K. vonnegut. cat’s cradle

Kurt Vonnegut

First published in 1963

For Kenneth Littauer,
A man of gallantry and taste.
Nothing in this book is true.

“Live by the foma* that makes you brave and kind and healthy and happy.”
– The Books of Bokonon. 1:5
*Harmless untruths

The Day the World Ended 1

Call me Jonah. My parents did, or nearly did. They called me John.
Jonah – John – if I had been a Sam, I would have been a Jonah still – not because I have been unlucky for others, but because somebody or something has compelled me to be certain places at certain times, without fail. Conveyances and motives, both conventional and bizarre, have been provided. And, according to plan, at each appointed second, at each appointed place this Jonah was there.
When I was a younger man – two wives ago, 250,000 cigarettes ago, 3,000 quarts of booze ago.
When I was a much younger man, I began to collect material for a book to be called _The Day the World Ended_.
The book was to be factual.
The book was to be an account of what important Americans had done on the day when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.
It was to be a Christian book. I was a Christian then.
I am a Bokononist now.
I would have been a Bokononist then, if there had been anyone to teach me the bittersweet lies of Bokonon. But Bokononism was unknown beyond the gravel beaches and coral knives that ring this little island in the Caribbean Sea, the Republic of San Lorenzo.
We Bokononists believe that humanity is organized into teams, teams that do God’s Will without ever discovering what they are doing. Such a team is called a _karass_ by Bokonon, and the instrument, the _kan-kan_, that brought me into my own particular _karass_ was the book I never finished, the book to be called _The Day the World Ended_.


Nice, Very Nice 2

“If you find your life tangled up with somebody else’s life for no very logical reasons,” writes Bokonon, “that person may be a member of your _karass_.”
At another point in _The Books of Bokonon_ he tells us, “Man created the checkerboard; God created the _karass_.” By that he means that a _karass_ ignores national, institutional, occupational, familial, and class boundaries.
It is as free-form as an amoeba.
In his “Fifty-third Calypso,” Bokonon invites us to sing along with him:
Oh, a sleeping drunkard
Up in Central Park,
And a lion-hunter
In the jungle dark,
And a Chinese dentist,
And a British queen –
All fit together
In the same machine.
Nice, nice, very nice;
Nice, nice, very nice;
Nice, nice, very nice –
So many different people
In the same device.

Folly 3

Nowhere does Bokonon warn against a person’s trying to discover the limits of his _karass_ and the nature of the work God Almighty has had it do. Bokonon simply observes that such investigations are bound to be incomplete.
In the autobiographical section of _The Books of Bokanon_ he writes a parable on the folly of pretending to discover, to understand:
I once knew an Episcopalian lady in Newport, Rhode Island, who asked me to design and build a doghouse for her Great Dane. The lady claimed to understand God and His Ways of Working perfectly. She could not understand why anyone should be puzzled about what had been or about what was going to be.
And yet, when I showed her a blueprint of the doghouse I proposed to build, she said to me, “I’m sorry, but I never could read one of those things.”

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K. vonnegut. cat’s cradle