Wampeters Foma & Granfalloons


Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

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Wampeters Foma & Granfalloons

Copyright © 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974 by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.


Reflections on My Own Death

copyright © 1972 by THE ROTARIAN MAGAZINE

When I think about my own death, I don’t console myself with the idea that my descendants and my books and all that will live on. Anybody with any sense knows that the whole solar system will go up like a celluloid collar by-and-by. I honestly believe, though, that we are wrong to think that moments go away, never to be seen again. This moment and every moment lasts forever.



In a Manner That Must Shame God Himself

First published in Harper’s Magazine

The Winners in America have had them bombed and shot day in and day out, for years on end. This is not madness or foolishness, as some people have suggested. It is a way for the Winners to learn how to be pitiless. They understand that the material resources of the planet are almost exhausted, and that pity will soon be a form of suicide.



The convention had left me speechless. It was so heavily guarded, spiritually and physically, that I hadn’t been able to see or hear anything that wasn’t already available in an official press release. “It’s Disneyland under martial law,” I said.

McGovern, I gathered, though nobody said so out loud, was the butt of a rather elegant practical joke. He was a Winner who had been encouraged by other Winners to identify himself with Losers, to bury himself up to his neck in the horseshit of Populism, so to speak.

Losers hate to vote for Losers. They know what Losers are.

So Nixon would win.

But there was a Pavlovian thing going on, and it has been going on for many years now: The wishes of the hostile crowds were invariably humanitarian, and the crowds weren’t even hostile most of the time. But wherever they went, armies of policemen went too—to protect nice people from them.

So a Pavlovian connection has been made in the minds of people who are really awfully nice: When more than two people show up with a humanitarian idea, the police should be called.


If the police don’t act immediately, and if the humanitarians behave in a manner that is dignified or beautiful or heartbreaking, there is still something nice people can do.

They can ignore the humanitarians.

Every so often somebody tells me that it is a delicious fact of history that clowns have often been the most effective revolutionaries. That isn’t true. Cruel social machines in the past have needed clowns for lubrication so much that they have often manufactured them.



Thinking Unthinkable, Speaking Unspeakable

[...] she was no longer able to believe in a romance which in the past has made us so energetic when defending our soldiers—the romance of their being innocent soldier boys.

We have made our soldiers ghastly by giving them ghastly things to do.



I do think, though, that we will continue to elect priggish, ignorant, stubborn people to high office. Their blind enthusiasms, commonly learned at their mothers’ knees, will lead us into more noble experiments.

Humanity will again fail to cooperate—because the experiments will be incomprehensible to most human beings, and painful and wasteful besides. Humanity will come to look like a defective machine to the noble experimenters. They will order our policemen and soldiers to bang on it hard, to make it run smoothly.

The experimenters will again force our policemen and soldiers to disgrace themselves in public. Sorry about that.




Address at Rededication of Wheaton College Library, 1973

First published in Vogue as
“America: What’s Good”

I am not pure. We are not pure. Our nation is not pure. And I insist that at the core of the American tragedy, best exemplified by the massacre of civilians at My Lai, is the illusion engendered by Word War Two: that in the war between good and evil we are always, perfectly naturally, on the side of good. This is what makes us so unrestrained in the uses of weaponry.

We trust ourselves so much with weapons that many American households keep firearms as pets. [...] They are killing machines. That is all they are. We should dread them the way we dread cancer and cyanide and electric chairs.



When I learned politeness at my mother’s knee—God rest her soul, God rest her knee—I learned not to offend anyone by discussing excretion, reproduction, religion, or a person’s sources of wealth. We are free to discuss all those things now. Our minds aren’t crippled anymore by good taste. And I can see now all the other more sinister taboos which mingled with sexuality and excretion, such as religious hypocrisy and ill-gotten wealth. If we are to discuss truthfully what America is and what it can become, our discussion must be in absolutely rotten taste, or we won’t be discussing it at all.



Address to P.E.N. Conference in Stockholm, 1973

Fiction is harmless. Fiction is so much hot air.

The Vietnam war has proved this. Virtually every American fiction writer was against our participation in that civil war. We all raised hell about the war for years and years—with novels and poems and plays and short stories. We dropped on our complacent society the literary equivalent of a hydrogen bomb.

I will now report to you the power of such a bomb. It has the explosive force of a very large banana-cream pie—a pie two meters in diameter, twenty centimeters thick, and dropped from a height of ten meters or more.


