am 3. Juni 2000
Pure Vonnegut at his best. It's impossible not to be clichéd in the modern "try-everything" society. The best we can do is to get the least used, more informed ones, which Vonnegut does perfectly for me. As with most Vonnegut, absolutely no drivel on love, and feelings, or other mushy subjects, although I may be contested on this point: basically, it's abou as far from Titanic as possible. The most effective aspect, which is seen in so few literary works of today, is the frequent lapse in time: althoug based in one time zone, Vonnegut skips nimbly between various occurance of the past, never losing the focus of the audience, and retaining, even strengthening, his glorious pensive approach.
am 9. Mai 2000
This time out, Vonnegut imagines a near future where prisons are outsourced to the Japanese. He addresses the hypothetical question, "What is the difference between schools and prisons?", and doesn't seem to find much fundamental difference - both being represive institutions that are subject to the whim of the moneyed classes. The humor and delightful Vonnegut quips are all here. His eye for detail has never been better and his use of deadpan delivery of skewering observations is right on. BUT, this is essentially the same kind of stuff that he has been serving up for decades. To those who are coming to his work fresh this must be an eye opener, but I suspect to a lot of veteran Vonnegut readers it will just seem like more of the same. I can't really complain because I like his style, agree with much of his world view, appreciate his dark humor and keep coming back for more. But I keep hoping for something that has the lyrical freshness I found in Slaughterhouse Five or the fierce apocalyptic fun that was Cat's Cradle. Maybe Vonnegut has just spoiled us and we want him to top his past success. I'll keep hoping he can.
am 17. Januar 2000
The best part of Hocus Pocus is the beginning; It creates such a lure that the reader creates immense hope for the rest of the novel and for the most part, the novel does a good job of lving up to those hopes. Vonnegut's style is once again back in full flair, but I found myself bored by some chapters, whereas in another work, Slaughterhouse-5, every page kept me entertained. Not to say this is a bad book, but there are better Vonneguts out there.
am 17. Oktober 1997
Vonnegut's HOCUS POCUS forces us to clear away the smoke and mirrors we use to deceive ourselves, and to notice the world with our own senses - mostly common sense.
The "author" is documenting his experieneces as a college professor and pedagoge at a prison across the lake. He is presently held prisoner for inciting the prison break. From here, according to the "editor's note" (a tool employed by Vonnegut to draw our attention immediatly to the fragmentation, or nuggets of thought of the book) the "author" is writing on small bits of paper that he fills "like little bottles," and then procedes to move to the next sheet, filling it as well. Thus the book is literally pieced together, hence all the unconventional breaks each chapter, and sets up his meditative digressions.
This particular novel satirizes American culture, and sets up all sorts of dicotomies and foils; i.e. the prison v. college, underpriveleged class v. priveleged class, the number of people he has superficially "loved" v. the number of people he has killed (incidentally, the number to both of these is 82 - the "author" provides an elaborate equation to figure out this dual number; however, upon inspecting the obvious i.e. the front and back pages containing stick figures of men/women, respectively, one comes up with the same number as the equation. Count them and see what you come up with and see how it ties into the last line of the book.) As usual, the existential Vonnegut points out the lack of objective meaning in the world and the subsequent human implimentation of arbitrary significance. Vonnegut examines the arenas of academia, the military, civil service, government, social convention, business, and personal life.
Why is this titled "HOCUS POCUS?" My interpretation is that Hocus Pocus is a phrase that is employed by magicians to conjure the powers of illusion and deception. This book is about various distortions of the truth, and dissolutions of reality. It is all about appearances, superficialities, and subterfuge - the HOCUS POCUS we use to warp our perception of reality, in order to take the sting out of life. A humorous example of this veil of smoke and mirrors is the euphamisms (ribbing the military) the "author" employs, such as "when the excrement hits the air-conditioning."
Vonnegut, in his dark satires, attempts to provoke us into thought, and to make us concious of our mindless acceptance of predigested, spoon fed interpretation of reality. Time and again in Hocus Pocus, Vonnegut forces us to look at our assumptions and perceptions, and re-evaluate them. His "light" style is deceptive in itself because it evokes a deeper meditation from the reader, and the little pieces of paper the "editor" declared in the "editor's note" allows the reader to make constant pauses to reflect on these pithy nuggets. By literally framing the "obvious" in new perspectives, he forcibly compels the reader to ask "Yeah, that is silly. Why didn't I see that before?" or "Yeah, why is that so?" It is Vonnegut's way of forcing us to meditate on the assumptions of our ideas, concepts, and perceptions - the foundations of our judgments and interpretions of the world - and to do away with all the Hocus Pocus.
One of my criticisms is that the plot is thin, and it would have been better if Vonnegut had developed it further. Although the digressions and the disjointed time are a hallmark of Vonnegut's style, they contribute laterally to the plot, rather than to push it forward. I think Vonnegut enjoyed playing/experimenting with the structure more than developing a "New York Times traditional" plot. However, I think that the frequent shuffling of the chronology forces those aforementioned meditations/pauses. And that may have been Vonnegut's true goal.
