Kurt Vonnegut is dead. So it goes. Poo-tee-weet.
I have always felt a connection to Vonnegut, and in no small part this connection stems from the fact that my middle name comes directly from one of his books, which my father was reading while I was pushed, howling and crying, into this mad world.
Vonnegut will always be inexorably linked in my mind to his peer, Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22 and Something Happened. Both Heller and Vonnegut distilled in comic perfection the absurdity of life. While Sartre and Camus viewed the madness of existence through a somewhat grim lens, Heller and Vonnegut made it clear that in the modern world the inhabitants of the lunatic asylum have taken over. To paraphrase Whittaker Chambers, when we've moved beyond a 19th century world and done away with the fiction of God, to a 20th century world where one cannot have faith in man, there is nothing left but unendurable pain, suffering, and comedy.
One of Vonnegut's funniest and most profound inventions was the fictional religion of Bokononism, in which the founder, Bokonon, declares that everything in the religion is a lie. It is only by believing untruths that one can find happiness. The Book of Bokonon, in which the text is in the form of calypsos, opens by warning the reader to close it at once, because everything in it is lies. If only other relgious texts were as honest. ;)
Vonnegut was able to skewer contemporary ideas (religion, the Cold War, Bushism) with wit and humor, in a way that brings Mark Twain to mind. Vonnegut knew instinctively that people react better to farce than ad hominem attacks, that honey is sweeter than piss and vinegar. He was misattributed with the famous "wear sunscreen" commencement address, and although these weren't his words, that message of humor, despair, and hope resonated because it was so much like his own writing.
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