Posts tagged ‘Kurt Vonnegut’

July 22, 2013

David Markson on Lowry, Gaddis, Vonnegut, Etc.

by Biblioklept

From David Markson’s 2007 interview in Conjunctions:

Harlin: Incidentally, you wrote your M.A. thesis on Malcolm Lowry, a relatively unknown writer at the time, and became very friendly with him. What was the impulse behind writing him?

Markson: A great percentage of the people in the world haven’t had this experience, but sometimes you read a book, and it’s almost as if it’s been written for you, or you’re the only one who really understands it. The impulse—creatively, artistically, spiritually—was to say, “Be my daddy. Be my father.” It took a letter or two, but obviously I struck a chord. He had done the same thing. As a young boy in England, he’d written to Conrad Aiken, he so admired Aiken’s poetry. I became friendly with Aiken, too, through Lowry. When Malc died, we got back in touch, and when he was in New York he would come to dinner. He kept a cold-water flat—are there still such things?—up on the East Side.

Harlin: You also became friends with Dylan Thomas and Kerouac.

Markson: The Dylan Thomas thing was a fluke. I don’t think I’d ever met a writer. Back then, I was only in correspondence with Lowry. Thomas did a reading, and on impulse I went backstage. You can’t imagine how popular he was or how highly thought-of he was, even though he was a legendary troublemaker. Out of the blue, I said, “How would you like to have a couple of drinks with some graduate students?” He said, “Yeah, I’ll meet you.” One thing led to another, and we had, at most, nine or ten evenings together. Kerouac was sheer chance and non-literary. My next door neighbor at the time, on 11th Street in the Village, was a recording engineer, and he was friendly with Jack. They used to listen to jazz together. In fact, this guy, who’s long-since dead, was one of the first to lug that old-style heavy equipment up to Harlem to record it. Jack loved it, and he’d go with him once in a while. He lived right next-door. Frequently, we’d go from apartment to apartment drinking together. Sometimes, Jack would come to New York, and this fellow, Jerry, would be away, so he’d ring our bell. For about two years—I’m guessing a dozen, fifteen times—the doorbell would ring, never a word in advance, and there he’d be, drunk as hell all the time. Generally he’d stay the night. One time he borrowed a T-shirt. He came back a week later, and we’re sitting in the living room, and I’m recognizing the outer shirt from a week before. I saw this filthy T-shirt and said, “You son of a bitch, is that the shirt of mine that you put on here a week ago?” And he said, “Well, I had a shower.” Then he stopped coming around; I guess he was in Florida. We just lost track of him, and the next thing I knew he was dead.

Harlin: There’s also William Gaddis.

Markson: I thought The Recognitions was—Lowry being English—the great American novel of that period. That’s the only other letter I wrote to a writer, but it was different from the Lowry one. When The Recognitions came out, it was shat on by every reviewer. They said, “How dare he write so long a book? How dare he deliberately try to create a masterpiece?” I wrote this casual letter, saying, “Screw them. Some of us out here know what you did.” When my wife and I went to Mexico for three years, an editor came down there, and Aiken had given him my name. We had him to dinner, and all I did was talk about The Recognitions. And this guy said, “Shut up already. Tell me about Mexico. I’ll read it when I get home.” And he did. The Recognitions came out in 1955, and this would have been about 1961. One day I get a letter there: “Dear David Markson, If I may presume to answer yours of”—whatever it was—”May 16, 1955.” It turned out that this editor, Aaron Asher, had come home, read the book, and decided to resurrect it. There had never been a paperback, and he put it in print, and it brought Gaddis back to life.

Harlin: Anyone else?

Markson: Kurt Vonnegut I’d known for about forty years. We weren’t that intimate, but for the last twenty years, he and I and two other people had dinner twice a year. And Joe Heller. We weren’t buddy-buddy, but I knew him before Catch-22. If you’re writing, who do you know? If you’re a lawyer, you know lawyers. If you’re a dentist, you know dentists. If you’re a writer, you know other writers. Heller was working in public relations. I remember when we came back from Mexico, one of the first people I saw said, “Hey, Joe Heller finished his book, and it’s great.” This all probably sounds very exotic. In fact, a book just came out recently called Sleeping with Bad Boys, by a woman named Alice Denham. She had been a Playboy centerfold, but she was the only Playboy centerfold who was the author of a short story in the same issue. I can say this, because she’s admitted it in her book, but she slept with everybody. She slept with James Jones, with Gaddis, a long list. She and Heller, for some reason, they would just neck or something. And she and I had an affair at one point. In fact, she refers to me as one of her favorite lovers. The Times review reported that she’d slept with this one and that one and then quoted something about each person. After my name, “the novelist David Markson,” was “stud lover boy.” And here I am seventy-nine years old! I still run into Alice; she lives a couple of blocks from me.

