2.10.11

A Brief Collection of Kurt



Still and all, why bother? Here's my answer. Many people need desperately to receive this message: I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.



 An influential writer, Vonnegut was also a prisoner of war, a car salesman, a father, and a humanist. The first book of his that I read was Breakfast of Champions, and I was struck by how offended I was at how he treated the reader, bouncing around in time and space, and leaving you with unfinshed characters. It was only after fifty pages that I let go of any sense of control that I thought I needed to have, that I was appreciative of his challenge. He didn't play it easy or dumb it down,( as I find too many authors I've read lately tend to do) there are no punches pulled - you're put to the test just to keep pace with him.  Characters confuse you, horrify you, and even sometimes bore you, but by that time you've accepted that he is writing life as it is, not as you'd like it to be.  Sometimes it's mundane and empty, and he doesn't mind reminding us.  Then he's got your respect, and you can't look away.   At the same time it isn't avant-guarde pretentious rubbish, and that's a thin, tight line to walk, to write.  Once you buy the ticket and take the ride, it's easy to step into his world, it's more fun than I'd had reading in years.  He was very conscious about his audience, and appealing to them - but he also wrote:


Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

I wonder who he could have been writing for, if it was not himself? Unfortunately, I think this style and attitude has contributed to his persona and his work having been widely misinterpreted.  He described himself as a free thinker, and that has never been a traditonally popular role to play for an artist, or even an everyday citizen.   In response to the video below, I do think that one of the most widely watched news stations had a duty to present his obituary at least objectively, if not with great reverence for what he brought to modern literature.  He was uncompromising in the honesty of his interpretation of the world around him.  He had lived through the war and earned the right to tell it as he saw it.  No doubt he had experienced more of the profundity of life than the person who painted him so poorly when writing the Fox News script.  I'd say he was no doubt skeptical and cynical, but if anything his writing reflected an enduring mission to make us face ourselves, and remind us of the importance of reaching out to each other.  The impression I have always gotten was that wanted us to present certain moral and metaphysical questions free of any hand-holding or soft prose, and he leaves you spun out and exhausted but suprisingly still ready to think about what you've read for a few hours more. 

It's not any wonder then that some sects of opinion would want to downplay or slap derogatory labels on him and his work, even in death.  When you read a Vonnegut book, you do feel like you're breaking some rules, that maybe you've found something that brings up the questions you'd wondered if anyone besides you had been asking.  They pegged him as a depressive, suicidal and morose man, but as the photo above suggests, and within his writing, there is great sympathy for the rest of us, and all our failings.   I'll cut to to the point and go ahead and encourage you to read Breakfast of Champions ( it's still my favorite), but Slaughterhouse 5 will impress your English professor and is also an amazing book about the cold reality of war.  Sci-Fi, fantasy, satire and an ethics exam, courtesy of Mr. Vonnegut, all found at your local secondhand bookstore.  Enjoy.


"I've written books. Lots of them. Please, I've done everything I'm supposed to do. Can I go home now?"


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