Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Timequake: A Discourse

This is the truth:

I was not expecting Timequake to be slightly autobiographical, but something a tish more timey-wimey.

But that's okay, because Vonnegut is still my hero. And, in light of that fact, there were still tons of interesting things in this book.

A Timequake is when the Universe recedes, forcing the inhabitants to relive x number of years of their lives. For the novel, it was ten years. Life is a constant deja vu, where you can't change anything until it finished. And then free will finally kicks in again.

I say in speeches that a plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit. I am then asked if I know of any artists who pulled that off. I reply, "The Beatles did."


Henry David Thoreau said most famously, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."

So it is not one whit mysterious that we poison the water and the topsoil, and construct ever more cunning doomsday devices, both industrial and military. Let us be perfectly for a change. For practically everybody, the end of the world can't come soon enough.


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, to quote the old science fiction writer Kilgore Trout, "being alive is a crock of shit."

This is actually a theme that shows up especially at the beginning of the novel: a scientist working on the H- Bomb comes home to his wife, a pediatrician. As he works to build a bomb to go kablooey on thousands of people -- children included, she works towards healing the children. Odd, isn't it?

Vonegutt described World War II thus: "civilization's second unsuccessful attempt to commit suicide."

Chief among manmade epiphanies for me have been stage plays. Trout called them "artificial timequakes." He said, "Before Earthlings knew there were such things as timequakes in Nature, they invented them." And it's true. Actors know everything they are going to say and do, and how everything is going to come out in the end, for good or ill, when the curtain goes up on Act One, Scene One. Yet they have no choice but behave as though the future were a mystery.

Perhaps that is the allure of chance music: every sound is an adventure.

What hit me really hard that night, though, was the character Emily's farewell in the last scene, after the mourners have gone back down the hill to their village, having buried her. She says, Good-by, good-by, world. Good-by, Grover's Corners...Mama and Pap. Good-by to clocks ticking...and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths...and sleeping and waking up. Oh earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you.

"Do human beings ever realize life while they live it? -- every, every minute?"

Torchwood had an episode about this. It was called "Random Shoes."

Why is everyone in such a hurry to die?

Every minute should be an adventure.

[when asked if he memorized a lot of Shakespeare] "Yes, dear colleague, including a single sentence which describes life as lived by human beings so completely that no writer after him need ever have written another word...: 'All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.' "

Life as an Artificial Timequake


I think they both agree that tragedy is always an option, no matter what sort of stage we're on.

And that's just sad.

When the timequake ended, two things were said:

Wake up! Wake up! You've got free will again and there's work to do!


Wake up! Wake up! You were sick but now you're well again!

...I asked Kilgore Trout for his ballpark opinion of John Wilkes Booth. He said Booth's performance in Ford's Theater in Washington D.C, on the night of Good Friday, April 14th, 1865, when he shot Lincoln and then jumped from a theater box to the stage, breaking his leg, was "the sort of thing which is bound to happen whenever an actor creates his own material.

I think this passage, towards the end of the novel, nicely puts a series of questions and ideas readers can ponder if they so wish:

If humans have free will, then life is not a Timequake (or a stage on a play).
If humans have free will, we drop bombs on Japan or assassinate presidents and musicians or people in general.
Is that why humans wish to die? (Vonnegut also relates a story of a musician who cries, "Shoot me while I'm happy!")

If humans do not have free will, then we are characters in a play -- someone else's continuous Timequake.
I humans do not have free will, then humans are sick. If humans decide to adlib their way through life, as did Booth, does that mean we are really better? (see quote above)
Is that why humans wish to die?

I have heard of an eastern monarch who once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence which would be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words, 'And this too shall pass away.'

So let's wake up and smell the roses before they're gone too.

There's work to do (work that doesn't include assassination or murder or wars). Bikes won't ride themselves. There's sex to be had and stories to write.

Life to be lived.

Other random thoughts:

[when folks advised Newton to brush up on theology]I like to think they did this not because they were foolish, but to remind him of how comforting and encouraging the make-believe of religion can be for common folk.

To quote from Kilgore Trout's story "Empire State"...: Science never cheered up anyone. The truth about the human condition is just too awful."

I've often described atheism as walking over sharp rocks with bare feet. However, walking somewhere is better than never poking one's head out the cave to see what, exactly, is making all those shadows.

...Bernie and Trout had both, since their earliest adolescence, played games in their heads that began with this question: "If such-and-such were the case in our surroundings, what then, what then?"

Ie, Science Fiction.

She died believing in the Trinity and heaven and Hell and all the rest of it. I'm so glad. Why? Because I loved her.

I wish my extended family were big enough to be happy that I was happy in my beliefs for the simple reason that they loved me. I wish I were big enough to give them the same gift.

And even in 1996, I in speeches propose the following amendments to the Constitution: Article XXVIII: Every newborn shall be sincerely welcomed and cared for until maturity.

Aritlce XXIX: Every adult who needs it shall be given meaningful work to do, at a living wage.


Article XXXI: Every effort shall be made to make every person feel that he or she will be sorely missed when he or she is gone.

I think that one speaks for itself.

All quotes taken from Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut

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