Sunday, April 15, 2007

So it goes...

Kurt Vonnegut passed away on April 11, 2007, at age 84.

I consider him the single most influential writer on my own writing. That's not much of a commendation, coming from an unpublished fritterer like myself, but I mean it. He was a man of paradoxes: bleak zaniness, pessimistic humanism, satirical science fiction. He was a man of principled politics, who dared to sneer truth to power.

In his fiction and semi-fiction, he wrote in fragments, the way important experiences tend to be remembered--at least the way I remember them. He was a strict adherent to the concept of the unreliable narrator: that is, all his storytellers are human, and they do not tell all of the truth all of the time (nor do they perceive it, except the ones who do).

He was the founder of Bokononism, a religion founded on the primary principle that its holy text was composed entirely of lies. It's a close cousin to Discordianism. It's an analysis of a heuristic; the examination of a cultural phenomenon that never was, yet is. I'm a huge fan of this kind of project, because I believe we can separate the social and mystical aspects of religion through such imaginary examples. And yet he used Bokononist concepts and terms as plot devices (such as "wampeters") and as flags for his own satires (such as "granfalloons") in seemingly unrelated works of fiction, so that there was a ribbon of more-or-less devout Bokononism in all his books.

He was also a graphic artist, doing mostly-line-art in an abstract, Cubist-influenced style. His specialty was silk-screened asterisk assholes: he used them for his signature in other images.

Although he was absurd, crass, and well-carbonated with hate and suicidal thoughts, he was a first class intellectual and I can find nothing to dislike in him. I loved him, and I'll miss him. He lived with his whole soul and conscience.

I'll leave you with his eight rules for writing a short story, from Bagombo Snuff Box:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
Honestly, this blog is not meant to be a continuous obituary, and I am not insisting that you mourn Mr. Vonnegut, either. Conscience is an agonizing thing, but nonetheless, I urge you to be as much like him as you can bear to be.

Go read his stuff and don't brood on the irrelevancies of flesh and blood, and when you write, follow those rules.

1 comment:

Robert said...

You realize, of course, that he's happy now, up in heaven. ;)