“Six Short Essays on Kurt Vonnegut”


“And in some basic way, Vonnegut truly believes this: the problem is not interpretation, the problem is love. How do you love people “who have no use”? How do you love Diana Moon Glampers, a “sixty-eight-year-old virgin who, by almost anybody’s standards, was too dumb to live. [. . .] No one had loved her. There was no reason anyone should. She was ugly, stupid, and boring” (72–3). Vonnegut—if perhaps not Eliot—is remarkably cruel about the people his hero wishes to love. In this regard, he is much like Nathanael West and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, savage satirists both, focusing a laser glare on the ugliness, stupidity, and cruelty of the world they live in. But interested just as much in the possibility of love in such worlds. Like Miss Lonelyhearts or Prince Myshkin, Eliot Rosewater is a holy fool.” – from “They Are Not Needed: Rosewater and the Uselessness of Art” 

These short essays are part of an experiment in criticism conceived and supervised by my friend Ed Comentale. Faculty from Indiana University from a range of disciplines (literature, religion, physics, media, and more) would each produce a short interpretation of each of the first six novels by Kurt Vonnegut. Developing concise and accessible interpretations of depth was a challenge I very much liked. In some ways, these essays serve as a model for the “Short Takes” I have been writing for the website.