When most kind folks think about the connection between Vonnegut and his home state, they often have in mind the famous quote from Cat’s Cradle: “I don't know what it is about Hoosiers. But wherever you go there is always a Hoosier doing something very important there.” A nice sentiment, but these seemingly celebratory words—which you can now find imprinted on t-shirts, posters, pillowcases, throw blankets, potholders, and votive candles—represent the views of one of the most ridiculous characters in the novel, Hazel Crosby, the ignorantly patriotic wife of an industrialist who outwardly despises and exploits his workers.
For Vonnegut, Hazel’s obsession with Hoosiers is a textbook example of what he calls a “Granfalloon.” Vonnegut studied folk societies at the University of Chicago, and Cat’s Cradle, for which he was awarded an honorary degree, distinguishes between a karass, a cosmically joined team who “do God’s Will without ever discovering what they are doing," and a granfalloon, which is a “false karass,” “a proud and meaningless association of human beings." For Vonnegut, a granfalloon is characterized by an excessive and often dangerous zeal for identity and belonging. “Other examples of granfalloons,” he writes, “are the Communist party, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the General Electric Company, the International Order of Odd Fellows—and any nation, anytime, anywhere.” Strong stuff.
Our festival takes its cue from Vonnegut’s deeply felt need for community as well as his mistrust of overzealous political formations and group think. It’s precisely the author’s hopeful cynicism – or is it cynical hopefulness? – that makes us all feel right at home.