Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut

I had planned not to blog anymore. But sometimes you have to say something. And Kurt Vonnegut's death at the age of 84 is one of those moments that requires comment.

Growing up in my family, Kurt Vonnegut was very much a part of my life. Kurt Vonnegut was referred to as the 'conscience of America' by my mother, and my dad had an inordinate fondness for Vonnegut's famous Slaughterhouse 5 quote regarding flying and donuts and what you do to the donuts while flying. Kilgore Trout was a household name. In 10th grade, to aid a presentation on Slaughterhouse 5, I filmed a recreation of the aftermath of the firebombing of Dresden in an abandoned burned out factory housing complex in Detroit.

Vonnegut was a master at drawing out the absurdities of American life, and life in general. His wit remained undiminished even late in life, and his books are rich with imagination and sensitivity to the fragility of the human condition. At the same time, there is something Midwestern about his approach to things - an undefinable way of looking at situations and events that evokes middle America in the most satirical, yet somehow loving way possible.

It is impossible for me to step back and evaluate Vonnegut objectively - to me he was part of my family growing up, even if I never came close to meeting him. His books, along with those of Douglas Adams, served as a meeting point for my mother's classical literary bent and my dad's penchant for sci-fi, leaving me in the middle, comfortably nestled in the surreality of Vonnegut's world.

With Vonnegut's death, the US has lost one of its last truly great figures - larger than life, both in terms of personality and intellect, Vonnegut was an American literary man who was unafraid to criticize what most needed to be criticized about the US, and who could criticize intelligently and with wit while never losing touch of the essence of human nature. His voice will be missed.