Kurt Vonnegut

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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.
Every passing hour brings the Solar System forty-three thousand miles closer to Globular Cluster M13 in Hercules — and still there are some misfits who insist that there is no such thing as progress.
I sometimes wondered what the use of any of the arts was. The best thing I could come up with was what I call the canary in the coal mine theory of the arts...
I simply never unlearned junior civics. I still believe in it.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (November 11 1922April 11 2007) was an American novelist known for works blending satire, black comedy, and science fiction.

See also:
Cat's Cradle (1963)
Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)
Timequake (1997)

Quotes[edit]

Various interviews[edit]

I was taught that the human brain was the crowning glory of evolution so far, but I think it’s a very poor scheme for survival.
  • I sometimes wondered what the use of any of the arts was. The best thing I could come up with was what I call the canary in the coal mine theory of the arts. This theory says that artists are useful to society because they are so sensitive. They are super-sensitive. They keel over like canaries in poison coal mines long before more robust types realize that there is any danger whatsoever.
    • "Physicist, Purge Thyself" in the Chicago Tribune Magazine (22 June 1969)
  • High school is closer to the core of the American experience than anything else I can think of.
    • Introduction to Our Time Is Now: Notes From the High School Underground, John Birmingham, ed. (1970)
  • I was taught in the sixth grade that we had a standing army of just over a hundred thousand men and that the generals had nothing to say about what was done in Washington. I was taught to be proud of that and to pity Europe for having more than a million men under arms and spending all their money on airplanes and tanks. I simply never unlearned junior civics. I still believe in it. I got a very good grade.
    • As quoted by James Lundquist in Kurt Vonnegut (1971)
  • Well, I've worried some about, you know, why write books ... why are we teaching people to write books when presidents and senators do not read them, and generals do not read them. And it's been the university experience that taught me that there is a very good reason, that you catch people before they become generals and presidents and so forth and you poison their minds with ... humanity, and however you want to poison their minds, it's presumably to encourage them to make a better world.
    • "A Talk with Kurt Vonnegut. Jr." by Robert Scholes in The Vonnegut Statement (1973) edited by Jerome Klinkowitz and John Somer October 1966), later published in Conversations With Kurt Vonnegut (1988), p. 123
Find a subject you care about.
  • I was taught that the human brain was the crowning glory of evolution so far, but I think it’s a very poor scheme for survival.
    • As quoted in The Observer [London] (27 December 1987)
  • 1. Find a subject you care about.
    2. Do not ramble, though.
    3. Keep it simple.
    4. Have the guts to cut.
    5. Sound like yourself.
    6. Say what you mean to say.
    7. Pity the readers.
    • As quoted in Science Fictionisms (1995), compiled by William Rotsler
The telling of jokes is an art of its own, and it always rises from some emotional threat. The best jokes are dangerous, and dangerous because they are in some way truthful.
  • You learn about life by the accidents you have, over and over again, and your father is always in your head when that stuff happens. Writing, most of the time, for most people, is an accident and your father is there for that, too. You know, I taught writing for a while and whenever somebody would tell me they were going to write about their dad, I would tell them they might as well go write about killing puppies because neither story was going to work. It just doesn't work. Your father won't let it happen.
  • One of the great American tragedies is to have participated in a just war. It's been possible for politicians and movie-makers to encourage us we're always good guys. The Second World War absolutely had to be fought. I wouldn't have missed it for the world. But we never talk about the people we kill. This is never spoken of.
  • I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, "If this isn't nice, I don't know what is."
    • "Knowing What's Nice", an essay from In These Times (2003)
  • We're terrible animals. I think that the Earth's immune system is trying to get rid of us, as well it should.
    • On humans, interviewed by Jon Stewart, The Daily Show (13 September 2005)
I do feel that evolution is being controlled by some sort of divine engineer. ... That’s why we’ve got giraffes and hippopotami and the clap.
  • I have wanted to give Iraq a lesson in democracy — because we’re experienced with it, you know. And, in democracy, after a hundred years, you have to let your slaves go. And, after a hundred and fifty years, you have to let your women vote. And, at the beginning of democracy, is that quite a bit of genocide and ethnic cleansing is quite okay. And that’s what’s going on now.
  • I do feel that evolution is being controlled by some sort of divine engineer. I can't help thinking that. And this engineer knows exactly what he or she is doing and why, and where evolution is headed. That’s why we’ve got giraffes and hippopotami and the clap.
    • On evolution vs. "intelligent design", interviewed by Jon Stewart, The Daily Show (13 September 2005)
  • [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.
THE ONLY PROOF HE NEEDED FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD WAS MUSIC
  • Where is home? I've wondered where home is, and I realized, it's not Mars or someplace like that, it's Indianapolis when I was nine years old. I had a brother and a sister, a cat and a dog, and a mother and a father and uncles and aunts. And there's no way I can get there again.
  • If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:
    THE ONLY PROOF HE NEEDED
    FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
    WAS MUSIC
    • As quoted in "Vonnegut's Blues For America" Sunday Herald (7 January 2006)
I don't think there would be many jokes, if there weren't constant frustration and fear...
  • The only difference between Bush and Hitler is that Hitler was elected.
    • As quoted in "Kurt Vonnegut's 'Stardust Memory'" by Harvey Wasserman in The Free Press (4 March 2006); In actuality, Hitler also wasn't elected by a clear majority vote. Although the Nazi Party was elected to the largest number of seats in the Reichstag, it did not have a majority, and could only form a government through a coalition. Eventually, Hitler was appointed as Chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg, and used that position as leverage to gain dictatorial powers.
  • People hate it when they're tickled because laughter is not pleasant, if it goes on too long. I think it's a desperate sort of convulsion in desperate circumstances, which helps a little.
  • “My theory is that all women have hydrofluoric acid bottled up inside,” he wrote.
    • Kurt Vonnegut, Writer of Classics of the American Counterculture, Dies at 84 by Dinitia Smith in the NYTimes on April 11, 2007[1]

Player Piano (1952)[edit]

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.
  • 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.
    • Ch. 1
  • "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."
    • Ch. 9
If you can do a half-assed job of anything, you're a one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind.
  • "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."
    • Ch. 9
  • In order to get what we've got, Anita, we have, in effect, traded these people out of what was the most important thing on earth to them — the feeling of being needed and useful, the foundation of self-respect.
    • Ch. 18
  • 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.
    • Ch. 31
  • And a step backward, after making a wrong turn, is a step in the right direction.
    • Ch. 32
  • "Things don't stay the way they are," said Finnerty. "It's too entertaining to try to change them."
    • Ch. 34
  • Everybody's shaking in his boots, so don't be bluffed.
  • Almost nobody's competent, Paul. It's enough to make you cry to see how bad most people are at their jobs. If you can do a half-assed job of anything, you're a one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind.

