It was all going so well until they mentioned the aliens
In Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’, Billy Pilgrim finds himself not only capable of time travel, but also abducted by aliens – the Tralfamadorians to be precise. While these two narratives are far-fetched alternatives to Billy Pilgrim’s war experience,they add comedy while resisting the real story which is so harrowing, it is unutterable.
This fracturing of time is a common device in post-war literature. The carnage, and the evils that human beings proved capable of was so shocking, it was like something fundamental had been disrupted. Nothing would ever be the same again, even time.
Whilst Billy Pilgrim’s time travel disrupts the linear narrative of the story, his abduction by aliens could be seen as a metaphor for the inhumanity he encountered that he can’t make sense of. It reminds me of Yann Martel’s ‘The Life of Pi’. Pi’s story of his survival on a boat with a Tiger, watching as one by one the other zoo animals get eaten, becomes more and more incredible, but we choose to believe his narrative because the alternative – the truth – is too horrific to contemplate.
It also speaks of a world in which ‘God’ is no longer relevant. If there is any celestial power out there, is not the benevolent being that we once blindly believed in. God is dead, and we’re faced with the cold truth that we’re on our own.
Vonnegut’s aliens were born out of the horrors of War, but I think it’s interesting that conspiracy theories and ‘sightings’ of aliens have grown in number from the second half of the twentieth century up to the present day.
Statistically, it would be foolish to think that bearing in mind the size of the known universe, there are no other life forms out there, and to some degree, the growth of interest in extra-terrestrial activity can be explained by the media interest in space exploration as well as science fiction. However, I think that UFO sightings and belief in extra terrestrial contact have taken the place of the religious miracle in providing an experience that makes people feel blessed, chosen and validated in some way.
I had a conversation with some friends that became awkward when they swore blind that the lights they had seen in the sky over the Himalayas could only have been aliens. After my initial surprise, I was less easy to shock when they also admitted to thinking that David Icke, with his crazy lizard, very possibly anti-Semitic, world domination theory, might have something in it!
Is it so difficult to believe that we are responsible for our own cruelty and evil? Well, it was after the war, and clearly it still is now. We’re not responsible and we’re not alone. We need to have somebody or something else out there, even if they’re malevolent. If God is no longer available to make our meaningless existence valid, then I guess aliens or lizards will have to do.