The other day I finished reading Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut. I wrote about it on AdPulp, for my first response was to celebrate the book’s scathing indictment of modern American culture, branded culture in particular.
There’s more to say. In 1973, Vonnegut wrote the book as a 50th birthday present to himself. Here is some of what he had to say then.
As I approached my fiftieth birthday, I had become more and more enraged and mystified by the idiot decisions made by my countrymen. And then I had come suddenly to pity them, for I understood how innocent and natural it was for them to behave so abominably, and with such abominable results: They were doing their best to live like people invented in story books. This was the reason Americans shot each other so often: It was a convenient literary device for ending short stories and books.
Why were so many Americans treated by their government as though their lives were as disposable as paper facial tissues? Because that was the way authors customarily treated bit-part players in their made-up tales.
And so on.
Once I understood what was making America such a dangerous, unhappy nation of people who had nothing to do with real life, I resolved to shun storytelling. I would write about life. Every person would be exactly as important as any other. All facts would also be given equal weightiness. Nothing would be left out. Let others bring order to chaos. I would bring chaos to order, instead, which I think I have done.
If all writers would do that, then perhaps citizens not in the literary trades will understand that there is no order in the world around us, that we must adapt ourselves to the requirements of chaos instead.
It is hard to adapt to chaos, but it can be done. I am living proof of that: It can be done.
I’m just coming around to Vonnegut (and I’ve not read Faulkner at all…shame on me), so it may seem obvious if not embarrassingly so for me to say, this Twainian gentleman is a great American. That he’s also a great writer, goes without saying.
Vonnegut is now 82 and the author has a new book out, collections of his writings from In These Times, Chicago’s progressive magazine. Here’s some of what he has to say now.
George W. Bush has gathered around him upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography, plus not-so-closeted white supremacists . . . plus, most frighteningly, psychopathic personalities, . . . the medical term for smart, personable people who have no consciences.