Dancing Lessons From God

Kurt Vonnegut is easily my favorite author, so this list that I just found of the 15 quotes that Vonnegut said better than anyone else ever over at The AV Club is awesome. Like seriously fucking awesome. They posted it after he died a year ago, but I didn’t read the AV Club back then. I’m glad I caught the link at the bottom of another article I was reading so I got to read it.

Here’s a few of my favs from the list (with the AV Clubs spin, cause they are better writers)

2. “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.”

In Cat’s Cradle, the narrator haplessly stumbles across the cynical, cultish figure Bokonon, who populates his religious writings with moronic, twee aphorisms. The great joke of Bokononism is that it forces meaning on what’s essentially chaos, and Bokonon himself admits that his writings are lies. If the protagonist’s trip to the island nation of San Lorenzo has any cosmic purpose, it’s to catalyze a massive tragedy, but the experience makes him a devout Bokononist. It’s a religion for people who believe religions are absurd, and an ideal one for Vonnegut-style humanists.

Obviously, by the title of the post you can probably guess that this is one of my favorite quotes of all time. I can’t really ad more to what the AV Club. In fact, you really don’t even need to ad anything to that quote, and that’s why it’s perfect.

9. “That is my principal objection to life, I think: It’s too easy, when alive, to make perfectly horrible mistakes.”

The narrator delivering this line at the end of the first chapter of Deadeye Dick is alluding both to his father’s befriending of Hitler and his own accidental murder of his neighbor, but like so many of these quotes, it resonates well beyond its context. The underlying philosophy of Vonnegut’s work was always that existence is capricious and senseless, a difficult sentiment that he captured time and again with a bemused shake of the head. Indeed, the idea that life is just a series of small decisions that culminate into some sort of “destiny” is maddening, because you could easily ruin it all simply by making the wrong one. Ordering the fish, stepping onto a balcony, booking the wrong flight, getting married—a single misstep, and you’re done for. At least when you’re dead, you don’t have to make any more damn choices. Wherever Vonnegut is, he’s no doubt grateful for that.

Yeah, I have nothing more to add to that.

15. “We must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

In Mother Night, apolitical expatriate American playwright Howard W. Campbell, Jr. refashions himself as a Nazi propagandist in order to pass coded messages on to the U.S. generals and preserve his marriage to a German woman—their “nation of two,” as he calls it. But in serving multiple masters, Campbell ends up ruining his life and becoming an unwitting inspiration to bigots. In his 1966 introduction to the paperback edition, Vonnegut underlines Mother Night‘s moral: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” That lesson springs to mind every time a comedian whose shtick relies on hoaxes and audience-baiting—or a political pundit who traffics in shock and hyperbole—gets hauled in front of the court of public opinion for pushing the act too far. Why can’t people just say what they mean? It’s a question Don Imus and Michael Richards—and maybe someday Ann Coulter—must ask themselves on their many sleepless nights.

I had this conversation with someone lately. How (almost) everyone I know, myself included, puts on a false front. Everyone invents a persona about who they are, and I think everyone needs to think like this every once in a while.

13. “So it goes.”

I didn’t post the AV Club’s response, because that stands on its own.

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One Response to “Dancing Lessons From God”

  1. Robert Orenstein Says:

    Just found your site trying to find the Vonnegut quote about “dancing lessons from God”. Funny – I’d remembered it as “Unexpected travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” But close enough.

    Anyway, wanted to make a recommendation – if you love Vonnegut, try George Saunders. Vonnegut is one of my two favorite authors and George Saunders is the other. Very similar in some ways, but also very different.

    If you do try Saunders, maybe start with “Pastoralia” and then “In Persuasion Nation”. There are others too but those two are the best.

    Hmmm… are “unexpected reading suggestions” also dancing lessons from God? 😉

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