Delight Springs

Friday, July 12, 2013

Vonnegut and Zinn

I just listened to a 92d Street Y event from 2003 celebrating dissent in America, and documenting its necessity. The occasion was an evening devoted to the writings of the late and controversial historian Howard Zinn, who died in 2010. It was captured in a fun and moving recording called "The People Speak," featuring several prominent participants including Kurt Vonnegut. He died in 2007. I wrote about him then:
"With his curly hair askew, deep pouches under his eyes and rumpled clothes, he often looked like an out-of-work philosophy professor..." (New York Times, 4.12.07)

Just as I prefer literary existentialism to the philosophical kind, the passing this week of Kurt Vonnegut reminds me that my disdain for philosophic pessimism does not extend to the sensibility behind "Slaughterhouse Five," "Breakfasts of Champions," "Cat's Cradle," et al. Philosophically I could never endorse Vonnegut's disgusted remark that "evolution can go to hell" if we're its product; but I know what he was saying, and it makes me smile. So does his next observation in A Man Without a Country, which leavens contempt for Mark Twain's "damned human race" with the acknowledgement that on evolution's time-scale we did just get here. (See Carl Sagan's "cosmic calendar".) We can cut ourselves just a little slack, and a little hope.

Verlyn Klinkenborg: "The time to read Vonnegut is just when you begin to suspect that the world is not what it appears to be... No one nourishes the skepticism of the young like Vonnegut. In his world, decency is likelier to be rooted in skepticism than it is in the ardor of faith." DS 4.14.07 
In mine too.

There's a longer later version of "The People Speak"...

It's a timely reminder to include activist walking in Philosophy Walks. There's no pretending the world's a garden. But trying to make it more like one? That's the direction we need to move in.

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