Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut 1922-2007

Here's what Kurt Vonnegut taught me:
  • Vonnegut was the first author I read with whom I could not identify, and at the same time had a profound effect on me. Vonnegut was, at the time at least, a polar opposite from me: he was an atheist, a humanist, a pacificist, and perpetually irreverent, while I was an stiff-necked conservative agnostic struggling to be a believer, with little tolerance for flippancy towards profound things. Looking back on it, I can see how valuable that experience was. I wish everyone could be moved by things written by someone they disagree with, and come to love and admire someone who has all the wrong opinions. It creates a heady vertigo of the soul; it makes you believe, perhaps for the first time, that you could be wrong about some things, and that that might not be altogether a bad thing.
  • Vonnegut's writing was probably the best portrait of existentialist experience. Nobody ever did a better job of showing how senseless the world was, and still love it anyway.
  • I often told people, "Read one Vonnegut novel a year." As much as I enjoyed his work, I couldn't stand more than one a year. Humankind cannot bear much reality. Still, that will last you quite a long time. If you start as a senior in high school (which is the exactly correct time to start) you will finish in your mid-thirties, which is about the time you will start to feel like you really know what he's talking about.
  • Stylistically, Vonnegut was the first to teach me that less was more. He succeeded where Hemingway failed utterly. He was probably also the first to show me that simply telling the truth was the best way to have any hope of having any impact.
  • God dammit, we must be kind.

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