Kurt Vonnegut quotes

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Kurt Vonnegut

Birthdate: 11. November 1922
Date of death: 11. April 2007
Other names: Vonegut, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was an American writer. In a career spanning over 50 years, Vonnegut published fourteen novels, three short story collections, five plays, and five works of non-fiction, with further collections being published after his death. He is most famous for his darkly satirical, best-selling novel Slaughterhouse-Five .

Born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana, Vonnegut attended Cornell University but dropped out in January 1943 and enlisted in the United States Army. As part of his training, he studied mechanical engineering at Carnegie Institute of Technology and the University of Tennessee. He was then deployed to Europe to fight in World War II and was captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. He was interned in Dresden and survived the Allied bombing of the city by taking refuge in a meat locker of the slaughterhouse where he was imprisoned. After the war, Vonnegut married Jane Marie Cox, with whom he had three children. He later adopted his sister's three sons, after she died of cancer and her husband was killed in a train accident.

Vonnegut published his first novel, Player Piano, in 1952. The novel was reviewed positively but was not commercially successful. In the nearly 20 years that followed, Vonnegut published several novels that were only marginally successful, such as Cat's Cradle and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater . Vonnegut's breakthrough was his commercially and critically successful sixth novel, Slaughterhouse-Five. The book's anti-war sentiment resonated with its readers amidst the ongoing Vietnam War and its reviews were generally positive. After its release, Slaughterhouse-Five went to the top of The New York Times Best Seller list, thrusting Vonnegut into fame. He was invited to give speeches, lectures and commencement addresses around the country and received many awards and honors.

Later in his career, Vonnegut published several autobiographical essays and short-story collections, including Fates Worse Than Death , and A Man Without a Country . After his death, he was hailed as a morbidly comical commentator on the society in which he lived and as one of the most important contemporary writers. Vonnegut's son Mark published a compilation of his father's unpublished compositions, titled Armageddon in Retrospect. In 2017, Seven Stories Press published Complete Stories, a collection of Vonnegut's short fiction including five previously unpublished stories. Complete Stories was collected and introduced by Vonnegut friends and scholars Jerome Klinkowitz and Dan Wakefield. Numerous scholarly works have examined Vonnegut's writing and humor.

Works

Player Piano
Player Piano
Kurt Vonnegut
Hocus Pocus
Hocus Pocus
Kurt Vonnegut
Mother Night
Mother Night
Kurt Vonnegut
Slaughterhouse-Five
Slaughterhouse-Five
Kurt Vonnegut
Bluebeard
Bluebeard
Kurt Vonnegut
Cat's Cradle
Cat's Cradle
Kurt Vonnegut
Palm Sunday
Palm Sunday
Kurt Vonnegut
Slapstick
Kurt Vonnegut
Jailbird
Jailbird
Kurt Vonnegut
Deadeye Dick
Deadeye Dick
Kurt Vonnegut
Galápagos
Galápagos
Kurt Vonnegut
Timequake
Timequake
Kurt Vonnegut
Bagombo Snuff Box
Bagombo Snuff Box
Kurt Vonnegut

Quotes Kurt Vonnegut

„I thought scientists were going to find out exactly how everything worked, and then make it work better.“

—  Kurt Vonnegut

Bennington College address (1970)
Context: I thought scientists were going to find out exactly how everything worked, and then make it work better. I fully expected that by the time I was twenty-one, some scientist, maybe my brother, would have taken a color photograph of God Almighty — and sold it to Popular Mechanics magazine.
Scientific truth was going to make us so happy and comfortable. What actually happened when I was twenty-one was that we dropped scientific truth on Hiroshima.

„People who find those lessons irrelevant in the twentieth century are simply using science as an excuse for greed and harshness. Science has nothing to do with it, friends.“

—  Kurt Vonnegut

Bennington College address (1970)
Context: A great swindle of our time is the assumption that science has made religion obsolete. All science has damaged is the story of Adam and Eve and the story of Jonah and the Whale. Everything else holds up pretty well, particularly lessons about fairness and gentleness. People who find those lessons irrelevant in the twentieth century are simply using science as an excuse for greed and harshness. Science has nothing to do with it, friends.

