Kurt Vonnegut Wishes He Were Never Born

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Kurt Vonnegut is now doing an advice column for the left-leaning biweekly In These Times (and slowly wearing away the residual affection I have for him based on how groovy I thought Cat's Cradle was when I was 12.) In the April 14 issue, he advises a woman thinking of having a baby: "Don't do it!" since the kid would be "unlucky to be in [a society] without a National Health plan or decent public education." While this anti-life, insanely privileged and whiny opinion is bad enough, somehow my respect for him as a writer and thinker was even more damaged by his further advice that she—to avoid having a baby who might have to suffer the existence-nullifying pain of perhaps having to, as an adult, pay for its own health insurance or medical bills—"go on practicing safe sex." That sort of lifeless, prissy, abstract bilge marks one as a social worker, not a practicer of literature.

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  1. It is always a mistake to confuse the personality of an artist with the quality of their art.

    Vonnegut’s reputation as a person may be damaged by this sort of stuff – but surely not his literary legacy. It is small-minded to judge his work based on his current practically senile ramblings.

  2. Good thing no one’s doing that, then.

  3. I agree with Mr. Trout. Vonnegut’s “ideas” have always been idiotic. Two of his novels, however, “Cat’s Cradle” and “Slaughterhouse Five,” are monumental works of satire. It’s sad that he doesn’t write the novels any more and instead doles out smarmy one-liners to the Harvard “working stiffs” (ahem) who read In These Times.

    Also, I read a funny article last year in the Boston Globe about Vonnegut’s tenure as a visiting professor at Smith College. He hardly “taught” anything and instead whiled away the hours smoking in his office (the nerve!) and scandalizing self-righteous young brats with sexual innuendo. Here’s a summary I found:

    “So it goes for Vonnegut,” was the headline for a front-page account of celebrated author Kurt Vonnegut’s year at Smith, a year in which the “frumpy author” managed to “raise a bit of a ruckus” ?largely by just being himself. For many students, especially those who participated in Vonnegut’s master classes or sought him out for conversation, the presence of the irreverent, outspoken writer in their midst was bracing. “It was really refreshing because he’s not PC at all,” explained Mary Anne Van Tyne ’02. “At Smith, there is an idea that you don’t want to offend a woman’s image. He’s reached a point in his life where he doesn’t care and he’ll just say whatever.”

  4. I did a massive survey of Vonnegut this summer, and I must say he’s become a pathetic parody of himself.

    His limousine nihilism makes for entertaining literature, but he just can’t be taken seriously as a political commentator.

    His heart is in the right place, so to speak, but his grasp of political reality is so weak, his opinions are reduced to the whining of a child, complaining that the word is just “not fair.”

    His novels are an endless string of “not fair!” “not fair!” “not fair!”

    His nihilism quickly becomes tedious, and his study of economics apparently stopped in 8th grade.

  5. Being a mono-polar depressive would tend to color your world view towards the nihilistic.

  6. I’ll take the minority position here: I read some of Vonnegut’s columns (and I have read all of his books), and I say, “He’s right.” I mean, the world is not always a nice place. Sometimes it’s not as nice as it could be. You just gotta deal with it, but it’s still the facts.

    Whether or not you enjoy his work (and I agree that his later novels are not up to the early standard — but then, many writers got worse as they got older), accusing him of “whining” is hardly substantive criticism. More to the point:
    The fact is, I am sure that he is kidding–or at least tongue in cheek–in nearly every one of his columns. I mean, “Harvard working stiffs?” Give me a break, he is KIDDING.

    Yes, Vonnegut reduces complexities to simplicities; this is both a rhetorical device (reduction to absurdity), and a point of style with him. V. is black and depressed, but he is also funny as hell. Go back and read the columns again; assume that he is writing satire in a straight voice; see if that doesn’t answer some of your questions.

    People with no sense of humor be very careful when they comment on things written by satirists.

  7. He can be funny sometimes, if oh-so-predictable. I read some recent interview of him where he was asked to suggest a horror movie title, and he replied “C students from Yale”.

  8. Fyodor got it dead on: there’s nothing more lame-ass than seeing a treasured celeb, formerly known for being a unique voice, so immersed in saying *The Right Things.*

  9. But…

    It may be that today’s “right things” came out of his mouth/typewriter years ago and he’s just out of fresh material (like Bob Dylan and the Stones have been for 20 years). He could be fresh by being contrarian for contrarianism’s (or freshess’s) sake, but that is just as lame-ass.

