Thursday, April 12, 2007

R.I.P. Kurt Vonnegut

This image was taken from Wikipedia's entry for Kurt Vonnegut. Go and read about his life then read one of his books and have your mind blown and your eyes opened.

I just learned from Elec's blog that Kurt Vonnegut has passed away and find the news quite overwhelmingly sad. Kurt Vonnegut was not only my favorite writer but also someone who I felt encouraged his readers to look at the world from a variety of angles, and the more obtuse those angles are, the better.

I first read one of Mr. Vonnegut's novels as part of a class on anti-Utopian novels. One of the books I was assigned to read was Player Piano. I enjoyed it so much that I went on to read pretty much everything he wrote. His books have a great deal of depth that many readers miss because they focus on the grotesqueness of some of the situations and/or characters and miss the bigger picture the story is painting and fail to see the sometimes subtle psychological fabric weaved into his characters.

The characters in his novels were often flawed and unappealing so readers who were looking for an attractive or admirable protagonist would be turned off. His characters were often just a lot of people who are reacting to situations they feel trapped in or manipulated by as Mr. Vonnegut himself must have felt in his life (particularly during World War II). In his early novels, it is clear that a lot of Kurt Vonnegut's characters are acting on some of his own psychological issues at the time that he wrote them. In his later short stories and novels, you can see that he's worked though a lot of his mental health issues but has lost none of his humor.

One of the most interesting things about Kurt Vonnegut was that he was a humanist and generally believed in socialist ideals yet he didn't believe in extreme notions of "total" equality. Though he felt all people deserved respect, dignity and a decent quality of life, he recognized that attempts to make all people "equal" would be destructive. In one of his short stories, he described a society where beautiful people were covered up, athletes were hobbled, and intelligent people had their thoughts disrupted by loud noises in a misguided attempt to make level the playing field in life. His ideals were tempered and reasonable rather than extreme.

Kurt Vonnegut was undoubtedly one of the most intelligent and compassionate human beings this world has ever seen and I doubt we'll see the likes of him again soon.

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