The Fundamental Interconnectedness of Everything, or 42
Yes, we’ve already written a tribute to Douglas Adams. Yes, we have more to say. We'd only advise you to read on if you’re into having your mind blown. This week harkens back, forward and sideways to a concept straight out of The Salmon of Doubt:
“The fundamental interconnectedness of everything.”
There’s not a whole lot of ways to explain this concept other than to illustrate it, so I’m going to give you one of the best examples I have. Enter: the asshole.
Thing you need to know, part 1:
In Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, published in 1973, the author uses simple
illustrations to further his explanation of the text. One such illustration, not found in the story, but in the book’s preface is the image of the “asshole,” as shown above. Breakfast is dedicated to Vonnegut’s friend, Phoebe Hurty, about whom he writes, “She would talk bawdily to me... She was funny. She was liberating. She taught us to be impolite in conversation not only about sexual matters, but about American history and famous heroes, about the distribution of wealth, about school, about everything.” Soon after, the reader sees this asshole image, a reference to what Ms. Hurty had taught the author. Vonnegut’s asshole has become synonymous with his work; it's made its way to the spine of each of his novels, and presented itself in popular culture as somewhat of its own icon.
Thing you need to know, part 2:
The Salmon of Doubt is a posthumous collection of works by Douglas Adams, published in 2002, which is the source for this week’s prompting quote. The book consists mostly of essays, interviews, and the unfinished titular novel that Adams was working on at the time of his death. Salmon interweaves many references to Adams’ famous work, The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, throughout its pages, and it’s there that we stumbled upon a little fortuitous interconnectedness.
Where things start to get weird:
Let’s go back to Vonnegut’s asshole, with the assumption that (remember Ms. Hurty) the puckered little drawing means, “if you take yourself too seriously, you’ll never make it through this piece of work alive.” We’ll assume that by starting with an image of an asshole and a great quotely homage to his mentor, Vonnegut warns the reader, if you think this is offensive, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
In Hitchhiker, published in 1979, the supercomputer Deep Thought is built by an alien race to determine the answer to “life, the universe, and everything.” After some time (7.5 million years), Deep Thought determines that the answer to the question of life, the universe and everything is... well, 42.
Putting it all together:
If we first assume that Adams, being someone that knew an awful lot about computer language and programming had a deeper rationale for the answer of 42, and second, knowing that he was a huge Vonnegut fan, we can make some connections.
In computer programming, an asterisk, which coincidentally resembles the asshole, is used as a stand-in for “whatever you want it to be” or "a wildcard for everything." The asterisk designation in ASCII language (a basic computer software) is 42. Therefore, if Deep Thought, a supercomputer in 1979, was asked what the meaning of life was, it stands to reason that it would answer 42, aka the asterisk, aka, “whatever you want it to be.” Connecting it one step further and introducing the Vonnegut, the meaning of life is, as Adam’s might have postulated, may also be “if you take yourself too seriously, you’ll never get out alive.”
Is this all true? Who knows.
A character in Salmon says this: “What you notice depends on who you are.”
I can’t remember who says that statement in Salmon because I’m someone who notices concepts more so than characters. I know lyrics more than song titles. Did I see that John Carpenter Halloween movie where the guy in the white mask keeps being a creep show to Jamie Lee Curtis? You know, the one where he gets his own theme music every time he appears onscreen? The movie I watch each Halloween? I’ll never remember what it was called. Maybe you remember characters and titles. When we all notice different things the interconnectedness becomes clearer. Community requires all of its creative assholes.
I’d urge you to look for the interconnectedness of things, but I’d venture to guess you already see many. Oh, and if I haven’t convinced you of anything, take another look at the name of this blog. It’s called The Asterisk, aka a star-shaped symbol, a stand-in for a footnote,* or a notation for “various arbitrary meanings.”
*If you take this blog too seriously, you’ll never get out alive.
In a world of stars, be an asterisk. - LCP