[Marxism] The sins of the fathers and the runnings of luck

Jurriaan Bendien andromeda246 at hetnet.nl
Wed May 5 17:13:02 MDT 2004

The early seventies were an interesting and hectic time for Kurt Vonnegut.
In demand as the voice of a college-aged generation, he spent time teaching
creative writing at Harvard, wrote a mildly successful off-Broadway play,
got divorced, and saw his son Mark suffer a schizophrenic breakdown. By the
time "Breakfast of Champions" was published in 1973, Vonnegut's life was
starting to slow down just a bit, as he dropped from his pinnacle in the
national spotlight. The critically lambasted "Slapstick" appeared in 1976,
which was followed by 1979's Jailbird.

His son Mark graduated in 1969 from Swarthmore College. Bored with East
Coast academia, suspicious of his father's literary notoriety and determined
to stay true to the principles of hippiedom, Mark headed for the wilds of
British Columbia to build a commune and find his panacea. Two years later,
on Valentine's Day, 1971, Mark Vonnegut was committed to Hollywood
Psychiatric Hospital in Vancouver - diagnosed as schizophrenic. "The Eden
Express" was Mark's personal account of his bout with schizophrenia. The
Guardian (Saturday January 25, 2003) carried a report of Mark's return to

"One of the many worst things about being nuts was being so goddamned
important. Who was I that such powerful mysterious forces were buggering
around with my life? One team would come through cramming my head full of
new knowledge, the next would sneak in and erase all the new stuff plus a
lot of the old. I'd be crucified and resurrected several times a day. If I
died lots of wonderful things would happen. If I died lots of awful things
would happen. I was a rag doll between two bull mastiffs with very little
way to know which one I wanted to get me, let alone have any say in the

Well, so here I am in a mental hospital. It took a while for it to sink in.
In a way, I knew it all along. Simon and my father had talked about it and I
had been able to pick up on some of what they were saying. The nurses and
orderlies, the little room, the needles in the ass, it all added up: a
mental hospital. It took a while before I was able to pay much attention to
the fact. I was taken up with voices, visions and all. I vaguely knew I was
in a mental hospital but it wasn't any different from being anywhere else.
Where I was was beside the point.

Little by little, with the help of massive doses of Thorazine in the ass and
in my milkshakes (which was all they could get me to eat), little by little
it started mattering to me where I was and what was going on. For a while I
was convinced that the whole thing I was going through was my father's way
to help me give up cigarettes. Here I was, thinking the end of the world or
worse was happening and what was really going on was all about cigarettes.
It was like the Trafalmadorians [other- wordly beings in some Kurt Vonnegut
novels] getting the earthlings to build the Great Wall of China to send a
little message to a second-string messenger carrying a message that just
said hello.

Some lesson. "Cigarettes, Dad?" "Cigarettes, Mark." "Shit, Pa, who would
have guessed?" "Well, it took you quite a while, Mark." But then, when I
said I wouldn't smoke any more and they still wouldn't let me out of my
little room, I got suspicious that cigarettes weren't the whole story.
Little by little it sank in. It was all on the level. This was a real mental
hospital with real doctors and nurses. It wasn't some weird put-up job
designed by my father or anyone else.

The only weird thing about this hospital was that I was a patient here.
Everything else made sense. All the other patients fit nicely into my idea
of what mental hospitals were about. They were all victims one way or
another. They had been dealt lousy parents, lousy jobs, lousy marriages,
lousy friends, lousy educations. They hadn't had breaks. No one really loved
them. I just picked up bits and pieces, but it all kept adding up the same.
I'd see a husband or wife or mother come in to visit them and I'd wince in
pain as the various pictures of what their lives had been came together.
Their craziness, their being in a mental hospital, was so understandable.
Good, brave people who had done the best they could until it was just all
too much.

