November 11, 2007

It's Kurt Vonnegut's birthday, the first since his death.

So let's read this 1992 Playboy Interview with him and Joseph Heller, who is also dead. There's some talk of Norman Mailer, and he's dead now too.
PLAYBOY: What are you working on, Kurt?

VONNEGUT: On a divorce. Which is a full-time job. Didn't you find it a full-time job?...

VONNEGUT: It seems to me divorce is so common now. It ought to be more institutionalized. It's like a head-on collision every time. It's supposed to be a surprise but it's commonplace. Deliver your line about never having dreamed of being married.

HELLER: It's in Something Happened: ''I want a divorce; I dream of a divorce. I was never sure I wanted to get married. But I always knew I wanted a divorce.''

VONNEGUT: Norman Mailer has what--five divorces now?...

PLAYBOY: Do either of you read any contemporary writers?

VONNEGUT: Well, it's not like the medical profession where you have to find out the latest treatments. I've been reading Nietzsche.

HELLER: And I've been reading Thomas Mann....

PLAYBOY: What about Norman Mailer's?

VONNEGUT: That's none of your business. Norman's a friend of mine.

HELLER: I intend to read it at one sitting....

PLAYBOY: Why don't you guys write more explicitly about sex and its emotional trappings?

HELLER: More explicitly than what? You keep projecting. You keep attaching emotional reactions to sexual reactions. Earlier you used the words ''love'' and ''sex'' and now you're suggesting emotional reactions to sex. By emotional I'm sure you mean something different from the sensory responses.

PLAYBOY: Well, emotions are different from senses.

HELLER: I don't think there is a necessary correlation between emotional responses and sex.

PLAYBOY: Didn't D. H. Lawrence write about emotions?

HELLER: That was the content of his artistic or literary consciousness. I don't think writers have a choice, by the way. I think we discover a field in which we can be proficient and that's our imagination. My imagination cannot work like Kurt's and I don't think his can work like mine. Neither of us could write like Philip Roth or Norman Mailer. I know John Updike has a lot of tales of the sexual encounter. And I suppose there are writers who can do it and will do it and want to do it.

PLAYBOY: Henry Miller?

HELLER: What you get there is the raw activity.... I must say, for me, it doesn't normally make good literature. Fiction having extensive detail about the gymnastics of copulation or sexual congress--or even the alleged responses to it--does not make interesting reading to me. It's like trying to describe the noise of a subway train. There are people who can do it. Young writers go in for that type of description. But when they're finished, all they've done is described the noise of a subway train coming into a station or pulling out of a station. Is that the noblest objective of a work of fiction? To convince the reader that what you're writing about is really happening? I don't think so....

VONNEGUT: Nietzsche had a little one-liner on how to choose a wife. He said, ''Are you willing to have a conversation with this woman for the next forty years?'' That's how to pick a wife.

HELLER: If people were more widely read, there'd be fewer marriages.

VONNEGUT: I will give you all the money that's left after the divorce if you can get me a film clip of Frank Sinatra making it with Nancy Reagan. I think that is the funniest damn thing.

PLAYBOY: In the White House?

VONNEGUT: I don't care where. Those two scrawny people....


rhhardin said...

Subway pulling into the station? That's meant sex since North by Northwest.

Thurber didn't see any necessity of life after death. What's wrong, he asked, with it being like a train in a tunnel, and it's dark, and the train stops, and the conductor says everybody out, and that's it.

Life is the train looking for the tunnel, mostly.

rcocean said...

From another Vonnegut interview:

Interviewer: That said, do you have any ideas for a really scary reality TV show?

Vonnegut: “C students from Yale.” It would stand your hair on end.

Maxine Weiss said...

Is this the post that will convince Drudge to link Althouse?

Which is the standout post that should be sent to Drudge, that will surely convince him to link Althouse.....

Randy said...

Thanks for the link to the entire interview. I enjoyed it.

Chip Ahoy said...

Sinatra and N. Reagan? Weird.

On the back of my copy of Sirens of Titan was a very poor photograph in black and white of the author. He has a most scraggly appearance. The cover said this author of Breakfast of Champions is one of America's finest black humorists. I looked at the picture, he appeared black. From that time on I never thought of it again even after I saw him in an interview and still thought he was black, just really really light. Decades Later I read where that same confusion happened to someone else too. So I didn't feel so stupid, at least not alone, at learning he's not black. That was the same back cover that had the entire table at the cafeteria laughing hysterically at Vonnegut's doodling an asterisk * and labeling it an ass hole.

Norman Mailer was Brillo pad. I mean brilliant. It's hard to think of him without thinking of Gore Vidal, as opposite as can be imagined.

Robert Holmgren said...

Kurt Vonnegut commenting about the physical appearance of others--how lacking in self-awareness can you be?