„Bad guys turned informer. Good guys didn't — no matter when, no matter what.“

—  Kurt Vonnegut, book Player Piano

Source: Player Piano (1952), Chapter 31 (p. 293)
Context: Here it was again, the most ancient of roadforks, one that Paul had glimpsed before, in Kroner's study, months ago. The choice of one course or the other had nothing to do with machines, hierarchies, economics, love, age. It was a purely internal matter. Every child older than six knew the fork, and knew what the good guys did here, and what the bad guys did here. The fork was a familiar one in folk tales the world over, and the good guys and the bad guys, whether in chaps, breechclouts, serapes, leopardskins, or banker's gray pinstripes, all separated here.
Bad guys turned informer. Good guys didn't — no matter when, no matter what.

„A first grader should understand that his or her 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. Cultural relativity is defensible and attractive. It's also a source of hope. It means we don't have to continue this way if we don't like it.“

—  Kurt Vonnegut

Playboy interview (1973)
Context: I've often thought there ought to be a manual to hand to little kids, telling them what kind of planet they're on, why they don't fall off it, how much time they've probably got here, how to avoid poison ivy, and so on. I tried to write one once. It was called Welcome to Earth. But I got stuck on explaining why we don't fall off the planet. Gravity is just a word. It doesn't explain anything. If I could get past gravity, I'd tell them how we reproduce, how long we've been here, apparently, and a little bit about evolution. 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 or her 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. Cultural relativity is defensible and attractive. It's also a source of hope. It means we don't have to continue this way if we don't like it.

„Symbols can be so beautiful, sometimes.“

—  Kurt Vonnegut, book Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast of Champions (1973)
Context: I was on par with the Creator of the Universe there in the dark in the cocktail lounge. I shrunk the Universe to a ball exactly one light-year in diameter. I had it explode. I had it disperse itself again.
Ask me a question, any question. How old is the Universe? It is one half-second old, but the half-second has lasted one quintillion years so far. Who created it? Nobody created it. It has always been here.
What is time? It is a serpent which eats its tail, like this:
This is the snake which uncoiled itself long enough to offer Eve the apple, which looked like this:
What was the apple which Eve and Adam ate? It was the Creator of the Universe.
And so on.
Symbols can be so beautiful, sometimes.

„By reading the writings of the most interesting minds in history, we meditate with our own minds and theirs as well.“

—  Kurt Vonnegut, book Palm Sunday

"The Noodle Factory", speech given at the dedication of the Shain Library at Connecticut College, New London
Palm Sunday (1981)
Context: And I believe that reading and writing are the most nourishing forms of meditation anyone has so far found. By reading the writings of the most interesting minds in history, we meditate with our own minds and theirs as well. This to me is a miracle.

„Even crazier than golf, though, is modern American politics, where, thanks to TV and for the convenience of TV, you can only be one of two kinds of human beings, either a liberal or a conservative.“

—  Kurt Vonnegut

Cold Turkey (2004)
Context: I have to say this in defense of humankind: No matter in what era in history, including the Garden of Eden, everybody just got there. And, except for the Garden of Eden, there were already all these crazy games going on, which could make you act crazy, even if you weren’t crazy to begin with. Some of the games that were already going on when you got here were love and hate, liberalism and conservatism, automobiles and credit cards, golf and girls’ basketball.
Even crazier than golf, though, is modern American politics, where, thanks to TV and for the convenience of TV, you can only be one of two kinds of human beings, either a liberal or a conservative.

„The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake.“

—  Kurt Vonnegut, book A Man Without a Country

A Man Without a Country (2005)
Context: If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don't have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I'm not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.

„There's only one rule that I know of, babies — "God damn it, you've got to be kind."“

—  Kurt Vonnegut, book God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965)
Context: Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies — "God damn it, you've got to be kind."

