All things come to a beginning

Friday, April 13, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut didn't need Vietnam to figure out that the system didn't work, that the 1950s were a lie and that you shouldn't believe what grown-ups tell you. His absurdist humor, the survival tactic of a former prisoner of war whose mother had committed suicide, proved as useful and as up-to-date to the postwar generation as a Bob Dylan song.

"His work opened up new space to think about politics and society and also to think about what literature was good for."

"I liked him for world-weary gentleness, warmth, and comedy. And he was pretty darned imaginative, too, which is never a fault in my world,"

"He was the kind of writer who made people -- young people, especially -- want to write. He wrote the kinds of books you pass around."

Vonnegut used humor to tackle the basic questions of human existence: Why are we in this world? Is there a presiding figure to make sense of all this, a god who in the end, despite making people suffer, wishes them well?

"I became a writer because of him. It was his compassion, humanism and great humor in the face of 20th century horrors that made me realize all that a writer could do. He was deceptively simple and because readers discovered him when they were young, they sometimes made the mistake of dismissing him later, but what he was doing was so complex, so difficult."

"That was his gift, I think: to tell you things that were hard to hear, without you even noticing it. Like a nurse who can slide a needle into your vein without making you wince".

Vonnegut was an author who stayed with you long after you thought you had outgrown him. You don't have to be young to appreciate that "we are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be" or agree that "laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion."


When the last living thing
has died on account of us,
how poetical it would be
if Earth could say,
in a voice floating up
from the floor
of the Grand Canyon,
“It is done.”
People did not like it here.