I still haven't really had time to process Vonnegut's death, but I hate the fact that in some quarters he's being viewed as a kind of fossil and in others as a pop icon, which is ironic given his dark sense of aburdism, or, perhaps, in an odd, twisted way appropriate. First and foremost, Vonnegut was a writer who documented the absurdism, horror, and humanity of our modern world. All of his novels, in the ways they deal with evil profound, casual, or banal, and individuals trying to find their way in a world that tries to dehumanize, are completely relevant today.
Two things disgusted me in particular, though. One, the Fox News obituary for Vonnegut, digesting him into propaganda, unwilling to even let a dead man have his truth. The second was a list of the Essential Vonnegut in Entertainment Weekly that had four offerings: Slaughterhouse Five, Cat's Cradle, Mother Night, and Back to School. Yes, that's right: Back to School, the Rodney Dangerfield movie. Whether the result of a lack of imagination, an idea that backfired, or whatever, I just found that to maybe sum up how ridiculous the world is right now.
Somehow it also made me think of a question a student at Trinity Prep asked me about politics. He observed that I liked to make artists and writers into politicians of a kind, or to wield political power, and that this was unusual in the real world. To which I replied with some anecdote about how Austin invested in culture and business followed while Tallahassee invested in business and became a bit of a backwater culturally, by way of proving a point I've forgotten. What I should have told him is that we in America are often dysfunctional in our idea that politics and other important matters of governance should fall to people who are either lawyers or businessmen. In Europe and in other places, it's not uncommon for writers or other creative people to run for public office, even if they don't always succeed. Here, it's treated more like a freakshow.
I'm just rambling now, but I guess my point is, in another world Kurt Vonnegut would have been an elder statesman not just figuratively, but literally. I read his novels from an early age because my dad read them and left the paperbacks lying around the house. Some of them had lurid covers and even though I didn't understand everything I read him them, I was drawn to them. When I read them later, I felt a kinship in the absurdism if not the style and enjoyed his work for many, many years. I still remember my delight in Hocus Pocus, a later novel that Salman Rushdie uncharitably slagged in the NYT Book Review. It did not deserve the abuse.