February 18, 2005

Hocus Pocus

Vonnegut is at his cynical best here. If you are in anyway dissatisfied with the world, get a copy of any Vonnegut book and chances are, you’ll read what you’ve been feeling all along, written with such a wicked sense of humour that you’ll actually feel a little better. DNA & Vonnegut are gonna be my security blanket from now on.

OK, Hocus Pocus is about Eugene Debs Hartke, named by his socialist grandfather after Eugene Victor Debs, on whose gravestone is written:

“While there is a lower class I am in it. While there is a criminal element, I am of it. While there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

The book was written somewhere around 1990, and is set in periods ranging from 2001 to the 1940’s. Its written in an autobiographical sense, Eugene Debs is telling us of his life in first-person. And what a life it is, from being in the army in the Vietnam war to being a teacher for ‘learning-impaired’ students to teaching in prison, remaining a constant womaniser throughout.

This is the first book I’ve read where the editor’s note is actually useful — and funny.

“…Whatever the reason, he wrote this book in pencil from brown wrapping paper to the backs of business cards. The unconventional lines separating passages within chapters indicate where one scrap ended and another began. The shorter the passage, the smaller the scrap…”

Actually that’s by Vonnegut, who’s writing as if he’s the editor of a book published by Eugene Debs. Took me some time to figure that out.

I can’t really describe this book. Anyone I know who’s interested is welcome to borrow this and find out for themselves. I’ll just resort of an old standby when I can’t come up with ‘penetrating insights’, just open a page and quote whatever’s written to give a sense of the book. So here goes, from page 240:

The Vietnam War could not have gone on as long as it did, certainly, if it hadn’t been human nature to regard persons 1 didn’t know and didn’t care to know, even if they were in agony, as insignificant. A few human beings have struggled against this most natural of tendencies, and have expressed pity for unhappy strangers. But, as History shows, as History yells: “They have never been numerous!”

Another flaw in human character is that everyone wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.

And the worst flaw is that we’re just plain dumb. Admit it!
You think Auschwitz was intelligent?

Oh, and I promise to write about something other than books next time.

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