Thursday, April 12, 2007

Sick Transit

You're the curious sort, Friends, so let us recommend a very brief exercise. Type "so it goes" into your favorite news search engine and learn how many journalists went to a high school requiring neither To Kill a Mockingbird nor Catcher in the Rye.

Please, do it. Really. Take the next step, don't just imagine it, don't just dismissively chuckle at our cheap rhetorical framing device. We can't promise anything, but we suspect that you might learn something about reading skills, or maybe something about the kind of readers who become journalists, or perhaps merely something about the formal / generic requirements required formally by generic journalism.

You might, if you're profoundly unlucky, even learn something about America. We did.

Yes, Friends, Kurt Vonnegut is dead, and in the space of just twenty-four hours he has somehow been rendered into a simpering, demi-toothed humanist who has nothing more to offer us than a deeply rooted, avuncular kindness pervading his shoulder-shrugging fatalism.

Sic transit. "So it goes."

So it goes?

So it jolly well does not fucking go.

Which is hardly news to you, Friends, and we're not making a particularly complicated point. We're not going to drag you through the man's full bibliography, even though we've been working on an elaborate pop-cultural joke, the punchline of which is "Vanilla Ice-Nine."

Trust us, it's hilarious.

No, we're not going to point out the various ways in which It Does Not Go. You have perhaps heard it all before, and we know from experience that you are more literate and better informed than anybody currently standing around the Swill's water cooler. We wouldn't dream of insulting you by inserting the equivalent of a Spoiler Alert in a newspaper review of Hamlet, and we wouldn't dream of giving you plot summary of that which can't adequately be summarized.

But it does not go, it will not go, it will not have gone. Sure, Kurt Vonnegut is "gone" -- but what did you expect after a long life punctuated by the shoveling of corpses like sauerkraut, and reeking like sixty years of Pall Mall straights? Did you expect him to go on The View and start hawking rejuvenating juice-makers, perhaps repent and encourage all of his loyal readers to quit their vices and begin acting like good corporate citizens, wake up both bright and early and healthy as a precursor to being wealthy and wise? Did you imagine he hoped to linger just long enough to see someone elected President who can actually use words like "cluster bombs" and "collateral damage" without choking on their own vomit?

No, our point is a simple one: quoting "So it goes" in a putative eulogy for Kurt Vonnegut is like saying "Better Dead than Red" in a retrospective lament for Ethel Rosenberg. Consider the following from Slaughterhouse-Five:

Only the candles and the soap were of German origin. They had a ghostly, opalescent similarity. The British had no way of knowing it, but the candles and the soap were made from the fat of rendered Jews and Gypsies and fairies and communists, and other enemies of the State.
So it goes.

Now there's a passage you won't see Wolf Blitzer quoting with crocodile nostalgia. Why? Because it doesn't come close to fitting the narrative of the day: "Kurt Vonnegut," we're told, "whose prose so divertingly filled hourlong slots of our youth between Health and U.S. History, was not only a Veteran and a P.O.W. and a novelist too popular for Serious People to take him Seriously. He was finally and fundamentally one of those genuine American voices you've heard so much about, and he was American enough to look atrocity in the eye and let it go, chalk it up to the Way of the World, because he knew that slaughter happened and it always, naturally, ineluctably would."

There's no shame in being served horseshit on a platter, Friends, but we shouldn't be proud of going back for seconds. Enough of the requiescat in pace, consider the man's words and utter a res ipsa loquitur already.

We barely have the energy to follow the various rapings and pillagings that yesterday brought and that today and tomorrow will bring, but we reckon we can muster up one observation: "So it goes" may indeed be the American anthem, but not one that Vonnegut's books actually approve: it is the motto of those who do indeed watch fairies and communists and Arabs and Sudanese and Appalachians bombed, burned, starved and dumbed into oblivion, and who can't be bothered to tear their increasingly fat asses away from the TV and the refrigerator and the carseat and the computer to do anything about it.

"So it goes" is the philosophy of Trafamaldorians, which is to say the philosophy of aliens, which is to say a fundamentally inhuman philosophy. It is the righteous mantra of a country where a beer can randomly tossed on your lawn is cause for violent outrage, but the pumping of billions of tons of poison into our air and water is just one of those things. It is the motto for a world where daycare centers full of armless and legless and eyeless Lebanese (or Afghani, or Iraqi, or Cambodian, or Sudanese) children is nothing more than an unavoidable misfortune upon which to expend our collective tongue-cluckery.

But it was not the philosophy of Kurt Vonnegut's novels, and as an epitaph it approaches gross obscenity.

If it goes, then it goes so because we let it and because we go it ourselves, because even reading and reporting the irony in the words is too much work, too inconvenient for folks as busy as we are. And Vonnegut knew it, and he went knowing it, and he went knowing that every last fucking one of us will follow him much sooner than we expected, and if we keep it up, the sooner we all go the better off the world will be.


Blogger squeezychortle said...

How about "Welcome to the monkey house"?

Huh huh huh. You wrote "termagant." Huh huh.

2:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nicely done swillers. glad you're back in bidness.

2:11 AM  
Blogger Swill to Power said...

thankee, anon. we've had a lot to say, but figured you were busy. will attend to the future.

10:21 AM  
Blogger Thomas Crofts said...

Socko, Swill! That's the KV essay I needed right now. The dishonor to his memory--which got rolling even before the last death rattle had exited the man's frame--has not been easy to bear.

A fine and angry edge you wield here.

9:13 AM  
Blogger Kenneth said...

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