VONNEGUT One time, while I was writing [in high school], I happened to sniff my armpits absentmindedly. Several people saw me do it, and thought it was funny–and ever after that I was given the name “Snarf”. In the annual for my graduating class, the class of 1940, I’m listed as “Kurt Snarfield Vonnegut, Jr.” Technically, I wasn’t really a snarf. A snarf was a person who went around sniffing girls’ bicycle saddles. I didn’t do that. Twerp also had a very specific meaning, which few people know now. Through careless usage, twerp is a pretty formless insult now.

INTERVIEWER What is a twerp in the strictest sense, in the original sense?

VONNEGUT It’s a person who inserts a set of false teeth between the cheeks of his ass.


VONNEGUT I beg your pardon; between the cheeks of his or her ass. I’m always offending feminists that way.

INTERVIEWER I don’t quite understand why someone would do that with false teeth.

VONNEGUT In order to bite the buttons off the backseats of taxicabs. That’s the only reason twerps do it. It’s all that turns them on.

INTERVIEWER You went to Cornell University after Shortridge?

VONNEGUT I imagine.

INTERVIEWER You imagine?

VONNEGUT I had a friend who was a heavy drinker. If somebody asked him if he’d been drunk the night before, he would always answer offhandedly, “Oh, I imagine.” I’ve always liked that answer. It acknowledges life as a dream. Cornell was a boozy dream, partly because of booze itself, and partly because I was enrolled exclusively in courses I had no talent for. My father and brother agreed that I should study chemistry, since my brother had done so well with chemicals at MIT. He’s eight years older than I am. Funnier, too. His most famous discovery is that silver iodide will sometimes make it rain or snow.

INTERVIEWER Let’s talk about the women in your books.

VONNEGUT There aren’t any. No real women, no love.

INTERVIEWER Is this worth expounding upon?

VONNEGUT It’s a mechanical problem. So much of what happens in storytelling is mechanical, has to do with the technical problems of how to make a story work. Cowboy stories and policeman stories end in shoot-outs, for example, because shoot-outs are the most reliable mechanisms for making such stories end. There is nothing like death to say what is always such an artificial thing to say: The End. I try to keep deep love out of my stories because, once that particular subject comes up, it is almost impossible to talk about anything else. Readers don’t want to hear about anything else. They go gaga about love. If a lover in a story wins his true love, that’s the end of the tale, even if World War III is about to begin, and the sky is black with flying saucers.

INTERVIEWER So you keep love out.

VONNEGUT I have other things I want to talk about.

INTERVIEWER Not many writers talk about the mechanics of stories.

VONNEGUT I am such a barbarous technocrat that I believe they can be tinkered with like Model T Fords.

INTERVIEWER To what end?

VONNEGUT To give the reader pleasure

found at http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/books/features/article2445103.ece, along with this quote I’d like to close this post on:

“My relatives say that they are glad I’m rich, but that they simply cannot read me.”

“American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.

“The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical
steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes.

“When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals….The minerals were them shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.

“The American fliers turned in their uniforms, became high school kids.”

some of these are UNSOURCED (like it really matters all that much who said it), especially Einstein’s; people love attributing stuff to him so as to not be easily contradicted (“if einstein said it, then it must be true.”)

anyway, onwards:

The direct use of force is such a poor solution to any problem, it is generally employed only by small children and large nations.
David Friedman, politically topical

It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a man who believed in fairies as we all do

Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well informed just to be undecided about them.
Laurence J. Peter, riffing off The Curse Of The Intelligentsia

Intellectuals solve problems; geniuses prevent them.
Albert Einstein, failing to combine this with the idea behind the “and not simpler” maxim, so as to prevent anxious, fretful, and otherwise micromanaging people from justifying attacking even inconsequential problems

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.
Calvin Coolidge, who clearly had no fear of being executed (or at least heavily demoted) by said human race, which human race has a habit of taking people who’d gone too far on their quests–questionable, quixotic, brilliant, or belligerent–and (re)setting them “straight” aka making them no longer an outlier to mean public opinion (sometimes via straightforward elimination)

If you can talk brilliantly about a problem, it can create the consolling illusion that it has been mastered.
Stanley Kubrick, exposing one of my dirty little secrets

History is a vast early warning system.
Norman Cousins, expounding on the value of learning from theory and not necessarily on one’s own skin; do you really need to go through a heroin addiction to know that maybe you shouldn’t do that to yourself?

No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.
Voltaire, clearly oversimplifying for the sake of aphorism, and not including the “stop thinking about it for a moment” heuristic, which often helps solve the very problem your conscious attention has trouble overcoming

Protracted siege.
Chris Langan, the Long Island doorman with an off-the-scale IQ and a proponent of untimed testing, on his preferred method of attack
It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.
Albert Einstein, who, like Voltaire (above), seems to value persistence (though one would hope persistence NOT of the STAY THE COURSE variety, and instead a more nuanced version)