Thursday, April 12, 2007

"So it goes." Rest in Peace, Kurt Vonnegut

I'm very sad to see the passing of one of America's greatest literary geniuses. Kurt Vonnegut.

He served as a military scout in World War II, and was imprisoned in Dresden. He was one of only seven American prisoners of war to survive the three day bombing raid that flattened much of the city. His experiences from seeing that firsthand served as the basis for his masterpiece, Slaughterhouse Five.

Almost four decades after its release, Slaughterhouse Five is still one of the most frequently banned books in America. Some may think it's because his portrayal of soldiers in a war zone using profanity. Some may think it's because of the sexual content.

But personally, I have a different theory. The reason it raised hackles at the time was that we were involved in a war only slightly less popular than syphillis, and he showed us, for the first time in American pop culture, how horrifying our own means of waging war can be.

The Bombing of Dresden was not particularly well known in America before Vonnegut wrote his masterpiece. But once he did, he etched it into the collective consciousness of the American people.

His Nazi captors had him trying to herd the bodies into mass graves. But there were too many, so they instead handed him a blowtorch to cremate them on the spot.

America was just not prepared to hear that at the time. They're not really any better at hearing it now, as those who support the invasion of Iraq cling to a sanitized vision of war in which bombs only hit military targets and bullets fall harmlessly to the ground if they miss their intended victim.

One of his recurring characters, Kilgore Trout, was based on himself. He wrote in Timequake that Trout dies at the age of 84.

Kurt Vonnegut... Dead at 84.

So it goes.

3 comments:

autoegocrat said...

Dear sir, poor sir, brave sir: You are an experiment by the Creator of the Universe. You are the only creature in the entire Universe who has free will. You are the only one who has to figure out what to do next--and why. Everybody else is a robot, a machine.

Some persons seem to like you, and others seem to hate you, and you must wonder why. They are simply liking machines and hating machines.

You are pooped and demoralized. Why wouldn't you be? Of course it's exhausting, having to reason every time in a universe which wasn't meant to be reasonable.

You are surrounded by loving machines, hating machines, greedy machines, unselfish machines, brave machines, cowardly machines, truthful machines, lying machines, funny machines, solemn machines. Their only purpose is to stir you up in every conceivable way, so the Creator of the Universe can watch your reactions. They can no more feel or reason than grandfather clocks.

The Creator of the Universe would now like to apologize not only for the capricious, jostling companionship he provided during the test, but for the trashy, stinking condition of the planet itself. The Creator programmed robots to abuse it for millions of years, so it would be a poisonous, festering cheese when you got here. Also, He made sure it would be desperately crowded by programming robots, regardless of their living conditions, to crave sexual intercourse and adore infants more than almost anything.

He also programmed robots to write books and magazines and newspapers for you, and television and radio shows, and stage shows, and films. They wrote songs for you. The Creator of the Universe had them invent hundreds of religions, so you would have plenty to choose among. He had them kill each other by the millions, for this purpose only: that you be amazed. They had commited every possible atrocity and every possible kindness unfeelingly, automatically, inevitably, to get a reaction from Y-O-U.

bob said...

Just so you know, there's nothing new under the sun. "The Bombing of Dresden" has been renamed and re-released as:

Shock and Awe

Check your local listings for time and channel.

Freedonian said...

How can anyone not love that quote, Auto?

Bob,
Damn, I hate reality TV...