Sirens of Titan – Vonnegut

Sirens is another beautiful novel by Vonnegut about where with more focus than ever before he pursues the contradictory absurdity of meaningful life.

A novel that ironically makes you question whether a higher meaning in life would actually be a good thing.

Notes

  • Sirens is both about the meaninglessness of life as well as it’s meaning.
  • To think that we are pawns in the hands of a foreign race is ghastly, yet that is exactly what “purpose” means. Purpose is to ”be used by someone for something.”
  • “Regardless of a greater purpose of life, the only thing we can do is love those around us.”
  • We wouldn’t really want to know if a God was using us for some purpose, had some purpose for us.
  • Sirens is a book about the inherent contradiction of meaning and purpose.
  • Like Voltaire’s Candide, Sirens seems to say, “Stop worrying about it, get on with life, get on with loving those around you.”
  • Rumford was broken down by the knowledge of the Tramalfadorians using him because it meant that human life became inherinetly meaningful, that there was a purpose to life. But everything that Rumford had done was built on the opposite. That any God was indifferent to human activity. That “God does not care.”
  • Mankind relentlessly searches for the meaning of life, but every time they find it in simple things, they dismiss it as base. They go on searching for higher purposes, but like anything relative, the higher they get the higher they want to be.
  • Is “happiness” the lowest level meaning of life that we dismiss? Am I projecting 🙂

Quotes

  • “The bounties of space, of infinite outwardness, were three: empty heroics, low comedy, and pointless death.”
  • “Everything Rumfoord did he did with style, making all mankind look good. Everything Constant did he did in style—aggressively, loudly, childishly, wastefully—making himself and mankind look bad.”
  • “In crossing the bright zodiac on the foyer floor, he sensed that the spiral staircase now swept down rather than up. Constant became the bottommost point in a whirlpool of fate.”
  • ““Mr. Constant,” he said, “right now you’re as easy for the Bureau of Internal Revenue to watch as a man on a street corner selling apples and pears. But just imagine how hard you would be to watch if you had a whole office building jammed to the rafters with industrial bureaucrats—men who lose things and use the wrong forms and create new forms and demand everything in quintuplicate, and who understand perhaps a third of what is said to them; who habitually give misleading answers in order to gain time in which to think, who make decisions only when forced to, and who then cover their tracks; who make perfectly honest mistakes in addition and subtraction, who call meetings whenever they feel lonely, who write memos whenever they feel unloved; men who never throw anything away unless they think it could get them fired. A single industrial bureaucrat, if he is sufficiently vital and nervous, should be able to create a ton of meaningless papers a year for the Bureau of Internal Revenue to examine. In the Magnum Opus Building, we will have thousands of them! And you and I can have the top two stories, and you can go on keeping track of what’s really going on the way you do now.” He looked around the room. “How do you keep track now, by the way—writing with a burnt match on the margins of a telephone directory?””
  • “The stake had a mean diameter of two feet, five and eleven third-seconds inches, varying from this mean, however, by as much as seven and one thirty-second inches. The stake was composed of quartz, alkali, feldspar, mica, and traces of tourmaline and hornblende. For the information of the man at the stake: He was one hundred and forty-two million, three hundred and forty-six thousand, nine hundred and eleven miles from the Sun, and help was not on its way.”
  • “Unk knew he couldn’t stand a fraction of the pain the writer had stood—couldn’t possibly love knowledge that much.”
  • “Unk wondered if there were people who could stand more pain than others. He supposed this was the case. He supposed tearfully that he was especially sensitive in this regard. Without wishing the writer any harm, Unk wished the writer could feel, just once, the pains as Unk felt them. Then maybe the writer”
  • “Every man’s an island as in lifeless space we roam. Yes, every man’s an island: island fortress, island home.”
  • “And it is perhaps food for thought,” said Rumfoord, “that this supremely frustrated man was the only Martian to write a philosophy, and that this supremely self-frustrating woman was the only Martian to write a poem.””
  • ““There is no reason why good cannot triumph as often as evil. The triumph of anything is a matter of organization. If there are such things as angels, I hope that they are organized along the lines of the Maffia.””
  • “Take Care of the People, and God Almighty Will Take Care of Himself.”
  • “But Boaz had decided that he needed a buddy far more than he needed a means of making people do exactly what he wanted them to.”
  • “Not to be lonely, not to be scared—Boaz had decided that those were the important things in life. A real buddy could help more than anything.”
  • “There is no way in which one creature can harm another, and no motive for one’s harming another. Hunger, envy, ambition, fear, indignation, religion, and sexual lust are irrelevant and unknown. The creatures have only one sense:”
  • ““Just because something feels better than anything else,” he said in his thoughts, “that don’t mean it’s good for you.””
  • “Lord Most High, Creator of the Cosmos, Spinner of Galaxies, Soul of Electromagnetic Waves, Inhaler and Exhaler of Inconceivable Volumes of Vacuum, Spitter of Fire and Rock, Trifler with Millennia—what could we do for Thee that Thou couldst not do for Thyself one octillion times better? Nothing. What could we do or say that could possibly interest Thee? Nothing. Oh, Mankind, rejoice in the apathy of our Creator, for it makes us free and truthful and dignified at last.”
  • “Another droplet fell shivering from the rafter, wet Redwine’s cheek again. Redwine nodded his sweet thanks for the droplet, for the church, for peace, for the Master of Newport, for Earth, for a God Who didn’t care, for everything.”
  • “Once upon a time on Tralfamadore there were creatures who weren’t anything like machines. They weren’t dependable. They weren’t efficient. They weren’t predictable. They weren’t durable. And these poor creatures were obsessed by the idea that everything that existed had to have a purpose, and that some purposes were higher than others. These creatures spent most of their time trying to find out what their purpose was. And every time they found out what seemed to be a purpose of themselves, the purpose seemed so low that the creatures were filled with disgust and shame. And, rather than serve such a low purpose, the creatures would make a machine to serve it. This left the creatures free to serve higher purposes. But whenever they found a higher purpose, the purpose still wasn’t high enough. So machines were made to serve higher purposes, too. And the machines did everything so expertly that they were finally given the job of finding out what the highest purpose of the creatures could be. The machines reported in all honesty that the creatures couldn’t really be said to have any purpose at all. The creatures thereupon began slaying each other, because they hated purposeless things above all else. And they discovered that they weren’t even very good at slaying. So they turned that job over to the machines, too. And the machines finished up the job in less time than it takes to say, “Tralfamadore.””
  • “may surprise you to learn that I take a certain pride, no matter how foolishly mistaken that pride may be, in making my own decisions for my own reasons.””
  • ““The worst thing that could possibly happen to anybody,” she said, “would be to not be used for anything by anybody.””
  • ““Thank you, Mother and Father,” he shouted, “for the gift of life. Good-by!””
  • ““It took us that long to realize that a purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.””

 

sebastiankade

Sebastian Kade, Founder of Sumry and Author of Living Happiness, is a software designer and full-stack engineer. He writes thought-provoking articles every now and then on sebastiankade.com

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