Thursday, April 12, 2007

So it goes

Kurt Vonnegut died last night.

Beth send me a great link to Pandagon about it, and I thought about just posting that and being done with it, but while all that's said over at Pandagon is true, Vonnegut meant something to me personally.

I never met him. Never even saw him in-person. If I'd ever seen him, I'm not sure I would have even recognized him as who he was (despite his pretty unique appearance), rather than some other random old man. But his writing shaped me.

I had tried a couple of Vonneguts that were available from the Mobile Public Library when I was in high school. I don't remember them too well, and don't remember being all that impressed by them. Forgive me -- I was young. After high school, I got curious and bought a copy of Slaughterhouse Five, and it was a revelation. That a book could be so clear, so empathetic, while exploring these bizarre science fictional concepts in such a strange and hypnotic way....

So I began exploring Vonnegut's other fiction. I haven't read them all (shame on me!) but my favorites right now are two of his later works, Galapagos, in which the human race evolves into something a little more amenable to long-term survival, fish-catching otterlike creatures with tiny brains, and Bluebeard, the story of a modern artist whose paintings all fall apart because of an unfortunate use of materials. But Galapagos isn't really about evolutionary biology, and Bluebeard isn't really about art -- they are both perfect examples of Vonnegut's essential sense of human kindness.

And that, more than anything else, is what Vonnegut tried to teach the world. You can talk about literary stylings all you want, or his importance as an early science fiction writer breaking out into the "slicks" (and both of these are important), but for me what I take from Vonnegut is the sense that while we may be impotent against an uncaring universe, if we can all just lean together and do our best to care for each other, maybe we can get through it. Of course, Vonnegut usually described what happened if we didn't all lean together, but that only makes the message all the more powerful.

Vonnegut's humanism shines through every word he wrote. He was a brilliant, wonderful man, and from everything I've heard an amazing human being. He will be sorely missed. And so it goes....

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