Thursday, April 12, 2007

An Old Friend...

Kurt Vonnegut changed my life. Can I put it any more plainly than that?
I distinctly remember being assigned Slaughterhouse Five in high school English class and thinking What? Who?
At the time I was steeped in Asimov and Heinlein and, God help me, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Who was this lanky guy with crazy hair that wanted to preach about war? And then I remember closing that book, maybe a day later, compleltely blown away. So this is what fiction can do. It affected me like nothing I've read before, and maybe since. I read it like a prisoner fresh off a hunger strike would attack a buffet. It made me go back and research the war, and the bombings at Dresden, and form my own opinions. It forced me to think.

And I went on to collect and read just about every novel he wrote. A couple were painful. Most were brilliant. All had an effect on me. "Cat's Cradle", "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater", "Player Piano", "The Sirens of Titan", "Breakfast of Champions": these great works marked my summer of 1983. I was changed, I was expanded, I was thinking for myself, questioning authority, exploring areas I hadn't thought about before.

Vonnegut was a humanist, something I didn't quite understand then. Like everything else in my life, I had to learn more about both Humanism and other 'religions' before I could form my own opinion. I'm still learning today, but I think the Humanists are closer than anyone else.

About our great leader George HW Bush, Vonnegut said "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."

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."

Vonnegut's fictional recurring character, Kilgore Trout, dies at the age of 84, in luxury in the Ernest Hemingway Suite of the writer's Xanadu in the summer resort village of Point Zion, Rhode Island. Yesterday Vonnegut died in his home at the age of 84. I think he would have found that fitting. Of course, as can only happen in the world of Vonnegut, Trout had died before. In Breakfast of Champions, he was born in 1907 and died in 1981. In Timequake, it was 1917 to 2001. Both death dates were set in the future as of the time the novels were written. More recently, Vonnegut "reported" that Kilgore Trout committed suicide by drinking Drāno in an article for In These Times magazine.[1] Trout "died" at midnight on October 15, 2004 in Cohoes, New York, following his consultation with a psychic, who informed him that George W. Bush would win the U. S. Presidential election by a vote of 5-to-4 in the Supreme Court. The epitaph on his tombstone reads, "Life is no way to treat an animal."

There is no more profound statement about his death than can be found on his website here:

I like that the little symbol for his site is his crude drawing of a sphincter, from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater if memory serves. I will miss his irreverence, his wit, his humanism.

And so it goes.
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