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Posted by on Apr 12, 2007 in Society | 15 comments

God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut

vonnegut3.jpg

The pang of sadness that I felt when I read this morning that Kurt Vonnegut had left this mortal coil was a bit deeper than the mere fact that like a lot of folks of my generation I went head over heels over everything this counterculture idol wrote.

As it is, I work in a rare book and manuscript library that includes the papers of Seymour Lawrence, Vonnegut’s longtime literary agent and friend. I have been able to read first hand — and share with visiting scholars — the marvelous correspondence of these men as Vonnegut went from an unknown who was trying to get his first book published to a bestselling author and social critic who pondered the meaning of human existence with his distinctive pairing of humanist philosophy and trenchant wit, often through the science fiction genre.

I was going through the Lawrence papers one day when I found a brief typewritten note from Vonnegut in which he said that a trip to Germany to research a Playboy magazine article on European architecture had prompted him to consider writing a novel about his traumatic experiences at the end of World War II.

An advance scout, he was cut off from his battalion during the Battle of the Bulge and wandered alone behind enemy lines for several days until he was captured by German troops and sent to a prisoner of war camp in Dresden where he witnessed the infamous firebombing of that city.

That, of course, was the genesis of Slaughterhouse Five, his most famous novel, which was published in 1969 and became a must-read at the height of opposition to the Vietnam War.

Please click here to read more at Kiko’s House, as well as here for a Vonnegut Sampler.

Photograph by Jill Kremetz

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Copyright 2007 The Moderate Voice
  • He became unstuck in time.

  • grognard

    Yes, cosmoetica, and when you pick up one of his books he comes back.

  • Two novels were given to me my freshman year in college that change me profoundly: Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast Of Champions and Octavia Butler’s Dawn. Whenever I think of what made me think the way I think, Vonnegut and Butler just reverberates in my head. Sad day indeed…

  • His favorite joke:

    Kurt is up in heaven now.

  • SteveK

    Great tribut Shaun. Thank you.

    “I wish that people who are conventionally supposed to love each other would say to each other, when they fight, ‘Please–a little less love, and a little more common decency.'”

    The above quote, from Kurt’s 1976 book Slapstick, and is but one of the many reasons he is being mourned and honored by so many today. But fear not, his ‘common man’ optimism (and skepticism) assures that his books will be read (and censored) for many, many generations to come.

    God Bless you, Mr. Vonnegut.

  • SteveK

    Didn’t read your ‘sampler’ when I posted the “… a little less love” quote so in an attempt to make up for my plagerizing your quote let me offer:

    “You know what truth is?” said Karabekian. “It’s some crazy thing my neighbor believes. If I want to make friends with him, I ask him what he believes. He tells me, and I say, ‘Yeah, yeah — ain’t it the truth?'” – Kurt Vonnegut – Breakfast of Champions

    And this (also from Breakfast of Champions):

    Sparky could not wag his tail — because of an automobile accident many years ago, so he had no way of telling other dogs how friendly he was. He had to fight all the time. His ears were in tatters. He was lumpy with scars.

    Is it just me or does ‘Sparky’ sound like many we meet in the blogosphere?

    More on my long neglected quotation pages, “between boogie-woogie & boolean”

  • SteveK:

    Thank you!

  • dr.e

    thank you Shaun for posting about Kurt. Your words are heartfelt.

    Last time we had dinner, we talked about how some in the ‘outer culture’ label writers and it drives writers crazy because (and I paraphrase here) “It’s like a restaurant… you keep telling them you have corn beef and rye, and though they ate it and liked it or not, they keep telling everyone you only offer quiche on crackers.”

    Kurt was labeled as ‘countercultural,’ and as a science fiction genre writer,’ and as a ‘pop culture writer.’ Anyone who knows his work and is not a prisoner of the overculture’s uni-mind, knows he was a holy man. An imperfectly perfect holy man with a thousand parables.

    I have many stories about Kurt, but even more so, am very much liking hearing other people’s stories about Kurt here on TMV and elsewhere; those are most precious.

    thank you again,
    Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés

  • Dr. E:

    Thank you for your heartfelt words.

    Vonnegut and I once passed each other on a Manhattan sidewalk. I cocked my head and gave him my best loopy smile. He cocked his head and returned the favor. That was enough for me.

  • ‘Yes, cosmoetica, and when you pick up one of his books he comes back.’

    Not if the Tralfamodoreans have their way!

  • White Agent

    Thank you Mr. Vonnegut, for being a harsh critic of George W Bush. IMO, that is what I appreciate most.

  • SteveK

    Thank you Mr. Vonnegut, for being a harsh critic of George W Bush. IMO, that is what I appreciate most.

    White Agent,

    If that’s what you appreciate most, and I appreciate that, too, you are in for a wonderful surprise. The works of Kurt Vonnegut can, and will, test and tease and challenge your complete thought process. When you finish one of his books (when one of his books is finished with you would be more accurate) you’re a better person than when you started.

    For those who haven’t had the pleasure of reading KV I’d suggest you start with ‘Welcome to the Monkey House’ a collection of short works that will take your breath away.

    One more sample of Vonnegut genius:

    Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’

    ‘God bless you, Mr. Rosewater’

  • White Agent

    SteveK – I will start reading right away. I read anything with Monkey in the title….

  • dr.e

    “I cocked my head and gave him my best loopy smile. He cocked his head and returned the favor”

    Ah Shaun Mullen, that is a wonderful story. A 100 pages in two sentences. I can see it all. Thank you!
    dr. e

  • careoline van

    About 25 years ago I was began reading Kurt and understood at 10 years old what the newspapers was trying not to tell me. His characters were so dramatic that my visceral responses left me silent and wondering. I was young then and now, just as then, his lonely voice of outrage at the world leaders seems to be echoing in my heart. I still find people who read his work for the first time. They are of all ages….because his words are so personal they connect us. I am sad he has left us.

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