The Sirens of Titan (1959)[edit]

A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.
  • Every passing hour brings the Solar System forty-three thousand miles closer to Globular Cluster M13 in Hercules — and still there are some misfits who insist that there is no such thing as progress.
    • Dedication page
  • He ransacked his memory like a thief going through another man's billfold.
    • Chapter 1.3
The triumph of anything is a matter of organization. If there are such things as angels, I hope that they are organized along the lines of the Mafia.
  • A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.
  • It is always pitiful when any human being falls into a condition hardly more respectable than that of an animal. How much more pitiful it is when the person who falls has had all the advantages!
  • There is no reason why good cannot triumph as often as evil. The triumph of anything is a matter of organization. If there are such things as angels, I hope that they are organized along the lines of the Mafia.
  • Sometimes I think it is a great mistake to have matter that can think and feel. It complains so. By the same token, though, I suppose that boulders and mountains and moons could be accused of being a little too phlegmatic.
  • Son — they say there isn't any royalty in this country, but do you want me to tell you how to be king of the United States of America? Just fall through the hole in a privy and come out smelling like a rose.
  • Take Care of the People, and God Almighty Will Take Care of Himself.
  • The big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart.
  • I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all.
  • The worst thing that could possibly happen to anybody would be to not be used for anything by anybody. Thank you for using me, even though I didn't want to be used by anybody.
  • Puny man can do nothing at all to help or please God Almighty, and Luck is not the hand of God.
  • You go up to a man, and you say, "How are things going, Joe?" and he says, "Oh fine, fine — couldn't be better." And you look into his eyes, and you see things really couldn't be much worse. When you get right down to it, everybody's having a perfectly lousy time of it, and I mean everybody. And the hell of it is, nothing seems to help much.
  • Life for a punctual person is like a roller coaster. All kinds of things are going to happen to you! Sure, I can see the whole roller coaster you're on. And sure — I could give you a piece of paper that would tell you about every dip and turn, warn you about every bogeyman that was going to pop out at you in the tunnels. But that wouldn't help you any. Because you'd still have to take the roller-coaster ride, I didn't design the roller coaster, I don't own it, and I don't say who rides and who doesn't. I just know what it's shaped like.

Mother Night (1961)[edit]

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.
Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile.
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.
  • We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.
    • Introduction (1966)
    • Sometimes misquoted as: Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be.
  • And the city was lovely, highly ornamented, like Paris, and untouched by war. It was supposedly an “open” city, not to be attacked since there were no troop concentrations or war industries there. But high explosives were dropped on Dresden by American and British planes on the night of February 13, 1945, just about twenty-one years ago, as I now write. There were no particular targets for the bombs. The hope was that they would create a lot of kindling and drive firemen underground. And then tens of thousands of tiny incendiaries were scattered over the kindling, like seeds on freshly turned loam. More bombs were dropped to keep firemen in their holes, and all the little fires grew, joined one another, became one apocalyptic flame. Hey presto: fire storm. It was the largest massacre in European history, by the way. ... Everything was gone but the cellars where 135,000 Hansels and Gretels had been baked like gingerbread men.
    • Introduction (1966)
  • If I'd been born in Germany, I suppose I would have been a Nazi, bopping Jews and gypsies and Poles around, leaving boots sticking out of snowbanks, warming myself with my secretly virtuous insides. So it goes.
    • Introduction (1966)
  • When you're dead you're dead.
    • Introduction (1966)
  • Make love when you can. It's good for you.
    • Introduction (1966)
  • Here lies Howard Campbell’s essence,
    Freed from his body’s noisome nuisance.
    His body, empty, prowls the earth,
    Earning what a body’s worth.
    If his body and his essence remain apart,
    Burn his body, but spare this, his heart.
  • "All people are insane," he said. "They will do anything at any time, and God help anybody who looks for reasons."
  • There are plenty of good reasons for fighting," I said, "but no good reason ever to hate without reservation, to imagine that God Almighty Himself hates with you, too. Where's evil? It's that large part of every man that wants to hate without limit, that wants to hate with God on its side. It’s that part of every man that finds all kinds of ugliness so attractive.
  • Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile.
  • "I had hoped, as a broadcaster, to be merely ludicrous, but this is a hard world to be ludicrous in, with so many human beings so reluctant to laugh, so incapable of thought , so eager to believe and snarl and hate. So many people wanted to believe me!"
  • "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."
  • Drawn crudely in the dust of three window-panes were a swastika, a hammer and sickle, and the Stars and Stripes. I had drawn the three symbols weeks before, at the conclusion of an argument about patriotism with Kraft. I had given a hearty cheer for each symbol, demonstrating to Kraft the meaning of patriotism to, respectively, a Nazi, a Communist, and an American. "Hooray, hooray, hooray," I'd said.
  • What froze me was the fact that I had absolutely no reason to move in any direction. What had made me move through so many dead and pointless years was curiosity. Now even that flickered out.
  • Generally speaking, espionage offers each spy an opportunity to go crazy in a way he finds irresistible.

Cat's Cradle (1963)[edit]

Full title: Cat's Cradle These are just a sample for more from this work see: Cat's Cradle
A karass ignores national, institutional, occupational, familial, and class boundaries. It is as free form as an amoeba.
  • We Bokonists believe that humanity is organized into teams, teams that do God's Will without ever discovering what they are doing. Such a team is called a karass by Bokonon "If you find your life tangled up with somebody else's life for no very logical reasons," writes Bokonon, "that person may be a member of your karass." At another point in The Books of Bokonon he tells us, "Man created the checkerboard; God created the karass." By that he means that a karass ignores national, institutional, occupational, familial, and class boundaries. It is as free form as an amoeba.
  • Busy, busy, busy.
  • Someday, someday, this crazy world will have to end,
    And our God will take things back that He to us did lend.
    And if, on that sad day, you want to scold our God,
    Why go right ahead and scold Him. He'll just smile and nod.
  • Peculiar Travel Suggestions are Dancing Lessons From God
  • Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before.

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965)[edit]

Full title: God Bless You, Mr Rosewater, or Pearls Before Swine
You're the only ones zany enough to agonize over time and distance without limit, over mysteries that will never die, over the fact that we are right now determining whether the space voyage for the next billion years or so is going to be Heaven or Hell.
  • I love you sons of bitches. You’re all I read any more. You're the only ones who’ll talk all about the really terrific changes going on, the only ones crazy enough to know that life is a space voyage, and not a short one, either, but one that’ll last for billions of years. You’re the only ones with guts enough to really care about the future, who really notice what machines do to us, what wars do to us, what cities do to us, what big, simple ideas do to us, what tremendous misunderstanding, mistakes, accidents, catastrophes do to us. You're the only ones zany enough to agonize over time and distance without limit, over mysteries that will never die, over the fact that we are right now determining whether the space voyage for the next billion years or so is going to be Heaven or Hell.
    • "Eliot Rosewater" to a group of science fiction writers
  • We few, we happy few, we band of brothers — joined in the serious business of keeping our food, shelter, clothing and loved ones from combining with oxygen.
    • "Eliot Rosewater" to a group of volunteer firemen.
  • Like all real heroes, Charley had a fatal flaw. He refused to believe that he had gonorrhea, whereas the truth was that he did.
    • On Charley Warmergran, the Fire Chief of Rosewater.
  • He alienated his friends in the sciences by thanking them extravagantly for scientific advances he had read about in the recent newspapers and magazines, by assuring them, with a perfectly straight face, that life was getting better and better, thanks to scientific thinking.
    • Concerning Eliot Rosewater.
  • A sum of money is a leading character in this tale about people, just as a sum of honey might properly be a leading character in a tale about bees.
    • Opening line of novel.
  • 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."
  • We don't piss in your ashtrays,
    So please don't throw cigarettes in our urinals.
    • Eliot Rosewater's favorite poem, from the wall of the men's room at the Log Cabin Inn.

