Sunday, April 15, 2007

Yeah, I Liked Kurt Vonnegut, Too

Sorry to hear of Kurt Vonnegut's passing. When I think of the disastrous guest commencement speech by Chevy Chase at my son's college graduation weekend, I wonder why no one tried to get the demigod of every literate teen.

I'm not totally sure that Kurt Vonnegut was essentially a humanist, but he adored the foibles of humankind in the way that we all hope and pray that God up in Heaven might. He showed us failures, misfits, outcasts, and victims, but usually ones who miraculously had no self-pity. He knew the nobility of humility, and he could honor even ignorance. For if there is a God, we're all hoping against hope that He/She has a soft spot for us and will save us. ...Even though we consume too much, get caught up in silly vanities, and stumble along paths we scarcely trust (guilty, guilty, and probably guilty).

Vonnegut seemed to be all-seeing. He was outside our comfortable universe of grinding along like drones, getting older, stupider, sillier. He proposed outlandish ideas that blew our 13 year old minds.

I read Welcome to the Monkey House at about age 11, the beginning of a year when I first devoured Saki, Ray Bradbury, and Madeleine L'Engle. I was ripe for wonder, loved twists of fate, and held a fascination for a kind of cosmic cruelty. Vonnegut could give me all of that, but with an amicable tone I didn't find anywhere else in my 350 pages a week suggested by Mrs Van Buskirk for our reading for pleasure. I felt richer for these new amazements, discovering that I might actually have some cosmic connections with other earthlings.

It seems that we have to recognize the negative before we're ever going to reach the positive. My heart was not broken first by a pimply faced boy in my math class, but by Malachi Constant in Sirens of Titan. I discovered the love that comes not with valentines and hand-holding, but with suffering together and making it through to another side, wiser in the awareness that I knew next to nothing. Thanks to Vonnegut, I knew the agony of the soul that comes from seeing injustice, ill fate, and insignificance. He defined for me delusion, and yet showed me that there is hope, even if the true reality I've been missing is actually pretty awful. Heavy things for a kid, and no less important to me as I have aged. And then I read Cat's Cradle. I have never been able to get it out of my head these 35 years since. Slaughterhouse 5 is a bit slick, but certainly elegantly done, a work of genius.

I read a few of his later works, but they never meant as much to me as those above. Hard to say anything else at this time of great loss. A friend is gone, but he left me so much.

Thank you, Kilgore Trout.

1 comment:

Evan said...

I totally agree about how he delivered satire without bitterness and irony without disdain.