Ultimately, Vonnegut's drive in HOCUS POCUS is to somehow battle "THE COMPLICATED FUTILITY OF IGNORANCE." With humor, and unconventional structure, he makes the complex seem simple, the futility managable, and the ignorance...well, that is and sometimes we do not see them because we distort them with the . It becomes obscured by all the "Hocus Pocus" we .
The HOCUS POCUS is our abilty to assign arbitrary meaning to the world to make us seem more significant. And in that process of assigning significance, we employ smoke and mirrors to distrort, bend, and warp reality. Moreover, ignorance of the methods behind the magic is dangerous, and fatal - and results in futile attempts to understand the simplicity of reality. The answer is in front of us the entire time, but only if we are to ignorant to look.
...and if you remember nothing else at all, remember the lesson of "82."
am 21. Oktober 1997
I never really considered the fact that Kilgore Trout's (Vonnegut's alter ego science fiction writing character) stories always appeared in pornographic magazines, until I saw an excerpt from Hocus Pocus in either Playboy or Penthouse, giving me an excuse to say I'd bought the magazine for its articles and stories.
It makes me wonder then about what this says about pornographic magazines. Maybe it suggests that many of them, in order to try to create an illusion of legitamacy, will take chances with literature that mainstream magazines might find to controversial.
Indeed Vonnegut's Hocus Pocus may seem controversial to some, for it talks about things that a large majority of Americans would be more comfortable ignoring. Just as the main character, Eugene Debs Hartke is fired from his teaching job for having overly pessimistic ideas, Vonnegut's book itself pulls America's skeletons out of its closet.
Perhaps what certain literature has in common with pornography, is the tendency people have to try to ignore what they both say about our society, to try to push it as far under the bed as possible.
Hocus Pocus picks at the scabs of not only America's greatest embarrassments, but also our greatest failures. Everything from television talk-shows to the Vietnam War, racism, classism, the death of our economy, and the overcrowding of prisons is laid bare in all its uncomfortable ugliness.
The difference however, between Hocus Pocus and a simple pessimistic rant, is Vonnegut's unique ability to make us laugh at it all, but without downplaying its seriousness at all. Overall it is a must read, for Vonnegut fans and for any American that wants to live honestly with him/herself.
am 3. Juli 1997
Perhaps Vonnegut's best novel. This novel follows the satirical and humorous tradition we have come to expect from Vonnegut. If you are expecting the profanity which gets Vonnegut in trouble so much you will not find it here! Instead he ingeniously creates humerous references to events and other instantces, which is both profound and thought provoking. The novel dwells upon the invasion of foreign nations into the US culture. Whether it be Japanese running our prisions, to using the yen as currancy. The narrator notices this and realizes that no one really cares. Working at a rich school for stupid kids he sees the desire in the upper classes to become European. It was a slap in my face to ponder what it really meant to be an american, and if I am living that way? Is the pursuit of wealth, of any amount, the desire to be European? I am left with that question in my mind. Vonnegut is right, and anyone wanting to become aware of americanism, or lack there of should read this book. Although the novel deals with some heavy issues, it is hard to get really concerned with them because of Vonnegut's light hearted style. It is filled with dark humor that keeps this book right up there with Cat's Cradle, and Slaughterhouse-5. ON a side track, the novel seems to return again and again to the main characters sexual conquests, which are numerous indeed. In fact they are equal to the number of people he killed in Vietnam (when the excretement hit the air conditioning). If anyone took the time to figure out the number of this, please let me know
am 29. April 2000
"HOCUS POCUS," is one of the best pure fiction books I've read in a while. Because the method that Kurt Vonnegut uses to encompass humor with fiction created a hilarious story of a man named Eugene Debs Hartke, a jazz player with the huge desire of becoming one of the best musicians ever accompanied by his band "The Soul Merchants." But never makes it thanks to his dad, a chemical engineer, who "needed something to boast and impress the simple minded neighbors." So Eugene got enrolled in the military and when he returns he comes with the nickname of the "Preacher" because he never swore or masturbated. He also found a job at Scipio's high school as a teacher, yet it didn't last for he got fired and as he was dying of tuberculosis he wrote 2 lists; one with all the names of all the women he had sex with and the second one with all the names of all the people he had hurt. I highly suggest this book to everyone because besides being funny, sad, and interesting it portrays how many of us got screwed by our parents decision.
am 3. Juli 1997
"Hocus Pocus" finds Vonnegut continuing his war with American politics and behaviors. Indeed, his central character is being held hostage in a library by 10,000 very hostile, mostly minority prisoners. One of their chief reasons for disgust? The Japanese have bought the prison, and taken over the guarding, etc. If you can't tell yet, Vonnegut has a lot to say, and not near enough plot to get it all out. He points out that the character's sexual exploits were the same number as the people he had killed in Vietnam. Is this a poignant addressing of American values, or pathos overkill? In "Hocus Pocus", you find a lot of both. But when Vonnegut can keep his focus and not be sidetracked into emotion, he can still make magic