Autodidact: self-taught



by V. L. Craven

Cat’s Cradle
001. 13-4: Maybe I did hurt him, but I don’t think I could have hurt him much. He was one of the best-protected human beings who ever lived. People couldn’t get at him because he just wasn’t interested in people.
002. 23: “He wasn’t on anything,” said Sandra scornfully. “He never got on any committee, never played any game, never took any girl out. I don’t think he ever even talked to a girl. We used to call him Secret Agent X-9.”
“You know—he was always acting like he was on his way between two secret places; couldn’t ever talk to anybody.”
003. 33: …she was ransacking her mind for something to say, finding nothing in it but used Kleenex and costume jewelry.
004. 33: She hated people who thought too much. At that moment, she struck me as an appropriate representative for almost all mankind.
The fat woman’s expression implied that she would go crazy on the spot if anybody did any more thinking.
“I think you’ll find,” said Dr Breed, “that everybody does about the same amount of thinking. Scientist simply think about things in one way, and other people think about things in others.”
005. 41; “Here, and shockingly few other places in this country, men are paid to increase knowledge, to work toward no end but that.”
…”New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become.”
006. 65-6: Busy, busy, busy, is what we Bokonists whisper whenever we think of how complicated and unpredictable the machinery of life really is.
007. 78: wrang-wrang: according to Bokonon, is a person who steers people away from a line of speculation by reducing that line, with the example of the wrang-wrang’s own life, to an absurdity.
008. 86-7: They were lovebirds. They entertained each other endlessly with little gifts: sights worth seeing out the plane window, amusing or instructive bits from things they read, random recollections of times gone by. They were, I think, a flawless example of what Bokonon calls a duprass, which is a karass composed of only two persons.
“A true duprass,” Bokonon tells us, “can’t be invaded, not even by children born of such a union.”
I exclude the Mintons, therefore, from my own karass, from Frank’s karass, from Newt’s karass, from Asa Breed’s karass, from Angela’s karass, from Lyman Enders Knowles’s karass, from Sherman Krebb’s karass. The Mintons’ karass was a tody one, composed of only two.
009. 89: “They’ve got discipline. They’ve got something you can count on from one year to the next. They don’t have the government encouraging everybody to be some kind of original pissant nobody ever heard of before.”
“Christ, back in Chicago, we don’t make bicycles any more. It’s all human relations now. The eggheads sit around trying to figure out new ways for everybody to be happy. Nobody can get fired, no matter what; and if somebody does accidentally make a bicycle, the union accuses us of cruel and inhuman practices and the government confiscates the bicycle for back taxes and gives it to a blind man in Afghanistan.”
“And you think things will be better in San Lorenzo?”
“I know damn well they will be. The people down there are poor enough and scared enough and ignorant enough to have some common sense.”
010. 91-2: Hazel’s obsession with Hoosiers around the world was a textbook example of a false karass, of a seeming team that was meaningless in terms of the ways God get things done, a textbook example of what Bokonon calls a granfalloon. Other example of granfalloons are the Communist party, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the General Electric Company, the International Order of Odd Fellows—and any nation, anytime, anywhere.
011. 98; “The highest possible form of treason,” said Minton, “is to say that Americans aren’t loved wherever they go, whatever they do. Claire tried to make the point that American foreign policy should recognize hate rather than imagine love.”
“I guess Americans are hated a lot of places.”
“People are hated a lot of places. Claire pointed out in her letter that Americans, in being hated, were simply paying the normal penalty for being people, and that they were foolish to think they should somehow by exempted from that penalty…”
012. 100-1: There was a quotation from The Books of Bokonon on the page before me. Those words leapt from the page and into my mind, and they were welcomed there.
The words were a paraphrase of the suggestion by Jesus: ‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s.’
Bokonon’s paraphrase was this:
‘Pay no attention to Caesar. Caesar doesn’t have the slightest idea what’s really going on.’
013. 122: A duprass, Bokonon tells us, is a valuable instrument for gaining and developing, in the privacy of an interminable love affair, insights that are queer but true. The Mintons’ cunning exploration of indexes was surely a case in point. A duprass, Bokonon tells us, is also a sweetly conceited establishment.
014. 152: ‘Frank Hoenikker’s lucky man.’
‘Frank Hoenikkers is a piece of shit.’
‘You’re certainly candid.’
‘I’m also rich.’
‘Glad to hear it.’
