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Slaughterhouse-Five - Chapter 5

#185: Nov. 2022 - Jan. 2023 (Fiction)
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Slaughterhouse-Five - Chapter 5

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Slaughterhouse-Five
Chapter 5


Please use this thread to discuss the above chapter of Slaughterhouse-Five.
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Re: Slaughterhouse-Five - Chapter 5

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In the spirit of the a-temporal style of Slaughterhouse Five, I am jumping ahead to Chapter 5.

Tralfamadorians can see where each star has been and where it is going, so that the heavens are filled with rarefied, luminous spaghetti.

Maybe this is where the idea of the Great Spaghetti Monster came from?

Apparently, Tralfamadorians don't see human beings as two-legged creatures, either. They see them as great millipedes with babies' legs at one end and old people's legs at the other,' says Billy Pilgrim.

That makes no sense. We have the same two legs as a bub that we have in our dying casket.

His captors had five million Earthling books on microfilm, but no way to project them in Billy's cabin.

So they grabbed 1960s microfilm books but failed to consider a reading mechanism. I would say typical, except Tralfamadorians are meant to be smart. If they were real, they would have just lobbed into 2022 and collected the books on the internet, while giving Billy Pilgrim an iPhone to read them with.

Tralfamadorian books have no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What they love in their books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.'

Even if you could see all moments at one time, you would still understand that time flows with causality, like walking along a wall and seeing how each part connects to the part next to it.
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Re: Slaughterhouse-Five - Chapter 5

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The time travel ability gets underway with Billy getting flung back into his childhood, visiting the Grand Canyon and Carlsbad Caverns. The interesting thing about these stories is how events in our childhood can have such big influence on our psychology. Billy is terrified, first that he will fall into the Canyon, where he learns people regularly kill themselves, and then that the total dark in the cave will cause the ceiling to fall in. Everyone can think back to early memories that either really affected their personality, or that revealed their underlying character.

But the biggest influence on Billy Pilgrim was the war. He time travels to the delousing station, where the clothes he has been given are humiliating, and he becomes a complete embarrassment for the valour and dignity of the US Army, an object of derision and mockery, surrounded by starving Russians with faces like radium dials, like the clock face his father showed him in the dark of Carlsbad.

The device of time travel in Slaughterhouse Five enables rapid switching between phases of his life, so the connections between the phases can be seen as the different plots are braided together. Earlier in the book we learnt of the worry that Billy’s daughter Barbara has about him, especially his Tralfamadore nonsense. We will be invited to wonder if Billy unknowingly derived this false belief from the novels of Kilgore Trout.

I first read Slaughterhouse Five about forty years ago, and it has been remarkable to see what I remember and what I forget. I remember Paul Lazzarro killing the dog as an act of cruel revenge. I remember the British officer POW giving the following advice:
Kurt Vonnegut wrote:What the Englishman said about survival was this 'If you stop taking pride in your
appearance, you will very soon die.' He said that he had seen several men die in the
following way: They ceased to stand up straight, then ceased to shave or wash, then
ceased to get out of bed, then ceased to talk, then died. There is this much to be said for
it: it is evidently a very easy and painless way to go.' So it goes.
The Englishman said that he, when captured, had made and kept the following vows to
himself: To brush his teeth twice a day, to shave once a day, to wash his face and hands
before every meal and after going to the latrine, to polish his shoes once a day, to
exercise for at least half an hour each morning and then move his bowels, and to look into
a mirror frequently, frankly evaluating his appearance, particularly with respect to
posture.
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Re: Slaughterhouse-Five - Chapter 5

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Robert Tulip wrote: Sun Dec 04, 2022 7:03 am "Tralfamadorians can see where each star has been and where it is going, so that the heavens are filled with rarefied, luminous spaghetti."

Maybe this is where the idea of the Great Spaghetti Monster came from?
Here is uncontrovertible evidence Karl was a Pastafarian - https://www.spaghettimonster.org/2007/1 ... ouse-five/

Sadly no one in this fifteen year old thread notices the key idea that the spaghetti is the path of stars through time, based on the idea that all moments of time are equally real. I'm sure this was one of the biggest influences on my own thinking about eternity, reinforced by my later reading of Parmenides, Heidegger and Castaneda.
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Re: Slaughterhouse-Five - Chapter 5

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Mr. Tulip wrote:That makes no sense. We have the same two legs as a bub that we have in our dying casket.
C'mon, wurk with Kurt! 😁 You couldn't walk with your bub legs and you would not want to run - God willing - with the legs of your 95 year old self! I think that millipede reference is pretty cool.