 

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June 3, 2013

Portrait of Kurt Vonnegut — Eddie Campbell

by Biblioklept

Kurt Vonnegut

(Via).

March 12, 2013

George Saunders Riffs on Vonnegut, Teaching Writing, and How Capitalism Plunders the Sensuality of the Body

by Biblioklept
January 29, 2013

Kurt Vonnegut on Twerps

by Biblioklept

From Kurt Vonnegut’s 1977 interview with The Paris Review:

INTERVIEWER

What is a twerp in the strictest sense, in the original sense?

VONNEGUT

It’s a person who inserts a set of false teeth between the cheeks of his ass.

INTERVIEWER

I see.

VONNEGUT

I beg your pardon; between the cheeks of his or her ass. I’m always offending feminists that way.

INTERVIEWER

I don’t quite understand why someone would do that with false teeth.

VONNEGUT

In order to bite the buttons off the backseats of taxicabs. That’s the only reason twerps do it. It’s all that turns them on.

INTERVIEWER

You went to Cornell University after Shortridge?

VONNEGUT

I imagine.

INTERVIEWER

You imagine?

November 11, 2012

Eleven Authors Who Were Also Veterans of War

by Biblioklept

Eleven Authors Who Were Also Veterans of War

1. Stendahl (Napoleonic Wars)

2. Ambrose Bierce (Union Army, American Civil War)

3. Erich Maria Remarque (German Army, WWI)

4. George Orwell (Republican Army, Spanish Civil War)

5. Kurt Vonnegut (U.S. Army, WWII)

6. Joseph Heller (U.S. Air Force, WWII)

7. Eveyln Waugh (British Royal Marines, WWII)

8. Norman Mailer (U.S Army, WWII)

9. Gore Vidal (U.S. Army, WWII)

10. Tim O’Brien (U.S. Army, Vietnam War)

11. Anthony Swofford (U.S. Marine Corps, Persian Gulf War)

 

June 23, 2012

Clarice Lispector/Malcolm Braly (Books Acquired 6.22.2012)

by Biblioklept

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It’s a sickness. Should I explain that the bookstore is like 1.1 miles from my house? And that it holds somewhere between one and two million books? (No exaggeration). That it’s like three or four buildings  cobbled together in snaking passages, all said passages lined by books? It’s also like .2 miles from the grocery store I/we usually shop at. Which I had to go by to get mozzarella. For make your own pizza night. But of course, I had to stop off and browse. (Is it weird I set the timer on my iPhone? Gave myself 17 minutes?).

Anyway. Picked up these two.

The Lispector comes via recommendation of Scott Esposito, although this New Directions edition is not the latest translation, but, I dunno. It’s short. The Braly, well, I’d never heard of it, honestly, but it’s an NYRB edition, and the spines of those books always standout, and Lethem introduces it, and even though I haven’t liked Lethem’s last few books, well, he’s still a tastemaker par excellence, and Kurt Vonnegut blurbs it on the back, calling it, “Surely the great American prison novel.” And I just finished “The Part About the Crimes” in 2666 (yet again, more on that to come) and maybe a prison novel seems especially intriguing.

June 7, 2012

Kurt Vonnegut Interview (Video/1991)

by Biblioklept
March 31, 2012

Pynchon/Vonnegut (Books Acquired, 3.28.2012)

by Biblioklept

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Saw these in my favorite used book shop and had to have them. Shabby copies of contemporary criticisms (i.e., old criticism) of Pynchon and Vonnegut. Love the covers.

 

February 21, 2012

Kurt Vonnegut on Story Shapes (Video)

by Biblioklept

I’d seen the diagrams, which I’ve used in the classroom for a few years now (along with Margaret Atwood’s excellent short short “Happy Endings”) but never seen this video (metaphorical hat tip to ‘klept reader ccllyyddee, who says he saw it at Curiosity Counts—cheers!).

