Friday, September 25, 2009
Fates Worse than Death
Fates Worse than Death
© 1990 Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut’s Fates Worse than Death is a collection of semi-autobiographical essays that function as reflections of portions of Vonnegut’s life. The essay texts come chiefly from lectures given by Vonnegut, with comments from him before, during, and after the talks are finished. The threat of nuclear annihilation seems to hang over this book, and Vonnegut’s cynical jokes and comments create a whistling-in-the-graveyard effect. The setting of the lectures tends toward the 1980s, and there are many potshots taken at then-president Reagan, some better than others.
Vonnegut displays mixed feelings about the history and future of humankind: while lamenting about where we very well may be headed, he also scoffs at Reaganites who are obsessed with restoring some lost, golden time and brings up America’s history of social progress (the ending of slavery, universal suffrage, civil rights) to champion liberal progressivism’s cause. This might indicate a hopefulness on his part that things will get better still, but it might just be an attack on conservatism. I tend to think it’s both: no matter how despairing Vonnegut sounds, it always seems as if he has a little glimmer of hope he keeps in his pockets and takes out to look at every once and a while.
The book sees him amend his opinions about some matters -- the feasibility of “folk societies”, which he expressed in Wampeters, Foma, and Grandfallons. He still wishes they would work, he just accepts that their time has past and they weren’t really all that great in the first place. Vonnegut voices opinions on all manner of subjects. One of the more interesting essay-lectures was addressed to a Unitarian Universalist congregation in which Vonnegut spoke on the failures of Imperial Christianity (that is, Christianity based on doctrine and power-wielding organizations instead of smaller communities) and expressed his hopes that Unitarian Universalism would not destroy itself in a similar fashion. Other topics include "Occidental Meditation" (reading), war, pacifism, and work. This is a definite recommendation to Vonnegut fans, but to readers in general.