I also like the Englishman's advice on avoiding an early death. I've tried to pay attention to that (other than the British obsessions with shoe polishing and crapping) and have seen folks 20 years my junior who act 20 years older than me. Although I must express gratitude to the Universe that I have been very lucky in the health department, i.e. I am not smug or arrogant about my situation.
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Re: Slaughterhouse-Five - Chapter 5

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Just finished Chapter 5. I must say it is not easy to see what thread KV is using to hold together his chapters. If there is one here I would say, based on the last part of the chapter, that it is his disgust with superiority. Perhaps he has in mind that the destruction of other people (and so it goes) is so often done by people "because they can." So he is disgusted with the manipulations of the Tralfamadorians, with the domineering daughter, who is excited that she can take away mad old Billy Pilgrim's dignity in the name of love. He is most obviously disgusted by the superiority of the Europeans (especially the officers, who are, of course, upper class) who look down on Americans for thinking themselves as good as others. He puts their thoughts in the mouth of a traitor (I had the feeling he was an actual person, but wiki says no, he was the creation of an earlier Vonnegut novel, "Mother Night") named Howard Campbell, Jr.
By contrast, when the Tralfies bring a woman to mate with him, Billy announces angelically that she should not be afraid. Though she is a motion picture star, he does not press his suit, and only when she asks if he wouldn't like to sleep with her does he do so. And it is heavenly.
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Re: Slaughterhouse-Five - Chapter 5

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Harry Marks wrote: Fri Dec 16, 2022 11:20 pm Just finished Chapter 5. I must say it is not easy to see what thread KV is using to hold together his chapters.
Hi Harry, very pleased to see your comment, which I can’t thank because the thank button is mysteriously missing from this thread, to the extent that clicking a button is necessary to actually convey thanks. The constant shifting between different times of Billy’s life reflects the underlying theme of post traumatic stress, whereby Kurt Vonnegut was so affected by his Dresden war experience that his flashbacks and memories of that vivid time seem somehow more real to him than his current experiences. The Tralfamadorian sense that all times are equally real arises from a Stoic sense of eternity, an ability to equally inhabit all moments of life. This eternal trope provides a convenient novel device, keeping the reader engaged by constantly switching from one time to another, so all the plots weave together in a braid.
Harry Marks wrote: Fri Dec 16, 2022 11:20 pm If there is one here I would say, based on the last part of the chapter, that it is his disgust with superiority.
What readers love about Kurt Vonnegut is his whimsical irony, or maybe his ironic whimsy, or maybe his irenic whims. Now I am wondering about the relationship between ireny and irony – actions aimed at peace that use a mocking laughter about the stupid ignorance that leads to war.

