Daily Archives: December 13, 2020

So it goes

This is my third sentence tasting. Shall I write a book of them?

Kurt Vonnegut survived the cataclysmic firebombing of Dresden, at least one suicide attempt, and seventy years of smoking, and then fell down in his house and died from brain injuries. So it goes. He wrote fourteen novels, almost all of which I read when I was younger, and some large number of short stories, most of which I have not read. In his fiction he suggested numerous epitaphs for his various characters and for himself, perhaps the most famous of which was for Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five: “EVERYTHING WAS BEAUTIFUL, AND NOTHING HURT.” It was a lovely lie. Other people have that epitaph, thanks to him. They are also dead. So it goes. Many people think Vonnegut’s grave has that epitaph. But no one (except, I suppose, his family) knows where he is buried, so it’s probably not true.

Kurt Vonnegut’s most vaunted novel is Slaughterhouse-Five, which features an awkward man named Billy Pilgrim, who, like Kurt Vonnegut, survives the firebombing of Dresden in 1945, and, unlike Kurt Vonnegut, as far as I know, is later abducted by space aliens from Tralfamadore and spends some time in a zoo on their planet and learns that time is not a one-way trip. The book ends like this: “One bird said to Billy Pilgrim, ‘Poo-tee-weet?’” The bird says this because, as Vonnegut says early in the book, “Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds. ¶ And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like ‘Poo-tee-weet?’” The bird says that because it is in Dresden just after Nazi Germany has surrendered, but also because it is a bird and that is what it says.

In Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut says the book “begins like this: ¶ Listen: ¶ Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.” This is not true. I can say that it is not true because Kurt Vonnegut says that before the book says that, which means that the book says the book says that before the book says that, although in saying that it says that it also says that, which is like coming unstuck in time. But I can also say that because there is a whole chapter before the book says that, and almost a whole chapter before the book says that it says that. And that first chapter begins “All this happened, more or less.” It’s an introduction, not part of the story as such, but it’s there, and it’s chapter number one. And Kurt Vonnegut himself appears in cameos later in the novel, so it’s in-world.

There’s one other thing that the book says, which means Kurt Vonnegut says in the book, over and over again, and that one thing is the sentence I am looking at today, the sentence that is the title of this article: “So it goes.”

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