October 28, 2005

Country Man

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IIn his newest book, A Man Without a Country, Kurt Vonnegut ’44, touches on a variety of his memoirs. The renowned author and Sun alumus, who previously said his novel Timequake was his last, covers everything from war (and why people go to war), to his favorite writers (from Abe Lincoln to Mark Twain), to the country’s current political conundrum and the dire human necessity of living every day in this difficult world with some sort of hope and humor.

If you have read Vonnegut, then you understand his outlook of a beautiful yet trifling world. If not, you have had horrendous English teachers.

Vonnegut writes that he can hardly imagine writing without including technology in his work. (And if you are familiar with his first book ‘Player Piano’, you will have a deeper understanding of this.) “I think books that leave out technology misrepresent life as badly as Victorians misrepresented life by leaving out sex,” he says. How true!

Vonnegut has been known for using much science fiction in his works; many of his earliest stories were in a serious sci-fi mode, and even in his later novels, it never lost a place in his books. In Man, Vonnegut writes: “I became a so-called science fiction writer because someone decreed me a science-fiction writer – I decided it was because I wrote about technology.”

Vonnegut certainly gives you his two cents about the current administration, the country’s political state and, for that matter, politics in general. Much in the way that only Southerners can really make fun of Rednecks, only someone who has both passed through as many eventful times in this country can get away with this. Vonnegut speaks half-facetiously, with with and literary sensabilities. He is, of course, writing from the perspective of someone with over 82 years of living in this country.

Whatever your political feelings, or Vonnegut feelings, are, his assertions and frank statements are entertaining, if not slightly bitter.

Vonnegut, who recently appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to promote the book, writes of the current administration:

“George W. Bush has gathered around him – PP’s (psychopathic personalities), the medical term for smart, personable people who have no conscience – it is a condition, like athlete’s foot – Unlike normal people, they are never filled with doubts because they don’t give a fuck what happens next. Do this! Do that! Mobilize the reserves! Privatize Public Schools! Attack Iraq! Cut health care! Build a trillion-dollar missile shield! Fuck Habeas corpus and the Sierra Club and In These Times and kiss my ass!”

The book is also chock full of poems and original sketches by Vonnegut, who took up painting later in his writing career. The poems are like small highlights of Vonnegut’s humor (although the book is pretty darn small).

What keeps readers returning to his famously ironic humor is the hopeful tint he manages to incorporate into his stories amid the satire. “How beautiful it is to get up and go out and do something,” writes Vonnegut in Man. “We are here on earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you different.”

The book is also chock full of poems and original sketches by Vonnegut, who took up painting later in his writing career. The poems are like small highlights of Vonnegut’s humor (although the book is pretty darn small).

Now, if statements like that don’t make you want to read this book you may have no intelligent sense of humor.

Perhaps it is Vonnegut’s own life experience that has driven him to wryly depict life with a satirical flair; he fought in WWI against Germany and survived; his mother took her own life on Mother’s Day 1944; his sister Alice died from cancer within hours of her husband’s death in a train crash. In any sense, he has certainly allowed such despairing life events to elevate his writing to a level that reaches people, and reaches them with a message.

Whether or not you like Vonnegut’s writing, this short book will surely appeal to anyone who enjoys witty, wry, and indeed, intelligent humor.

Archived article by Jill Shemin
Sun Assistant Daze Editor