e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


Kurt Vonnegut, 1922-2007

Kurt Vonnegut had more fun with language than most of his peers, exploiting all the possibilities that fiction-writing offered. Famously, Vonnegut, a WWII vet, blended real experience and fantastic narrative in his great novel Slaughterhouse Five, but his irreverent Breakfast of Champions, in which Vonnegut mostly eschews reality in favor of surreal cultural critique, was my favorite.
Breakfast of Champions came out the year I was born, 1973. Here's what the novel has to say about schooling, juxtaposed with a crude rendering of "1492":
Some of the nonsense was evil, since it concealed great crimes. For example, teachers of children in the United States of America wrote this date on blackboards again and again, and asked the children to memorize it with pride and joy: The teachers told the children that this was when their continent was discovered by human beings. Actually, millions of human beings were already living full and imaginative lives on the continent in 1492. That was simply the year in which sea pirates began to cheat and rob and kill them.
"Why can't you teach nice books?," a neighbor once asked me when I lived in Hamilton, Ohio. I was teaching a Politics and Literature class at the time. Vonnegut understood the answer to that question. His books weren't nice but they inspired readers to blend experience and imagination and recognize the surreal quality of modern life. They also inspired quite a few readers to write. Rest in peace, Kurt Vonnegut.

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