Friday, April 13, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut

Walhydra is somehow managing to deal with the fact that her first mentor in benevolent cynicism has died.

She doesn't feel much like writing at the moment, but in tribute she has decided to post Verlyn Klinkenborg's Editorial Observer piece in today's New York Times:
If you read Kurt Vonnegut when you were young — read all there was of him, book after book as fast as you could the way so many of us did — you probably set him aside long ago. That’s the way it goes with writers we love when we’re young. It’s almost as though their books absorbed some part of our DNA while we were reading them, and rereading them means revisiting a version of ourselves we may no longer remember or trust.

Not that Vonnegut is mainly for the young. I’m sure there are plenty of people who think he is entirely unsuitable for readers under the age of disillusionment. But the time to read Vonnegut is just when you begin to suspect that the world is not what it appears to be. He is the indispensable footnote to everything everyone is trying to teach you, the footnote that pulls the rug out from under the established truths being so firmly avowed in the body of the text.

He is not only entertaining, he is electrocuting. You read him with enormous pleasure because he makes your hair stand on end. 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.

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, somehow 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. Perhaps it is time to go back and revisit that earlier self, the one who seemed, for a while, so interwoven in the pages of those old paperbacks.
More to the point, here's a previously unpublished poem by Vonnegut, which the Times also posted today:
WorshipKurt Vonnegut on the beach in East Hampton, N.Y., with his Lhasa apso, Pumpkin, on July 19, 1976. Photograph by his wife, Jill Krementz.
by Kurt Vonnegut

I don't know about you,
but I practice a disorganized religion.
I belong to an unholy disorder.
We call ourselves,
"Our Lady of Perpetual Astonishment."
You may have seen us praying
for love
on sidewalks outside the better
eating establishments
in all kinds of weather.
Blow us a kiss
upon arriving or departing,
and we will climax
simultaneously.
It can be quite a scene,
especially if it is raining
cats and dogs.
Such a dear, bless├ęd man!

And so it goes....

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