The International Writers
All this happened, more or less
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
greatest living American author is no more. Who's left? Salinger?
That's about it. In the last few years we've lost the liberator,
Kesey, the hammer, Thompson, and now the conscience, Vonnegut.
What is left us, Mailer? Please. Wolfe? Nah. Vidal. Nope.
I know I've lived
too long now. I hate aging. It slowly brings to an end everything left
to believe in. There, I said it. I believed in Kurt Vonnegut. I wanted
him to be immortal. Yeah, I did. It's silly. But there are far sillier
things to believe in. I use this space weekly to decry them. This ain't
one of them.
I suppose when I heard the patron saint of humorists, our Mark Twain,
our flatline realist, our goofy satirist, our voice of reason crying
in the wilderness had left the mortal coil, I thought of "Slaughterhouse
Five". Who didn't? But for me it represented a first. It was the
first true novel I ever read. And it moved me like nothing else, save
maybe a few Who songs and a movie or two. Firsts have a way of doing
this: First love, first car, first ass kicking, first success, first
failure. The written word as epiphany. "So it goes." It said.
"Poo-tee-weet" it said. This was wisdom best heeded by youth
when you could still change things, or at the very least believe you
could still change things.
This is what Vonnegut taught me: Even if you can't shift consciousness,
make sure you record the nonsense before it fades from memory: the horrors
and inequities and petty human frailties, the feral meanness that runs
free in our blood.
I liked the idea that Vonnegut was still breathing because he
never gave up being a cockeyed pessimist. He was good at dualities because
he said over and over "Think for yourself." He never left
a building without conveying that. And he never let a day go by without
living up to the living embodiment of the phrase. Vonnegut was good
to us because he shared his complexity. He did not hoard it like a monk.
He shared it. No tourniquet needed. Let it bleed, as the Stones once
Vonnegut echoed what my mother had spent my formative years paining
to impart: The only people invisible in this world are those who allow
destiny to kidnap them. This is the falsehood of existence, that we
are cursed or blessed or blindsided or handed labels and stations and
fates. It is a lie easily punctured, a ridiculous crime perpetuated
on us without individuality, without promise, without grit and without
All that Rand bullshit that took thousands of words in The Fountainhead
to decipher, Vonnegut managed to unfold in quick-witted sentences with
a laugh included. The long diatribe about self-worth and freedom from
the fold jam-packed with engagingly damaged characters making a mockery
of "decent society" and "cultural mores" and the
"prison of conformity".
From Billy Pilgrim to Kilgore Trout there is a wonderful absurdity to
Vonnegut's humanity. And why not? He considered himself a Humanist.
Sometimes we put a busload of fate in subjects that are flawed and weak
and terrified, so we can't help putting our faith in words. Sometimes
it's all that's left us. Separates us from the animals. Sometimes it
puts us right next door. Most times right inside.
Vonnegut's best books, "Cat's Cradle", "Breakfast
of Champions", "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" put
you inside the animal/human, and make you feel his/her confusion, pain,
joy, and still more confusion. His best characters have a floating sort
of feeling, but not surface floating, submerged. It's the kind of daily
drowning that makes us gasp for air, makes us wonder what's above the
surface, like heaven or aliens or universes piled upon universes, and
in its wake how we're so insignificant and randomly forgotten if not
for each other.
And that's why when Vonnegut returned from the horrors of the Second
World War, he had no choice but to get to the bottom of the animal/human
and down to the study of existing in impossible surroundings -- waves
crashing, the undertow pulling us downward. Then, unexpectedly, hope.
Weirdly so, as if seeing a horse dealing blackjack or a three-headed
waitress serving you coffee. Hope, appearing out of the carnage of our
torment. Hope as a bird, a sunset, a child's laugh, the bending of time.
Hope as a word.
Vonnegut, as all great writers, wrote because he had the need. And it's
that need that appears on every page of his best work, a desperate plea
to the author or authors of this absurd waltz of life. My favorite of
his quotes, and one I used at the heading of my only novel to date,
is "In nonsense is strength." Oh, yes. It says nothing and
so much all at once. To live, to hope, to dream, to shoulder on, one
must find strength in the meaningless random ballet. The alternate route
Yes, I believed in Kurt Vonnegut.
He was America's greatest living author. Unfortunately
it is a title which demands existence.
"So it goes."
© James Campion
& Network Rubber Necking
The Virginia Tech Killer's 15 Minutes Of Infamy
Random violence is really interesting. Especially epic slayings
by lone nuts for no fathomable reason. Big ratings. Big talk. Big headlines.
Big reasoning. Tons of that. Why? How?
Victims and Vengence
Spectacle of a Radio Has-Been
I should be a Juror
Unfortunately the author was dismissed for
all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibiltiy
- no liability accepted by hackwriters.com or affiliates.