http://www.vonnegutreview.com/2013/05/i ... rican.html is a good discussion of Vonnegut’s motivation. ‘So it goes’, the constant refrain in the face of death, provides the ultimate irony of stoic acceptance of the absurdity of existence. The irony is that Vonnegut is saying that is just the way things are, even though we may like to imagine and pretend that horror and terror are not part of the human condition. Disgust with superiority, deconstructing the delusions that enable conflict and disdain, brings a profound ethical reflection, observing the absence of thought in how people instinctively behave. Again the irony that we pretend to be intelligent and rational even when motivated by revenge and domination.
Harry Marks wrote: Fri Dec 16, 2022 11:20 pm Perhaps he has in mind that the destruction of other people (and so it goes) is so often done by people "because they can."
This brings to mind Thucydides’ description of the Athenian conquest of Melos – in the Melian Dialogue the Athenians say “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” It also brings to mind Marx’s comment that history repeats first as tragedy and then as farce. Hitler and Stalin and other tyrants did what they could, partly because the scale of deliberate genocide they practiced had no immediate precedent. When something has happened that causes all to recoil with moral horror, it can have varying effects. For some it is far more difficult to do it again because people can see the trajectory from the initial path of terror, while for others it makes it easier because once broken a taboo can be broken again. The value of literature describing acts of mindless destructive terror like the bombing of Dresden is that reading it helps people to reflect on their own ethical values, and to see that mindless revenge has appalling effects that should be avoided and prevented.
Harry Marks wrote: Fri Dec 16, 2022 11:20 pm So he is disgusted with the manipulations of the Tralfamadorians, with the domineering daughter, who is excited that she can take away mad old Billy Pilgrim's dignity in the name of love.
‘Disgusted’ doesn’t seem the right word. I found the description of Billy’s daughter Barbara far more nuanced. It is clear that when an old traumatised war veteran has suffered brain damage from a plane crash that killed everyone else on board, he could easily start imagining that the science fiction novels he has read are fact. That is the actual plot in Slaughterhouse Five, with key elements of Tralfamadore coming from Kilgore Trout. Billy is lucky to have a daughter who is so concerned for his welfare. Elderly people without children can find themselves totally isolated. Vonnegut is asking us to have more compassion for crazy people, to recognise that often our conventional opinions might be wrong. But really, if a person actually went on radio saying what Billy Pilgrim said, people would regard a daughter as negligent if she failed to express the concern about his sanity that Barbara shows. The twist of suspended disbelief is that the science fiction story tells us these events really happened. It makes the story a parable for how our most obvious assumptions (eg that the Tralfamadore story is delusional) can be wrong.
Harry Marks wrote: Fri Dec 16, 2022 11:20 pm He is most obviously disgusted by the superiority of the Europeans (especially the officers, who are, of course, upper class) who look down on Americans for thinking themselves as good as others.
You seem to be talking about the mockery of British culture among the prisoner of war officers. I did not think he was obviously disgusted at all. In fact I thought he was quite impressed by them.
Harry Marks wrote: Fri Dec 16, 2022 11:20 pm He puts their thoughts in the mouth of a traitor (I had the feeling he was an actual person, but wiki says no, he was the creation of an earlier Vonnegut novel, "Mother Night") named Howard Campbell, Jr.
There were a lot of Nazi sympathisers in the UK and USA - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazism_in_the_Americas
The British officers in the prisoner of war camp were not Nazi sympathisers.
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Re: Slaughterhouse-Five - Chapter 5

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Robert Tulip wrote: Sat Dec 24, 2022 7:06 am
Harry Marks wrote: Fri Dec 16, 2022 11:20 pm If there is one here I would say, based on the last part of the chapter, that it is his disgust with superiority.
What readers love about Kurt Vonnegut is his whimsical irony,

Disgust with superiority, deconstructing the delusions that enable conflict and disdain, brings a profound ethical reflection, observing the absence of thought in how people instinctively behave. Again the irony that we pretend to be intelligent and rational even when motivated by revenge and domination.

The value of literature describing acts of mindless destructive terror like the bombing of Dresden is that reading it helps people to reflect on their own ethical values, and to see that mindless revenge has appalling effects that should be avoided and prevented.
Thanks for the good discussion. I appreciated the citations to earlier writers on what the strong do. A few chapters further on I have more to say about it.

The word "appalling" has special significance here. Much of KV's phlegmatic irony seems to reflect the fact that he is appalled - so appalled that the condition seems to be permanent. Somehow it fits: he can no longer take anything seriously, having seen industrial scale stupidity and depravity.
Robert Tulip wrote: Sat Dec 24, 2022 7:06 am
Harry Marks wrote: Fri Dec 16, 2022 11:20 pm So he is disgusted with the manipulations of the Tralfamadorians, with the domineering daughter, who is excited that she can take away mad old Billy Pilgrim's dignity in the name of love.
‘Disgusted’ doesn’t seem the right word. I found the description of Billy’s daughter Barbara far more nuanced. It is clear that when an old traumatised war veteran has suffered brain damage from a plane crash that killed everyone else on board, he could easily start imagining that the science fiction novels he has read are fact. That is the actual plot in Slaughterhouse Five, with key elements of Tralfamadore coming from Kilgore Trout. Billy is lucky to have a daughter who is so concerned for his welfare.
And yet as I read it I did not get a sense of his luck at all. Yes, I think KV recognizes that she is being helpful, but he is appalled at her shallow lack of actual empathy and her attachment to convention. The narrator's comment is that "it was very exciting for her, taking his dignity away in the name of love." To some extent this may be KV commenting on how civilians cannot make sense of the viewpoint of soldiers who return home after such appalling trauma. Their lack of empathy is not appalling but it is obnoxious to him. With some effort the person caring for a PTSD case can actually find what is there to be understood. Readers in the age of nuclear fear could not help but understand how appalling it all is, and we easily take his side despite the disjointed, incoherent way the life of Billy Pilgrim unfolds.
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