‘If you want an expert opinion, money doesn’t necessarily make people happy.’
‘Thanks for the information. You’ve just saved me a lot of trouble. I was just about to make some money.’
015. 158: What I had seen, of course, was the Bokononist ritual of hoko-maru, of the mingling of awareness.
We Bokononists believe that it is impossible to be sole-to-sole with another person without loving the person, provided the feet of both persons are clean and nicely tended.
016. 162: I could carve a better man out of a banana.
017. 169: And Castle nodded sagely, ‘So this is a picture of the meaninglessness of it all! I couldn’t agree more.’
‘Do you really agree?’ I asked. ‘A minute ago you said something about Jesus.’
‘Who?’ said Castle.
‘Jesus Christ?’
‘Oh,’ said Castle. ‘Him.’ He shrugged. ‘People have to talk about something just to keep their voice boxes in working order, so they’ll have good voice boxes in case there’s ever anything really meaningful to say.’
‘I see.’ I knew I wasn’t going to have an easy time writing a popular article about him. I was going to have to concentrate on his saintly deeds and ignore entirely the satanic things he thought and said.
‘You may quote me:’ he said. ‘Man is vile, and man makes nothing worth making, knows nothing worth knowing.’
He leaned down and shook little Newt’s painty hand. ‘Right?’
Newt nodded, seeming to suspect momentarily that the case had been a little overstated. ‘Right.’
018. 184: ‘Zah-mah-ki-bo.’ — Bokononist for Fate—inevitable destiny.
019. 185-6: ‘That’s what Corporal McCabe did, of course,’ said Castle. ‘he named his major-domo as his successor, then he shot himself.’
‘Cancer, too?’ I asked.
‘i can’t be sure; I don’t think so, though. Unrelieved villainy just wore him out, is my guess…’
020. 186-7: ‘If you aren’t “Papa’s” doctor,’ I said, ‘who is?’
‘One of my staff, a Dr Schlichter von Koenigswald.’
‘A German?’
‘Vaguely. He was in the S.S. for fourteen years. He was a camp physician at Auschwitz for six of those years.’
‘Doing penance at the House of Hope and Mercy is he?’
‘Yes,’ said Castle, ‘and making great strides, too, saving lives right and left.’
‘Good for him.’
‘Yes, if he keeps going at his present rate, working night and day, the number of people he’s saved will equal the number of people he let die—in the year 3010.’
021. 194: About this Franklin Hoenikker—the pinch-faced child spoke with the timbre and conviction of a kazoo. I had heard it said in the Army that such and such a man spoke like a man with a paper rectum. Such a man General Hoenikker. Poor Frank had had almost no experience in talking to anyone, having spent a furtive childhood as Secret Agent X-9.
022. 198: ‘Maturity,’ Bokonon tells us, ‘is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter can be said to remedy anything.’
023. 199: Duffle, in the Bokononist sense, is the destiny of thousands upon thousands of persons when placed in the hands of a stuppa. A stuppa is a fogbound child.
024. 202: And, inwardly, I sarooned, which is to say that I acquiesced to the seeming demands of my vin-dit.
025. 203-4: ‘It is not possible to make a mistake,’ she assured me.
I did not know that this was a customary greeting given by all Bokononists when meeting a shy person.
026. 208-9: ‘A sin-wat!’ she cried. ‘A man who wants all of somebody’s love. That’s very bad.’
‘In the case of marriage, I think it’s a very good thing. It’s the only thing.’
… Bokonon tells us it is very wrong not to love everyone exactly the same….’
027. 211: ‘What is sacred to Bokononists?’ i asked after a while.
‘Not even God, as near as I can tell.’
‘Just one thing.’
I made some guesses. ‘The ocean? The sun?’
‘Man,’ said Frank. ‘That’s all. Just man.’
028. 219: ‘I agree with one Bokononist idea. I agree that all religions, including Bokononism, are nothing but lies.’
029. 244; ‘Sometimes the pool-pah,’ Bokonon tells us, ‘exceeds the power of humans to comment.’ Bokonon translates pool-pah at one point in The Books of Bokonon as ‘shit storm’ and at another point as ‘wrath of God.’
030. 245: And I remembered the Fourteenth Book of Bokonon, which I had read in its entirety the night before. The Fourteenth Book is entitled, ‘What Can a Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth, Given the Experience of the Past Million Years?’
It doesn’t take long to read The Fourteenth Book. It consists of one word and a period.
