Someday, someday, this crazy world will have to end,
And our God will take things back that He to us did lend.
And if, on that sad day, you want to scold our God,
Why go right ahead and scold Him. He’ll just smile and nod.
[The Books of Bokonon | Cat’s Cradle | Kurt Vonnegut | 1963]
By default, as a Filipina, I know I am and will remain, in the bold streaks of family, culturally Catholic. Very few customs, traditions, and rites would make significant sense if I weren’t, especially the breaking bread part. Oh, my family loves to break bread – and rice and lechon and pansit and menudo and nilaga.
After having finished my first Vonnegut, however, I wonder if I am not something of a Bokononist as well. Actually, as it happens – “as it was supposed to happen” – I am very much a Bokononist. So far as I could understand, the main tenet of the religion is this: “Live by the foma [harmless truths] that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.” Very vague, so vague that I feel that it could be applicable to everyone who wants to abide by it. And to mark it as a true religion, it is, like all popular institutional religions to date, full of contradictions.
But really, writing about “my first Vonnegut” and pledging allegiance to an idyllic fictional faith betrays the very reason I was completely blown away by Cat’s Cradle: originality. Through the book, in the midst of all the page-flipping and the mind-blowing and the head-shaking was a deep-seated shame and craving for this one rare virtue that has eluded me all my life. And here it was, in this novel, throbbing my brain and nearly making me tear up in the sheer quantity and quality by which I was being fed of it. I could never be a Vonnegut.
Not just me, I suppose. Call it arrogance or myopia or desensitization, but it feels uncommon now to come across something truly original. I don’t mean to say that it’s a fault of humans or the world-at-large, but maybe it’s just simply because so many people have already felt, written, and created that they’ve exhausted the obvious and obscure sources of originality. The end to end extremes of existence and all the tick-marks in between has been lived.
And I thought perhaps – well, is this why the world’s end is inevitable? At some point, would we have extracted all its real and imagined resources, then when it’s been left completely bereft, would we then expand outward, to the very limits of the reachable universe, polluting every unadulterated inch of air? As a huge example, is this why we’ve created a virtual space, why we live in a cyber age – because we’ve run out of real space, and we have to add now a new layer on top of our original paradigm? We’ve taken ourselves and having little original space outside to work with, exploited our communal and individual beings, exposing our bare moments of silence and joy and sorrow on social media, because other than sudden emotions that hit us, there is no newness here.
I was discussing this fact of the deteriorating component of social media with a group of friends (during the holidays, of all timing), when my shrewd friend Jenny argued the valuable role of the virtual space during the oppressive times, for instance the revolution in the Middle East. Her family and friends in Iran were able to journal the experience and communicate the dire need for immediate change only through interfaces like Facebook and Twitter. And I agree, in that regard, this added layer of reality is extremely important.
But even Jenny’s very explanation keeps tugging at me. Especially in terms of the conflict all around the world – uncomplicated, doesn’t it seem to boil down to the terrible human evil of oppression? And what is oppression outside of the abject cruelty in the denial of one’s own, one’s original existence? Maybe the Seven Deadly Sins (of which I hold oppressors guilty) are in fact deadly because they’ve killed the space that might have otherwise been free for creation to take place – the pride, anger, gluttony, sloth, envy, lust, and greed has occupied the world entire, choked it until poof! there is no clean area for you to rest, to place your finger. Everything is covered.
So from this perspective, I can see the cyber space being occupied only because no other space is available. This makes sense for people in regions without any real freedom except the virtual one, but what about us who do not live in socially and politically stifled environments? Why have we decided to exist on this layer on nonrealtime and nonrealspace? Is it because the tangible nowness and hereness immediately enveloping us is cliché, that some richness has been removed somehow because 107,602,707,791 other people, many of whom were probably not unlike us in form, thought, activities, and interest, have already existed?
I understand this post might have gotten out of control, in reason and flow. But basically, Vonnegut and his stupid skill for originality has me running scared. Yes, at the moment he has me wrapped around his little literary finger, but I also consider him a serious culprit. I partly blame him (and original thinkers, like him – the whole lot of them!) for the crime of congesting the world – inside, outside, inside-out – by pioneering authentic, fundamental, primitive, and lasting thoughts that no one else will now be able to replicate. Vonnegut might just be part of the reason why there is no blank space left that can hold any sort of creation. (There will most likely be another post about how there is still originality in the world, I just don’t have it.)
What in the world can I offer you now.