Black and Gold Mafia: Kurt Vonnegut

We pity Northwestern, but we love Lake the Posts, the only Northwestern blog worth reading.  One of the more intriguing recurring features on LTP is "Purple Mafia Profiles" (this week featuring lovable turncoat Dan Shanoff), where they interview prominent Northwestern grads on football, basketball, and the game of life.


I always land on the "write a blog about a mediocre football team" square

But Northwestern is hardly the only school with famous alumni, and LTP isn't the only blog with the connections necessary to land high-profile interviews.  We're BHGP!  We're Iowa, damn it!  We have famous people, too!  

So, after weeks of stalking, we're proud to publish the first "Black and Gold Mafia" profile, with none other than former Writer's Workshop instructor Kurt Vonnegut:

(The interview, after the jump...)

BHGP: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Mr. Vonnegut.  It might surprise our readers, but you're a big Iowa football fan.  Any favorite Hawkeye stories?

KV: 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.

BHGP: We loved that one, too.  Do you spend much time reading blogs or other websites, or do you stick to the newspapers for your Iowa updates?

KV: 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.

BHGP: Well, we're honored you would read us so often, though we obviously disagree with your opinion of Pat Harty.    Have you road tripped to any other stadiums to see the Hawks, or have you attended any bowl games?

KV: "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." 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 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.

BHGP: I've always loved that story.  Any opinions on the upcoming season?  Do you have any prediction on who is going to start at quarterback?

KV: 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 observed that much investigations are bound to be incomplete.

In the autobiographical section of The Books of Bokonon 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 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."

"Give it to your husband or your minister to pass on to God," I said, "and, when God finds a minute, I'm sure he'll explain this doghouse of mine in a way that even you can understand."

She fired me. I shall never forget her. She believed that God liked people in sailboats much better than He liked people in motorboats. She could not bear to look at a worm. When she saw a worm, she screamed.

She was a fool, and so am I, and so is anyone thinks he sees what God is Doing.

BHGP: We couldn't agree more.  Spring brings hope, right?  Well, Mr. Vonnegut, thanks for your time; I'm sure our readers will appreciate your insights.

KV: Be that as it may, I intend in this book to include as many members of my karass as possible, and I mean to examine all strong hints as to what on Earth we, collectively, have been up to.

I do not intend that this book be a tract on behalf of Bokononism. I should like to offer a Bokononist warning about it, however. The first sentence in The Books of Bokonon is this:

"All of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies."

My Bokononist warning is this:

Anyone unable to understand how a useful religion can be founded on lies will not understand this book either.

So be it.

About my karass, then.

It surely includes the three children of Dr. Felix Hoenikker, one of the so-called "Fathers" of the first atomic bomb. Dr. Hoenikker himself was no doubt a member of my karass, though he was dead before my sinookas, the tendrils of my life, began to tangle with those of his children.

The first of his heirs to be touched by my sinookas was Newton Hoenikker, the youngest of his three children, the younger of his two sons. I learned from the publication of my fraternity, The Delta Upsilon Quarterly, that Newton Hoenikker, son of the Nobel Prize physicist, Felix Hoenikker, had been pledged by my chapter, the Cornell Chapter.


(HT to my favorite Onion article ever, "Ask Raymond Carver")

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