„Yesterday's snow job becomes today's sermon.“

—  Kurt Vonnegut, book Player Piano

Source: Player Piano (1952), Chapter 9 (p. 93)
Context: "Strange business," said Lasher. "This crusading spirit of the managers and engineers, the idea of designing and manufacturing and distributing being sort of a holy war: all that folklore was cooked up by public relations and advertising men hired by managers and engineers to make big business popular in the old days, which it certainly wasn't in the beginning. Now, the engineers and managers believe with all their hearts the glorious things their forebears hired people to say about them. Yesterday's snow job becomes today's sermon."

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„Democracy owed its life to know-how.“

—  Kurt Vonnegut, book Player Piano

Source: Player Piano (1952), Chapter 1 (p. 9)
Context: During the war, in hundreds of Iliums over America, managers and engineers learned to get along without their men and women, who went to fight. It was the miracle that won the war — production with almost no manpower. In the patois of the north side of the river, it was the know-how that won the war. Democracy owed its life to know-how.

„I think William Shakespeare was the wisest human being I ever heard of. To be perfectly frank, though, that's not saying much.“

—  Kurt Vonnegut, book Hocus Pocus

Hocus Pocus (1990)
Context: I think William Shakespeare was the wisest human being I ever heard of. To be perfectly frank, though, that's not saying much. We are impossibly conceited animals, and actually dumb as heck. Ask any teacher. You don't even have to ask a teacher. Ask anybody. Dogs and cats are smarter than we are.

„My brother got his doctorate in 1938, I think. If he had gone to work in Germany after that, he would have been helping to make Hitler's dreams come true.“

—  Kurt Vonnegut

Speech at MIT (1985), referring to his brother Bernard Vonnegut, and the choices available to scientists and the intelligent, to serve humanity, or to betray it, as published in Fates Worse Than Death (1991), Ch. 12
Various interviews
Context: My brother got his doctorate in 1938, I think. If he had gone to work in Germany after that, he would have been helping to make Hitler's dreams come true. If he had gone to work in Italy, he would have been helping to make Mussolini's dreams come true. If he had gone to work in Japan, he would have been helping to make Tojo's dreams come true. If he had gone to work in the Soviet Union, he would have been helping to make Stalin's dreams come true. He went to work for a bottle manufacturer in Butler, Pennsylvania, instead. It can make quite a difference not just to you but to humanity: the sort of boss you choose, whose dreams you help come true.
Hitler dreamed of killing Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals, Communists, Jehovah's Witnesses, mental defectives, believers in democracy, and so on, in industrial quantities. It would have remained only a dream if it hadn't been for chemists as well educated as my brother, who supplied Hitler's executioners with the cyanide gas known as Zyklon B. It would have remained only a dream if architects and engineers as capable as my father and grandfather hadn't designed extermination camps — the fences, the towers, the barracks, the railroad sidings, and the gas chambers and crematoria — for maximum ease of operation and efficiency.

„I've often thought there ought to be a manual to hand to little kids, telling them what kind of planet they're on, why they don't fall off it, how much time they've probably got here, how to avoid poison ivy, and so on.“

—  Kurt Vonnegut

Playboy interview (1973)
Context: I've often thought there ought to be a manual to hand to little kids, telling them what kind of planet they're on, why they don't fall off it, how much time they've probably got here, how to avoid poison ivy, and so on. I tried to write one once. It was called Welcome to Earth. But I got stuck on explaining why we don't fall off the planet. Gravity is just a word. It doesn't explain anything. If I could get past gravity, I'd tell them how we reproduce, how long we've been here, apparently, and a little bit about evolution. 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 or her 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. Cultural relativity is defensible and attractive. It's also a source of hope. It means we don't have to continue this way if we don't like it.