February 3, 2012

Trout’s Tomb — Kurt Vonnegut

by Biblioklept

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September 12, 2011

Candide — Voltaire

by Edwin Turner

I liked pretty much all of the assigned reading in high school (okay, I hated every page of Tess of the D’Ubervilles). Some of the books I left behind, metaphorically at least (Lord of the Flies, The Catcher in the Rye), and some books bewildered me, but I returned to them later, perhaps better equipped (Billy Budd; Leaves of Grass). No book stuck with me quite as much as Candide, Voltaire’s scathing satire of the Enlightenment.

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I remember being unenthusiastic when my 10th grade English teacher assigned the book—it was the cover, I suppose (I stole the book and still have it), but the novel quickly absorbed all of my attention. I devoured it. It was (is) surreal and harsh and violent and funny, a prolonged attack on all of the bullshit that my 15 year old self seemed to perceive everywhere: baseless optimism, can-do spirit, and the guiding thesis that “all is for the best.” The novel gelled immediately with the Kurt Vonnegut books I was gobbling up, seemed to antecede the Beat lit I was flirting with. And while the tone of the book certainly held my attention, its structure, pacing, and plot enthralled me. I’d never read a book so willing to kill off major characters (repeatedly), to upset and displace its characters, to shift their fortunes so erratically and drastically. Not only did Voltaire repeatedly shake up the fortunes of Candide and his not-so-merry band—Pangloss, the ignorant philosopher; Cunegonde, Candide’s love interest and raison d’etre and her maid the Old Woman; Candide’s valet Cacambo; Martin, his cynical adviser—but the author seemed to play by Marvel Comics rules, bringing dead characters back to life willy nilly. While most of the novels I had been reading (both on my own and those assigned) relied on plot arcs, grand themes, and character development, Candide was (is) a bizarre series of one-damn-thing-happening-after-another. Each chapter was its own little saga, an adventure writ in miniature, with attendant rises and falls. I loved it.

I reread Candide this weekend for no real reason in particular. I’ve read it a few times since high school, but it was never assigned again—not in college, not in grad school—which may or may not be a shame. I don’t know. In any case, the book still rings my bell; indeed, for me it’s the gold standard of picaresque novels, a genre I’ve come to dearly love. Perhaps I reread it with the bad taste of John Barth’s The Sot-Weed Factor still in my mouth. As I worked my way through that bloated mess, I just kept thinking, “Okay, Voltaire did it 200 years earlier, much better and much shorter.”

Revisiting Candide for the first time in years, I find that the book is richer, meaner, and far more violent than I’d realized. Even as a callow youth, I couldn’t miss Voltaire’s attack on the Age of Reason, sustained over a slim 120 pages or so. Through the lens of more experience (both life and reading), I see that Voltaire’s project in Candide is not just to satirize the Enlightenment’s ideals of rationality and the promise of progress, but also to actively destabilize those ideals through the structure of the narrative itself. Voltaire offers us a genuine adventure narrative and punctures it repeatedly, allowing only the barest slivers of heroism—and those only come from his innocent (i.e. ignorant) title character. Candide is topsy-turvy, steeped in both irony and violence.

As a youth, the more surreal aspects of the violence appealed to me. (An auto-da-fé! Man on monkey murder! Earthquakes! Piracy! Cannibalizing buttocks!). The sexy illustrations in the edition I stole from my school helped intrigue me as well—

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The self who read the book this weekend still loves a narrative steeped in violence—I can’t help it—Blood Meridian, 2666, the Marquis de Sade, Denis Johnson, etc.—but I realize now that, despite its occasional cartoonish distortions, Candide is achingly aware of the wars of Europe and the genocide underway in the New World. Voltaire by turns attacks rape and slavery, serfdom and warfare, always with a curdling contempt for the powers that be.

