Monday, July 16, 2007
Rereading Slaughterhouse Five sent me back to the stacks for something I had not read previously and that led me to Timequake, a 1997 novel. It is filled with many delightful moments even if the overall feeling is one of a very old man gradually slowing down. Two passages in particular are worth sharing here:
"I remember labor history, too, because the first effective strikes by American working people for better pay, and more respect, and safer working conditions, were called against the railroads. And then against the owners of coal mines and steel mills and textile mills, and on and on. Much blood was shed in what appeared to most members of my generation of American writers to be battles as worth fighting as any against a foreign enemy.
The optimism that infused so much of our writing was based on our belief that after the Magna Carta, and then the Declaration of Independence, and then the Bill of Rights, and then the Emancipation Proclamation, and then Article XIX of the Constitution, which in 1920 entitled women to vote, some scheme for economic justice could also be devised. That was the next logical step.
And even in 1996, I in speeches propose the following amendments to the Constitution:
Article XXVIII: Every newborn shall be sincerely welcomed and cared for until maturity.
Article XXIX: Every adult who needs it shall be given meaningful work to do, at a living wage.
What we have created instead, as customers and employees and investors, is mountains of paper wealth so enormous that a handful of people in charge of them can take millions and billions for themselves without hurting anyone. Apparently.
Many members of my generation are disappointed." (pp. 151-152)
In the other the real Vonnegut volunteers to go stand beside his fictional alter-ego, the science ficton writer Kilgore Trout to help with a demonstration.
Trout asks him to look into the night sky and select two twinkling stars. Trout explains that "the universe has expanded so enormously that light is no longer fast enough to make any trips worth taking even in the most unreasonable lengths of time. Once the fastest thing possible, they say, light now belongs in the graveyard of history, like the Pony Express."
Explaining that light traveling between the two stars that Vonnegut has selected would take millions of years to make the trip he instructs his volunteer to "look precisely at one, and then precisely at the other."
This done, Trout continues:
"It took a second, do you think?" he said.
"No more," I said.
"Even if you'd taken an hour," he said, "something would have passed between where those two heavenly bodies used to be, at, conservatively speaking, a million times the speed of light."
"What was it?" I said.
"Your awareness," he said. "That is a new quality in the Universe, which exists only because there are human beings. Physicists must from now on, when pondering secrets of the Cosmos, factor in not only energy and matter and time, but something very new and beautiful, which is human awareness. . . . I have thought of a better word than awareness," he said. "Let us call it soul." (pp. 213-214)
So it goes.