jueves, 12 de abril de 2007

Kurt Vonnegut murió hoy a los 84 años

Hay que hacer un alto en la vida de uno para comentar sobre la vida del que fue uno de los más grandes novelistas -realmente artista del humor negro, de la sátira y de la crítica social- norteamericanos, Kurt Vonnegut.

Me inicié con Vonnegut en undécimo grado, cuando una maestra de inglés del Colegio San José me prestó su copia de "Slaughterhouse-Five" (1969) porque en mi clase no la íbamos a leer. Terminé el libro en dos días, mientras vacacionaba en lo que antes era el Hyatt Cerromar. Fue una lectura que me impactó como lo hizo con la generación de la guerra de Vietnam que fueron los primeros en leerla cuando recién había salido de la imprenta.

Para los amantes de Kafka y su absurdo, Vonnegut es su equivalente en la segunda mitad del Siglo XX. El viaje a través del tiempo, los extraterrestres y la deshumanización que vemos a traves de los ojos de Pvt. Pilgrim son los elementos claves de esta novela.

Como homenaje a Vonnegut incluyo a continuación el fragmento que comenta sobre "Slaugheterhouse-Five" de un artículo que hoy la mega-librería Borders envió a sus clientes:

All these tragic-comedic-contrarian moral concerns come together in Vonnegut's 1969 antiwar masterpiece Slaughterhouse-Five. The novel, written in just six weeks, is largely autobiographical, complemented with a heavy dose of science fiction. Billy Pilgrim, the principal character of Slaughterhouse is unstuck in time as he journeys across significant moments of his life including a visit to the planet Tralfamadore and the bombing of Dresden. "World War II made war reputable because it was a just war," Vonnegut believes. "I wouldn't have missed it for anything. You know how many other just wars there have been? Not many. And the guys I served with became my brothers. If it weren't for World War II, I'd now be the garden editor of the Indianapolis News. I wouldn't have moved away."

Raised in Indiana during the Great Depression Vonnegut studied chemistry at Cornell University. While in college he was editor of the Cornell Daily Sun, writing three columns a week. Then he enlisted in the U.S. Army hoping to help destroy the Third Reich. Captured by the Nazis at the Battle of the Bulge, the 21-year-old American Infantry Private First Class became a POW and was sent to Dresden, in Germany. Suddenly, on February 13, 1945, the Allies decided to drop new incendiary bombs on the city. Massive fireballs engulfed the largely civilian population, killing approximately 135,000 people. Whole city blocks were reduced to lava-hot rubble in mere minutes. It was a raging inferno like the world had never seen, the worst massacre in European history. Dresden had nearly as high of a civilian death toll as Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Vonnegut, however, along with six other American POWs, survived. Ironically, the Nazis had placed them in a cool underground meatpacking storage cellar known as Slaughterhouse Five. "We didn't get to see the firestorm," Vonnegut later wrote. "We heard the bombs walking around up there. Now and then there would be a gentle shower of calcimine. If we had gone above to take a look, we would have been turned into artifacts characteristic of firestorms; searing pieces of charred firewood two or three feet long—ridiculously small human beings, or jumbo fried grasshoppers, if you will. The stench was like roses and mustard gas."

When Vonnegut emerged from hiding and surveyed the annihilation he was numb. "Utter destruction," he recalls. "Carnage unfathomable." The Nazis put him to work gathering lifeless bodies for mass burial. "As prisoners of war, we dealt hands-on with dead Germans, digging them out of there and taking them to a huge funeral pyre," Vonnegut explains. "But there were too many corpses to bury. So instead the Nazis sent in guys with flamethrowers. All these civilians' bodies were burned to ashes."

World War II ended and Vonnegut came back to Indiana a Purple Hearted hero. But the ghosts of Dresden haunted him. (He also had the 1944 suicide of his mother to psychologically grapple with). And he made a pact with the cosmos to never forget Dresden. The grotesque fire-bombing is a theme in at least eight books: Mother Night; God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater; Slaughterhouse-Five; Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons; Slapstick; Palm Sunday; and Bluebeard. Yes, the Nazis were the mega-villains but, in the end, Vonnegut's anger and despair was laid on the evil doorstep of the whole damn human race.

Like most returning veterans, Vonnegut struggled to get his life back on track. For a while he opened a Saab dealership on Cape Cod. Then he worked as an advertising executive for General Electric in Schenectady, New York, watching new-fangled machines manufacture "toys of the future" with monstrous mechanized efficiency. "The word automation hadn't been created yet," Vonnegut recalls. "What I saw occurring at G.E. was the end of the working individual. Machines were soon to run our lives." That was enough. He turned Luddite and decided to dedicate his life to writing. A letter that he wrote his father on October 28, 1949—now housed in his archive at the University of Indiana-Bloomington—earmarks the beginning of his abandonment of corporate shilling:

Dear Pop—

I sold my first story to Collier's. Received my check ($750 minus a 10% agent's commission) yesterday noon. It now appears that two more of my works have a good chance of being sold in the near future.

I think I'm on my way. I've deposited my first check in a savings account and, if I sell more, will continue to do so until I have the equivalent of one year's pay at G.E. Four more stories will do nicely, with cash to spare (something we never had before). I will then quit this goddamn nightmare job, and never take another so long as I live, so help me God. I'm happier than I've been for a good many years.


Fragmento del texto, "Life Is No Way to Treat an Animal": Remembering Kurt Vonnegut, por el Prof. Douglas Brinkley de la Universidad de Tulane en Nueva Orleans, Louisiana. Lean todo el artículo aquí.

Más sobre la vida de Vonnegut en CBS News

5 comentarios:

justmeguy dijo...

Slaughterhouse Five es uno de esos pocos libros que uno puede leer una y otra vez. Y con el tiempo, descubres cosas nuevas.

Mas aun, fue un libro que me enseno la maravilla que es leer.

Oquendo dijo...

Al enterarme de la partida de Vonnegut, escucharle en un breve homenaje a su memoria que le ofreció la radio pública en EEUU y verle en algunos vídeos en Youtube, quise escribir algo sobre él, su vida y obras. Le debo mi lectura. Será uno de esos escritores a quien no logré leerle en vida. Gracias por tu post!

Luis Ponce Ruiz dijo...


Gusto en verte por aquí. De hecho, he estado buscándolo hoy por casa (ja, nunca le devolví el libro a la maestra) para releerlo.


De nada y es más, gracias a ti por informarme del homenaje que NPR le hizo a Vonnegut...trataré de encontrarlo en el sitio web. Además, ahora más que nunca (Iraq, thank you), es imprescindible leer la obra de Vonnegut.

Javier Ferrer dijo...

Sería bueno revisar en estos tiempos como la obra de Vonnegut trasciende a lo que es hoy Irak. Cuando lo leí por primera vez me dejo el sabor de los muertos de Dresden en la boca, hoy tengo los de Irak Y el sabor es casi parecido. Los invito nuevamente a repensar la obra. Nunca pasará de moda por que siempre lamenteblemente habrán guerras. Gracias Vonnegut por tu obra, gracias Luis por tu post.

Luis Ponce Ruiz dijo...


Gracias, Javier. Tienes toda la razón. Hay que revisitar constantemente a Vonnegut porque vivimos momentos alarmantes y deshumanizantes. Como el mismo Vonnegut dijera, los "Roaring Twenties" no fueron nada en comparación a la actual cultura de extravagancias y consumerismo desmedido que ya nos está llevando al borde de una debacle ambiental.

La tribu errante