Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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A Fine Defense of Vonnegut

Kurt is a clear writer who awakens bourgeois high school kids to the sheer contingency of human existence and the unprecedented loneliness of our time. And he does it in a funny and even "sophomoric" way. Then the kid spends the rest of his life diverting himself with uneven success from what he really knows, with Vonnegut remaining his guilty and furtive pleasure. Vonnegut would have been better had he known anything about the personal God or the personal pride of political life. And you’d be better off reading Pascal or St. Augustine or even Walker Percy instead. But Pascal and St. Augustine are relatively short on the jokes, and Percy isn’t always so clear. And even with our evangelical and orthodox outposts, most of our high school kids aren’t moved by that religious stuff.

Discussions - 8 Comments

Many of my students turn on to Vonnegut sometime in their junior and senior years. There is an interesting psychological connection made between the 17-18 year old mind and the style of Slaughterhouse-Five. I also have them read his '97 M.I.T. commencement address at the end of the year. Odd how despite it being written for 22 year olds it makes high school students say, "Wow, that was deep!"

The M.I.T. commencement address was not delivered, written, or otherwise prepared by Kurt Vonnegut.

Still a good read. Both the speech, and its falsely-accredited author.

Kurt is a clear writer who awakens bourgeois high school kids to the sheer contingency of human existence and the unprecedented loneliness of our time.


And writing like this awakens in me a desire to -- no, I won't say it. We're trying to restore civility here.

Sometimes, life is full of synchrony.

I have been preparing for a class on Viktor Frankl, by revisiting his book "Man's Search for Meaning." In between tasks, I visited NLT (my guilty pleasure) and found this post.

Here are a couple of passages that I just pasted onto my Power Point presentation, from Frankl:

"Life can be made meaningful in a threefold way:… by what we give to life (in terms of creative works); by what we take from life in terms of our experiencing values; and through the stand we take toward a fate we no longer can change (an incurable disease, an inoperable cancer, or the like)"

"What we needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves, and furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. (p. 122)"

By coincidence, a received a copy of Slaughterhouse 5 the day I learned of Vonnegut's death. It was a forced purchase from the Folio Society for my "steal" on Churchill's WWII set. I had never read any of KV's works and didn't seek it out because I sensed some nihilism there.

But I did read it and enjoyed it, feeling a little guilty for being a prowar conservative type in light of all that Dresden horror. But KV goes too far. Anyone can understand how he felt about the Dresden bombing, but to go from that to saying all war is wrong, all patriotism is BS, all middle Americans are buffoons and so forth does not follow. But I'm afraid that was lost on a lot of those 18-year-olds who read him back in the day. So it goes!

"Kurt is a clear writer who awakens bourgeois high school kids to the sheer contingency of human existence and the unprecedented loneliness of our time."

I thought that was what gym class was for.

Will, fine one liner...

High school routinized my lack of charisma. I owe a lot to high school.

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