Welcome to the Monkey House (1968)[edit]

A collection of previously published short stories
  • The public health authorities never mention the main reason many Americans have for smoking heavily, which is that smoking is a fairly sure, fairly honorable form of suicide.
    • Preface

"Harrison Bergeron" (1961)[edit]

These are just a few samples; for more from this short story, see Harrison Bergeron
  • The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal.  They weren't only equal before God and the law.  They were equal every which way.  Nobody was smarter than anybody else.  Nobody was better looking than anybody else.  Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else.  All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.
    • Paragraph 1 (p. 7 of Welcome to the Monkey House)
  • It was then that Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General, came into the studio with a double-barreled ten-gauge shotgun.  She fired twice, and the Emperor and the Empress were dead before they hit the floor.
    • Paragraph 78 (p. 13 of Welcome to the Monkey House)

Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)[edit]

Full title: Slaughterhouse-Five, Or The Children's Crusade : A Duty-dance with Death These are just a few samples, for more from this work see Slaughterhouse-Five
So it goes.
All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them.
  • So it goes.
    • Recurring statement throughout the novel on the subject of life, death and mortal existence.
  • The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.
    When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition in the particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is "So it goes."
    • Billy writing a letter to a newspaper describing the Tralfamadorians
  • Billy coughed when the door was opened, and when he coughed he shit thin gruel. This was in accordance with the Third Law of Motion according to Sir Isaac Newton. This law tells us that for each reaction there is a reaction which is equal and opposite in direction. This can be useful in rocketry.
  • Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.
  • Derby described the incredible artificial weather that Earthlings sometimes create for other Earthlings when they don't want those other Earthlings to inhabit Earth any more.
  • Robert Kennedy, whose summer home is eight miles away from the home I live in all year round, was shot two nights ago. He died last night. So it goes.
    Martin Luther King was shot a month ago. He died, too. So it goes.
    And everyday my government gives me a count of corpses created by the military service in Vietnam. So it goes.
    My father died many years ago now — of natural causes. So it goes. He was a sweet man. He was a gun nut, too. He left me his guns. They rust.
  • "Poo-Tee-Weet?"
    • Final Line
  • I have this disease late at night sometimes, involving alcohol and the telephone. I get drunk, and I drive my wife away with a breath like mustard gas and roses. And then, speaking gravely and elegantly into the telephone, I ask the telephone operators to connect me with this friend or that one, from whom I have not heard in years.

Happy Birthday, Wanda June (1970)[edit]

A play, performed in New York City from October 7, 1970 - March 14, 1971
Maybe God has let everybody who ever lived be reborn — so he or she can see how it ends.
Nobody is mad. We're all too busy playing shuffleboard.
  • Things die. All things die.
    • Introduction, "About This Play"
  • All through the day I'm so confident. That's why I'm such a good salesman, you know? I have confidence, and I look like I have confidence, and that gives other people confidence.
    • "Herb Shuttle"
  • Maybe God has let everybody who ever lived be reborn — so he or she can see how it ends. Even Pitecanthropus erectus and Australopithecus and Sinanthropus pekensis and the Neanderthalers are back on Earth — to see how it ends. They're all on Times Square — making change for peepshows. Or recruiting Marines.
    • "Dr. Norbert Woodley"
  • You know what gets me? ... How everybody says "fuck" and "shit" all the time. I used to be scared shitless if I'd say "fuck" or "shit" in public, by accident. Now everybody says "fuck" and "shit", "fuck" and "shit" all the time. Something very big must have happened while we were out of the country.
    • "Col. Looseleaf Harper"
  • The new heroism — put a village idiot into a pressure cooker, seal it up tight, and shoot him at the moon.
    • "Harold Ryan"
  • Hello, I am Wanda June. Today was going to be my birthday, but I was hit by an ice-cream truck before I could have my party. I am dead now. I am in Heaven. That is why my parents did not pick up my cake at the bakery. I am not mad at the ice-cream truck driver, even though he was drunk when he hit me. It didn't hurt much. It wasn't even as bad as the sting of a bumblebee. I am really happy here! It's so much fun. I'm glad the driver was drunk. If he hadn't been, I might not have gone to Heaven for years and years and years. I would have had to go to high school first, and then beauty college. I would have had to get married and have babies and everything. Now I can just play and play and play. Any time I want any pink cotton candy I can have some. Everybody up here is happy — the animals and the dead soldiers and people who went to the electric chair and everything. They're all glad for whatever sent them here. Nobody is mad. We're all too busy playing shuffleboard. So if you think of killing somebody, don't worry about it. Just go ahead and do it. Whoever you do it to should kiss you for doing it. The soldiers up here just love the shrapnel and the tanks and the bayonets and the dum dums that let them play shuffleboard all the time — and drink beer.
    • "Wanda June"
  • Don't lecture me on race relations. I don't have a molecule of prejudice. I've been in battle with every kind of man there is. I've been in bed with every kind of woman there is — from a Laplander to a Tierra del Fuegian. If I'd ever been to the South Pole, there'd be a hell of a lot of penguins who looked like me.
    • "Harold Ryan"
  • No grown woman is a fan of premature ejaculation.
    • "Mildred"
  • I have this theory about why men kill each other and break things. ... Never mind. It's a dumb theory. I was going to say it was all sexual ... but everything is sexual ... but alcohol.
    • "Mildred"
  • When I was a naive young recruit in Spain, I used to wonder why soldiers bayoneted oil paintings, shot the noses off statues and defecated into grand pianos. I now understand: it was to teach civilians the deepest sort of respect for men in uniform — uncontrollable fear.
    • "Harold Ryan"
  • Wars would be a lot better, I think, if guys would say to themselves sometimes "Jesus — I'm not going to do that to the enemy. That's too much."
    • "Col. Looseleaf Harper"

Between Time and Timbuktu (1972)[edit]

Full title: Between Time and Timbuktu, or Prometheus-5 (the script for a public-television NET Playhouse special based on previously published material)
  • This script, it seems to me, is the work of professionals who yearned to be as charming as inspired amateurs can sometimes be.
    • "Preface"
  • I don't like film. Film is too clankingly real, too permanent, too industrial for me. ... The worst thing about film, from my point of view, is that it cripples illusions which I have encouraged people to create in their heads. Film doesn't create illusions. It makes them impossible. It's a bullying form of reality, like the model rooms in the furniture department of Bloomingdale's.
    • "Preface"
  • I have become an enthusiast for the printed word again. I have to be that, I now understand, because I want to be a character in all of my works. I can do that in print. In a movie, somehow, the author always vanishes. Everything of mine which has been filmed so far has been one character short, and that character is me.
    • "Preface"

