Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Diagramming Vonnegut: "So it Goes"

Colorful, artistic renderings of Tralfamadorians and a sentence diagram of Kurt Vonnegut's "So it goes."
Regarding Death: So it Goes

The Tralfamadorians, in all of their glorious wisdom, utter "So it goes" in the face of death. Kurt Vonnegut, in all of his glorious wisdom, gives this phrase life through his character, Billy Pilgrim, in Slaughterhouse Five

"So it Goes"

Billy states it thusly:

The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.

When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition in that particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is "So it goes." 


Although the act of shrugging is indicated in this particular quote, this shrugging is not the depth of the meaning of the phrase.  Bryan Scoular expresses the meaning of "So it goes" in a letter to the editor of the New York Times (Dec, 16, 2011): This phrase, he says, "is used whenever there is a mention of death. At times used tragically, at other times absurdly, this phrase, repeated more than 100 times, comes to represent the randomness of death — how death can come to anyone at any time — and to convey a sense of fatalism during wartime. That is, the constant repetition of  'So it goes' makes readers ask themselves about the meaning of death (or its lack of meaning) and the incalculable human costs of war."

Existential Construction

Grammatically, it is an oddly constructed sentence, and it relies on a reader's understanding of the existential construction and of "so" beyond its use as a coordinating conjunction.  In this case, the "so" is used like "just so" or "like this." "So it goes" could be restated, still in the existential, as "It goes like this," or "It is like this."  "It," to make the sentence more concrete, refers to life as well as to death.  To diagram, the sentence should be considered like the rewrites, the intended meaning emphasized. 


Scoular, B. (Dec. 16, 2011). And so it goes. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/18/books/review/and-so-it-goes.html?_r=0

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