„The arts put man at the center of the universe, whether he belongs there or not.“

—  Kurt Vonnegut

Bennington College address (1970)
Context: The arts put man at the center of the universe, whether he belongs there or not. Military science, on the other hand, treats man as garbage — and his children, and his cities, too. Military science is probably right about the contemptibility of man in the vastness of the universe. Still — I deny that contemptibility, and I beg you to deny it, through the creation of appreciation of art.

„Mere opinions, in fact, were as likely to govern people's actions as hard evidence, and were subject to sudden reversals as hard evidence could never be.“

—  Kurt Vonnegut, book Galápagos

Galápagos (1985)
Context: Mere opinions, in fact, were as likely to govern people's actions as hard evidence, and were subject to sudden reversals as hard evidence could never be. So the Galapagos Islands could be hell in one moment and heaven in the next, and Julius Caesar could be a statesman in one moment and a butcher in the next, and Ecuadorian paper money could be traded for food, shelter, and clothing in one moment and line the bottom of a birdcage in the next, and the universe could be created by God Almighty in one moment and by a big explosion in the next — and on and on.

„I was on par with the Creator of the Universe there in the dark in the cocktail lounge. I shrunk the Universe to a ball exactly one light-year in diameter.“

—  Kurt Vonnegut, book Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast of Champions (1973)
Context: I was on par with the Creator of the Universe there in the dark in the cocktail lounge. I shrunk the Universe to a ball exactly one light-year in diameter. I had it explode. I had it disperse itself again.
Ask me a question, any question. How old is the Universe? It is one half-second old, but the half-second has lasted one quintillion years so far. Who created it? Nobody created it. It has always been here.
What is time? It is a serpent which eats its tail, like this:
This is the snake which uncoiled itself long enough to offer Eve the apple, which looked like this:
What was the apple which Eve and Adam ate? It was the Creator of the Universe.
And so on.
Symbols can be so beautiful, sometimes.

„I can't think in terms of boundaries. Those imaginary lines are as unreal to me as elves and pixies. I can't believe that they mark the end or the beginning of anything of real concern to the human soul. Virtues and vices, pleasures and pains cross boundaries at will.“

—  Kurt Vonnegut, book Mother Night

Mother Night (1961)
Context: "You hate America, don't you?" she said.
"That would be as silly as loving it," I said. "It's impossible for me to get emotional about it, because real estate doesn't interest me. It's no doubt a great flaw in my personality, but I can't think in terms of boundaries. Those imaginary lines are as unreal to me as elves and pixies. I can't believe that they mark the end or the beginning of anything of real concern to the human soul. Virtues and vices, pleasures and pains cross boundaries at will."

„The moral of the story is, is we're here on Earth to fart around. And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And, what the computer people don't realize, or they don't care, is we're dancing animals. You know, we love to move around. And, we're not supposed to dance at all anymore.“

—  Kurt Vonnegut

Interview by David Brancaccio, NOW (PBS) (7 October 2005) http://www.pbs.org/now/arts/vonnegut.html
Various interviews
Context: [When Vonnegut tells his wife he's going out to buy an envelope] Oh, she says, well, you're not a poor man. You know, why don't you go online and buy a hundred envelopes and put them in the closet? And so I pretend not to hear her. And go out to get an envelope because I'm going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying one envelope. I meet a lot of people. And, see some great looking babes. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up. And, and ask a woman what kind of dog that is. And, and I don't know. The moral of the story is, is we're here on Earth to fart around. And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And, what the computer people don't realize, or they don't care, is we're dancing animals. You know, we love to move around. And, we're not supposed to dance at all anymore.

„I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center.“

—  Kurt Vonnegut, book Player Piano

Source: Player Piano (1952), Chapter 9 (p. 86)
Context: "You think I'm insane?" said Finnerty. Apparently he wanted more of a reaction than Paul had given him.
"You're still in touch. I guess that's the test."
"Barely — barely."
"A psychiatrist could help. There's a good man in Albany."
Finnerty shook his head. "He'd pull me back into the center, and I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center." He nodded, "Big, undreamed-of things — the people on the edge see them first."

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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