So It Goes
Kurt Vonnegut was the Mark Twain of our time, "a laughing prophet of doom" the New York Times called him, who tapped endless reserves of acerbic wit to gently skewer the conceits of humanity, a species he regarded with a mixture of sympathy and scorn. He died last night at his home in New York. In the end, it was a fall and not his unfiltered Pall Malls that killed him. Like Twain, whose last works seemed etched in acid, Vonnegut grew more and more bitter toward the end. His last work, A Man Without a Country, was a bestseller that railed against the Bush Administration, the war in Iraq and general stupidity.
Invariably, Vonnegut is characterized as a humanist, and that he most certainly was. But I'd argue for the label environmentalist as well, albeit of the darkest and most discouraging sort. He didn't see much hope for us. In grading his own works, Vonnegut gave A-pluses to only two: Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle. The latter, in which the world is destroyed by a man-made element that freezes all water on contact, can not be read as anything but a cautionary tale about man's careless tinkering with Nature. Slaughterhouse-Five was, of course, centered around the Allied fire-bombing of Dresden, which Vonnegut survived as a POW. Whenever anyone died in that novel, the passing was marked by three little words: So it goes.