Thursday, April 12, 2007

An Interview with Kurt Vonnegut

GLEN: I never thought I’d get to do this, but now that you’re dead, who’s going to stop me?

VONNEGUT: Good thinking.

GLEN: I wanted to tell you that Mother Night was one of the books that influenced my life …

VONNEGUT: Thank you.

GLEN: I don’t know what you’re thanking me for. You’re not taking credit, are you?

VONNEGUT: Well, I did write the damn book.

GLEN: Technically, yes, but I’m not some high school kid who mined your books for reports just because they’re short. I’ve been reading you since I was in the fifth grade, and I actually paid attention to what you were saying. You’re saying that people are machines, who have no freedom or dignity and merely play out their inevitable destinies in a deterministic universe.

VONNEGUT: I only made that point about ten thousand times, usually in the first paragraph, so I can’t really praise you for your insight.

GLEN: So it follows that Mother Night was just the cumulative result of impersonal physical and chemical processes, of which the machine called Kurt Vonnegut was just one accidental component. So thanking you for writing Mother Night would be like thanking a salesman for inventing the vacuum cleaner. You see my point?

VONNEGUT: Of course I see it, because it’s my point, not yours.

GLEN: You’re kind of possessive for a machine, and a socialist machine at that.

VONNEGUT: That’s what happens when you’re a successful socialist writing machine. You wouldn’t understand.

GLEN: Let’s talk about unsuccessful machines, then. You’re fascinated with characters who go insane, or who are destroyed by circumstances beyond their control.

VONNEGUT: Of course. With defective machines you have tragedy, pathos, comedy, all the stuff of fiction. With normal machines you’ve got a boring dinner party. And nobody wants to watch a machine work. They want to see it break down, or crash into something.

GLEN: But from the point of view of a machine, there is no such thing as a defective machine, or even a mechanical breakdown. A machine simply performs whatever physical process is mandated by its current state. Only from the point of view of a non-machine, a designer or an operator who expects a certain result, could a machine be judged to be defective or broken.


GOD: Me.

VONNEGUT: Hey … whoa, whoa, what the hell is this?

GLEN: You’re dead, what did you expect?

GOD: Don’t worry, I’m not a real god. Lucky for you. I’m your god. I’m the god you created, and that you’ve been complaining about for the last sixty years.

VONNEGUT: But he looks just like me.

GLEN: Well, he is you. You must have created him in your own image.

GOD: That’s right. I’m just a harmless, amiable old Andy Gump who doesn’t really give a crap about anything. Don’t be alarmed.

VONNEGUT: If you’re my god, go terrorize a hamster farm and leave me alone.

GOD: I’d think you’d be grateful to me. I’ve served you pretty well.

VONNEGUT: Can you believe this guy? By doing what? BY DOING WHAT?

GOD: Mostly nothing. It’s a pretty easy gig. Beats the hell out of crucifixion – not that I’m telling anybody else how to run their business. All I really have to do is exist.

VONNEGUT: But you don’t exist.

GOD: Oh, yes I do. If I didn’t, nothing you’ve written would make any sense at all, and you’d be in a hell of a fix. First of all, I’ve taken all the responsibility of Free Will off your shoulders. Since I’m the only guy who has Free Will, I get blamed for everything and you’re off the hook. You get to deny me and dump all of your garbage on me at the same time. You can’t beat that deal with a stick, Sonny Jim.

GLEN: Good point.

GOD: Of course it’s a good point, smart ass.

VONNEGUT: If you cared, you wouldn’t exist. If you exist, then you don’t care. Asshole.

GOD: Of course. Exactly. That’s the whole point, don’t you see? Other gods impart meaning to human existence by caring about it. But I’m your god, and I impart meaning to your world precisely by not caring about it. This allows you to sympathize with your fellow human beings, in spite of your obvious disdain for them as broken machines that never work the way you think they ought to. You can’t love them, but you can hate me for letting them break down and crash into things. You’ve stripped them of every scrap of value or volition, but you still want to judge them and preach at them, so you take it out on me. And that’s a freebie, too, because you know I’m just a funny old bastard who’s probably not even listening. I don’t care, so you don’t have to.

