from John/Togs Tognolini-Kurt Vonnegut's Last Stand A Man Without a Country
- From Counterpunch December 27, 2005Kurt Vonnegut's Last StandA Man Without a CountryBy DAVID SWANSONKurt Vonnegut, at age 82, has published over two dozen books. His latest is called "A Man Without a Country." It's a book that is brutally honest in its hopelessness, in fact I think overly hopeless, and yet humorous. It may even be hopeless in order to better be humorous. Vonnegut discusses in the book the use of tragedy to heighten laughter. But certainly the humor works to lighten the load of dismay and despair that this book ever-so-lightly dumps on us."I know of very few people," Vonnegut writes, "who are dreaming of a world for their grandchildren." Later he writes this epitaph for the Earth: "The good Earth we could have saved it, but we were too damn cheap and lazy."Vonnegut cannot be comforted with the fantasy that our destruction of the Earth is all part of some benevolent plan beyond our ken, because he doesn't believe such rubbish. "My parents and grandparents were humanists," he writes. "what used to be called Free Thinkers. So as a humanist I am honoring my ancestors, which the Bible says is a good thing to do. We humanists try to behave as decently, as fairly, and as honorably as we can without any expectation of rewards or punishments in an afterlife. My brother and sister didn't think there was one, my parents and grandparents didn't think there was one. It was enough that they were alive. We humanists serve as best we can the only abstraction with which we have any familiarity, which is our community."Vonnegut does not have consolations or comforts, but he does have humor. He continues:"I am, incidentally, Honorary President of the American Humanist Association, having succeeded the late, great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in that totally functionless capacity. We had a memorial service for Isaac a few years back, and I spoke and said at one point, 'Isaac is up in heaven now.' It was the funniest thing I could have said to an audience of humanists. I rolled them in the aisles. It was several minutes before order could be restored. And if I should ever die, God forbid, I hope you will say, 'Kurt is up in heaven now.' That's my favorite joke."How do humanists feel about Jesus? I say of Jesus, as all humanists do, 'If what he said is good, and so much of it is absolutely beautiful, what does it matter if he was God or not?'"But if Christ hadn't delivered the Sermon on the Mount, with its message of mercy and pity, I wouldn't want to be a human being."I'd just as soon be a rattlesnake."So, Kurt has no religion. But why does he say he has no country?Well, there's this: "I myself feel that our country, for whose Constitution I fought in a just war, might as well have been invaded by Martians and body snatchers. Sometimes I wish it had been. What has happened instead is that it was taken over by means of the sleaziest, low-comedy, Keystone Cops-style coup d'etat imaginable."Kurt blames many of our problems on a drug:"Can I tell you the truth? I mean this isn't the TV news is it? Here's what I think the truth is: We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial. And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, our leaders are now committing violent crimes to get what little is left of what we're hooked on."And this, of course, leads Vonnegut to despair but not to lose his sense of humor:"I know there is not a chance in hell of America becoming humane and reasonable. Because power corrupts us, and absolute power corrupts us absolutely. Human beings are chimpanzees who get crazy drunk on power. By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East ? Their morale, like so many lifeless bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas."David Swanson can be reached at: david@...
Send instant messages to your online friends http://au.messenger.yahoo.com
- There you go: Kurt still coming out of his corner fighting. I don't
know how many people read him nowadays after his explosive popularity
in the sixties, but I am back re-reading Vonnegut and you read it and
go "Ah Jesus! This man is really into humanist (for want of a better
Of course, he's also bleak, very dark -- that's his disposition, with
one suicide attempt to his credit in way of activist proof. And if you
want to struggle for options to a revolutionary based optimism,
Vonnegut is your man. But because he is so genuine and passionate and
true you get exposed to an extraordinarily objective view of
the 'human condition' ( 'human comedy' would be a better term) -- I
mean if you are considering earth from Trafalmadore -- which is so
many light years away -- you get to see homo erectus at some
I was thinking in this mode last night,and not actually thinking of
Vonnegut, when I was watching Frank Miller's SIN CITY. Miller's noir
world is very much darker and oppressive than Vonnegut's. In a world
whose competing pleasures are sadism and masochism with a little bit
of real sex, even some melodramatic compassion, now and then.
But the contrast with Vonnegut is nonetheless very stark. Miller is
totally nihilistic and while he shares Vonnegut's libertarianism in
regard to state structures, I'm nonetheless glad that I live in
Vonnegut's universe -- even if he really has to create a 'universe'
rather than a 'world' to contain it -- rather than Miller's 'city'.
Aside from the indulgent violence beared along in Sin City. I loved
the tragic inevitability of the storylies. The gender relations are a
bit -- well -- forced and very -- well -- stereotypical, but since its
genre is the crass sexism of the pulp crime novel, Sin City gets to
the underlying bleakness much quicker than most.
It's like a reworking of Brecht's city of Mahogany -- where not only
has capitalism triumphed but it now governs everything, even our
souls --without so much as a smiggin of human spirit left to annoint
us with any pretension.
Vonnegut may have despaired every now and then, but he never blames
his protagonists -- just their sentence. In Vonnegut, society is at
fault -- for reason unknown, inevitable though they may be, and
without historical meaning -- but in Miller, what rules us is our own
core savagery .
I know whose universe I'd prefer to live in.