Thursday, April 12, 2007


we lost a great literary voice today.
here is a fairly recent interview from the august 24 copy of rolling stone.
kurt vonnegut, RIP.
Vonnegut's Apocalypse
He survived being captured by the Nazis and the suicide of his mother
to write some of the funniest, darkest novels of our time, but it
took George W. Bush to break him


In the annals of American literature, Vonnegut has been categorized
as a black-humorist -- a post-Hiroshima novelist who encouraged
readers to laugh at the ghastly absurdity of the modern condition.
More than any other fiction writer, Vonnegut has been unafraid to
peer into the apocalyptic abyss of our lives. This is likely why,
after five and a half years of the Bush administration, Vonnegut's
signature bleak wit seems more relevant than ever. His most recent
book, A Man Without a Country, a collection of essays, was a surprise
best seller last year, spending more than eight weeks on the New York
Times best-seller list and selling more than 250,000 copies. It would
be simple enough to say that Vonnegut is having a major late-career
resurgence, except for the fact that he never really went away.
Vonnegut is that rare literary figure who never stopped being cool.
Ever since he rose to prominence during the 1960s, Vonnegut -- with
his Twainian mop of curly hair, bushy Bavarian beer-hall mustache and
carbolic-acid smirk -- has been dubbed a prose shaman with a trick
bag full of preposterous characters. Harper's deemed him an
"unimitative and inimitable social satirist," and The New York Times
anointed him the "laughing prophet of doom."

On this day, though, as Vonnegut sips coffee and his tiny white dog,
Flour, yaps in the background, there is no wry amusement or social
satire in his repertoire. There is only burning dissent about the way
modern technology and global capitalism are usurping the last gasps
of goodness from honest laborers' lives. And deep sadness that
everyday humans are butchering their most civilized impulses. But
then Vonnegut starts coughing, clearing his throat of phlegm,
grasping for a half-smoked pack of Pall Malls lying on a coffee
table. He quickly lights up. His wheezing ceases. I ask him whether
he worries that cigarettes are killing him. "Oh, yes," he answers, in
what is clearly a set-piece gag. "I've been smoking Pall Mall
unfiltered cigarettes since I was twelve or fourteen. So I'm going to
sue the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company, who manufactured them.
And do you know why?" "Lung cancer?" I offer.

"No. No. Because I'm eighty-three years old. The lying bastards! On
the package Brown & Williamson promised to kill me. Instead, their
cigarettes didn't work. Now I'm forced to suffer leaders with names
like Bush and Dick and, up until recently, 'Colon.'"....

"I'm Jeremiah, and I'm not talking about God being mad at us,"
novelist Kurt Vonnegut says with a straight face, gazing out the
parlor windows of his Manhattan brownstone. "I'm talking about us
killing the planet as a life-support system with gasoline. What's
going to happen is, very soon, we're going to run out of petroleum,
and everything depends on petroleum. And there go the school buses.
There go the fire engines. The food trucks will come to a halt. This
is the end of the world. We've become far too dependent on
hydrocarbons, and it's going to suddenly dry up. You talk about the
gluttonous Roaring Twenties. That was nothing. We're crazy, going
crazy, about petroleum. It's a drug like crack cocaine. Of course,
the lunatic fringe of Christianity is welcoming the end of the world
as the rapture. So I'm Jeremiah. It's going to have to stop. I'm sorry."

For the most part, this sort of apocalyptic attitude is to be
expected from Vonnegut, who, after all, in his futuristic novel Cat's
Cradle (1963) created Ice-Nine, a substance with the capacity to
obliterate the Earth incrementally, like the "great door of heaven
being closed softly." The naive protagonist of the novel -- a
character named John/Jonah -- actually struggles to write a book
titled The Day the World Ended. (Cat's Cradle also includes a
hilarious faux religion known as Bokononism, whose religious texts
carry the warning "All of the true things I am about to tell you are
shameless lies.") In the interview collection Conversations With Kurt
Vonnegut, he even dismisses the notion that his fourteen novels, six
essay collections and dozens of short stories have a long shelf life,
saying, "Anybody with any sense knows the whole solar system will go
up like a celluloid collar by-and-by." Add to that doomsday scenario
Vonnegut's notorious bouts of chronic depression, daily doldrums and
suicidal longings, and you get a literary Cassandra of the first order.

Later, remembering his hyperagitation about global warming, I
telephoned him at his Long Island summer cottage, curious about
whether he saw Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth. "I know
what it's all about," he scoffed. "I don't need any more persuasion."
Not satisfied with his answer, I pressed him to expand, wondering if
he had any advice for young people who want to join the increasingly
vocal environmental movement. "There is nothing they can do," he
bleakly answered. "It's over, my friend. The game is lost."

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