Monday, February 13, 2006

Opting out

Lionel Shriver reviewing Kurt Vonnegut, whom he idolised when he was 16 (subscribers only link):
Vonnegut is enraged by the Bush administration, the dubious circumstances under which the US president was first elected (though conveniently oblivious to the fact that the guy won his second election fair and square, like it or not), western dependence on fossil fuels and global warming. But so are lots of people. Mere worthiness, mere hopping on a crowded liberal bandwagon, does not a book make. Some contribution is required, either new thoughts, or the old ones couched in newly incisive forms. And I have heard more trenchant political analysis from out-patients on park benches: “In case you haven’t noticed, our unelected leaders have dehumanized millions and millions of human beings simply because of their religion and race. We wound ‘em and kill ‘em and torture ‘em and imprison ‘em all we want.” Thanks, Kurt. You tell ‘em.

Yet what I most dislike (and it’s a contest) is my former literary idol’s penchant for hip misanthropy - a collusive disparagement of the whole human race that hopes to seduce his readers into imagining that, if they join in the chorus, they can opt out of the species. Hence when Vonnegut declares, “Evolution can go to hell as far as I’m concerned. What a mistake we are,” or compares people (bit of a cliche, this) to a virus that has infected the planet, presumably such fomenting does not indict the author or his audience. Read Vonnegut, and you get to be an Honorary Alien.


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