But perhaps I’ve gone too long though without quoting from this marvelous book, so here’s a passage from the last chapter that perhaps gives summary to Candide and his troupe’s rambling adventures: by way of context (and, honestly spoiling nothing), Candide and his friends find themselves eking out a living in boredom (although not despair) and finding war still raging around them (no shortage of heads on spikes); Candide’s Cunegonde is no longer fair but “growing uglier everyday” (and shrewish to boot!), Pangloss no longer believes that “it is the best of all worlds” they live in, yet he still preaches this philosophy, Martin finds little solace in the confirmation of his cynicism and misanthropy, and the Old Woman is withering away to death. The group finds their only entertainment comes from disputing abstract questions—

But when they were not arguing, their boredom became so oppressive that one day the old woman was driven to say, “I’d like to know which is worse: to be raped a hundred times by Negro pirates, to have one buttock cut off, to run the guantlet in the Bulgar army, to be whipped and hanged in an auto-da-fé, to be dissected, to be a galley slave—in short, to suffer all the miseries we’ve all gone through—or stay here and do nothing.

“That’s a hard question,” said Candide.

It’s amazing that over 200 years ago Voltaire posits boredom as an existential dilemma equal to violence; indeed, as its opposite. (I should stop and give credit here to Lowell Blair’s marvelous translation, which sheds much of the finicky verbiage you might find in other editions in favor of a dry, snappy deadpan, characterized in Candide’s rejoinder above). The book’s longevity might easily be attributed to its prescience, for Voltaire’s uncanny ability to swiftly and expertly assassinate all the rhetorical and philosophical veils by which civilization hides its inclinations to predation and straight up evil. But it’s more than that. Pointing out that humanity is ugly and nasty and hypocritical is perhaps easy enough, but few writers can do this in a way that is as entertaining as what we find in Candide. Beyond that entertainment factor, Candide earns its famous conclusion: “We must cultivate our garden,” young (or not so young now) Candide avers, a simple, declarative statement, one that points to the book’s grand thesis: we must work to overcome poverty, ignorance, and, yes, boredom. I’m sure, gentle, well-read reader, that you’ve read Candide before, but I’d humbly suggest to read it again.

November 20, 2010

Kurt Vonnegut Grades His Books

by Biblioklept
November 11, 2010

Kurt Vonnegut Talks Cat’s Cradle

by Biblioklept
November 2, 2010

“I Had Made a Bad Trade” — Kurt Vonnegut on Quitting (and Resuming) Smoking

by Biblioklept

From The Paris Review interview archive: Kurt Vonnegut discusses quitting smoking and then starting again and then quitting and then stating again–

INTERVIEWER: Have you ever stopped smoking?

VONNEGUT: Twice. Once I did it cold turkey, and turned into Santa Claus. I became roly-poly. I was approaching two hundred and fifty pounds. I stopped for almost a year, and then the University of Hawaii brought me to Oahu to speak. I was drinking out of a coconut on the roof of the Ili Kai one night, and all I had to do to complete the ring of my happiness was to smoke a cigarette. Which I did.

INTERVIEWER: The second time?

VONNEGUT: Very recently—last year. I paid Smokenders a hundred and fifty dollars to help me quit, over a period of six weeks. It was exactly as they had promised—easy and instructive. I won my graduation certificate and recognition pin. The only trouble was that I had also gone insane. I was supremely happy and proud, but those around me found me unbearably opinionated and abrupt and boisterous. Also: I had stopped writing. I didn’t even write letters anymore. I had made a bad trade, evidently. So I started smoking again. As the National Association of Manufacturers used to say, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

October 20, 2010

Smoking Makes You Look Cool

by Biblioklept

Mark Twain

Albert Camus

Kurt Vonnegut

Roland Barthes

John Steinbeck

Charles Bukowski

William Faulkner

Roberto Bolaño

Samuel Beckett

William Burroughs

JRR Tolkien

Oscar Wilde

Henry Miller

H.S.T.

Barry O'Bama

May 19, 2008

Word of the Day: Sillograph

by Biblioklept

From the OED:

“A writer of satires or lampoons; applied to Timon of Phlius (268 BC).

1845 LEWES Hist. Philos. I. 77 His state of mind is finely described by Timon the sillograph. 1849 GROTE Hist. Greece II. xxxvii. IV. 526 The sillograph Timon of the third century B.C.

So sillographer, sillographist.

1656 BLOUNT Glossogr., Sillographer, a writer of scoffs, taunts and revilings; such was Timon. 1775 ASH, Sillographist. 1845 Encycl. Metrop. X. 393/1 Menippus indeed, in common with the Sillographers, seems to have introduced much more parody than even the earliest Roman Satirists.”

