April 12th, 2007

new year

God bless you, Mr Vonnegut

Well, yes, my friends, so it goes. Many clicky things elsewhere will tell you all about Mr Vonnegut.

After the NewsHour story this evening on the unprecedented number of brain-injured vets coming back from Iraq, whose care, god willing, should cost us literally billions of dollars for years to come, it was practically cheery to hear the news of his passing. It reminded me of so many things. At the same time I was thinking about the copy I just ran across of Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo, which we read back when, and will still tell you all about the point of view of a person inside one of those basket cases, although it was written about the WW1. The written word remains.

Then there were archived interviews with the man, and comparisons to Mark Twain. Clips from the movie of Slaughterhouse-Five. My mother taught the book in her freshman lit classes before the movie came out. I lived in a co-op house we named Tralfamadore (it has only one L), named after the planet where Vonnegut's protagonist Billy Pilgrim lives in the zoo, after he becomes unstuck in time, following the firebombing of Dresden, which was a real thing that Vonnegut lived through and wrote about. A chronosynclastic infundibulum, that's what he called it, the being unstuck that is.

And what was the naughty thing with the feet we used to do, from Cat's Cradle, the book that told us about Ice-Nine and how one tiny intrusion into the ocean's ecology could spread catastrophically to engulf all life in the consequences. And we thought nuclear chain reactions would be the worst!

I clearly remember reading Venus on the Half-Shell, at least I think that was the title, although I recall nothing of the story, and am not entirely certain whether he wrote it or whether it was written by his fictional author Kilgore Trout, or someone pretending to be fictional. Maybe the interweb can clear that up for me. At last, all is revealed!

One of the clever people being interviewed on the NewsHour called this "the third life of the writer" and I think I knew what he meant. There is the first life as it is lived, which is gone now, and there is the life as it makes it onto the page, messily and with imperfections, and then there is the reputation that survives. I think I must go back and read a bit of him just for style, although all I have on the shelves I think is his essays. If his language is plain enough to be assigned to high school English classes, and still carry all the weight it does, that is something to review.