Breakfast of Champions (1973)[edit]

Full title: Breakfast of Champions, Or Goodbye Blue Monday!
I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.
  • And so on.
    • recurring phrase
  • Charm was a scheme for making strangers like and trust a person immediately, no matter what the charmer had in mind.
    • page 19
  • I can have oodles of charm when I want to.
    • page 20
  • What do I myself think of this particular book? I feel lousy about it, but I always feel lousy about my books.
  • This book is my fiftieth-birthday present to myself. I feel as though I am crossing the spine of a roof — having ascended one slope.
    I am programmed at fifty to perform childishly — to insult “The Star-Spangled Banner,” to scrawl pictures of a Nazi flag and an asshole and a lot of other things with a felt-tipped pen. To give an idea of the maturity of my illustrations for this book, here is my picture of an asshole:
    I think I am trying to clear my head of all the junk in there — the assholes, the flags, the underpants. Yes — there is a picture in this book of underpants. I’m throwing out characters from my other books, too. I’m not going to put on any more puppet shows.
    I think I am trying to make my head as empty as it was when I was born onto this damaged planet fifty years ago.
    I suspect that this is something most white Americans, and nonwhite Americans who imitate white Americans, should do. The things other people have put into my head, at any rate, do not fit together nicely, are often useless and ugly, are out of proportion with one another, are out of proportion with life as it really is outside my head.
    I have no culture, no humane harmony in my brains. I can’t live without a culture anymore.
    So this book is a sidewalk strewn with junk, trash which I throw over my shoulders as I travel in time back to November eleventh, nineteen hundred and twenty-two.
    I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy, and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
    It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.
    Armistice Day has become Veterans' Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans' Day is not.
    So I will throw Veterans' Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don't want to throw away any sacred things.
    What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance.
    And all music is.
  • Let us devote to unselfishness the frenzy we once gave gold and underpants.
Roses are red
And ready for plucking
You're sixteen
And ready for high school.
  • Teachers of children in the United States of America wrote this date on blackboards again and again, and asked the children to memorize it with pride and joy: 1492. The teachers told the children that this was when their continent was discovered by human beings. Actually, millions of human beings were already living full and imaginative lives on the continent in 1492. That was simply the year in which sea pirates began to cheat and rob and kill them.
  • Like most science-fiction writers, Trout knew almost nothing about science.
What is the purpose of life?
  • Roses are red
    And ready for plucking
    You're sixteen
    And ready for high school.
  • Trout trudged onward, a stranger in a strange land. His pilgrimage was rewarded with new wisdom, which would never have been his had he remained in his basement in Cohoes. He learned the answer to a question many human beings were asking themselves so frantically: "What's blocking the traffic on the westbound barrel of the Midland City stretch of the Interstate?"
  • 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.
  • He was a graduate of West Point, a military academy which turned young men into homicidal maniacs for use in war.
Our awareness is all that is alive and maybe sacred in any of us. Everything else about us is dead machinery.
  • It was Trout’s fantasy that somebody would be outraged by the footprints. This would give him the opportunity to reply grandly, "What is it that offends you so? I am simply using man’s first printing press. You are reading a bold and universal headline which says ,'I am here, I am here, I am here.'"
  • Listen:
    The waitress brought me another drink. She wanted to light my hurricane lamp again. I wouldn't let her. "Can you see anything in the dark, with your sunglasses on?" she asked me.
    "The big show is inside my head," I said
  • We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane.
    • Kilgore Trout's epitaph
    • Unsourced paraphrase or variant: We are human only to the extent that our ideas remain humane.
  • Hey — guess what: You're the only creature with free will. How does that make you feel?
  • I thought Beatrice Keedsler had joined hands with other old-fashioned storytellers to make people believe that life had leading characters, minor characters, significant details, insignificant details, that it had lessons to be learned, tests to be passed, and a beginning, a middle, and an end.
    As I approached my fiftieth birthday, I had become more and more enraged and mystified by the idiot decisions made by my countrymen. And then I had come suddenly to pity them, for I understood how innocent and natural it was for them to behave so abominably, and with such abominable results: They were doing their best to live like people invented in story books. This was the reason Americans shot each other so often: It was a convenient literary device for ending short stories and books.
    Why were so many Americans treated by their government as though their lives were as disposable as paper facial tissues? Because that was the way authors customarily treated bit-part players in their madeup tales.
    And so on.
    Once I understood what was making America such a dangerous, unhappy nation of people who had nothing to do with real life, I resolved to shun storytelling. I would write about life. Every person would be exactly as important as any other. All facts would also be given equal weightiness. Nothing would be left out. Let others bring order to chaos. I would bring chaos to order, instead, which I think I have done.
    If all writers would do that, then perhaps citizens not in the literary trades will understand that there is no order in the world around us, that we must adapt ourselves to the requirements of chaos instead.
    It is hard to adapt to chaos, but it can be done. I am living proof of that: It can be done.
  • You are pooped and demoralized. Why wouldn't you be? Of course it is exhausting, having to reason all the time in a universe which wasn't meant to be reasonable.
  • Here was what Kilgore Trout cried out to me in my father's voice: "Make me young, make me young, make me young!"
    • Last line

Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons (1974)[edit]

A wampeter is an object around which the lives of many otherwise unrelated people may revolve...
  • Dear Reader: The title of this book is composed of three words from my novel Cat's Cradle. A wampeter is an object around which the lives of many otherwise unrelated people may revolve. The Holy Grail would be a case in point. Foma are harmless untruths, intended to comfort simple souls. An example: "Prosperity is just around the corner." A granfalloon is a proud and meaningless association of human beings. Taken together, the words form as good an umbrella as any for this collection of some of the reviews and essays I've written, a few of the speeches I made.
    • "Preface"
  • I have been a soreheaded occupant of a file drawer labeled “Science Fiction” ... and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a urinal.
    • "Science Fiction"; originally published in The New York Times Book Review, 5 September 1965
  • The two real political parties in America are the Winners and the Losers. The people don’t acknowledge this. They claim membership in two imaginary parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, instead.
    • "In a Manner that Must Shame God Himself"
  • This theory argues that artists are useful to society because they are so sensitive. They are supersensitive. They keel over like canaries in coal mines filled with poison gas, long before more robust types realize that any danger is there.
  • The most useful thing I could do before this meeting is to keel over. On the other hand, artists are keeling over by the thousands every day and nobody seems to pay the least attention.

