Goodbye Kurt

Kurt Vonnegut

One of the outstanding figures of modern US literature, Kurt Vonnegut, has died aged 84 in New York.

He became a cult figure among students in the 1960s and 1970s with his classics of US counterculture.

The pivotal moment of his life was the bombing of Dresden by allied forces in 1945. The experience informed his best-known work, Slaughterhouse Five.
(Source: BBC News)

Last night I was rambling about life, death, the universe, non-Euclidean geometry and other lovely stuff with my friend Sean.

This morning, I found out that Kurt Vonnegut passed away yesterday.

I think I was around nineteen the first time I read any Vonnegut. Immediately, I fell in love with his writing. It’s hard to describe what good writing is but when you read it, you know it. Vonnegut had that. I’ve never read a bad Vonnegut book because he never wrote one.

But unlike the “middle-class comfort fiction” churned out by the authors who are the official elite, Vonnegut’s output was also overflowing with ideas. Big, mad, grotesque, beautiful ideas. Alien zoos and world-wrecking chemicals, time travel and fractured people. Science fiction ideas.

SF remains a derided genre, smirked at by the arbiters of what is and what isn’t “literature.” I even met a Vonnegut fan once who bridled when I called Cat’s Cradle sci-fi. I find it sad that the BBC obit says he was “initially seen as a science fiction author.” He was always SF. He was and is one of the essential authors of the genre. Only idiots think SF=spaceships and screaming women being carried off by robots.

I got lost in Slaughterhouse Five, still one of the most unsettling and upsetting books I’ve ever read. That book changed me forever. I hooted with laughter at parts of Cat’s Cradle before the terrifying end. Bokonism seems so terribly accurate now that I’m older…

It’s pretty pointless me writing on about his writing since I haven’t his talent. There’s no way any description I make could do his work justice. If you haven’t already, you must read his books. They will change your mind and, perhaps, as they did with me, your life.

That’s all Vonnegut the author. Here’s why I love Vonnegut the man:

With his columns for In These Times, he began a blistering attack on the administration of President George W. Bush and the Iraq war. “By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East?” he wrote. “Their morale, like so many bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas in December.” [18]

In A Man Without a Country, he wrote that “George W. Bush has gathered around him upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography.” He did not regard the 2004 election with much optimism; speaking of Bush and John Kerry, he said that “no matter which one wins, we will have a Skull and Bones President at a time when entire vertebrate species, because of how we have poisoned the topsoil, the waters and the atmosphere, are becoming, hey presto, nothing but skulls and bones.”[19]
(Source: Wikipedia)

Look, I’m forty. I’m obviously at that age where I notice the great people who are leaving the party and being dismayed by their replacements. But I still think I’m right when I say we won’t see another one like Vonnegut.

Kurt Vonnegut: a great writer and, more importantly, a great human.