Sunday, December 04, 2011

Kurt Vonnegut biography supposedly a shocker

A new biography about Kurt Vonnegut has been released, titled And So It Goes. According to an article at The Guardian, this biography shows a "dark, sad, cruel" side to Vonnegut, a side that supposedly will shock the thousands (or millions) of fans who loved this man because he had a public persona quite different, one that was humanist and somewhat grandfatherly.

To be upfront about it, I'm not a Vonnegut fan. I have nothing against the man, nor do/did I dislike his writing. I respected him, but that's about as far as it went. I've only read a couple of his books, and I saw him once years ago at a reading. I don't hate him. I don't love him. But I always found him interesting.

What impelled me to write about him today, however, was that article in The Guardian. Perhaps I am the only one, but that Vonnegut had a "dark" side came as no surprise to be.

I don't mean to suggest I saw such character within him on the one occasion I saw him publicly, nor that I necessarily picked up on anything particular in his writing. But come on, have a brain for a second. Anyone who is a humanist is going to be frustrated with the world we live in and the people who populate it, at least from time to time. Someone like Vonnegut, being a public figure and an artist and aging and, etc., is going to feel such frustrations ten times over, perhaps even more so.

I don't claim to be a humanist, but I understand the thinking. Imagine a normal person who considers themselves a humanist going about their daily life. As I said, they're likely to be frustrated from time to time, especially if they keep up with the news. Now imagine that person is a public figure, one with a public persona built upon the fact he or she is a humanist. Now imagine that person is also an artist, someone who works regularly with humanism as a philosophy, for their daily bread.

I see no reason that person's frustration levels wouldn't be quite high.

In fact, I find it silly that an article or anyone might suggest otherwise, especially in this day and age. For a lot of people, there's a lot to be pissed about, whatever side of the social and political spectrums one falls onto. To suggest because someone is a humanist he couldn't possibly have a "dark" side, to my way of thinking, is just silly. No, it's beyond that. It's stupid.

Let me be clear: I am not voicing a complaint that someone has pointed out Vonnegut had this "dark" side. Not at all. As I mentioned, I'm actually not surprised by this.

What does bother me, what baffles me, is that anyone would act surprised by this.

Some of my feeling about this is because I, too, am a writer (no, I'm not comparing myself to Vonnegut). I become frustrated when others try to pigeon-hole me as a writer. I'm probably best known as a fantasy writer, and I have no problem with that, but fantasy is not all I write and it is not how I identify myself as a person.

Humans seem to have this need to classify everything, including other humans, into nice little, simple compartments. Hell, look at our politics, and I mean this worldwide, not just in the U.S. Everything, and I mean everything, is liberal vs. conservative. Sure, many nations have multiple political parties with all their different nuances, but it always comes down to liberal vs. conservative. Which is stupid beyond compare, mainly because it is so simplistic.

It's as if humans can't look at one another and expect each other to be complex. An individual is either "this" or they are "that." It is all so very junior high school as to make me want to vomit.

Looking only at other writers, I see vast complexities of character. Look at Robert A. Heinlein. The man was brave enough within one lifetime to pen both Starship Troopers and A Stranger in a Strange Land, two novels that at least by the modern political spectrum should seem opposed. There are those who might argue Heinlein was a Libertarian, but that's just another stripe of conservatism for the most part in this day and age (though admittedly there are some few liberal Libertarians ... and I'll add here I have nothing against Libertarians and am not taking sides here in any political debate).

For someone more controversial, consider Ayn Rand. The founder of the philosophy of Objectivism is usually either loved or hated. Often she is shot down as a writer because of her personal philosophy, while others raise her on a pedestal because of her philosophy. But still, though Rand definitely played up her public persona as an Objectivist, she was a more complex individual than her philosophy would seem to allow. She gave money to friends. She gave money to charities. She had friends to whom she was nice. She was not the worst human being to ever live. She was more than just an Objectivist, more than just a writer. She was a multi-faceted individual.

But that's not good enough. We have to break everything down. We have to simplify everything.

Which is what we are now doing to Kurt Vonnegut.

We should be ashamed.

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

I just didn't really care for the guy's writing. I certainly know he had great talent but his work was not my cup of tea, so I've not really read much of his stuff. I wouldn't be surprised by his dark side either. Very few in the public eye are indeed what they seem.