Playboy interview (1973)[edit]

Playboy (July 1973)
Human beings will be happier — not when they cure cancer or get to Mars or eliminate racial prejudice or flush Lake Erie — but when they find ways to inhabit primitive communities again. That’s my utopia.
  • I couldn't survive my own pessimism if I didn't have some kind of sunny little dream. ... Human beings will be happier — not when they cure cancer or get to Mars or eliminate racial prejudice or flush Lake Erie — but when they find ways to inhabit primitive communities again. That’s my utopia. That's what I want for me.
  • It goes against the American storytelling grain to have someone in a situation he can't get out of, but I think this is very usual in life. There are people, particularly dumb people, who are in terrible trouble and never get out of it, because they're not intelligent enough. It strikes me as gruesome and comical that in our culture we have an expectation that man can always solve his problems. This is so untrue that it makes me want to cry — or laugh.
  • 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.

Bennington College address (1970)[edit]

Address to the graduating class at Bennington College; several of these quotes are cited in the Columbia Dictionary of Quotations as coming from an essay titled "When I Was Twenty-One", but, in fact, there is no essay of that title in Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons.
I used to think that science would save us, and science certainly tried. But we can't stand any more tremendous explosions, either for or against democracy.
  • 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.
  • We would be a lot safer if the Government would take its money out of science and put it into astrology and the reading of palms. I used to think that science would save us, and science certainly tried. But we can't stand any more tremendous explosions, either for or against democracy.
  • I know that millions of dollars have been spent to produce this splendid graduating class, and that the main hope of your teachers was, once they got through with you, that you would no longer be superstitious. I'm sorry — I have to undo that now. I beg you to believe in the most ridiculous superstition of all: that humanity is at the center of the universe, the fulfiller or the frustrator of the grandest dreams of God Almighty.
    If you can believe that, and make others believe it, then there might be hope for us. Human beings might stop treating each other like garbage, might begin to treasure and protect each other instead. Then it might be all right to have babies again.
  • About astrology and palmistry: They are good because they make people feel vivid and full of possibilities. They are communism at its best. Everybody has a birthday and almost everybody has a palm.
  • Which brings us to the arts, whose purpose, in common with astrology, is to use frauds in order to make human beings seem more wonderful than they really are. Dancers show us human beings who move much more gracefully than human beings really move. Films and books and plays show us people talking much more entertainingly than people really talk, make paltry human enterprises seem important. Singers and musicians show us human beings making sounds far more lovely than human beings really make. Architects give us temples in which something marvelous is obviously going on. Actually, practically nothing is going on inside. And on and on.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Slapstick (1976)[edit]

Full title: Slapstick, or Lonesome No More
I wish that people who are conventionally supposed to love each other would say to each other, when they fight, "Please — a little less love, and a little more common decency."
History is merely a list of surprises. ... It can only prepare us to be surprised yet again. Please write that down.
  • Hi Ho
    • Prologue, and a recurring phrase throughout the book.
  • Love is where you find it. I think it is foolish to go looking for it, and I think it can often be poisonous.
    • Prologue
  • I wish that people who are conventionally supposed to love each other would say to each other, when they fight, "Please — a little less love, and a little more common decency."
    • Prologue
  • Eliza and I composed a precocious critique of the Constitution of the United States of America ... We argued that is was as good a scheme for misery as any, since its success in keeping the common people reasonably happy and proud depended on the strength of the people themselves — and yet it prescribed no practical machinery which would tend to make the people, as opposed to their elected representatives, strong.
    We said it was possible that the framers of the Constitution were blind to the beauty of persons who were without great wealth or powerful friends or public office, but who were nonetheless genuinely strong.
    We thought it was more likely, though, that their framers had not noticed that it was natural, and therefore almost inevitable, that human beings in extraordinary and enduring situations should think of themselves of composing new families. Eliza and I pointed out that this happened no less in democracies than in tyrannies, since human beings were the same the wide world over, and civilized only yesterday.
    Elected representatives, hence, could be expected to become members of the famous and powerful family of elected representatives — which would, perfectly naturally, make them wary and squeamish and stingy with respect to all the other sorts of families which, again, perfectly naturally, subdivided mankind.
    Eliza and I ... proposed that the Constitution be amended so as to guarantee that every citizen, no matter how humble, or crazy or incompetent or deformed, somehow be given membership in some family as covertly xenophobic and crafty as the one their public servants formed.
    • Ch. 6
  • Why don't you take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut. Why don't you take a flying fuck at the mooooooooooooon!
    • Ch. 33, and passim
  • History is merely a list of surprises. ... It can only prepare us to be surprised yet again. Please write that down.
    • Ch. 48
  • If you can do no good, at least do no harm.

Jailbird (1979)[edit]

I still believe that peace and plenty and happiness can be worked out some way. I am a fool.
  • Sally In The Garden:

    Sally in the garden,
    Siftin' cinders,
    Lifted up her leg,
    And farted like a man,
    The bursting of her bloomers broke sixteen winders,
    The cheeks of her ass went (blam, blam, blam)
  • Labor history was pornography of a sort in those days, and even more so in these days. In public schools and in the homes of nice people it was and remains pretty much taboo to tell tales of labor's sufferings and derring-do.
    • p. 12 (prologue)
  • I still believe that peace and plenty and happiness can be worked out some way. I am a fool.
    • p. 14
  • What is flirtatiousness but an argument that life must go on and on and on?
    • p. 24
  • Congressman Nixon had asked me why, as the son of immigrants who had been treated so well by Americans, as a man who had been treated like a son and been sent to Harvard by an American capitalist, I had been so ungrateful to the American economic system.
    The answer I gave him was not original. Nothing about me has ever been original. I repeated what my one-time hero, Kenneth Whistler, had said in reply to the same general sort of question long, long ago. Whistler had been a witness at a trial of strikers accused of violence. The judge had become curious about him, had asked him why such a well-educated man from such a good family would so immerse himself in the working class.
    My stolen answer to Nixon was this: "Why? The Sermon on the Mount, sir."
  • You couldn't help that you were born without a heart. At least you tried to believe what the people with hearts believed — so you were a good man just the same.
  • "That was the strength of the Nazis," she said. "They understood God better than anyone. They knew how to make him stay away."

Palm Sunday (1981)[edit]

An Autobiographical Collage
The most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.
  • What we will be seeking ... for the rest of our lives will be large, stable communities of like-minded people, which is to say relatives. They no longer exist. The lack of them is not only the main cause, but probably the only cause of our shapeless discontent in the midst of such prosperity.
    • "Thoughts of a Free Thinker", commencement address, Hobart and William Smith Colleges (26 May 1974)
  • What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.
    • "Thoughts of a Free Thinker", commencement address, Hobart and William Smith Colleges (26 May 1974)
  • I think it can be tremendously refreshing if a creator of literature has something on his mind other than the history of literature so far. Literature should not disappear up its own asshole, so to speak.
    • "Self-Interview", originally appeared in The Paris Review no. 69 (1977)
  • [Gay Talese's Thy Neighbor's Wife] is for me a secretly deep history of a generation of middle-class American males, my own, which was taught by parents and athletic coaches and scoutmasters and military chaplains and quack doctors and so on to be deeply ashamed of masturbation and wet dreams.
    And the hidden plea in the book is one which first appeared in my eyes when I was fourteen, say, and which has not vanished entirely to this day. It is part of the mystery of me. The plea is addressed by old-fashioned males forever full of jism to any pretty human female, on the street, in a magazine, in a movie — anywhere. The plea is this: "Please, pretty lady, don't make me play with my private parts again."
    • "The Sexual Revolution" (ndg)
  • Jokes can be noble. Laughs are exactly as honorable as tears. Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion, to the futility of thinking and striving anymore. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward — and since I can start thinking and striving again that much sooner.
    • "Palm Sunday", a sermon delivered at St. Clement's Church, New York City (ndg), originally published in The Nation as "Hypocrites You Always Have With You" (ndg)
  • As for literary criticism in general: I have long felt that any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel or a play or a poem is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae or a banana split.
    • The People One Knows
  • 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.
    • "The Noodle Factory", speech given at the dedication of the Shain Library at Connecticut College, New London

