Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Kilgore Trout, 1922 – 2007

Posted by metaphorical on 12 April 2007

Hippo Dignity has a charming story about literally tripping over Kurt Vonnegut in midtown Manhattan one day.

What strikes me now, mumblety-odd years on and not having thought of that story in years, is not just the sweetly New York oddity of authors being so thick on the ground that one is tripping over them, but how nice he was about the whole thing

When I worked at 45th and Broadway, it was actors who were thick on the ground. One day, I was taking to lunch a woman who had just started at the firm I worked at. Just outside our building, we walked past Glenn Close, who was in Sunset Boulevard at the time. We were still talking about the topic of seeing celebrities when we sat down at the counter at Zen Palatte. “It’s pretty common by our building,” I said, “but wouldn’t expect to see a celebrity over here”–meaning on 9th Avenue. “You mean someone like Rosie Perez,” my companion said. I said yes, and then after a minute asked, “but why did you pick Rosie Perez?” “Because she’s sitting right behind you,” was her answer.

I’m just old enough to have read Kurt Vonnegut’s works at the time they had the greatest impact. They and “Catch-22″ nominally discussed one war while really discussing another, and made possible other works, like “Oh What a Lovely War” and “M*A*S*H.” And not just discuss. Slaughterhouse 5 probably did more for the cause of pacificism than any one other piece of writing. His were pacificist works that veterans couldn’t or wouldn’t dismiss.

Vonnegut smooshed and transcended genres as if they were fruit going into a blender. He didn’t have plots that entirely made sense, his science fiction was all fiction and no science, he didn’t have characters you fell in love with, he didn’t write beautiful sentences that you lingered over. What he did was write with voice and humor and a quiet confidence that avoided authority. And he could make you cry for all humanity.

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One Response to “Kilgore Trout, 1922 – 2007”

  1. CMD said

    I only read my first Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse-Five) last year.Extremely bad teaching in high school left me with a strong bias against American literature (yes, I know it’s incredibly foolish, but there it is), I’d never had to read anything by him, and . . . well . . . I’d just never gotten around to it.

    Your last paragraph captures exactly my feelings about SF. It’s not pretty or elegant or compact or anything that calls to my inner being, but it moved me and stayed with me. “I know. I know.”

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