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    Farewell Kurt Vonnegut

    Kurt Vonnegut dies at 84

    By CRISTIAN SALAZAR, Associated Press Writer

    NEW YORK - Kurt Vonnegut, the satirical novelist who captured the absurdity of war and questioned the advances of science in darkly humorous works such as "Slaughterhouse-Five" and "Cat's Cradle," died Wednesday. He was 84.

    Vonnegut, who often marveled that he had lived so long despite his lifelong smoking habit, had suffered brain injuries after a fall at his Manhattan home weeks ago, said his wife, photographer Jill Krementz.

    The author of at least 19 novels, many of them best-sellers, as well as dozens of short stories, essays and plays, Vonnegut relished the role of a social critic. He lectured regularly, exhorting audiences to think for themselves and delighting in barbed commentary against the institutions he felt were dehumanizing people.

    "I will say anything to be funny, often in the most horrible situations," Vonnegut, whose watery, heavy-lidded eyes and unruly hair made him seem to be in existential pain, once told a gathering of psychiatrists.

    A self-described religious skeptic and freethinking humanist, Vonnegut used protagonists such as Billy Pilgrim and Eliot Rosewater as transparent vehicles for his points of view. He also filled his novels with satirical commentary and even drawings that were only loosely connected to the plot. In "Slaughterhouse-Five," he drew a headstone with the epitaph: "Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt."

    But much in his life was traumatic, and left him in pain.

    Despite his commercial success, Vonnegut battled depression throughout his life, and in 1984, he attempted suicide with pills and alcohol, joking later about how he botched the job.

    His mother had succeeded in killing herself just before he left for Germany during World War II, where he was quickly taken prisoner during the Battle of the Bulge. He was being held in Dresden when Allied bombs created a firestorm that killed an estimated 135,000 people in the city.

    "The firebombing of Dresden explains absolutely nothing about why I write what I write and am what I am," Vonnegut wrote in "Fates Worse Than Death," his 1991 autobiography of sorts.

    But he spent 23 years struggling to write about the ordeal, which he survived by huddling with other POW's inside an underground meat locker labeled slaughterhouse-five.

    The novel, in which Pvt. Pilgrim is transported from Dresden by time-traveling aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, was published at the height of the Vietnam War, and solidified his reputation as an iconoclast.

    "He was sort of like nobody else," said Gore Vidal, who noted that he, Vonnegut and Norman Mailer were among the last writers around who served in World War II.

    "He was imaginative; our generation of writers didn't go in for imagination very much. Literary realism was the general style. Those of us who came out of the war in the 1940s made sort of the official American prose, and it was often a bit on the dull side. Kurt was never dull."

    Vonnegut was born on Nov. 11, 1922, in Indianapolis, a "fourth-generation German-American religious skeptic Freethinker," and studied chemistry at Cornell University before joining the Army.

    When he returned, he reported for Chicago's City News Bureau, then did public relations for General Electric, a job he loathed. He wrote his first novel, "Player Piano," in 1951, followed by "The Sirens of Titan," "Canary in a Cat House" and "Mother Night," making ends meet by selling Saabs on Cape Cod.

    Critics ignored him at first, then denigrated his deliberately bizarre stories and disjointed plots as haphazardly written science fiction. But his novels became cult classics, especially "Cat's Cradle" in 1963, in which scientists create "ice-nine," a crystal that turns water solid and destroys the earth.

    Many of his novels were best-sellers. Some also were banned and burned for suspected obscenity. Vonnegut took on censorship as an active member of the PEN writers' aid group and the
    American Civil Liberties Union. The American Humanist Association, which promotes individual freedom, rational thought and scientific skepticism, made him its honorary president.

    His characters tended to be miserable anti-heros with little control over their fate. Pilgrim was an ungainly, lonely goof. The hero of "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" was a sniveling, obese volunteer fireman.

    Vonnegut said the villains in his books were never individuals, but culture, society and history, which he said were making a mess of the planet.

    "We probably could have saved ourselves, but we were too damned lazy to try very hard ... and too damn cheap," he once suggested carving into a wall on the Grand Canyon, as a message for flying-saucer creatures.

    He retired from novel writing in his later years, but continued to publish short articles. He had a best-seller in 2005 with "A Man Without a Country," a collection of his nonfiction, including jabs at the Bush administration ("upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography") and the uncertain future of the planet.

    He called the book's success "a nice glass of champagne at the end of a life."

    Vonnegut, who had homes in Manhattan and the Hamptons in New York, adopted his sister's three young children after she died. He also had three children of his own with his first wife, Ann Cox, and later adopted a daughter, Lily, with his second wife, the noted photographer Jill Krementz.

    Vonnegut once said that of all the ways to die, he'd prefer to go out in an airplane crash on the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro. He often joked about the difficulties of old age.

    "When Hemingway killed himself he put a period at the end of his life; old age is more like a semicolon," Vonnegut told The Associated Press in 2005.

    "My father, like Hemingway, was a gun nut and was very unhappy late in life. But he was proud of not committing suicide. And I'll do the same, so as not to set a bad example for my children."
    Kurt Vonnegut dies at 84 - Yahoo! News
    Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.' - Isaac Asimov

    I was thinking of the immortal words of Socrates, who said, "... I drank what?"

  2. #2
    Culture slut geek the girl's Avatar
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    Re: Farewell Kurt Vonnegut

    Oh no! This is very sad news indeed. Vonnegot rewrote the basic concept of the modern American novel, and I doubt we'll have a new Vonnegot ever again. May he rest in peace.
    "There's more to life than books, you know, but not much more" (Morrissey)

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    LG.
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    Re: Farewell Kurt Vonnegut

    This is a big loss. My favorite Vonnegut story is a short story called "Harrison Burgeron" and here is a link. http://www.stanford.edu/~guptaak/articles/harrison.html
    I think it is wonderful and use it as an example every time someone tries to claim that everyone is exactly the same and how horrible it would be if we were. Of course hardly anyone is familiar with the story.
    Help fight cystic fibrosis or just learn more about it at the cystic fibrosis foundation website, www.cff.org and help give my little guy a better future.

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    Livin' the life Dinahann's Avatar
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    Re: Farewell Kurt Vonnegut

    LG, I love that story and was thinking about it just the other day. I had forgotten it was written by Kurt Vonnegut.
    Well I was born in a small town
    And I can breathe in a small town
    Gonna die in this small town
    And that's prob'ly where they'll bury me

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    Re: Farewell Kurt Vonnegut

    That is a great story, LG!

    I read Cat's Cradle repeatedly in high school. That one and Ursula LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea really transformed how I thought about things back then.

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    Re: Farewell Kurt Vonnegut

    Did anyone ever read Venus On The Half Shell by Kilgore Trout? Brilliant. If you can find a copy it is a true collectors item. For anyone that never read Breakfast of Champions, there was a character named Kilgore Trout that was an inch high science fiction writer. Anyway, Venus on the Halfshell, give it a go if you can find it.

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    Fool... but no pity. Krom's Avatar
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    Re: Farewell Kurt Vonnegut

    In actuality I bet he's not actually dead. More likely is that he's been kidnapped by aliens or has time traveled, perhaps leaving the corpse of a doppleganger or his own future corpse behind...

    I mean this is Kurt Vonnegut. Anything's possible.

    "You don't rehearse Mr. T, you just turn him loose."
    -----Sylvester Stallone, on Mr. T-----

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