God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut


Most of my favorite authors over the years have been dead guys, except Kurt Vonnegut. He was a living, breathing writer that I could count on.

As of Wednesday, April 11, 2007, all my favorite authors are dead guys.

Every last one of them.

Kurt Vonnegut’s writing is special. It means a lot to me and to a lot of other people who aren’t happy with a materialistic society where science and government are given unquestioned authority as long as they provide us with bread and circuses.

But I don’t want to get into the political aspects of Vonnegut’s work. I’m sure some group of English professors will eventually find much more effective ways to take the fun out reading his books.

Rather, I would like to talk about Vonnegut’s two secret weapons for writing a good book, which also happen to be his two secret weapons for living a good life.

These are pessimism and humor.

He could tell a story about mankind’s deepest flaws and pepper it with jokes about pubic hair. He could tell a story about how unfeeling people can be and supplement it with a drawing of an anus. He could tell you exactly how syphilis destroys the human body, and then make you laugh until you cry over it.

Vonnegut wanted us to look around and assess the world. He didn’t want us to miss life’s dirty little secrets; in fact they are what he wanted us to think about the most.

He belongs to the tradition of Aristophanes and Rabelais, writers who believed that the highest human pursuits — politics, religion, learning, etc. — should not be separated from the lowest human experiences, like sex, defecation, drunkenness, madness and death.

He put the whole of human existence into his books, not with grandiose descriptions and long-drawn discourse like Europeans such as Marcel Proust or Thomas Mann, but in the sparse style of the other great American novelists of the 20th century: Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Steinbeck.

Now, I like optimistic people, I really do, and I like people with a good sense of propriety. There’s something inspiring about a person who believes that everything will sort itself out and that everyone has a dignified place to fill in this world.

They should be sheltered and supported as much as possible so that they don’t lose that vital spark, which really can do a lot of good.

But for the rest of us — the people who worry that the planet is going to pot, who believe that government is becoming a haven for power-hungry whores, who find it appalling that the standard of living is judged by how many cars and televisions one owns — for us there is something very profound in Vonnegut’s writing.

It teaches us to open our eyes to all the bad things in the world, to be willing to fight a losing battle against injustice and suffering, and to laugh.

Rest in peace, Kurt. We’ll miss you.

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