Death of author leaves the world with a legacy not to be forgotten
April 20, 2007
Author, artist and counterculture icon Kurt Vonnegut Jr., who was best known for novels such as "Slaughterhouse-five" and "Cat's Cradle" died April 11 in Manhattan from brain injuries at 84.
By all accounts, Vonnegut led a fascinating life. He was a man with strong beliefs rooted in social equality and much of his work reflected his hatred of violence in almost any form. He was a very spiritual man, but despised the way the idea of god had been abused by organized religion.
"I am a humanist," he said in "God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian", "which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decently without any expectation of rewards or punishments after I'm dead."
Since the announcement of his death last week, internet blogs and profiles have been bombarded with sparkling tributes and long-winded obituaries. Many, including this columnist, shed a tear or two when they heard the news. Others, some who had never even heard of Vonnegut's work, were suddenly obsessed with a man they knew almost nothing about.
Why is it that we celebrate an individual most after they have died?
Why, after years of slowly forgetting about an artist, do we suddenly become obsessed with the minute details of their lives and cry and spend weeks worshiping and proclaiming them an innovator and icon of their trade?
"The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore," wrote Vonnegut of the alien world he invented for "Slaughterhouse-five", "was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist…Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is 'So it goes.'"
Kurt Vonnegut would not have wanted us to lament his death. He thought on a much larger scale than the single lifetime he experienced. In truth, he died a cynical, angry old kook who chain-smoked and complained like every other old kook. He was an extreme pessimist. It is his work that will live on in high school literature classes and cardboard boxes packed away in dusty basements. There are so many things you could say about Vonnegut's life, but I think he would have wanted it much simpler than all that:
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. lived 84 years, and then he died. So it goes.
Tyler Liedman is a student at UW-River Falls.