“Literature should not disappear up its own asshole, so to speak”: Happy Birthday, Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut, author of one of my favorite short story collections and patron saint of senior quotes, was born today in 1922. Famously, Vonnegut was also a veteran, and a survivor of the bombing at Dresden: I’ve been rereading his Paris Review interview, a composite of four separate interviews that Vonnegut edited until it became a self-dialogue, and it begins with a discussion of his military service.
INTERVIEWER: You are a veteran of the Second World War?
VONNEGUT: Yes. I want a military funeral when I die — the bugler, the flag on the casket, the ceremonial firing squad, the hallowed ground.
VONNEGUT: It will be a way of achieving what I’ve always wanted more than anything — something I could have had, if only I’d managed to get myself killed in the war.
INTERVIEWER: Which is — ?
VONNEGUT: The unqualified approval of my community.
INTERVIEWER: You don’t feel that you have that now?
VONNEGUT: My relatives say that they are glad I’m rich, but that they simply cannot read me.
INTERVIEWER: What happened when you reached the front?
VONNEGUT: I imitated various war movies I’d seen.
In this interview, Vonnegut drops one of the only axioms I buy about fiction — “I think it can be tremendously refreshing if a creator of literature has something on his mind other than the history of literature so far. Literature should not disappear up its own asshole, so to speak” — and talks about his aversion to love stories: “If a lover in a story wins his true love, that’s the end of the tale, even if World War III is about to begin, and the sky is black with flying saucers.” When asked (by himself) if he’ll ever write a real love story, he says:
Maybe. I lead a loving life. I really do. Even when I’m leading that loving life, though, and it’s going so well, I sometimes find myself thinking, “My goodness, couldn’t we talk about something else for just a little while?”
The Paris Review also did an author roundtable about Vonnegut earlier this year.