God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut

John Leonard in The Nation:

Vonnegut“I used to be funny,” Kurt Vonnegut informs us in A Man Without a Country (Seven Stories), “and perhaps I’m not anymore.” This last bit is untrue, of course. In these essays from the pages of the radical biweekly In These Times, he is very funny as often as he wants to be. For instance: “My wife is by far the oldest person I ever slept with.” And if you don’t smile for at least a week at the friendly notion of the corner mailbox as a “giant blue bullfrog,” you ought to have your license revoked.

But like Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln, even when he’s funny, he’s depressed. His has always been a weird jujitsu that throws us for a brilliant loop. As much as he would like to chat about semicolons, paper clips, giraffes, Vesuvius, and the Sermon on the Mount–“if Christ hadn’t delivered the Sermon on the Mount, with its message of mercy and pity, I wouldn’t want to be a human being. I’d just as soon be a rattlesnake”–his own country has driven him to furious despair with its globocop belligerence, its contempt for civil liberties, and its holy war on the poor: “Mobilize the reserves! Privatize the public schools! Attack Iraq! Cut health care! Tap everybody’s telephone! Cut taxes on the rich! Build a trillion-dollar missile shield! Fuck habeas corpus and the Sierra Club… and kiss my ass!” The novelist/pacifist/socialist/humanist who has smoked unfiltered Pall Malls since he was twelve is suing the tobacco company that makes them because, “for many years now, right on the package, Brown and Williamson have promised to kill me. But I am now eighty-two. Thanks a lot, you dirty rats. The last thing I ever wanted was to be alive when the three most powerful people on the whole planet would be named Bush, Dick and Colon.”

More here.