Benedict Cumberbatch Reads Kurt Vonnegut’s Letter of Advice to People Living in the Year 2088

A few years ago we post­ed Kurt Von­negut’s let­ter of advice to human­i­ty, writ­ten in 1988 but addressed, a cen­tu­ry hence, to the year 2088. What­ev­er objec­tions you may have felt to read­ing this mis­sive more than 70 years pre­ma­ture­ly, you might have over­come them to find that the author of Slaugh­ter­house-Five and Break­fast of Cham­pi­ons sin­gle-mind­ed­ly impor­tuned his fel­low man of the late 21st cen­tu­ry to pro­tect the nat­ur­al envi­ron­ment. He issues com­mand­ments to “reduce and sta­bi­lize your pop­u­la­tion” to “stop prepar­ing for war and start deal­ing with your real prob­lems,” and to “stop think­ing sci­ence can fix any­thing if you give it a tril­lion dol­lars,” among oth­er poten­tial­ly dras­tic-sound­ing mea­sures.

Com­mand­ment num­ber sev­en amounts to the high­ly Von­negut­ian “And so on. Or else.” A fan can eas­i­ly imag­ine these words spo­ken in the writer’s own voice, but with Von­negut now gone for well over a decade, would you accept them spo­ken in the voice of Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch instead?

First com­mis­sioned by Volk­swa­gen for a Time mag­a­zine ad cam­paign, Von­negut’s let­ter to 2088 was lat­er found and repub­lished by Let­ters of Note. The asso­ci­at­ed Let­ters Live project, which brings notable let­ters to the stage (and sub­se­quent­ly inter­net video), counts Cum­ber­batch as one of its star read­ers: he’s giv­en voice to wise cor­re­spon­dence by the likes of Sol LeWitt, Albert Camus, and Alan Tur­ing.

Cum­ber­batch even has expe­ri­ence with let­ters by Von­negut, hav­ing pre­vi­ous­ly read aloud his rebuke to a North Dako­ta school board that allowed the burn­ing of Slaugh­ter­house-Five. Von­negut’s work makes clear that he did­n’t suf­fer fools glad­ly, and that he con­sid­ered book-burn­ing one of the infi­nite vari­eties of fol­ly he spent his career cat­a­loging. In light of his let­ter to 2088, the same went for human­i­ty’s poor stew­ard­ship of their plan­et. Von­negut may not have been a con­ser­va­tion­ist, exact­ly, but nor, in his view, was nature itself, a force that needs “no help from us in tak­ing the plan­et apart and putting it back togeth­er some dif­fer­ent way, not nec­es­sar­i­ly improv­ing it from the view­point of liv­ing things.” This is, of course, the per­son­i­fy­ing view of a nov­el­ist, but a nov­el­ist who nev­er for­got his sense of humor — nor his ten­den­cy to play the prophet of doom.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Reads Kurt Vonnegut’s Incensed Let­ter to the High School That Burned Slaugh­ter­house-Five

The Graph­ic Nov­el Adap­ta­tion of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaugh­ter­house-Five

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Reads a Let­ter Alan Tur­ing Wrote in “Dis­tress” Before His Con­vic­tion For “Gross Inde­cen­cy”

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Reads Albert Camus’ Touch­ing Thank You Let­ter to His Ele­men­tary School Teacher

“Stop It and Just DO”: Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Reads Advice on Over­com­ing Cre­ative Blocks, Writ­ten by Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse (1965)

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch, Mar­garet Atwood, Stephen Fry & Oth­ers Read Let­ters of Hope, Love & Sup­port Dur­ing COVID-19

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.