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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Kurt Vonnegut RIP

The novelist Kurt Vonnegut died yesterday at 84. Like a lot of baby boomers, no doubt, the news made me feel sad and very old, and perhaps wondering what Vonnegut had been up to during the decades after we all read his early stuff like Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat’s Cradle, and Breakfast of Champions. I’m sure a lot of people who grew up in the 60s and 70s remember Vonnegut as part of a group of fiction writers who were considered de rigour at the time– a group that at least for my classmates at Emory University included Richard Brautigan, Thomas Pynchon, Tom Robbins, Joseph Heller, and probably many others whose names and works I have completely forgotten. (Their non-fiction counterparts included radical writers like Herbert Marcuse, Norman O. Brown, R.D. Laing, and Emory’s own Thomas J.J. Altizer).Vonnegut was already an “old guy” back then, and it was his distinctive contribution to connect the cultural, political and literary preoccupations of the day with older traditions of pacifism, anti-authoritarianism, science fiction, and sheer anarchic whimsy. With the possible exception of Slaughterhouse-Five, which audaciously challenged (like Heller’s Catch-22) the morality of “The Good War,” Vonnegut’s work probably hasn’t aged as well as he did. But as he might have himself put it, “So it goes.”As it happens, I owe a small personal debt to the man: he made my surname cool, via his strange science-fiction-writer character Kilgore Trout. So I pray that Vonnegut may rest in peace, in whatever dimension he now occupies.

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