Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Morning Reading: "Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt"

The Rumpus reprints Steve Almond's appreciation of Kurt Vonnegut.

It's a long, long essay, much taken up by Almond's account of Vonnegut's uncomfortable appearance at an event called the Connecticut Forum alongside writers Joyce Carol Oates and Jennifer Weiner and then Almond's own autobiography, the measure of Vonnegut's influence on a young person learning to think, to write. It's funny, sad, risky and revelatory.

Vonnegut’s books remain critically underappreciated. But I don’t really give a shit about critical appreciation. As a measure of cultural influence, it turns out to matter a lot less than an expensive hairstyle. The real issue here isn’t his role as an author, but as a Prophet.

I’m in no position to lecture anyone on Biblical matters, as I find the Holy Books to be wishful poetry for the most part. But I do know the basic plot of the Prophetic books: Prophet warns the people to shape up. The people don’t listen. The Prophet winds up howling in hole. This is the plot of Vonnegut’s life.

People may regard him as a literary legend and all the rest of that glitzy stuff, but nobody with any sort of power has heeded his call.

One wonders now where our leaders got the idea that mass torture would work to our advantage in Indochina. It never worked anywhere else. They got the idea from childish fiction, I think, and from a childish awe of terror.

Vonnegut wrote this 35 years ago.


Let me offer one more Vonnugget before I move on to the literary excavation that closes this wobbly triptych:

I now believe that the only way in which Americans can rise above their ordinariness, can mature sufficiently to rescue themselves and to help rescue their planet, is through enthusiastic intimacy with works of their own imaginations.

This is Vonnegut in a wildly optimistic mood.

In darker moments, he has expressed an equally convincing belief that our greatest works of literature will amount to nothing more than toilet paper. This has been, as far as I can tell, the central existential struggle of his life: does what I do matter?

To read the rest (Do! Do! Do!), click here.


1 comment:

Lou said...

That photo is a heartbreaker.

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