Monday, 25 March 2013

Choosing my religion

I have, as mentioned recently on various social media platforms, (well, Facebook and Twitter, actually, but it sounded much more impressive before the brackets intervened) just finished rereading Kurt Vonnegut's The Sirens of Titan.  The image on the right bears witness to my habit of scouring charity shops for the earliest affordable paperback editions of the late maestro's work, so thank you, Corgi 1964 for this one.  Vonnegut's covers have been informed by many styles in their time, but I struggle to find one in the current crop that really appeals to me or captures the spirit of the books.  Publishers seem to veer between a largely typographic approach and the use of overstated cartoon graphics which, I suppose, are supposed to connote the darkly comic whimsy which is one of the writer's trademarks.

In any case, revisiting Earth, Mars, Mercury and Titan in this novel, as is usual with Vonnegut, combined the pleasure of cavorting around in his playground of ideas and jokes and purring with pleasure at his style:

And yawning under all those bowls was the upturned mouth of the biggest bowl of them all...a regular Beelzebub of a bowl, bone dry and insatiable...waiting, waiting, waiting for that first sweet drop.

with the renewed realisation that very few books were going to produce such a rich reading experience.  I'm grateful for Vonnegut's having been relatively prolific, and thus leaving scope for a long and varied cycle of re-reading.

As do many of his books, Sirens features a fabricated religion, The Church of God the Utterly Indifferent, whose central credo is that we are all the 'victims of a series of accidents' and which vehemently denies the existence of any benevolent divine working in the universe.  For Vonnegut, fictitious religion was a tautology, and his repeated coinings of faiths, such as The Church of Jesus Christ the Kidnapped and Bokononism, embody this view.  The latter is Vonnegut's most involved and detailed religious system and, typically, has at its first statement that what follows is a highly systematic series of untruths.  Although these created theologies have specific satirical and structural roles in the various books, they are of course reiterating Vonnegut's belief that all religion is a fiction but that it's important to choose the most effective one nonetheless.  This stance is related to his also oft-repeated observation that we all depend on constructing narratives - which may have serious arguments with reality - to maintain our mental stability.  The writer of this blog does not necessarily endorse either of these views, although he is (as you may have gathered) capable of being infinitely charmed by Vonnegut's various expressions of them.

It is interesting to note that, among the many cultural references inspired by Vonnegut, Bokononism (which is an integral part of the novel Cat's Cradle) features fairly heavily, although the best-known homage is probably Al Stewart's song, The Sirens of Titan, which very elegantly converts the novel into a modern popular beat composition.

So it goes.

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