Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut was a very thought-provoking read. It was nice to read a novel that has something to say. Also interesting to compare the book to 1984, which came out just before. Those post-war years must have felt like a time of grand change to spark such heady books. In the story, Paul Proteus buys an old farm and dreams of working it in an old-fashioned way, but his romanticism of the past turns out to be pretty much naive. There's some datedness to the social criticism--like the view of the gulf between women's work and men's work. In order to take a consistent view about the integrity of everyone's work and their need to be useful, he suggests that labor-saving devices like washing machines are a bad thing, because they take away women's purpose, which is pretty obviously wrong from today's point of view--women are freed up for better purposes. Ouch. Kurt, you didn't see that then? Of course, this was well before the 3rd wave of feminism and times were different. But that aside, I really admired the way he tackled the problem of technology racing on ahead of thoughtful social planning. I loved Vonnegut's suggestion that the love of gadgetry is very American, that we love making them so much that we'd build them to replace ourselves just because we enjoy it and can't help ourselves, even though we know it's a stupid thing to do. It's especially relevant to the closing down of manufacturing in the US, but perhaps even more so to this latest wave of Internet technology starting to replace sectors (like travel agents) of the workplace. Also, I like the way he portrayed revolutions in an un-ideal light, especially the way revolution unleashes trashing and looting, destructive urges; the way revolutionary leaders can't control the actions once it's underway. That's why whenever I met radicals in college who were pro-revolution I always thought they were naive dreamers who didn't realize we'd most likely end up with LESS than we started with, should a revolution occur, which, dream on. Anyway, far from Vonnegut's best, but still refreshingly relevant and insightful.


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