Vietnam War

While it is true that we American fiction writers failed to modify the course of the war, we have reason to suspect that we have poisoned the minds of thousands or perhaps millions of American young people. Our hope is that the poison will make them worse than useless in unjust wars.

We shall see.

Unfortunately, that still leaves plenty of Americans who don’t read or think much—who will still be extremely useful in unjust wars. We are sick about that. We did the best we could.

A Political Disease

Review of Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72, by Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.

First published in Harper’s Magazine

But we will be doing what he wants us to do, I think, if we consider his exterior a sort of Dorian Gray facade. Inwardly, he is being eaten alive by tinhorn politicians.

The disease is fatal. There is no known cure. The most we can do for the poor devil, it seems to me, is to name his disease in his honor. From this moment on, let all those who feel that Americans can be as easily led to beauty as to ugliness, to truth as to public relations, to joy as to bitterness, be said to be suffering from Hunter Thompson’s disease.


Hunter Thompson

Playboy Interview

copyright © 1973 by PLAYBOY

I agree with Stalin and Hitler and Mussolini that the writer should serve his society. I differ with dictators as to how writers should serve. Mainly, I think they should be—and biologically have to be—agents of change. For the better, we hope.
That’s what I object to about preachers. They don’t say anything to make anybody any happier, when there are all these neat lies you can tell. And everything is a lie, because our brains are two-bit computers, and we can’t get very high-grade truths out of them. But as far as improving the human condition goes, our minds are certainly up to that. That’s what they were designed to do. And we do have the freedom to make up comforting lies. But we don’t do enough of it.



And they realized that if you lose, if you don’t rise in our society, you’re going to live in the midst of great ugliness, that the police are going to try to drive you back there every time you try to leave. And so people trapped like that have really considered all the possibilities. [...]

So what can you do? You can change your mind. You can change your insides. The drug thing was a perfectly marvelous, resourceful, brave experiment.



It’s sort of self-congratulatory to be the person who walks around pitying other people. I don’t do that very much. I just know that there are plenty of people who are in terrible trouble and can’t get out. And so I’m impatient with those who think that it’s easy for people to get out of trouble.

I used to make speeches a lot, because I needed the money. Sometimes I was funny. And my peak funniness came when I was at Notre Dame, at a literary festival there. It was in a huge auditorium and the audience was so tightly tuned that everything I said was funny. All I had to do was cough or clear my throat and the whole place would break up. This is a really horrible story I’m telling. People were laughing because they were in agony, full of pain they couldn’t do anything about. They were sick and helpless because Martin Luther King had been shot two days before. [...] I’ve got mildly comical stuff I do, but it was in the presence of grief that the laughter was the greatest. There was an enormous need to either laugh or cry as the only possible adjustment. There was nothing you could do to bring King back. So the biggest laughs are based on the biggest disappointments and the biggest fears.



My books are essentially mosaics made up of a whole bunch of tiny little chips; and each chip is a joke. They may be five lines long or eleven lines long. If I were writing tragically, I could have great sea changes there, a great serious steady flow. Instead, I’ve gotten into the joke business.

Compare to:

Kilgore Trout’s writing

It was a stereotype at one time and it was useful to the politicians and the industrialists that scientists wouldn’t worry about the implications of their discoveries. But they’ve learned that anything they turn up will be applied if it can be. It’s a law of life that if you turn up something that can be used violently, it will be used violently. I’ve been proud of my brother because of the actual innocence of his work—like cloud-seeding with dry ice and silver iodide. He discovered that silver iodide would make it snow and rain under certain conditions. And I watched his shock about a year ago when it came out that we had been seeding the hell out of Indochina for years.



How’s that for science fiction? There was this modern country with a wonderful Constitution, and it kidnaped human beings and used them as machines. It stopped it after a while, but by then it had millions of descendants of those kidnaped people all over the country. What if they turned out to be so human that they wanted revenge of some kind? McGovern’s opinion was that they should be treated like anybody else. It was the opinion of the white electorate that this was a dangerous thing to do.



I didn’t learn until I was in college about all the other cultures, and I should have learned that in the first grade. A first-grader should understand that his culture isn’t a rational invention; that there are thousands of other cultures and they all work pretty well; that all cultures function on faith rather than truth; that there are lots of alternatives to our own society. [...] Of course, now cultural relativity is fashionable—and that probably has something to do with my popularity among young people. But it’s more than fashionable—it’s defensible, attractive. It’s also a source of hope. It means we don’t have to continue this way if we don’t like it.



text checked (see note) Apr 2009

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