 2808
Joined: Sat Jul 27, 2002 9:51 am
21
Location: Cincinnati, OH
Has thanked: 199 times
Been thanked: 1168 times
United States of America

Re: Slaughterhouse-Five - Chapter 1

Unread post

The subtitle The Children’s Crusade reflects the anti-war message of Slaughterhouse Five. When Vonnegut goes to visit his old war buddy, the wife is angry to hear them talking about the war, so he promises to use this subtitle to reflect that far from glorifying war, like John Wayne and Frank Sinatra, he is condemning it as something that tricks the innocent to death.
Yes I like that story about the subtitle. The woman was rather passive-aggressive-angry at Vonnegut during the visit and when he asked her about it she said "You were just babies then!" That feels like he's describing a real life confrontation and a Truth that becomes even more accurate as wars drag on. Recall reports of pre-adolescent fighters captured later in Germany and Japan. (This is prior to recent "forever wars" where new generations grow up to fight.) Vonnegut dedicates the book to her in addition to the subtitle she inspired.
User avatar
LanDroid

2A - MOD & BRONZE
Comandante Literario Supreme
Posts: 2808
Joined: Sat Jul 27, 2002 9:51 am
21
Location: Cincinnati, OH
Has thanked: 199 times
Been thanked: 1168 times
United States of America

Re: Slaughterhouse-Five - Chapter 1

Unread post

Hopefully this is not a total distraction, but Mr. Tulip probably already knows the book Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds mentioned by Vonnegut is most well known for a description of Tulipomania, where Dutch traders lost fortunes on exotic tulip bulbs. These market frenzies continue to this day; recall the "Dot Com" frenzy a few decades ago and occasional references to a "bubble economy." Probably the most recent example is the "non-fungible token" leading to insane prices paid for crappy 8 bit digital art "certified" by blockchain tech.
User avatar
Robert Tulip

2B - MOD & SILVER
BookTalk.org Hall of Fame
Posts: 6502
Joined: Tue Oct 04, 2005 9:16 pm
18
Location: Canberra
Has thanked: 2730 times
Been thanked: 2666 times
Contact:
Australia

Re: Slaughterhouse-Five - Chapter 1

Unread post

"Kurt Vonnegut" wrote:I looked through the Gideon Bible in my motel room for tales of great destruction. The sun was risen upon the Earth when Lot entered into Zo-ar, I read. Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of Heaven; and He overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that
which grew upon the ground.
So it goes.
Those were vile people in both those cities, as is well known. The world was better off without them.
And Lot's wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human.
She was turned to a pillar of salt. So it goes.
People aren't supposed to look back. I'm certainly not going to do it anymore.
I've finished my war book now. The next one I write is going to be fun.
This one is a failure, and had to be, since it was written by a pillar of salt.
Irony is a key theme in Slaughterhouse Five. Salman Rushdie wrote a review https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-tu ... lls-us-now of the book in which he says ‘Kurt Vonnegut is a deeply ironic writer who has sometimes been read as if he were not.’ For Vonnegut to say the Sodomites deserved death should be read as a deeply ironic reflection upon the justifications that the victors gave for the total destruction of Dresden.

Of course Dresden did not deserve its fate. In no way is the world better off without the cultural legacy that was destroyed in the war. And nor do homosexuals deserve murder; Vonnegut is using this trope to get people to realise the exact opposite is the case.

For Vonnegut to immediately switch to his love of the “so human” action of Lot’s wife leads to his statement of affinity with the pillar of salt, which those who know their Bible will understand. His sympathy with her regret about the destruction of Sodom reflects his own regrets about Dresden.

And Vonnegut’s use of the phrase “as is well known” about Sodomites deserving to die is an ironic nod to Joseph Stalin, who was well known for claiming things he had pulled out of his rear end were well known, as a form of intimidation. “As is well known” has been called ‘a favourite Bolshevik phrase’.

