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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Tuesday, June 18, 2024

‘So it goes’ again, Carrie’s tribute to Vonnegut

Since I've started this column, I've never focused my 500 words, give or take, on one author or one book. I've always wanted to emphasize that literature isn't fragmented for me. It doesn't stop when I get to the end, press together the cover and the back for a few moments, absorbing, celebratin og, digesting and mourning before I shut off the light. Writing is the world's constant conversation, and it's a noise that is as comforting and constant in my head as traffic. It's a six cup a day habit for me because I need to think about life that seriously and love it and do something about it.  


But I was going to experiment this week and write about Thomas Pynchon, who's so delightfully difficult he's got me book-marking my pages with aspirin. My intentions, however, to try something different have gone sour.  


Last Wednesday, the walrus-faced author, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.—who laughed, coughed and wheezed at us behind a Pall Mall haze—died. From the deep pockets of his rumpled clothes, he knowingly gave us pages with teeth, with thorns. He ripped all our ideals to shreds. 


Leaders are morons, popular culture is dehumanizing, bombs are exploding, clouds of chemicals, innocent souls are just beneath your window, and semicolons are transvestite hermaphrodites.  


His stories stick you with an ache you want to have. His literary realism draws you back from your safe home and your safe room to make you look injustice and twisted nonsense in its ugly face. Sometimes, when I am reading something so painful and real, I get to carrying around the weight of world issues and I am sore to touch. I can't stop thinking, ""Do you see what I'm reading right now? Do you know what I'm going through?""  


But I want to say that I believe Vonnegut had more compassion for his readers than disdain for modern society. In every absurd world that Vonnegut created, there were always glimpses of kindness and intimacy between people. 


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""Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies—‘God damn it, you've got to be kind.' "" (""God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, or Pearls Before Swine."") 


He doesn't present it as a promise.Kindness isn't constant or enduring, and it probably never was. The individual has a way out, though, through valuing and practicing goodness. You have to act it out. It is a pinhole of release from the pressure of the madness.  


Vonnegut was a free-thinking, challenging kind of author and American. He hands us a sad postcard from reality, a confusing bunch of scribbles and doodles written in thick, thick ink. As a teacher, he was admittedly almost too strange, almost charmingly disruptive to our lives.  


But when I'm reading him, I do feel better. Things aren't perfect, but we're not alone.

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