Did Kurt Vonnegut really say that?

Kurt Vonnegut was a maverick in the literary world, an iconoclastic leader of the counterculture movement. Photo: The Daily Beast

We had no idea where Vonnegut was going, but it didn’t matter. We were right behind him.

Just when you think you’ve said it all about Kurt Vonnegut, you realize you haven’t. His novels, short stories, and essays were a mesh of contradictions, dark and funny, counterculture and classic, warm-blooded and, if you were part of the misplaced and restless generation of the 1970s, the coolest collection of words you could read.

He was political.

  • “Thanks to TV and for the convenience of TV, you can only be one of two kinds of human beings, either a liberal or a conservative.”
  • The two real political parties in America are the Winners and the Losers. The people don’t acknowledge this. They claim membership in two imaginary parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, instead.
  • “There is a tragic flaw in our precious constitution, and I don’t know what can be done to fix it. This is it: Only nut cases want to be President.”

Vonnegut was a philosopher.

  • “New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become.”
  • “Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.”
  • “The purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.”
  • All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warning or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber.”

Vonnegut was a humorist.

  • “One of the few good things about modern times: If you die horribly on television, you will not have died in vain. You will have entertained us.”
  • “Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in a gift shop.
  • “Those who believe in telekinesis, raise my hand.

And Vonnegut often wondered: “Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say.”

For those who did have something to say and something to write, Kurt Vonnegut developed the basics tenets for what he called Creative Writing 101.

  • Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  • Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  • Every sentence must do one of two things – reveal character or advance the action.
  • Start as close to the end as possible.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such a complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves should cockroaches eat the last few pages.”

And so it goes, which became Vonnegut’s signature phrases. In his novel, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, he wrote:

Robert Kennedy, whose summer home is eight miles from home I live in all year round was shot two nights ago. He died last night. So it goes.

“Martin Luther King was shot a month ago. He died, too. So it goes.

“And every day my Government gives me a count of corpses created by military science in Vietnam.

“So it goes.”

A generation picked up the three words, stuffed them in their minds and their pants pockets, and quoted them whenever a crisis arose, and crises were plenty. Vonnegut was their hero even when they did not quite understand what he wrote.

We only knew one thing for certain. He was writing about us and to us as no one had ever written before. We had no idea where Vonnegut was going, but it didn’t matter. We were right behind him.

So it goes.

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