What was my excuse? What more could I have possibly asked from life? For
them there was some hope. Call it therapy. A change of job, some
understanding of themselves and the people around them: given half a break,
these people could make it. Maybe if they got 80 acres back in the mountains
or something. Most of the patients were older. I was the only one there with
long hair or a beard. Some discarded old people, a lot of middle-aged people
who had gotten messed up with alcohol, a few junkies, plus a few other
misfits. I worried some that my being so different from the others meant
they didn't really know how to deal with whatever my problem was. I had been
put in the wrong bin. In a way it was the same for me, but the only way I
could get to feel the sameness was by stretching definitions quite a bit. It
felt lonely.


(This is an edited extract from The Eden Express by Mark Vonnegut, published
in a new edition by Seven Stories Press. After writing "The Eden Express",
Mark Vonnegut went to medical school. He lives with his wife and two
children in Milton, Massachusetts, where he is a full-time practicing

Webster: I read somewhere that you hadn't read "Eden Express." Have you?
Kurt Vonnegut:  "Of course I have. It's a swell book. About one letter in 10
that I get asks about Mark and says how much the end of the books has been
helpful to them. The end of that book is telling people, 'In case you're
going crazy, this is what it's going to be like.' "
Webster: How did he recover?
Kurt Vonnegut "Luck. That's all. It's just simple luck. Mark recovered well
enough to graduate from Harvard Medical School. Luck is all there is to it."

"Economics is not a science. It is an art. Luck plays a big role. You can
help luck along a bit. Free trade is a precondition, but even then it can
fail. And if there's a war, then of course you cannot achieve much
anymore." - Jagdish Bagwhati

"I've been lucky in my life. I hope you will be too." - Ernest Mandel, in
correspondence to the author, 1988

Tariq Ali: The sobbing of the weak today is the sobbing of the victims of
neoliberal policies. They consist of billions of people all over the world.
These are the people who leave their countries. These are the people who
cling onto the belly of a plane leaving Africa for Europe, not caring if
they are killed in the process, and many of them are. This desperation is
the result of globalization. The question is, will the weak be able to
organize themselves to bring about changes or not? Will the weak develop an
internal strength and a political strength to ever challenge the rulers that
be? These are the questions posed by the world in which we live. People are
increasingly beginning to feel that democracy itself is being destroyed by
this latest phase of globalization and that politics doesn't matter because
it changes nothing. This is a very dangerous situation on the global level,
because when this happens, then you also see acts of terrorism. Terrorism
emanates from weakness, not strength. It is the sign of despair.

Anger, he smiles, towering in shiny metallic purple armour
Queen jealousy, envy waits behind him
Her fiery green gown sneers, at the grassy ground
Blue are the life-giving waters, taken for granted,
They quietly understand
Once happy turquoise armies lay opposite ready,
But wonder, why the fight is on
But they're all bold as love, yes, they're all bold as love
Yeah, they're all bold as love
Just ask the axis
My red is so confident,
That he flashes trophies of war and ribbons of euphoria
Orange is young, full of daring,
But very unsteady for the first go round
My yellow, in this case, is not so mellow
In fact, I'm trying to say, it's frigthened like me
And all these emotions of mine,
Keep holding me from, eh,
Giving my life, to a rainbow like you
But, I'm eh, yeah, I'm bold as love
Yeah, yeah
Well I'm bold, bold as love, hear me talking, girl
I'm bold as love
Just ask the axis, he knows everything
Yeah, yeah, yeah

- Jimi Hendrix, "Bold as love"

It's a crazy situation
You always keep me waiting
Because its only make believe
And I would come a-running
To give you all my loving
If one day you would notice me
My heart is close to breaking
And I can't go on faking
The fantasy that you'll be mine
I'm dreaming
That you're in love with me
Like I'm in love with you
But dreaming's all I do
If only they'd come true
I should be so lucky
Lucky lucky lucky
I should be so lucky in love
I should be so lucky
Lucky lucky lucky
I should be so lucky in love

- Kylie Minogue, "I should be so lucky"

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