29 June 2012

Culture is a Gadget - Vonnegut

Kurt [Vonnegut] was fascinated by how cultural anthropology examined people’s values, symbols, and ideas. What he had believed about himself, his family, American society, he realized-all of Judeo-Christian civilization, for that matter-was contingent upon Western theories about time, knowledge, morals, law, and custom. “Culture is a gadget; it’s something we inherit,” he later wrote. “And you can fix it the way you can fix a broken oil burner.” His ironic distance as a novelist, sounding as detached as an entomologist observing insects, can be traced to his days as an anthropology student. I was confirmed as a cultural relativist, as he University of Chicago brought it home to me that my culture was not superior to anyone else’s or even more complex.”

- Charles J. Shields, And So It Goes. Kurt Vonnegut: A Life 

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