When I heard the news, I wasn't exactly shocked; he was, of course, a sick old man. Likewise, it didn't hit me as hard as I'm sure Thomas Pynchon's death will someday; I had a tremendous amount of respect for Vonnegut, and I thought of him as one of the truly unique voices in American literature, but since he's not one of my favorite novelists, the news didn't gut me on a personal level the way it did for some of you. Still, it's always sad when someone dies, and it's especially sad when the someone who dies has spent much of his life creating wonderful art and making a lot of people happy.
But Vonnegut was who he was, and I am who I am, so I did spare a moment or two to wonder: will the nation's right-wing crazies write about his death? And if they do, will they use kind words in deference to the fact that Vonnegut was so widely beloved, or will they erupt into full-blown Zhdanovism and ignore the artistic qualities of the man, instead condemning him for ideological transgressions?
I shouldn't even have wondered.
Someday, Norman Mailer will die. When he does, I doubt I'll have much to say about it. But I'm pretty certain that if I do, it'll have something to do with the unfortunate passing of a major American man of letters. Mailer's insufferable machismo, penchant for domestic violence, and virulent sexism and homophobia will be legitimately addressed by his biographers, as they should be; but the day he dies, I won't have anything to say about those things. And I'm dead sure that I won't pretend, for no reason than to establish my doctrinary purity, that Mailer was a crap writer and anyone professing to like him is a fraud or a tool. I won't argue that his failure to live his life in agreement with my own philosophical principles makes teaching him in school some sort of thought-crime. And I won't wrap up my cheap shots in a phoned-in "RIP" to make it look like I care after I've left the print of my boots in the face of a fresh corpse.
Maybe someday guys like this, guys like Brent Bozell and Ben Shapiro and David Horowitz and Jason Apuzzo who believe that art should be entirely subsumed to its political content, will get their way. If that ever happens, the state of American letters will be even more degraded than it is now, without a Kurt Vonnegut in it.