Omission Statement

I don’t really need to say this; I just want to, for some reason. Well, this is a diary as well as an essay dump, and I don’t need to calculate everything — I’ll just say it.

I kind of decided, quite a while ago, not to do obituary-posts here.

For one thing, there’s an awful lot of people I grew up admiring who are getting a bit older now, and I’m afraid if I started writing eulogies they might gradually crowd out anything else I had to say. Then there’s people it almost embarrasses me not to be able to count as direct influences: if I make a big deal about Dave Cockrum dying, or Marshall Rogers (and those are big deals, naturally) , how do I not mention Arnold Drake? And yet I know Arnold Drake’s work only indirectly, and mostly posthumously. Then there’s Bus Griffiths, whose work I did know, and who was a pretty good representative of those older men who bequeathed to me the province in which I live…but, even eulogizing Bus struck me as a jarring thing to do, and after briefly making a stab at it, I deleted the post. So, can I really go on now to mentioning Johnny Hart, after that? How do you decide where to start with these things, and where can you ever end, once you do?

So I decided to avoid the whole thing.

But now, why do I bring it up? I mean, why do I bring it up now. Well, I don’t know…as I said, sometimes a blog is a diary, and often what gets written in a diary is just what comes out of your fingers that day. Mostly I try to confine my writing here to (I flatter myself) genuine ideas that I actually have about things. But today, I’m thinking about Kurt Vonnegut, an extremely famous and influential writer whose work was always a little problematic for me. I should’ve come to him at 15, but didn’t get around to him until I was 27, rooting through an old roommate’s huge laundry-basket of books. I guess I probably read about twenty or so of these, that penniless summer. And they were very good, I thought, but still a little problematical.

I don’t like Tom Robbins, like at all. Many people I know seem to think I ought to, but I don’t. Kurt Vonnegut I do like, though, which sometimes perplexes me: because his amazing self-created oeuvre isn’t always to my taste, but what he has to say in it is, I think, important enough…and he could certainly write, very admirably. I think more than any other author I’ve encountered (with the possible exception of Dr. Seuss), his style disguised his skill, his intention disguised his art…or maybe it was that his art disguised his intention? All that baby-talk was no accident, anymore than was the occasionally ruthless, almost rootless, lunacy of narrative and plot…anymore than (perhaps) was its effect. It’s probably easy to forget, but we walk about in a Vonnegut-ian world, these days, a plastic world that melts and deforms as we regard it: all unknowing, we walk about in a postwar literature of the impermanent.

I still didn’t like Slapstick.

But that’s a small matter, I guess.

Anyway, that’s why I don’t write eulogies. I’m not really any good at them.

Just thought I’d mention it.

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6 responses to “Omission Statement

  1. I’vm upset by old Kurt’s passing. Been thinking about doing an obituary too. But he’s a hard one to sum up. I always thought his inventiveness should have led to better work than he sometimes achieved.

  2. The problem I have with writing eulogies — one I’ve recognized and simply decided to embrace on those occasions when I’ve written same, as for instance this week — is that if you didn’t know and interact with the person in real life (and sometimes even if you did) the real subject is the writer, rather than the poor slob being eulogized. If the object of the piece is a writer, say, or a comic book artist, the subject becomes how that person influenced us, or how we felt when we first discovered his or her work, or how nice he or she was at that convention. If it’s a friend who died, the eulogy is anecdotes about the fun stuff we did together or that argument we had or that funny thing he said to me. Is it memorializing a person, or is it mourning the loss of something in our own lives, c.f. “Dave Cockrum was a huge part of my childhood, and now part of my childhood is gone”?

    And yet, can it be any other way? A eulogy without personal impressions and subjective feelings isn’t a eulogy but an obituary, and can be written more objectively by a professional. If I didn’t have a strong personal feeling about Kurt Vonnegut, I might as well just post a link to the obit in the New York Times, which would be better written and far more informative, or say nothing at all. So if whatever I say about him is really about me…well, I just have to assume that’s still worth saying, if only on the grounds that no one else is going to tell the world what he meant to me in particular. Whether that’s worth someone else’s reading time or not is their decision.

  3. A wise position to take, RAB; also, I did find it worth my reading time, just so you know.

    And Distance (can’t get used to calling you that!): I notice you’ve got a lot more stuff written than you did the last time I visited your site; please excuse me while I go and read some of it. And I think I’d also be interested to read a commentary on Kurt that comes from a person (like me) whose life he didn’t save. RAB and Matt and Nik knew him intimately, but I didn’t; I take from your comment that you didn’t either, and so I find myself curious about how you would approach him.

    RAB, I was going to comment on your very fine eulogy, and I still may…and most of all I want to know if I saw that PBS show, because it almost seems to me as though I might’ve. Anyway…uh, disordered post, disordered response to comments, I guess…

  4. I’ve got my own eulogy.

    I love what you wrote, Plok: “I think more than any other author I’ve encountered (with the possible exception of Dr. Seuss), his style disguised his skill, his intention disguised his art…” I think that is not only true, but is demonstrated by many blog eulogies and newspaper obituaries, which don’t seem to recognise his skill or art.

    RAB, I’ve already left a comment on your site, but let me say here that I love your eulogy. I think its proper subject is both your experience of Vonnegut and his work itself. Because through your experience I see his work again with another set of eyes. With the newspaper obituaries I tend to see his work as it would be rendered for a cheap encyclopaedia, devoid of mental nutrition.

  5. I agree with you on Robbins. He tries to write in an effortless offhand style like Vonnegut. But he tries way too hard and takes it too seriously I think. I don’t find him funny.
    Vonnegut appeared not to take anything he wrote seriously. Or himself either. He was just a cool sonofagun! Not pompous or pretentious. He wrote because he LIKED to. I enjoyed Breakfast of Champions and Cat’s Cradle best.

  6. To be honest, I can’t get used to my new name either. I may have to change it again.

    Anyway, here’s my eulogy. Review? Obituary? Oh, I don’t know. Let’s just say it’s a post.

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