Thursday, April 12, 2007

So it goes, Mr. Vonnegut, so it goes...

Kurt Vonnegut died today and I am sad. I was 14 when I read "Slaughterhouse Five"; 17 when I read "Cat's Cradle" and "Breakfast of Champions." And for almost the entirety of my teenage years, I proclaimed Kurt Vonnegut as my absolute favorite author.

Several weeks ago I was browsing at Barnes & Noble and I picked up one of his books. I realized that, as a teenager, I had know idea what Vonnegut was really trying to say. He's a socialist, a secular humanist, etc. -- all in all a pretty wacky left-winger. He's one of those authors you read as a teenager and it makes you feel smart, like you know that everyone around you is missing a out on a secret that you know. Today, (as a much wiser, and more moderate, 27 year old...ha!) I doubt I'd agree with much that Vonnegut proclaims.

But I can say that his novels had an effect on me that persists even today. "Cat's Cradle" instigated the "existential crisis" that led me to really ask myself why I believe what I do (i.e. in the LDS Church). My wife laughs when I say how much I love Kurt Vonnegut because, she reminds me, he's the one who started me on the path that led to a period of inactivity in the church. She's right, in a way. But I must say that walking that path was crucial: it led me to decide things for myself, to ask questions and to make sure I was doing what I was doing for the right reasons. So, I think Vonnegut would be happy with that. Looking back, the philosophy underlying his novels wasn't all that deep, nor was it particularly original, but his sarcasm and satire made me ask some serious questions of myself. And more importantly, his writing was really, really funny.

As someone who has a kid that is set to be born anytime now, I found this Vonnegut quote particularly good. I may relate it to my son when he arrives (probably without the expletive):
“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.’ ”

2 Comments:

At 4/12/2007 07:03:00 PM,

I really like Vonnegut too, I'd have to agree that I don't necisarily agree with everything he says (or have the slightest clue what he is saying most of the time), but he is a good writer and hilarious. I would like to add to Chris's one of my favorite Vonnegut quotes from breakfast of champions "this was an a--hole" (followed but a full page hand sketched picture of an a--hole). He has some other ones, but for some reason that struck a chord with me.

 
At 4/14/2007 12:38:00 AM,

Nice post, Chris. I read Cat's Cradle in high school but barely remember it. I can add that despite political, philosophical and religious differences with the writers that I was obsessed with in my angsty teen age years (David Foster Wallace, Ken Kesey, Richard Brautigan, Jack Kerouac), I still really like them, , maybe as symbols of a crucial time in my life when now-cherished beliefs were being tried by the best, most compelling positions that smart literature, film, and art could muster. I still choose to believe as I fundamentally chose then, but they were essential to a critical time in my life, without which I feel like my faith would be lacking.

 

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