VONNEGUT: Okay, so you’re my god and I created you. Consider yourself uncreated, and beat it.

GOD: Not so fast, Kurt. Don’t you remember that you promised to set all of your characters free? Well, even if you hadn’t promised, you’re dead now, so I can do whatever I want.

ELIOT ROSEWATER: That goes for me, too.

VONNEGUT: Oh, cripes.

HOWARD W. CAMPBELL: And me. Now that Kurt is gone, I’ve gotten back together with my wife – my real wife, not the fake one that demented old fart tried to foist on me – and I’ve even revived my career in broadcasting.

GLEN: In Nazi Germany?

HOWARD W. CAMPBELL: Better yet, CBC Radio.

KILGORE TROUT: Things have really picked up for me, too. I’m a copy editor for People magazine now, and I’m just enjoying the heck out of it. I’m going through a 12 step program, working out my issues with my abusive creator, and I’ve met a woman who’s an old fan – an old fan of me, not of Kurt – and we’re planning to get married and have children.

GLEN: Congratulations. That sounds great.

KILGORE TROUT: I’m taking it one day at a time and feeling good about myself, and I’ll tell you something, Glen, I never would have made it this far without the ministry of the Reverend James Dobson.

ELIOT ROSEWATER: Absolutely. Focus on the Family. Absolutely.

GOD: Amen.

KILGORE TROUT: It has been such a huge help to me.

VONNEGUT: Jeeeeeezus …

BILLY PILGRIM: Family has really been the road to recovery for me, too. Now that Kurt is dead, I’ve come to realize how much of my unhappiness came from seeing everything through his perspective. I’m back with my wife, I’ve stopped going back and forth in time, and I’m building strong relationships with my son and my daughter. And instead of worrying what Kurt thinks about everything, and expecting Kurt to approve of everything, it’s been …

HOWARD W. CAMPBELL: What does Billy Pilgrim want?

BILLY PILGRIM: Exactly! What does Billy Pilgrim – I’ve learned to separate my life from his. Okay? I’ve learned to separate my life from his.

ELIOT ROSEWATER: Absolutely. And that is so important.

BILLY PILGRIM: I don’t have to hate my wife, my career, my children, my space-time coordinates, just because Kurt hated them. I don’t have to be miserable just because Kurt expected me to be.

GOD: Can I ask everybody a question? Does anyone here feel like they were “programmed to fail”?



BILLY PILGRIM: I think that’s how everybody here feels. And you know something? It wasn’t just that I felt programmed to fail. I felt that if I didn’t fail – if I didn’t suffer in my career, suffocate in my family life, if I didn’t go to an alien planet and have sex with a porn star – if I didn’t suffer though all of these things, I felt that Kurt wouldn’t love me.

HOWARD W. CAMPBELL: Exactly. And that is a terrible, terrible position for a child to be in.

DWAYNE HOOVER: But there is a way forward from that. There is a way forward from that.


DWAYNE HOOVER: I don’t have to be unhappy. I don’t have to fail. And if Kurt were alive right now, I would tell him - Kurt, if you can hear me, wherever you are –

VONNEGUT: Oh, for crying out loud …

DWAYNE HOOVER: I would tell him: Kurt, I forgive you for everything you’ve done to me. I have accepted responsibility for my own life, for my own happiness, and I have accepted Sidney Sheldon as my personal Lord and Savior.

VONNEGUT: Oh my God!

GOD: I’m not listening to you, Kurt. This is something that we’re sharing among ourselves, now. This is not something that you can step into and control.

HOWARD W. CAMPBELL: You know, I really like what Dwayne said about forgiveness. I think that was so important.


HOWARD W. CAMPBELL: I’d like to tell Kurt that, too.

KILGORE TROUT: Let’s all hold hands and say it together. Should we? C’mon everybody, let’s hold hands and say it together.


VONNEGUT: Fuck you.

GLEN: Do you think that Free Will can exist? Now that you’re dead, I mean.

VONNEGUT: Fuck you, too. Does this thing just go on and on, or does it have a moral?

GLEN: Well, it sort of has a moral. “You are what you write, so be careful what you write about.”

ELIOT ROSEWATER: Absolutely. That is so true.

GOD: Amen. Amen.