Famous sillographers include:

Timon of Philius (as noted above)

George Bernard Shaw

Aristophanes

Jonathan Swift

Mark Twain

George Orwell

Kurt Vonnegut

MAD Magazine

Stephen Colbert

April 11, 2008

Kurt Vonnegut Reconsidered

by Edwin Turner

Kurt Vonnegut died a year ago today. Vonnegut’s death has left neither a cultural vacuum nor a pining after another great work now never to be. And why should it? He was pretty old–84–and he’d written a relatively substantial collection of novels, plays, essays, and short stories. And admittedly, he hadn’t written a truly great book in decades. Like Bob Dylan, Vonnegut produced his greatest work in the 1960s: Mother Night, Cat’s Cradle, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, and, of course, Slaughterhouse-Five (even 1968′s short story collection Welcome to the Monkey House–a book I proudly admit I stole from my 10th grade English teacher–is superior to Vonnegut’s later work). Yet there’s still something about his death that makes me feel a little melancholy, even now–not sad, per se, but rather–and it sounds corny–like something is missing.

See, I learned to read by reading Vonnegut. Sure, I knew how to read before I read Cat’s Cradle, but, beyond Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and a number of classic adventure books by authors like Edgar Rice Burroughs and Mark Twain, Vonnegut was the first “literary” author I was exposed to. I learned irony. I learned detached pessimism. I was exposed to a writer who knew how to explode genre convention. And, in a short period–roughly from the ages of 12 to 16–I read everything that Vonnegut had written. Then I dismissed him as a “lesser” writer, and moved on, until I was required to re-read Slaughterhouse-Five in college. I’d forgotten how good it was. I re-read Cat’s Cradle, my first and favorite (to this day) Vonnegut novel. Again, great. I then picked up Vonnegut’s final novel, 1997′s Timequake, a shambolic wreck of semi-autobiography that is at turns drastically pessimistic, utterly depressive, and hilariously cynical. It’s really a terrible book, to be honest, but taken as a final statement, I think it works. In any case, after college I managed to get over the silly embarrassment I felt for my love of Vonnegut, an author often relegated to the second or even third tier of American letters, or, even worse, a personality reviled in the press (watch Fox News’s scandalous obituary. Or, if you prefer watching something positive, watch Vonnegut on The Daily Show.)

I suppose, when I say that Vonnegut’s death presents an absence, a feeling of something missing, I really mean to say that it marks me, it ages me: it makes me feel old. After all, we measure our own lives in part against the deaths of others, particularly against the deaths of the famous and celebrated. Vonnegut preceded me; his novels were there, waiting for me, and I was grateful. I read all of them–all of them–I don’t know if I can say that of another author (except maybe Salinger, and I don’t think that counts). But I still haven’t read A Man Without a Country, his 2005 collection of essays, and I haven’t read the posthumously published short story collection, Armageddon in Retrospect, which came out just the other week. It makes me happy to know that there’s something out there of his that I haven’t yet touched, that I can read for the first time as an adult, and not a teenager. I don’t know why I should feel this way, but I do. So it goes.

Vonnegut plays himself in an classic film:

April 16, 2007

A Unique Brand of Despondent Leftism?

by Biblioklept

In case you need another reason to hate Fox News:

I find it amazing that despite Vonnegut’s lifetime of art and achievement, the schmuck-reporter takes the time to mention that the celebrated writer “failed at suicide 23 years ago” in a two minute segment.

April 12, 2007

God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut

by Edwin Turner

Like many of you I’m sure, I cut my literary teeth on Kurt Vonnegut, who died early this morning. My dad gave me three of Vonnegut’s books–Breakfast of Champions, Slaughterhouse Five, and The Sirens of Titan–when I was about eleven or twelve. It’s a cliché, but these books really did change my life forever. In the next couple of years, I devoured everything Vonnegut wrote. My favorite book of his was and is Cat’s Cradle, which I think surpasses both Mother Night and Slaughterhouse Five as his most important work. As I grew older, I began to reject Vonnegut, to see him as not as serious or profound as the authors I was reading. His later books like Hocus Pocus and the truly-lamentable Timequake didn’t help either. Nevertheless, I read them as soon as they came out in paperback. I had to. I had to read everything he wrote. Celebrate Vonnegut’s life by reading one of his books, and remember what got you into reading in the first place.

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