Posts Tagged ‘Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’

Kurt Vonnegut on the shapes of stories

July 27, 2019

Double click to enlarge.

Kurt Vonnegut Diagrams the Shape of All Stories in a Master’s Thesis Rejected by the University of Chicago by Open Culture.  Hat tip to Lambert Strether.

Kurt Vonnegut’s takedown of heroism

November 21, 2018

Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s only play, Happy Birthday, Wanda June, is about the homecoming of Harold Ryan, an adventurer, war hero and big game hunter, after having been lost on the Amazon rain forest for eight years, and how his wi.

The play was first produced in 1970 and revived many times, including this year.  I read it early this month as part of a play-reading group organized by my friend Walter Uhrman.

Ryan’s only moral values are competence, physical courage and strength of will.  He validates himself by killing and risking death on the battlefield and hunting ground, and by dominating women and weaker men.

Vonnegut’s play is a savage and hilariously funny critique of those values, which are now called toxic masculinity.

The wife’s name is Penelope, which is a reference to the homecoming scene in the Odyssey.  Odysseus has spent 10 years at the Siege of Troy and 10 more years wandering the Mediterranean, including several years marooned on an island having sex with a beautiful nymph.

He is the prototype of the action hero—brave, strong and resourceful.  He is able to deal with any situation no matter how perilous.  Homer gives no evidence, though, that he cares for anyone or anything but himself, his rights and his reputation.  All the men under his command perish.

When he arrives home, he expects to resume his role as patriarch as if he had never left.  He expects and gets deference from his wife, son and old servants, and, without mercy, kills not only the unwelcome suitors for his wife’s hand. but also the servants who had given him up for dead.

The Ryan character, fought in the Spanish Civil War and World War Two and was a big game hunter in Africa, is also based on Ernest Hemingway.  A quotation attributed to Hemingway goes, “There is no hunting like the hunting of men, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.”

Hemingway was not actually a hunter of men.  He was an ambulance driver on the Italian front during World War One, and a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War and World War Two.  There is no questioning his physical courage.  He was seriously wounded during World War One, and seriously injured in two successive plane crashes while on safari in Africa, leaving him in physical pain for the remainder of his life.  He was married four times, and was not a home body.

One recurring theme in Hemingway’s fiction is manliness and honor in a world that doesn’t value them.  Many men from the 1920s through the 1950s looked to him as role model of masculinity.

Ryan’s opponent in the play is the pacifist physician, Norbert Woodley, one of Penelope’s suitors.  He loves his mother and doesn’t believe in fighting.  His basic decency is contrasted with Ryan’s bullying.

He confronts Ryan in the final scene, and I understand there are different versions of what happens next.  In the version I read with my friend Walter, Woodley punctures Ryan’s ego by convincing him that people think his heroics are comical.

A synopsis I read on-line gives a more believable ending.  Ryan throws Woodley out the window while Penelope and Ryan’s son Paul walk out on him.

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The coming of the robots

July 8, 2016

This video from Boston Dynamics shows the capability of robots to do human labor—not that they would necessarily be in humanoid form as in the video.

In theory, the use of robots could enable human beings to live lives of voluntary, meaningful, higher-level activity.  In practice, the results probably would be more like Kurt Vonnegut’s dystopian novel, Player Piano, with an elite of engineers and a mass of unemployed or under-employed former workers.

If robots do everything, there will be no high-wage, full-employment economy.  There would be no mass consumer market.  Economic activity would be mainly devoted to serving the needs of the owners of the robots and the engineers and technicians who keep the robots running.

A guaranteed annual income would not be a solution.  Human beings degenerate if they have nothing useful to do.

Maybe a new economy would arise—a robot economy serving the elite and a parallel human economy serving the majority of humanity.

Or maybe—in some way I can’t foresee—robotic technology would come under democratic control, and there would be a public debate as to how robotics could be used to benefit everyone and not just a few.

LINKS

New Rossum’s Universal Robots: Toward a Most Minimal Wage by Fred Reed for Fred on Everything.  Lots of interesting links.

Toyota in talks to acquire Boston Dynamics from Google by Danielle Muoio for Tech Insider.

When the Robots Rise by Lee Drutman and Yascha  Mounk for The National Interest [added 7/11/2016]

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. on taking a moment

September 28, 2014

2012-03-21-KURT-VONNEGUTSource: Zen Pencils

Good advice for the new graduating class

June 23, 2013

This is based on a commencement speech that was never delivered and was not written by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Click on Real ‘sunscreen speech’ author sets the record straight and Sunscreen, Vonnegut and the Internet for the true story of the sunscreen speech.

Click on Commencement Speech for the text.

Hat tip to Unqualified Offerings.

Kurt Vonnegut’s eight rules for writing fiction

December 26, 2010

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

via troubling.info.

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