    Or am I sounding contrarian here?

  10. I suppose all you want dignity.

  11. I suppose all of you will want dignity.

  12. Is kurt still alive? haven’t read anything decent by him in the last 20 years….

  13. More celerebity nit-picking on the Reason hit and run… Up next, a link to some other part of the Reason web page.

  14. Mr. Vonnegut needs to be postnatally aborted (that is summarily executed). Die lefties die (Hunter Thompson too).

  15. Anyone asking Vonnegut for reproductive advice shouldn’t be reproducing anyway.

  16. Kurt Vonnegut is a giant of Americans literature, comparable to Twain and Hemmingway in is skill and importance. He’s also like 90, so cut him some slack.

  17. I’d have to agree with Russ, anyone asking Kurt Vonnegut for reproductive advice probably shouldn’t have children. As for the satirical contents, he did give George W. and Lucrezia Borgia as examples of the bad children the woman could have. That’s certainly satire on several levels.

  18. Brian, was your sense of humor permanently damaged in an accident? How come you didn’t wax indignant about how Vonnegut claims that since reporters are now “rich and famous” they allowed themselves to be “toyed with” during the war?

    The actual next of the answer is much more witty than you give it credit for. Why is it that all these libertarians feel they have to be taken “oh-so-seriously”?

  19. sort of lifeless, prissy, abstract bilge marks one as a social worker, not a practicer of literature.

    How long did you dilly dally as Vonnegut’s stream of pee warmed your bowl of oats this morning before you yanked it away from him?

    Cut the old writter some slack.. jezz..

  20. Just as nothing makes you seem crazier than asserting your sanity, so nothing makes you seem more humorless than asserting you enjoy a good larf as much as the next fellow. That said, while there is a fair amount of cutesy-poo in Kurt’s ITT column–and one lamely obvious irony about how art can ease the world’s pain the same way ice cream cures the clap–given what we know of his beliefs in other contexts, there is zero reason to believe that he didn’t mean every word of it, even if he expressed it in ways that were meant to be cute/funny, like the implied comparison of the Bushes with the Borgias. I mean, that is an attempt at “humor” to be sure–but the only comic style that would negate my wrath at this idiocy would be the irony of “I’m saying the opposite of what I mean,” and I don’t think there is any evidence for that whatsover.

  21. I think the worst thing about Vonnegut’s opinions as stated in ITT is that they’re so banal. I think I’d rather find out that an artist I admired was a total obnoxious ass when speaking his mind than to find out that he’s just into spewing the party line. To that end, I don’t so much mind the scandalizing of young brats as reported via quaker120…

  22. That whole Dresden thing really fucked his shit up.

  23. Mr. Doherty: If the lines about “Harvard working stiffs” and ice cream for the clap don’t clue you in that Vonnegut is being satirical (i.e., saying the opposite of he really means), then I am afraid that the prognosis for your case of ahumoritis is not good.

    I can’t defend all of Vonnegut’s work, and his tone is definitely cutesy, but Vonnegut’s column is satirical. Sometimes its even funny.

  24. Satirical writing, like straightforward writing, has a point to make. In this case, Brian objects to the point. The fact that it was delivered in a satirical fashion does not mean he is obligated to stop objecting to it.

  25. I’ve always enjoyed his stuff. He made me laugh, gave me a lump in my throat now and then, made me care deeply about his fictional creations, and shared some insights about the world as he saw it. How many of us can say that we had that much impact on other people with the things we’ve put down on paper?

  26. I am used to sitting in crampy rooms (with a severe lack of oxygen or sleep)discussing the “Jewishness” of this or the “Implied Narrator” of that, but this discussion is horrible!
    It may seem to some that he is creating a parody of himself, but to me it seems like most of you are doing exactly the same.

  27. Kurt is correct. Jobs are decreaasing because of technology while the population is exploding, the environment is in shambles, wars are erupting, it is essential she forget the kid-thing and instead adopt a kitten or buy a basil plant at Wal-mart.

  28. the writer of this article didn’t finish the quote. it goes on to say “but I replied that what made being alive almost worthwhile for me, besides music, was all the saints I met, who could be anywhere.” 2nd of all, he was being sarcastic; it would seem from my perspective that you intentionally left that part out because some other reason you don’t like KV (seeing as I don’t know you, the most likely reason would be that you don’t agree with his political views). word.

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