Novelist Kurt Vonnegut dies at age 84 - Mercedes-Benz Forum

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post #1 of 18 (permalink) Old 04-12-2007, 12:45 AM Thread Starter
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Novelist Kurt Vonnegut dies at age 84

By CRISTIAN SALAZAR, Associated Press Writer 1 minute ago

Governor's Arts Award winning author Kurt Vonnegut glances down at his daughter Lilly,7, in this file photo from June 29, 1990, during the New York State Governor's Arts Awards ceremony at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Kurt Vonnegut's wife, Jill Krementz says the satirical novelist of works such as 'Slaughterhouse-Five' and 'Cat's Cradle' has died Wednesday Aprill 11, 2007 at age 84 in Manhattan.(AP Photo/David Kantor-File)

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. Indianapolis, his hometown, declared 2007 as "The Year of Vonnegut" — an announcement he said left him "thunderstruck."

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.

"I think he was a man who combined a wicked sense of humor and sort of steady moral compass, who was always sort of looking at the big picture of the things that were most important," said Joel Bleifuss, editor of In These Times, a liberal magazine based in Chicago that featured Vonnegut articles.

His mother killed 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 tens of thousands of people.

"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 it 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. 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 work, 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."

In recent years, Vonnegut worked as a senior editor and columnist at In These Times. Bleifuss said he had been trying to get Vonnegut to write something more for the magazine, but was unsuccessful.

"He would just say he's too old and that he had nothing more to say. He realized, I think, he was at the end of his life," Bleifuss said.

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."
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post #2 of 18 (permalink) Old 04-12-2007, 01:48 AM
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I am a lifelong fan of Vonnegut. Too bad we'll never see his novel about the Bush years. A great loss.
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post #3 of 18 (permalink) Old 04-12-2007, 03:10 AM
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Good bye Billy Pilgrim.
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post #5 of 18 (permalink) Old 04-12-2007, 04:01 AM
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An all time great writer. We shall miss you. RIP

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post #6 of 18 (permalink) Old 04-12-2007, 04:24 AM
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A giant of American Literature. A true genius who lead a remarkable life as an eye witness to history and as a chronicler of the absurdity and futility of war.
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post #7 of 18 (permalink) Old 04-12-2007, 08:13 AM
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Originally Posted by FeelTheLove
A giant of American Literature. A true genius who lead a remarkable life as an eye witness to history and as a chronicler of the absurdity and futility of war.
Yes, I will miss him, he's one of my heroes.

OBK #35

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post #8 of 18 (permalink) Old 04-12-2007, 09:25 AM
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oh this sucks. i grew up with his people. RIP

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post #9 of 18 (permalink) Old 04-12-2007, 11:42 AM
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"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.


Being smart is knowing the difference, in a sticky situation between a well delivered anecdote and a well delivered antidote - bear.
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From Cat's Cradle
by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

The Day the World Ended 1

Call me Jonah. My parents did, or nearly did. They called me John.

Jonah--John--if I had been a Sam, I would have been a Jonah still--not because I have been unlucky for others, but because somebody or something has compelled me to be certain places at certain times, without fail. Conveyances and motives, both conventional and bizarre, have been provided. And, according to plan, at each appointed second, at each appointed place this Jonah was there.


When I was a younger man--two wives ago, 250,000 cigarettes ago, 3,000 quarts of booze ago. . .

When I was a much younger man, I began to collect material for a book to be called The Day the World Ended.

The book was to be factual.

The book was to be an account of what important Americans had done on the day when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.

It was to be a Christian book. I was a Christian then.

I am a Bokononist now.

I would have been a Bokononist then, If there had been anyone to teach me the bittersweet lies of Bokonon. But Bokononism was unknown beyond the gravel beaches and coral knives that ring this little island in the Caribbean Sea, the Republic of San Lorenzo.

We Bokononists believe that humanity is organized into teams, teams that do God's Will without ever discovering what they are doing. Such a team is called a karass by Bokonon, and the instrument, the kan-kan, that brought me into my own particular karass was the book I never finished, the book to be called The Day the World Ended.

Nice, Nice, Very Nice 2
"If you find your life tangled up with somebody else's life for no very logical reasons," writes Bokonon, "that person may be a member of your karass."

At another point in The Books of Bokonon he tells us, "Man created the checkerboard; God created the karass." that he means that a karass ignores national, institutional, occupational, familial, and class boundaries.

It is as free-form as an amoeba.

In his "Fifty-third Calypso," Bokonon invites us to sing along with him:

Oh, a sleeping drunkard
Up in Central Park,
And a lion-hunter
In the jungle dark,
And Chinese dentist,
And a. British queen--
All fit together
In the same machine.
Nice, nice, very nice;
Nice, nice, very nice;
Nice, nice, very nice--
So many different people
In the same device.

Folly 3

Nowhere does Bokonon warn against a person's trying to discover the limits of his karass and the nature of the work God Almighty has had it do. Bokonon simply observed that much investigations are bound to be incomplete.

In the autobiographical section of The Books of Bokonon he writes a parable on the folly of pretending to discover, to understand:

I once knew an Episcopalian lady in Newport, Rhode Island, who asked me to design and build a doghouse for a Great Dane. The lady claimed to understand God and His Ways of Working perfectly. She could not understand why anyone should be puzzled about what had been or about what was going to be.

And yet, when I showed her a blueprint of the doghouse I proposed to build, she said to me, "I'm sorry, but I never could read one of those things."

"Give it to your husband or your minister to pass on to God," I said, "and, when God finds a minute, I'm sure he'll explain this doghouse of mine in a way that even you can understand."

She fired me. I shall never forget her. She believed that God liked people in sailboats much better than He liked people in motorboats. She could not bear to look at a worm. When she saw a worm, she screamed.

She was a fool, and so am I, and so is anyone thinks he sees what God is Doing, [writes Bokonon].
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