This is it:
031. 252: ‘History!’ writes Bokonon. ‘Read it and weep!’
032. 264-5: I turned to The Books of Bokonon, still sufficiently unfamiliar with them to believe that they contained spiritual comfort somewhere. I passed quickly over the warning on the title page of The First Book:
‘Don’t be a fool! Close this book at once! It is nothing but foma!’
Foma, of course, are lies.
And then I read this:
In the beginning, God created the earth, and he looked upon it in His cosmic loneliness.
And God said: ‘Let Us make living creatures out of mud, so the mud can see what We have done.’ And God created every living creature that now moveth, and one was man. Mud as man alone could speak. God leaned close as mud as man sat up, looked around, and spoke. Man blinked. ‘What is the purpose of all this?’ he asked politely.
‘Everything must have a purpose?’ asked God.
‘Certainly,’ said man.
‘Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this,’ said God. And He went away.
033. 267: ‘Today i will be a Bulgarian Minister of Education,’ Bokonon tells us. ‘Tomorrow i will be Helen of Troy.’ His meaning is crystal clear: Each one of us has to be what he or she is.
034. 281: From The Books of Bokonon. ‘Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser then before,’ Bokonon tells us. ‘He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way.’
035. 285: From The Books of Bokonon: The hand that stocks the drug stores rules the world.
Let us start our Republic with a chain of drug stores, a chain of grocery stores, a chain of gas chambers, and a national game. After that, we can write our Constitution

001. 5: I have this disease late at night sometimes, involved alcohol and the telephone.
002. 23: I got into some perfectly beautiful trouble, got out of it again.
003. 26: The time would not pass. Somebody was playing with the clocks, and not only with the electric clocks, but the wind-up kind, too. The second hand on my watch would twitch once, and a year would pass, and then it would twitch again.
004. 26: From Words for the Wind by Theodore Roethke: I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow./I feel my fate in what I cannot fear./I learn by going where I have to go.
005. 49: Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.
006. 97: “Welcome aboard, Mr Pilgrim,” said the loudspeaker. “Any questions?”
Billy licked his lips, thought a while, inquired at last: “Why me?”
“That is a very Earthling question to ask, Mr Pilgrim. Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is. Have you ever seen bugs trapped in amber?”
“Yes.” Billy, in fact, had a paperweight in his office which was a blob of polished amber with three ladybugs embedded in it.
“Well, here we are, Mr Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.”
007. 112: …each clump of symbols is a brief, urgent message—describing a situation, a scene. We Tralfamadorians read them all at once, not one after the other. There isn’t any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.
008. 127: They had come here voluntarily, alarmed by the outside world.
009. 129: He said that everything there was to know about life was in The Brothers Karamozov, by Feodor Dostoevsky.
010. 129: Another time Billy heard Rosewater say to a psychiatrist, “I think you guys are going to have to come up with a lot of wonderful new lies, or people just aren’t going to want to go on living.”
011. 138: The visitor from outer space made a serious study of Christianity, to learn, if he could, why Christians found it so easy to be cruel. He concluded that at least part of the trouble was slipshod storytelling in the New Testament. He supposed that the intent of the Gospels was to teach people, among other things, to be merciful, even to the lowest of the low.
But the Gospels actually taught this:
Before you kill somebody, make absolutely sure he isn’t well connected.
012. 138-9: The flaw in the Christ stories, said the visitor from outer space, was that Christ, who didn’t look like much, was actually the Son of the Most Powerful Being in the Universe. Readers understood that, so, when they came to the crucifixion, they naturally thought, and Rosewater read out loud again:
Oh, boy—they sure picked the wrong guy to lynch that time!
And that thought had a brother: “There are right people to lynch.” Who? People not well connected.
013. 164: America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, “It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.” It is in fact crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the America poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters.
014. 165: Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue, the monograph went on. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say, Napoleonic times.
Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves.
015. 256: The news of the day, meanwhile, was being written in a ribbon of lights on a building to Billy’s back. The window reflected the news. It was about power and sports and anger and death. So it goes.
016. 271: On an average, 340,000 new babies are born into the world every day. During that same day, 10,000 persons, on an average, will have starved to death or died from malnutrition. So it goes. In addition 123,000 persons will die of other reasons. So it goes. This leaves a net gain of about 191,000 each day in the world. The Population Reference Bureau predicts that the world’s total population will double to 7,000,000,000 before the year 2000. [This was written in 1969]

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