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Thursday, April 12, 2007

So It Goes . . . .

The phrase "So it goes" is an expression often used by Billy Pilgrim, the main character in the book Slaughterhouse-Five—and it is with great sadness that I learned this morning of the passing of that book's author, a truly great American literary figure: Kurt Vonnegut.

Please don't take the title of this post as being cruel or sarcastic—it is meant as the highest form of flattery and respect.

I don't know why that phrase has stuck with me so well over the years, but it has. It always seemed to capture an adequately balanced mixture of abject cynicism or optimism—as the occasion warranted—and total acceptance, a sort of "Well doesn't that just figure; oh well!" quality about it. But then, it has been ages (at least fifteen years, I'd venture), since I last reread this book! Time to change that I guess.

Yes, time to change that indeed; I just saw at Wikipedia that the phrase is

used whenever death or dying is mentioned (be it that of a man, an animal, or the bubbles in champagne), serves to downplay mortality, making it routine and even humorous
and goes on to mention
Vonnegut used the chorus "So it goes" every time a passage deals with death, dying or mortality, as a transitional phrase to another subject, as a reminder, and as comic relief. It is also used to explain the unexplained. There are about 106 "so it goes" anecdotes laced throughout the story.

As for the book itself, sure it is confusing the first time through (or seventh or tenth if you don't have the right mindset to see what it all means), but it is an exceptional book. I highly recommend repeated readings of it to suck out all of the available nuance (of which there is an abundance!)

Oh, yes, and he also did not give the infamous Wear Sunscreen commencement address at MIT in 1997.


Shawn Powers said...

I'm a reader that prefers science fiction, and I've never read Slaughterhouse Five. I know, I have to leave my geek hat at the door...

I also have only read "Speaker for the Dead" on your recommended list. I really liked that book, and it's sequel, which I can't remember the name of -- so perhaps we have similar tastes and I should grab copies of the others.

Oh, and get Slaughterhouse Five as well. :)

cube said...

So it goes... indeed. I read most of the early Vonnegut books way back in the old days. Hope he's in a better place.

RE: "Speaker for the Dead" on your list. It would behoove you to read "Ender's Game" also by O.S.C.

Techsplorer (Eagan, MN) said...

Thanks for the comments.

Cube, I have read all of the original Ender series, and some of the Shadow series. I think they're all great (as I wannabe writer, I wannabe OSC when I grow up!), but I think he outdid himself with Speaker for the Dead, so that is the one I recommend.

Perhaps, as warning for folks I'll add "(sequel to Ender's Game)" to the SFTD recommendation.

FWIW, I've met OSC and had him sign copies of some of his books for me, including Xenocide. He is a great guy and you can't go wrong reading his fiction.

But wait, there's more!!!

Just for you, Cube, I have just what anyone with a blog named Klein Bottle Blog needs: The Mathematical Magpie by Clifton Fadiman, a delightful book that Amazon describes as follows: "The companion volume to Fadiman's Fantasia Mathematica, this second anthology of mathematical writings is even more varied and contains stories, cartoons, essays, rhymes, music, anecdotes, aphorisms, and other oddments. Authors include Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll, and many other renowned figures."

cube said...

Thanks. This looks like an excellent choice. Just up my alley. I will definitely look into it.

I've also enjoyed two books by Douglas Hofstadter, "Godel, Esher, Bach" and "Metamagical Themas"