Kurt Vonnegut on Love & Books

Kurt Vonnegut’s death is news in Germany, which makes sense, since ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ (Schlachthof Fuenf) was popular here. To mark the occasion, an excerpt from an interview he gave to the Paris Review in 1977:

VONNEGUT
…I’m on the New York State Council on the Arts now, and every so often some other member talks about sending notices to college English departments about some literary opportunity, and I say, Send them to the chemistry departments, send them to the zoology departments, send them to the anthropology departments and the astronomy departments and physics departments, and all the medical and law schools. That’s where the writers are most likely to be.

INTERVIEWER
You believe that?

VONNEGUT
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.

INTERVIEWER
Let’s talk about the women in your books.

VONNEGUT
There aren’t any. No real women, no love.

INTERVIEWER
Is this worth expounding upon?

VONNEGUT
It’s a mechanical problem. So much of what happens in storytelling is mechanical, has to do with the technical problems of how to make a story work. Cowboy stories and policeman stories end in shoot-outs, for example, because shoot-outs are the most reliable mechanisms for making such stories end. There is nothing like death to say what is always such an artificial thing to say: The end. I try to keep deep love out of my stories because, once that particular subject comes up, it is almost impossible to talk about anything else. Readers don’t want to hear about anything else. They go gaga about love. 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.

INTERVIEWER
So you keep love out.

VONNEGUT
I have other things I want to talk about. Ralph Ellison did the same thing in Invisible Man. If the hero in that magnificent book had found somebody worth loving, somebody who was crazy about him, that would have been the end of the story. Celine did the same thing in Journey to the End of Night: he excluded the possibility of true and final love-so that the story could go on and on and on.

INTERVIEWER
Not many writers talk about the mechanics of stories.

VONNEGUT
I am such a barbarous technocrat that I believe they can be tinkered with like Model T Fords.

INTERVIEWER
To what end?

VONNEGUT
To give the reader pleasure.

[From The Paris Review Interviews I, pp. 187-189 (New York 2006]

2 thoughts on “Kurt Vonnegut on Love & Books

  1. Vonnegut may have been a left-wing bastard, but the man could write. He’s a major loss. BTW, this is big news here in the UK (front page of the Times). I suspect it’s big news in the US also.

    Like

  2. Vonnegut may have been a left-wing bastard, but the man could write. He’s a major loss. BTW, this is big news here in the UK (front page of the Times). I suspect it’s big news in the US also.

    Like

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