Kurt Vonnegut and the tribe of 50

May 10th, 2011 § 0 comments

On rereading Kurt Vonnegut’s Bluebeard, I discovered that an idea I had thought of as my own for many years turned out to be one of his. My apologies.

The idea is this: In primitive tribes of 50 or so people, if you were the best dancer, storyteller, painter or whatever in the group, that would be your role. However, in the modern world, mass media make it possible for people to see paintings, stories, dances, etc. by people who aren’t just the most talented out of 50, but the most talented out of hundreds of thousands. This means that there are a lot of “best out of 50” artistic types whose social role has become redundant.

What’s to become of them? Uncle Kurt says they’ll get drunk at a wedding and get up on a table to dance and sing.

It’s a sad picture.

What is remarkable is that good old Uncle Kurt had the empathy to see this, as he was, undoubtedly, not just a ‘best out of 50” type. What other writer can sidle up to you in such a seemingly casual and artless way and have you in his grip, dangling over a cliff edge before you know it?

By the way, there’s a clip on YouTube where he identifies his three best books as Slaughterhouse Five, Cat’s Cradle and Mother Night. To borrow one of his stylistic devices: I concur! I concur!

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