This dark morning, the rain lashes my front windows and Monstrance is on for at least the fourth time in the last twenty-four hours.
The Internet and all the channels on Blogovision are overrun with Vonnegut tributes and redundant notifications, so I will add my voice to the cacophany only to point toward this, by Lance Mannion. And to say, Exactly so: ruined. My life was ruined when I was about thirteen, when my eighth grade English teacher assigned Cat’s Cradle. Game over. I wanted to be a writer.
More than that, though, I wanted to stay awake and pay attention. There was something about Cat’s Cradle that made me realize I was constantly in danger of missing the big picture. It was the first of many books, and he was the first of many writers to leave me with that sick yet elated feeling. Ursula K Le Guin, Douglas Adams, Ray Bradbury, Annie Dillard, Pynchon. It’s like the old joke about the difference between a virgin and a lightbulb: you can unscrew a lightbulb. You can’t unread stuff like that.
But you can fall back asleep. If I may be so bold as to suggest that art has a message (a claim I would not want to be asked to defend), that message is perhaps: Pay attention! Stay awake! They’re out there, waiting for you to fall asleep, and then they’re going to take over everything else! Keep your lamps trimmed and burning!
And for Vonnegut, like all satirists, the best defense is a good offense. Good artists shock, great artists startle. After all, we can grow numb to shocks, and fall back asleep. What we need are good and frequent startlings. Wake up.