Thursday, December 13, 2007

Cat's Cradle

In Kurt Vonnegut Jr's seminal novel of WASP SF (the ivy league version of Star Trek), many new phrases and words are introduced to the English language, not least among them:
A union of two souls achieved by placing the soles of two people's feet together. It is a Bokononist ritual that is taboo and forbidden on the island of San Lorenzo, referred to as "footplay".
Isn't that beautiful? What follows are more pertinent entries, all relevant to Vonnegut Jr's invented religion, Bokononism, which is really humanism-in-a-leotard:
The sun.
The moon.
A karass made of two persons. "A true duprass can't be invaded, not even by children born of such a union." Members of a duprass usually die within one week of each other, as shown in the book Cat's Cradle.
"Harmless untruths" (e.g., "Prosperity is just around the corner"). Bokonon describes his own religion as foma, created for the purpose of bringing comfort to the people of Bokonon's island. The people of San Lorenzo live under a poverty-stricken Third World dictatorship, but thanks to the comforting untruths of Bokonon's foma, they are better equipped to face reality (following Vonnegut's early theories about the true usefulness of religion).
A false karass. People who identify themselves by state or country of origin or in other various ways to form a group, when in reality such people may have very little in common or even turn out to be enemies or ideological opposites. There is much granfalloonery in the world. To quote the book, "If you wish to study a granfalloon, just remove the skin of a toy balloon."
The instrument which brings you to your karass.
A group of people who, unbeknownst to them, are collectively doing God's will in carrying out a specific, common, task. A karass is driven forward in time and space by tension within the karass.
Tendrils of life that intertwine with other Karass member's tendrils.
A person who wants all of somebody's love. Bokononists believe love should be freely shared.
The force that first pushes a person in the direction of accepting Bokononism
An object which is the focus of a karass; that is, the lives of many otherwise unrelated people are centered on a wampeter (e.g., a piece of ice-nine in Cat's Cradle). A karass will always have exactly two wampeters: one waxing, one waning. The term first appears on p. 52 of Cat's Cradle (in the 1998 printing by Dell Publishing). It is analogous to a MacGuffin.
"A person who steers people away from a line of speculation by reducing that line, with the example of the wrang-wrang's own life, to an absurdity." In the book, the protagonist begins to speculate that everything may be meaningless and take the first steps toward a belief in nihilism. But he encounters a nihilistic wrang-wrang who commits actions so repulsive and horrific to him that he subsequently wants nothing to do with nihilism.
"Fate - inevitable destiny."

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