A man without a country

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“It’s surely my last book,” said Kurt Vonnegut from his Manhattan home about what would be A Man Without a Country. Sure, Vonnegut (author of Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five) often insisted that he had retired from writing. But the Bush Administration forced him back into the open, he said. And so he began contributing short blasts about the state of the union to Chicago-based magazine In These Times, a collection of which were published in 2005 as A Man Without a Country, a New York Times Bestseller. David Hoppe spoke with Vonnegut in 2005. The novelist passed away April 11.


How do you think things are going these days?

Well, I think the game is over, probably. We have so damaged the environment and I think it will continue to decay and support less and less life. One title I considered for the book was The Fifty-First State — and I don’t mean Puerto Rico. I mean denial. What we’re denying is all the harm we’ve done with fossil fuels. I got here in 1922 and all this crazy shit was already going on. Gasoline. It was just more fucking fun and importance than most people had ever had before. It was like crack cocaine. It was just so much fun. You could be a nobody and, Jesus, the next thing you know you could be going 60-70 miles per hour! I remember my mother got in an argument with my father one time — she jumped in the car.

She drove away …

It’s so easy. And the Republicans are the Don’t Stop the Party party. The party is about to end. Nobody has come up with any substitute for petroleum and this is really going to be something — maybe in the next year. Suddenly all the industrialized nations will become big junkyards.

Well, turning away from junkyards for a moment …

I don’t want to be the party pooper …

In your book you call yourself one of “America’s Great Lakes People.” I’d like to ask you what it is about fresh water.

It doesn’t taste like chicken soup. Salt water is flavored. Who wants to swim in something with flavor? Swimming was always very important to me and then I went to the East Coast and found this foreign substance. I associate it with foreigners `Laughs`.

You also write about loneliness in the book. What is it about Americans that makes us so lonely?

Everybody should have an extended family, the same way everybody should have Vitamin C. People will do anything to get a family because that’s the survival unit. The extended family, that is. The nuclear family is no survival scheme whatsoever. It’s terribly vulnerable. The popularity of the Religious Right is that it’s a family. You can offer all sorts of families. It’s why the humanists aren’t more popular than they are — it’s because we don’t gather.

We’ve been seeing nuclear families broken apart by the hurricane `Katrina` …

I don’t mean to intimidate you, but I do have a master’s degree in anthropology …

I know!

`Laughing.` Anyway, I think what is really splitting this country is fundamental disagreement over what appears to be a violation of nature’s law, which is the empowerment of women. Since we split off from the chimpanzees, a major part of every culture, not even to be questioned, has been that women are subservient to men. Empowering women is a truly radical idea. I think that is probably the major rift. Abortion is a slight part of that. And gay marriage. But both of those are essentially red herrings. A lot of people don’t even realize what they’re sore-headed about: It’s the empowerment of women. The reversal of gravity.

This is without precedent in all of human experience. What a thing! For us to empower women. And many women, as well as men, don’t like it. They put it into Christian terms — they’re Christian women, subservient to their men. But they can adjust to being subservient, they’re proud of being subservient.

The idea that we are all equal …

… is a violation of natural law. Thomas Aquinas said there are three kinds of law: There’s God’s law, then there’s natural law — that’s the Ace and the King. Men’s law is the Queen. There are three cards in the deck. Nature’s law, which is very powerful, is what nature, evidently, wants. So somebody like Voltaire or Goethe can view it as natural that black people should be servants. Obviously. And women, obviously, are there to serve their men. Obviously.

But that’s according to men.

Sure. How else can we tell what nature’s up to? `Laughs.` 


This interview first appeared in NUVO, Indianapolis’s alt-weekly. See the complete interview online, as well as NUVO’s other tributes to native son Kurt Vonnegut at Nuvo.net.

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