October 14, 2012

And so it goes...

I am reading Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut. It is one of two books by that author living in the electronic bowels of my Kindle. I grabbed them for free or practically free sometime in the near distant past. Vonnegut wrote Breakfast of Champions when he was fifty. Since I turned the magic half-century mark earlier this year, I thought I would give it another read.

In the halcyon days of my youth I read voraciously. I read a lot now, but in those days I could knock of a book almost every day. Then, as now,  I got onto reading jags. I would get on an author or subject and consume everything I could find by/about it. For instance  I spent more than a year reading about nothing except the Zulu Wars. My Civil War kick was legendary among family and friends. I read straight through (twice) the works of Patrick O'Brian and then went right after the 20+ books of the Sharpe series by Cornwell. You get the idea.  In my early twenties I embarked on a Hoosier author quest.  I read up McCutcheon, Charles Major, Booth Tarkington, Dan Wakefield and of course, Vonnegut.

At the time, in the fresh bloom of my youth, I found the writings of old Kurt funny and insightful in a cool way. I took another stab at him a decade or so later and found him juvenile and economically illiterate. Just a chapter or two into Breakfast of Champions my opinion  remains similar to my last reading.   It is juvenile. I find Vonnegut's style reminiscent of how some people talk to dogs, or to a particularly slow-witted child. There is in the book a smarmy, condescending undertone I find repulsive. Fifty-year old me is not enjoying Fifty year old Vonnegut at all. But I will keep at it. Perchance the genius will appear later, like a great and powerful wizard skulking behind a literary curtain.

It is quite possible that I just do not get it. Time dampers our intellectual capacity.  I lost my French language abilities after not using them for decades, and it is possible I am incapable of finding the 'art' in the writings. It is also quite possible I find the author's disdain for America and its foundations disgusting. Do you want to know what the average American liberal thinks about you and America as a whole?  You do not have to listen to the political leaders, spend days in the Democrat Underground, or Occupy a spot of dirt in the local park. Read the preface to Breakfast of Champions.  Make no mistake, Kurt Vonnegut saw more than his share of tragedy.  He was a child of the Depression, a POW in WWII, his mother committed suicide. He also spent his life in wealth, as a child and as a successful author. He circled with the New York elites while he pretended to be on the side of the everyman. Disparaging your ambition, your success, your life. your dreams, he castigated the masses for capitalism, for America. All the while viewing the common folk from the window of his apartment overlooking Central Park.

And so it goes, indeed.


Ed Bonderenka said...

When young, I enjoyed them also.
Found them satirical and ironic.
Recently someone told me that automation had cost so many jobs.
I was reminded of V's book (I get his titles, except Slaughterhouse 5 and Cat's Cradle confused) about the horrible effects of automation on the labor pool.
Automation, in reality, led to a surge in productivity and increases in manufacturing and labor opportunity.
Vonnegut (or was it Kilgore Trout?) was wrong. Gasp.

Anonymous said...

I don’t think time actually dampens intellectual capability, what happens is life experience tends to filter out the bullshit. When we reach a certain age, we have learned that nothing is fair, fair is thinking there is some sort of cosmic balance which will level out the differences in intelligence, luck and hard work. What I thought was true and good early in my youth was just a fairy tale, both are based on the perspective of the viewers. There is only one real truth, we will all die. All the rest is basically bullshit.

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

I read Vonnegut in my 20's and felt exactly like you do in your 50's.

Bubblegum for the leftist faux-literati.

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