Harmful Untruths – An Interview with Kevin Brown

One of Kurt Vonnegut’s most enduring phrases is foma, harmless untruths that can make life easier. Yet Vonnegut also explored the opposite—harmful untruths, lies people believe which create havoc for individuals and society. Professor Kevin Brown, in an essay titled “No All Untruths are Harmless: Minor Characters’ Narratives in Slaughterhouse-Five,” examined how Vonnegut brought these harmful untruths to life in his classic novel.  Brown presented the essay to the Kurt Vonnegut Society at the American Literature Association conference in 2017.

Brown shared his thoughts with The Daily Vonnegut.

Q: There are two dominant critical interpretations of Billy Pilgrim’s creation of Tralfamadore in Slaughterhouse-Five. One sees it as a coping mechanism, the other as a means of escape. Which interpretation do you argue in your essay?  

A: I argue that Billy’s creation of Tralfamadore is a means of escape, that he is unable to cope with what he saw in Dresden and the emptiness of his life otherwise. I can understand how other critics view Tralfamadore as a creative and productive reaction for Billy, I just don’t see enough evidence in the novel that Billy ever copes with what he has experienced. His acceptance of the Tralfamadorian philosophy of fatalism (or quietism, as some say) seems to go against everything else Vonnegut seems to be doing in this novel and in his other works.

For the complete interview, click below:

Harmful Untruths – An Interview with Kevin Brown

Vonnegut Trivia – Week of February 25, 2018

Here’s this week’s question:

In 1999, Seven Stories Press published Like Shaking Hands with God, a conversation about writing between Kurt Vonnegut and Lee Stringer.

What subject was Lee Stringer known for writing about?

a) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

b) Homelessness

c) Civil Disobedience

c) Military intervention in Central America

Check back next week for the correct response.  The answer to last week’s question was C – Vonnegut’s essay “Teaching the Unteachable” was about learning to write well.

Here’s a 1999 clip from a commencement address delivered to Agnes Scott College in Georgia.  The text from the speech appeared in 2014 in If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?, a collection of graduation speeches published by Seven Stories Press.

Vonnegut Trivia – Week of February 18, 2018

Here’s another question from Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons:

In the essay “Teaching the Unteachable,” what subject does Vonnegut consider unteachable?

a) How to be happy

b) How to be a good spouse

c) How to write well

d) How to survive being a POW

Check back next week for the answer.  The correct response to last week’s question was A- The 1972 Republican Convention, which Vonnegut described as “Disneyland under martial law.”

Need help navigating the ups and downs of online life?  Jaya Saxena, on Electric Lit, offers “What Kurt Vonnegut Can Teach Us About Coping With the Internet.”

Thanks to Jim O’Loughlin for the sending the link to Electric Lit.  Check out this interview with Jim about new fiction inspired by Vonnegut’s work.

Jim O’Loughlin – The World of Kurt Vonnegut

O’Loughlin’s Vonnegut-inspired story, “I Need a Miracle,” is available here.

Finally, for more Vonnegut, here’s a 2005 appearance on CSPAN-2’s Book TV.

Vonnegut Trivia – Week of February 11, 2018

Here’s another question from Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons:

In the essay “In a Manner That Must Shame God Himself,” first published in Harper’s Magazine, Vonnegut described which event as “Disneyland under martial law?”

a) The 1972 Republican Convention

b)  The 1968 Democratic Convention

c) The 1974 Super Bowl

d) The film set for the movie of Slaughterhouse-Five

Check back next week for the correct response.  The answer to last week’s question was A – The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was the subject of the essay, “Yes, We Have No Nirvanas.”

The essay “In a Manner That Must Shame God Himself” was referenced this week by Eric Ortiz in a column for the website Truthdig.com. Ortiz describes Vonnegut as a “master or irony.”  The essay is available here:    A County without a Heart

In the following clip, from an interview with Charlie Rose, Vonnegut discusses the film version of Mother Night.

Vonnegut Trivia – Week of February 4, 2018

This week’s question is from Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons:

In the essay “Yes, We have No Nirvanas,” originally published in Esquire, Vonnegut writes about which real-life figure?

a) Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

b) Timothy Leary

c) Wavy Gravy

d) Madame Blavatsky

Check back next week for the answer.  The correct response to last week’s question was B- Jailbird, which begins:   “Yes–Kilgore Trout is back again.  He could not make it on the outside.  That is no disgrace.  A lot of good people can’t make it on the outside.”

For more on Vonnegut, here’s a short interview from 1979 featuring Vonnegut, his daughter Edith, and TV Personality Gene Shalit.  Among the topics discussed is the off-Broadway musical adaptation of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.

Three Minutes with Kurt Vonnegut