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RE: [F_minor] Slaughterhouse 5
It isn't a great movie; possibly it isn't even a good movie, and though
Glenn Gould's Bach adds an important distinction to it, it's not enough to
spark the whole thing to life.
Which is a terrible shame, because I truly think
The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance With Death
is the greatest and most powerful anti-war novel ever written. Where the
movie has such terrible difficulty lumbering off the runway and connecting
with audiences, the novel moves my heart immediately and explosively. Every
year it jumps out of my bookshelf and demands that I read it again, and I
do, and its power has never faded.
Movie and book, these are just MHO, but for those who might be impressed by
such things, the novel found a home in the prestigious Modern Library
has also appeared on Time magazine's list of 100 all-time best
English-language novels written since 1923. (Wikipedia)
But a far more telling and long-lasting critical reception:
Because of its realistic and frequent depiction of swearing by American
soldiers, its irreverent language (including the sentence "The gun made a
ripping sound like the opening of the zipper on the fly of God Almighty,")
and some sexually explicit content, Slaughterhouse-Five is among the most
frequently banned works in American literature, and in some cases is still
removed from school libraries and curricula. Conversely, this book has also
become a part of the curriculum of certain schools. The suitability of the
work has even been considered by the Supreme Court of the United States,
where it was one of the works at issue in Island Trees School District v.
Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (1982). The novel appears on the American Library
Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000
at number sixty-nine. (Wikipedia)
So much time has passed since the novel was published (1969, that's a lot,
right?) that an important element of its context has drifted away and may
be far less clear and evident to new readers.
Though the core of the novel is the World War II Allied firebombing of the
German city of Dresden, which Vonnegut, a 22-year-old American soldier and
prisoner of war, witnessed and survived, it was very clearly Vonnegut's
outraged attack not just on war in general, but specifically against the
Vietnam War, which had reached its most ferocious intensity in 1969.
Dresden's contribution to the German war effort was its centuries-old
industry of manufacturing gorgeous ceramic figurines. Only very recently
has the Allied rationale for the raids become slightly less mysterious.
Apparently the idea was to flood German highways and roads with civilian
refugees for weeks as the Soviet Army marched westward toward Berlin, and
thus impede war transport.
The Anglo-American physicist Freeman Dyson's first post-university job was
with the British Air Ministry during World War II. In his memoir
"Disturbing the Universe," he skips the British firebombing of Dresden,
because, he explains, Kurt Vonnegut had already said everything that could
possibly be said about it.
A great deal has been written about Dresden, nearly all of it from the
perspective of bombers in the sky looking down. "Slaughterhouse Five" is
the lone witness of someone on the ground looking up. Not very many people
with that perspective survived.
The tactic of firebombing a city is to use magnesium and phosphorous bombs
whose fierce and inextinguishable high-temperature burning literally sucks
the oxygen from the city. Most victims (40,000 is a conservative figure for
Dresden) suffocate or, in Vonnegut's brutal witness, are cooked.
"Slaughterhouse Five" appears to be a science fiction novel, and a not very
high-class or good one at that. It is designed to be confusing,
off-putting, even dismissible by readers who come to it with the finest
preconceptions of what a great novel with a great theme and great purpose
should be. You expect "All Quiet on the Western Front," and find yourself
in a carnival freak show about a time-traveller (Billy Pilgrim, a suburban
optometrist) who ping-pongs between his soldiering experiences in 1944,
American family life in the 1960s, and the planet Tralfamadore, where he is
exhibited in a zoo cage with Montana Wildhack, an American porn star.
All of which make entirely the same sense, and are equal adornments to
civilization, reason and culture, as the firebombing of Dresden, the
Vietnam War, and the Iraq War.
Vonnegut may have had more to do with the Gould soundtrack than Gould.
Near the end of his life Vonnegut said that his epitaph ought to read: "The
only proof he needed for the existence of God was music."
Northampton Massachusetts USA
(In his final years, to be near his daughter and grandchildren, Vonnegut
was my townsman and neighbor.)
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