Deadeye Dick (1982)[edit]

  • This is my principal objection to life, I think: It is too easy, when alive, to make perfectly horrible mistakes.
    • p.6
  • Many people found our house spooky, and the attic in fact as full of evil when I was born. It housed a collection of more than three hundred antique and modern firearms. Father had bought them during his and Mother's six-month honeymoon in Europe in 1922. Father thought them beautiful, but they might as well have been copperheads and rattlesnakes. They were murder.
  • I hadn't aimed at anything. If I had thought of the bullet's hitting anything, I don't remember now. I was the great marksman, anyway. If I aimed at nothing, then nothing is what I would hit. The bullet was a symbol, and nobody was ever hurt by a symbol. It was a farewell to my childhood and a confirmation of my manhood. Why didn't I use a blank cartridge? What kind of a symbol would that have been?
    • Describing an accident in which the narrator, as a child, accidentally shot a woman
  • My wife has been killed by a machine which should never have come into the hands of any human being. It is called a firearm. It makes the blackest of all human wishes come true at once, at a distance: that something die. There is evil for you. We cannot get rid of mankind's fleetingly evil wishes. We can get rid of the machines that make them come true. I give you a holy word: DISARM.
    • Statement of the husband of the woman killed in the accident
  • You want to know something? We are still in the Dark Ages. The Dark Ages — they haven't ended yet.
    • Closing lines

Galápagos (1985)[edit]

  • 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.
  • That, in my opinion, was the most diabolical aspect of those old-time brains: They would tell their owners, in effect, "Here's a crazy thing we could actually do, probably, but would never do it, of course. It's just fun to think about."
    And then, as though in trances, the people would really do it — have slaves fight each other to death in the Colosseum, or burn people alive in the public square for holding opinions which were locally unpopular, or build factories whose only purpose was to kill people in industrial quantities, or to blow up whole cities, and on and on.
  • Why so many of us a million years ago purposely knocked out major chunks of our brains with alcohol from time to time remains an interesting mystery. It may be we were trying to give evolution a shove in the right direction — in the direction of smaller brains.

Bluebeard (1987)[edit]

Time is liquid.
Belief is nearly the whole of the Universe, whether based on truth or not.
  • Time is liquid. One moment is no more important than any other and all moments quickly run away.
    • p.82
  • I've got news for Mr. Santayana: we're doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That's what it is to be alive.
    • p. 91, referring to George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"
  • Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?
    • p. 168
  • What is literature but an insider's newsletter about affairs relating to molecules, of no importance to anything in the Universe but a few molecules who have the disease called "thought".
    • p. 188
  • "We're having a celebration, so all sorts of things have been said which are not true," I said. "That's how to act at a party."
  • "I can't help it," I said. "My soul knows my meat is doing bad things, and is embarrassed. But my meat just keeps right on doing bad, dumb things."
    "You and your what?" he said.
    "My soul and my meat," I said.
    "They're separate?" he said.
    "I sure hope they are," I said. I laughed. "I would hate to be responsible for what my meat does."
    • p. 246
  • It is a gruesome Disneyland. Nobody is cute there.

Hocus Pocus (1990)[edit]

The most important message of a crucifix, to me anyway, was how unspeakably cruel supposedly sane human beings can be when under orders from a superior authority.
Just because some of us can read and write and do a little math, that doesn't mean we deserve to conquer the Universe.
  • When the excrement hit the air condition (Recurring phrase throughout many chapters)
  • 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.
  • The sermon was based on what he claimed was a well-known fact, that there were no Atheists in foxholes. I asked Jack what he thought of the sermon afterwards, and he said, "There's a Chaplain who never visited the front."
  • If facts weren't funny, or scary, or couldn't make you rich, the heck with them.
  • The most important message of a crucifix, to me anyway, was how unspeakably cruel supposedly sane human beings can be when under orders from a superior authority.
  • See the nigger fly the airplane!
  • They're playin our song Gene!
  • Beer, of course, is actually a depressant. But poor people will never stop hoping otherwise.
  • She was an alcoholic. I didn't blame myself for that. The worst problem in the life of any alcoholic is alcohol.
  • "I wish I had been born a bird instead," he said.
    "I wish we had all been born birds instead."
  • Just because some of us can read and write and do a little math, that doesn't mean we deserve to conquer the Universe.
  • How embarrassing to be human.
  • I asked Rob Roy where he had gone to college.
    "Yale," he said.
    I told him what Helen Dole said about Yale, that it ought to be called "Plantation Owners' Tech."
    "I don't get it," he said.
    "I had to ask her to explain it myself," I said. "She said Yale was where plantation owners learned how to get the natives to kill each other instead of them."
  • [Freedom of speech] isn't something somebody else gives you. That's something you give to yourself.
  • Bergeron's epitaph for the planet, I remember, which he said should be carved in big letters in a wall of the Grand Canyon for the flying-saucer people to find, was this:

    WE COULD HAVE SAVED IT
    BUT WE WERE TOO DOGGONE CHEAP

    Only he didn't say 'doggone.'"

  • Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.
  • During my three years in Vietnam, I certainly heard plenty of last words by dying American footsoldiers. Not one of them, however, had illusions that he had somehow accomplished something worthwhile in the process of making the Supreme Sacrifice.
  • profanity and obscenity entitle people who don't want unpleasant information to close their ears and eyes to you.

