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A Tribute to Kurt Vonnegut One of the g…

April 19, 2007

A Tribute to Kurt Vonnegut

One of the great American iconoclasts of our times, Kurt Vonnegut died on April 11, 2007. His wife, photographer Jill Krementz said that he had suffered brain injuries after a fall at his Manhattan home weeks before his death.

His son Mark had planned to give the 2007 McFadden Memorial lecture written by his father in Indianapolis where Vonnegut was scheduled to speak on April 27. This was to be part of the ongoing “Year of Vonnegut” celebrations.

Many felt that Vonnegut was incredibly witty, sardonic and insightful as a writer. Some even considered him to be an American original comparing him to Mark Twain. Vonnegut had a vision that combined social criticism, black humor and human decency. “A satirist with a heart, a moralist with a whoopee cushion” is how novelist Jay MacInerny once described Vonnegut.

Donald E. Morse, author of “The Novels of Kurt Vonnegut: Imagining Being an American”, told Bloomberg, “This is the person who recorded the effects of the Great Depression on people, World War II, Vietnam, drugs, you name it, he covered it in his fiction and he did it in a way that we had to pay attention to.”

Kurt Vonnegut was born in 1922 and grew up in a prominent Indianapolis family. Graduating from Shortridge High School he moved on to Cornell University. After university he enlisted in the military.

While serving in the army during World War II, he was captured by the germans at the Battle of the Bulge. He witnessed the firebombing of Dresden in 1945 as a prisoner of war and that horrific experience inspired him to write “Slaughterhouse-Five”. That novel was widely regarded as his masterpiece nearly a quarter of a century later.

In the 1950s he began publishing short stories while working in the public relations department at General Electric. For two decades Vonnegut was an unknown science fiction writer and in 1969 he finally made it into mainstream publishing with “Slaughterhouse-Five” which was enthusiastically praised.

Vonnegut’s writing was distinctive, blending a combination of the satirical and the fantastical with tones of black humor that looked disdainfully upon humankind’s capacity for destruction. “I will say anything to be funny, often in the most horrible situations,” he once told a gathering of psychiatrists.

A humanist at heart, Vonnegut became more pessimistic about human capacity for good in his later years. In a 2004 essay he wrote, “Only a nut case would want to be a human being, if he or she had a choice.” And once he told the Los Angeles Times in a 2005 interview, “I think we’re a very bad idea. Look at the 20th century. You’ve got the Holocaust, two world wars, Hiroshima. Let’s just call it off.”

And he once said: “I feel that our country, for whose constitution I fought in a just war might as well have been invaded by martians and body snatchers. Sometimes I wish it had been. What has happened, though, is that it has been taken over by means of the sleaziest, low-comedy, keystone cops-style coup d’etat imaginable.

And those in charge of the federal government are upper-crust c-students who know no history or geography, plus not-so-closeted white supremacists, aka “Christians” and plus, most frighteningly, psychopathic personalities, or “PPs, the medical term for smart, personable people who have no consciences”.

He publicly proclaimed his 1997 novel “Timequake” would be his last work of fiction. He continued writing essays, often scornful towards the presidency of George W. Bush. Those essays appear in his 2005 book titled, “A Man Without a Country.”, published last year. This is a book that will make you laugh and make you cry in typical Vonnegut style. The points he makes throughout the book come together beautifully with the flair of a creative writer.

The two main complaints that he emphasizes are unmistakable: the senseless killing perpetrated by America and its addiction to fossil fuel. These actions are destroying the planet, which leads Vonnegut to reject the country he once fought for. Overall the book is about politics, government, and philosophy but it’s also about people, family and community. Some consider that it might be his best work ever.

Some people are born deaf, some are born blind or whatever, and this book is about congenitally defective human beings of a sort that is making this whole country and many other parts of the planet go completely haywire nowadays. These were people born without consciences, and suddenly they are taking charge of everything.

PPs are presentable, they know full well the suffering their actions may cause others, but they do not care. They cannot care because they are nuts. They have a screw loose!”

I couldn’t have said it better myself Mr. Vonnegut.

Thank you sir, for your incredible humanity and wisdom. Your voice and your humanity will be sorely missed.

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