Friday, April 13, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, R.I.P.

"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.' "

From God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, or, Pearls Before Swine by Kurt Vonnegut

If you're of a certain age, you remember Vonnegut, who died yesterday (his obituary in the NY Times is here.) Like Bob Dylan or the Beatles, he was a near-universal in a less fragmented coming-of-age culture -- one in which books still mattered enormously. Verlyn Klinkenborg, in a fine appreciation, also in today's Times, touches on why he was so important to us at that topsy-turvy time.

"...the time to read Vonnegut is just when you begin to suspect that the world is not what it appears to be... He says not only what no one is saying, but also what -- as a mild young person -- you know it is forbidden to say. No one nourishes the skepticism of the young like Vonnegut. In his world, decency is likelier to be rooted in skepticism than it is in the ardor of faith.

And this (forgive me for the extended quote: "So you get older and it's been 20 or 30 years since you last read 'Player Piano' or 'Cat's Cradle' or 'Slaughterhouse Five.' Vonnegut is not now, serious enough. You've entered that time of life when every hard truth has to be qualified by the sense of what you stand to lose. 'It's not that simple,' you find yourself saying a lot, and the train of thought that unfolds in your mind as you speak those words reeks of desperation.

"And yet, somehow the world seems more and more to have been written by Vonnegut, and your life is now the footnote..."

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