Fates Worse than Death (1991)[edit]

  • I think yet again of my father, who struggled to become a painter after he was forced into early and unwelcome retirement by the Great Depression. He has reason to be optimistic about his new career, since the early stages of his pictures, whether still or portraits or landscapes, were full of pow. Mother, meaning to be helpful, would say of each one: "That's really wonderful, Kurt. Now all you have to do is finish it." He would then ruin it. I remember a portrait he did of his only brother, Alex, who was an insurance salesman, which he called "Special Agent". When he roughed it in, his hand and eye conspired with a few bold strokes to capture several important truths about Alex, including a hint of disappointment. Uncle Alex was a proud graduate of Harvard, who would rather have been a scholar of literature than an insurance man.
    When Father finished the portrait, made sure every square inch of masonite had its share of paint, Uncle Alex had disappeared entirely. We had a drunk and lustful Queen Victoria instead. This was terrible.
  • I don't care if I'm remembered or not when I'm dead. (A scientist I knew at General Electric, who was married to a woman named Josephine, said to me, "Why should I buy life insurance? If I die, I won't care what's happening to Jo. I won't care about anything. I'll be dead.")
  • “If flying-saucer creatures or angels or whatever were to come here in a hundred years, say, and find us gone like the dinosaurs, what might be a good message for humanity to leave for them, maybe carved in great big letters on a Grand Canyon wall? Here is this old poop's suggestion: WE PROBABLY COULD HAVE SAVED OURSELVES, BUT WERE TOO DAMNED LAZY TO TRY VERY HARD...AND TOO DAMNED CHEAP.”

Timequake (1997)[edit]

These are just a few samples, for more from this work see: Timequake
  • All persons, living and dead, are purely coincidental.
  • Many people need desperately to receive this message: "I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people don't care about them. You are not alone."
  • You were sick, but now you're well, and there's work to do.
    • Kilgore's Creed
  • Why throw money at problems? That's what money is for.
    Should the nation's wealth be redistributed? It has been and continues to be redistributed to a few people in a manner strikingly unhelpful.

Bagombo Snuff Box (1999)[edit]

  • As in my other works of fiction: All persons living and dead are purely coincidental, and should not be construed. No names have been changed in order to protect the innocent. Angels protect the innocent as a matter of Heavenly routine.

God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian (1999)[edit]

A collection of short pieces first broadcast on NPR in which Vonnegut imagines himself dispatched temporarily by Dr. Jack Kevorkian, allowing him to interview famous dead people.
If it weren't for the message of mercy and pity in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, I wouldn't want to be a human being. I would just as soon be a rattlesnake.
  • My first near-death experience was an accident, a botched anesthesia during a triple bypass. I had listened to several people on TV talk shows who had gone down the blue tunnel to the Pearly Gates, and even beyond the Pearly Gates, or so they said, and then come back to life again. But I certainly wouldn't have set out on such a risky expedition on purpose, without first having survived one ...
    To go through the Pearly Gates, no matter how tempting the interviewee on the other side, as I myself discovered the hard way, is to run the risk that crotchety Saint Peter, depending on his mood, may never let you out again. Think of how heartbroken your friends and relatives would be if, by going through the Pearly Gates to talk to Napoleon, say, you in effect committed suicide.
  • About belief or lack of belief in an afterlife: Some of you may know that I am neither Christian nor Jewish nor Buddhist, nor a conventionally religious person of any sort.
    I am a humanist, which mean, in part, that I have tried to behave decently without any expectation of rewards or punishments after I'm dead.
    My German-American ancestors, the earliest of whom settled in our Middle West about the time of our Civil War, called themselves "Freethinkers," which is the same sort of thing. My great grandfather Clemens Vonnegut wrote, for example, "If what Jesus said was good, what can it matter whether he was God or not?"
    I myself have written, "If it weren't for the message of mercy and pity in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, I wouldn't want to be a human being. I would just as soon be a rattlesnake."
    • In A Man Without a Country (2005) p. 80–81 Vonnegut makes a very similar statement:
How do humanists feel about Jesus? I say of Jesus, as all humanists do. "If what he said is good, and so much of it is absolutely beautiful, what does it matter if he was God or not?"
But if Christ hadn't delivered the Sermon on the Mount, with its message of mercy and pity, I wouldn't want to be a human being.
I'd just as soon be a rattlesnake.
When my own time comes to join the choir invisible or whatever, God forbid, I hope someone will say, "He's up in Heaven now." Who really knows? I could have dreamed all this.
  • I am honorary president of the American Humanist Association, having succeeded the late, great, spectacularly prolific writer and scientist, Dr. Isaac Asimov in that essentially functionless capacity. At an A.H.A. memorial service for my predecessor I said, "Isaac is up in Heaven now." That was the funniest thing I could have said to an audience of humanists. It rolled them in the aisles. Mirth! Several minutes had to pass before something resembling solemnity could be restored.
    I made that joke, of course, before my first near-death experience — the accidental one.
    So when my own time comes to join the choir invisible or whatever, God forbid, I hope someone will say, "He's up in Heaven now." Who really knows? I could have dreamed all this.
    My epitaph in any case? "Everything was beautiful. Nothing hurt." I will have gotten off so light, whatever the heck it is that was going on.
  • I wish one and all long and happy lives, no matter what may become of them afterwards. Use sunscreen! Don’t smoke cigarettes. Cigars, however, are good for you … Firearms are also good for you … Gunpowder has zero fat and zero cholesterol. That goes for dumdums, too.
  • Freud said he didn’t know what women wanted. I know what women want. They want a whole lot of people to talk to.
  • What do men want? They want a lot of pals, and they wish that people wouldn’t get so mad at them.
  • Ta ta and adios. Or, as Saint Peter said to me with a sly wink, when I told him I was on my last-round trip to Paradise: “See you later, Alligator.”
  • I asked this heroic pet lover how it felt to have died for a schnauzer named Teddy. Salvador Biagiani was philosophical. He said it sure beat dying for absolutely nothing in the Viet Nam War.
  • His plan? To pass out weapons to slaves, so they could overthrow their masters. Suicide.
Sir Isaac is there because of his insatiable curiosity about what the blue tunnel is, how the blue tunnel works.
  • I was lucky enough on this trip to interview none other than the late Adolf Hitler. I was gratified to learn that he now feels remorse for any actions of his, however indirectly, which might have had anything to do with the violent deaths suffered by thirty-five million people during World War II. He and his mistress Eva Braun, of course were among those casualties, along with four million other Germans, six million Jews, eighteen million citizens of the Soviet Union and so on.
    “I paid my dues with everyone else,” he said.
    It is his hope that a modest monument, possibly a stone cross, since he was a Christian, will be erected somewhere in his memory, possibly on the grounds of the United Nations Headquarters in New York. It should be incised, he said, with his name and dates 1889-1945. Underneath should be a two-word sentence in German: “Entschuldigen Sie.”
    Roughly translated into English, this comes out, “I beg your pardon,” or “Excuse Me.”
  • During my controlled near-death experiences, I’ve met Sir Isaac Newton, who died back in 1727 as often as I’ve met Saint Peter. They both hang out at the Heaven end of the blue tunnel of the Afterlife. Saint Peter is there because it’s his job. Sir Isaac is there because of his insatiable curiosity about what the blue tunnel is, how the blue tunnel works.
    It isn’t enough for Newton that during his eighty-five years on Earth he invented calculus, codified and quantified the laws of gravity, motion and optics, and designed the first reflecting telescope. He can’t forgive himself for having left it to Darwin to come up with the theory of evolution, to Pasteur to come up with the germ theory, and to Albert Einstein to come up with relativity. “I must have been deaf, dumb, and blind not to have come up with those myself,” he said to me. “What could have been more obvious?”
  • During my most recently controlled near-death experience, I got to interview William Shakespeare. We did not hit it off. He said the dialect I spoke was the ugliest English he had ever heard, “fit to split the ears of groundlings.” He asked if it had a name, and I said “Indianapolis.”