Here are some quotes from the paragon of Bolshevik wisdom
Joseph Stalin the man of steel wrote:as is well known, the quality of our armaments, far from being inferior, was, in general, even superior to the German

As is well known, we have already begun to receive tanks and planes

As is well known, during the first imperialist war it was also intended to destroy one of the great powers, viz., Germany, and to profit at its expense.

As is well known, it was from these contradictions that the recent imperialist war arose.

As is well known, the Non-Aggression Pact between Germany and the USSR is precisely such a pact.
User avatar
Harry Marks
Bookasaurus
Posts: 1922
Joined: Sun May 01, 2011 10:42 am
13
Location: Denver, CO
Has thanked: 2341 times
Been thanked: 1022 times
Ukraine

Re: Slaughterhouse-Five - Chapter 1

Unread post

Robert Tulip wrote: Tue Oct 25, 2022 7:35 pm This book has a therapeutic function in helping Vonnegut and readers to address post traumatic stress disorder. PTSD was not properly recognised in the war years, often seen as ‘shell shock’ or ‘battle fatigue’ that soldiers would get over, although many never did, and those who supposedly recovered often had ongoing undiagnosed personality disorders and damage from their experience of the horrors of war.

Vonnegut’s use of unreliable non-linear narration is something that reflects the flashbacks and dislocation and depression caused by memory of extreme events like surviving a firestorm that flattened a city and killed tens of thousands of people and was widely seen as a horrific war crime that needlessly destroyed priceless cultural heritage.
It is surely true that Vonnegut dealt with some PTSD and some equivalent of PTSD in terms of his sense of meaning being scrambled, like Victor Frankl in Auschwitz. But Vonnegut is transcendent in his embrace of absurdity, recognizing that the experience of a soldier in war, especially modern, technological war, is a kaleidoscopic prism breaking the whole world into fragments even while representing the truth about the modern world in a penetrating way.

World War Two was the great crusade against evil. Hitler started it as a great crusade against . . . against what? The senselessness is captured by the utter incongruity between rhetoric of wounded victimhood and revenge by the "Master Race" and the smashing to bits of everything, the conflagration that razed the beautiful old city and the shapeless, drab modern buildings alike. Vonnegut picked this up on his sense of the times in a way that few writers ever have, though the outpouring of literary disgust at the trench warfare of WWI is surely the archetype of this sort of thing.

He doesn't wallow in disgust. He just keeps shaking his head and acknowledging "and so it goes." The bits of reality that are meant to make a novel draw you in are, instead, constantly disorienting the reader, which is surely the point. We are drawn in to the complete disorientation.
The opening reflects on one friend who “really was shot in Dresden for taking a teapot that wasn't his,” an acquaintance who threatened to murder him, and the tons of human bone meal in the Dresden soil. These are highly traumatic memories. Many former soldiers retreat into a private cocoon of secrecy when remembering such events, which leads to their psychological pain being expressed in destructive ways. So for Vonnegut to work on sharing his memories through this book is constructive for the mental health of himself and many readers.

He explains how hard it was to write the book. He calls the telephone operator and asks to be put through to an old friend, late at night while drinking and smoking. Chatting on the phone to his friend, there is a continual deflation of expectations. Vonnegut calls himself “a trafficker in climaxes and thrills and characterization and wonderful dialogue and suspense and confrontations.” But his friend is not up to all that.
Excellent selection of illustrations of his bass-ackwards way of avoiding his memories even while they haunt him. He is forced to trivialize trauma - it doesn't fit in the orderly life people are trying to live. And the myth of the glorious saving role of the West (Stalin won the war, not Roosevelt or Churchill) sits mocking in the background. Vonnegut's blase recitation of stupid rhymes from his youth is his way of shrugging off the histrionics illustrated by Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est" (quoted below), the classic text repudiating any claims of glory for war after WWI. The thing is, Owen's drama is right and just - the incongruity is obscene. But it isn't faithful to the experience of war followed by homecoming - it aims too high in trying to address the mythmaking of modern propaganda.
Wilfred Owen wrote: Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Post Reply

Return to “Slaughterhouse-Five - by Kurt Vonnegut”