Tag Archives: Kurt Vonnegut

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

I finished reading A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut a couple of days ago and found it a little disappointing. The book felt like Kurt dropped a box of post-it notes at my feet and said “well, I’m out to lunch.” Being the observant reader, I was able to take home a few nuggets of value away from the text though. First and foremost is his quote about the arts. This has been circling social media outlets for some time but I enjoy repeating it.

If you really want to hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding [his way of making sure the reader knows he’s not being sarcastic from earlier in the book]. The arts are not a way of making a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.  (p. 24, Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York)

How can I argue with that? It dovetails into my quote from watching Press.Pause.Play. The arts aren’t about money, anyway. Really. Sure, we’d all like to roll around on a bed full of money a la Demi Moore in Indecent Proposal, but how many of us will really cash in on that? How many of us have the real support of the people around us and others who know how to make stuff happen for writers, actors, comedians, etc.? We can’t all be professional writers. We all can’t be baseball players. We all can’t be Hollywood-types.

There’s just too many of us, and some of us have friends in very high places. It’s a game to some, but not me. It’s only a game when you make it about money. At this point in my minute existence, all I want is to leave something behind much like a slug that leaves a trail over a sidewalk. You may get the same sense of discomfort or disgust while reading my work, too. Good on you.

The current book I’m reading is Unleashing the Ideavirus by Seth Godin, and he would say it’s not a matter of technical ability or money. To him, it’s a matter of creating an idea to circulate material to as many people as possible. This kinetic, wide-eyed thinking is the amusement I miss in my economics classes back in the day. It totally misses the point, the one I just told you in the last paragraph. This is not to be confused with an “it’ll sell itself” attitude, because that’s not what’s being discussed.

Vonnegut also spoke of how he was regarded at English departments. “Critics feel,” he writes, “that a person cannot be a serious artist and also have a technical education, which I had.” (p.15) This is very meaningful to me, as I’ve found myself in the same boat. What I have to ask myself is “do I want to be recognized as a ‘serious artist’?” It’s a legit question, and I suppose I couldn’t say at this point. Maybe if I were younger I’d be gung-ho about the idea. Now, I’m not so sure.

At any rate, I’m still here. I’m still breathing, writing, and working. Maybe someday I can look back and laugh at this? I certainly hope so, because it’s pretty damned depressing.

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Selling the Absurdity: Why Some Writers Suck at Being Satirical

I enjoy satire quite a bit. That’s not to say I’m the supreme authority on it, but I know good satire when I see it. I’ve read Jonathan Swift, Miguel de Cervantes, Kurt Vonnegut, and Voltaire all with genuine, audible laughter. They all have an ability to use the written word as an épée to foil their critics. When written appropriately, it can be quite disarming.

There are plenty of writers, especially bloggers, who think they’re up to the challenge of acquiring biting, satirical wit. That, in and of itself, is quite admirable. There’s nothing wrong with setting goals and working toward them. Satire is a higher form of comedy. Everybody loves a clown. So, why don’t you?

(I love spooking the anti-clown crowd. Say “anti-clown crowd” five times fast.)

The problem with writing good satire is not remotely believing what you’re writing. It is paramount the article be absurd to a reasonably intelligent human being. We’re not looking for MENSA candidates here, just people who can read well and be rational enough to conceptualize the argument. That way the reader can easily understand what’s being argued and think “there’s no possible way on Earth you mean that!” For example, A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift promotes cannibalism as a way to control population. This is what we call a red flag.

I love absurdity. Its abstraction turns logic on its head and draws a mustache on it for looking stuffy. It’s the rainbow bridging a tortoise and a tea cup. It’s the creative side that spilled the beans and then ate the mailbox. It’s that color I look for in any good satire.

What I find with the novice satirist is they’re not absurd enough, which leads me to suspect they believe what they are writing on some level. That’s just insulting, because then the writer becomes the essayist version of an Internet troll. Anyone who wants to make it in writing will want to avoid that perception at all costs.

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