Cold Turkey (2004)[edit]

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.
Essay Cold Turkey at In These Times (10 May 2004)
  • Human beings are chimpanzees who get crazy drunk on power. By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East? Their morale, like so many bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas.
  • For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.
    "Blessed are the merciful" in a courtroom? "Blessed are the peacemakers" in the Pentagon? Give me a break!
  • There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don’t know what can be done to fix it. This is it: Only nut cases want to be president.
  • What does “A.D.” signify? That commemorates an inmate of this lunatic asylum we call Earth who was nailed to a wooden cross by a bunch of other inmates. With him still conscious, they hammered spikes through his wrists and insteps, and into the wood. Then they set the cross upright, so he dangled up there where even the shortest person in the crowd could see him writhing this way and that. Can you imagine people doing such a thing to a person?
  • 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.
  • If you want to take my guns away from me, and you’re all for murdering fetuses, and love it when homosexuals marry each other, and want to give them kitchen appliances at their showers, and you’re for the poor, you’re a liberal. If you are against those perversions and for the rich, you’re a conservative. What could be simpler?
  • So let’s give another big tax cut to the super-rich. That’ll teach bin Laden a lesson he won’t soon forget.
  • I am of course notoriously hooked on cigarettes. I keep hoping the things will kill me. A fire at one end and a fool at the other.
  • Here’s what I think the truth is: We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to face cold turkey. And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, our leaders are now committing violent crimes to get what little is left of what we’re hooked on.
  • One of the few good things about modern times: If you die horribly on television, you will not have died in vain. You will have entertained us.

I Love You, Madame Librarian (2004)[edit]

Original article from In These Times (6 August 2004)
  • In case you haven’t noticed, we are now almost as feared and hated all over the world as the Nazis were.
  • In case you haven’t noticed, we … dehumanize our own soldiers, not because of their religion or race, but because of their low social class. Send 'em anywhere. Make 'em do anything. Piece of cake.
  • War is now a form of TV entertainment, and what made the First World War so particularly entertaining were two American inventions, barbed wire and the machine gun.
  • Shrapnel was invented by an Englishman of the same name. Don't you wish you could have something named after you?
  • Napalm came from Harvard. Veritas!

A Man Without a Country (2005)[edit]

If I should ever die, God forbid, I hope you will say, “Kurt is up in heaven now.” That's my favorite joke.
I practice a disorganized religion. I belong to an unholy disorder. We call ourselves "Our Lady of Perpetual Astonishment."
  • And now I want to tell you about my late Uncle Alex. He was my father’s kid brother, a childless graduate of Harvard who was an honest life insurance salesman in Indianapolis. He was well-read and wise. And his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is. So I do the same now, and so do my kids and grandkids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.
  • Requiem:

    The crucified planet Earth,
    should it find a voice
    and a sense of irony,
    might now well say
    of our abuse of it,
    "Forgive them, Father,
    They know not what they do."

    The irony would be
    that we know what
    we are doing.

    When the last living thing
    has died on account of us,
    how poetical it would be
    if Earth could say,
    in a voice floating up
    perhaps
    from the floor
    of the Grand Canyon,
    "It is done."
    People did not like it here.

  • George W. Bush has gathered around him upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography.
  • During the Vietnam War, Abbie Hoffman announced that the new high was banana peels taken rectally. So then FBI scientists stuffed banana peels up their asses to find out if this was true or not.
  • What is it, what can it possibly be about blowjobs and golf?
    • Martian Visitor
  • If God were alive today, he would have to be an atheist, because the excrement has hit the air-conditioning big time, big time.
  • Old Norwegian Proverb: Swedes have short dicks but long memories.
  • My father said "When in doubt, castle."
  • [Vietnam] only made billionaires out of millionaires. [Iraq] is making trillionaires out of billionaires. Now I call that progress.
  • Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college.
    • A close paraphrase of this (beginning "Do not use...") is repeated in a commencement address at Cloves Hall, 27 April 2007, as reprinted in Armageddon in Retrospect
  • Humor is an almost physiological response to fear.
  • I think that novels that leave out technology misrepresent life as badly as Victorians misrepresented life by leaving out sex.
  • There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don't' know what can be done to fix it. This is it: Only nut cases want to be president.
  • Socialism is no more an evil word than Christianity. Socialism no more prescribed Joseph Stalin and his secret police and shuttered churches than Christianity prescribed the Spanish Inquisition. Christianity and socialism alike, in fact, prescribe a society dedicated to the proposition that all men, women, and children are created equal and shall not starve.
  • Some of the loudest, most proudly ignorant guessing in the world is going on in Washington today. Our leaders are sick of all the solid information that has been dumped on humanity by research and scholarship and investigative reporting. They think that the whole country is sick of it, and they could be right. It isn't the gold standard that they want to put us back on. They want something even more basic. They want to put us back on the snake-oil standard.
  • The highest treason in the USA is to say Americans are not loved, no matter where they are, no matter what they are doing there.
  • If you actually are an educated, thinking person, you will not be welcome in Washington DC.
  • We are about to be attacked by Al Qaeda. Wave flags if you have them. That always seems to scare them away. I'm kidding.
  • [America's soldiers] are being treated ... like toys a rich kid got for Christmas.
  • While we were being bombed in Dresden, sitting in a cellar with our arms over our heads in case the ceiling fell, one slider said as though he were a duchess in a mansion on a cold and rainy night, “I wonder what the poor people are doing tonight.” Nobody laughed, but we were still all glad he said it.
  • We are here on Earth to fart around. Don't let anybody tell you any different.
  • If I should ever die, God forbid, I hope you will say, "Kurt is up in heaven now." That's my favorite joke.
  • A joke is like building a mousetrap from scratch. You have to work pretty hard to make the thing snap when it is supposed to snap.
  • Humor is a way of holding off how awful life can be.
  • I don't know about you, but I practice a disorganized religion. I belong to an unholy disorder. We call ourselves "Our Lady of Perpetual Astonishment."
  • You know, the truth can be really powerful stuff. You're not expecting it.
  • Evolution is so creative. That's how we got giraffes.
  • Do you think Arabs are dumb? They gave us our numbers. Try doing long division with Roman numerals.
  • It is almost always a mistake to mention Abraham Lincoln. He always steals the show.
  • We've sure come a long way since then. Sometimes I wish we hadn't. I hate H-bombs and the Jerry Springer show.
  • 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.

If This Isn't Nice, What Is?: Advice for the Young (2013)[edit]

  • We could have saved the earth, but we were too damned cheap.


Misattributed[edit]

  • Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich's June 1, 1997 column, commonly referred to as "Wear sunscreen", was widely attributed to a commencement address made by Kurt Vonnegut at M.I.T.
  • Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.
    • Originates in a 2007 blog post by Iain S. Thomas entitled The Fur

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