Friday, November 16, 2012

Kurt Vonnegut

by Edd Doerr

Delacourt Press's recent publication of a book of Kurt Vonnegut's letters, edited by Dan Wakefield, reminded me of my correspondence with him. Kurt and I attended high schools several blocks apart in Indianapolis. Following is a letter I sent him in December of 1997 and his response. At the time he was honorary president while I was president of the American Humanist Association.

Dear Kurt,

My review of [your book] Timequake is in press in the forthcoming issue of The Humanist.

I finally got to see [the film of your book] Mother Night in video. The film, as I recall, played at only one Washington area theater, about 20 miles from my house, and vanished in a week. (The same fate befell other great films such as Michael Collins and Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden.)

I had read the novel and was pleased, as I am sure you were, that the film followed it so closely. And what better way for a writer to end it all than to hang himself with typewriter ribbon!

By the way, you may be interested to know that I am publishing through the AHA a bunch of the sermons of E. Burdette Backus [Timely and Timeless, Humanist Press], minister of All Souls Unitarian Church in Indianapolis throughout then '40s and second president of the AHA. We Hoosiers need to do all we can to rescue our state's good name from the scorn earned by Dan Quayle, Dan Coats, and other buffoons we have sent to Congress. It's not really a consolation that we got them out of the state for a while.

Just a note of appreciation for your good work.

Best wishes,

Edd Doerr, President

And from Kurt  -----

Dear Edd --

People ask me what I'm reading now, and I say "books people send me." They ask what I am wrriting now, and I say "letters to people who've sent me books." And I thank you with sincere gratitude for the writings of E. Burdette Backus. His "In Time of Trouble" is a masterpiece of quiet reasoning, and is of help to me. Also of help has been Nietzsche's statement: "Only a person of deep faith can afford the luxury of skepticism."

I thank you, too, for your friendly response to the movie "Mother Night." Exhibiters in Germany and Israel have declined to screen it. Nolte's broadcasts were in fact speeches by Goebbels. Nolte says, "There are no Jews in foxholes." One critic said, "The heel there weren't. My uncle was ij a foxhole." Another one said of the book, not the movie, "I don't think there's anything funny about the Holocaust."

As for Indianapolis Unitarianism: my father claimed to be a Unitarian  for business reasons. Not many solid citizens wanted to deal with somebody who was a NOTHING. I don't recall his ever going to church, except maybe for the pagan rite of Easter. I never had to go ti Sunday school, or any of the bushwah. We already had an extended family, lots of affectionate blood relatives nearby, so we didn't need what so many other Hoosiers were hungry for --- the ersatz extended family of a congregation. And our relatives weren't in fact NOTHINGS, but freethinkers, a once respectable designation, but very German, made kaput by the hatred of all things German during the First World War.

 The true basis for that hatred, incidentally, wasn't German soldiers throwing Belgian babies in the aid, and catching them on their bayonets. It was the fact that German immigrants had arrived without proper humility, hats in hand, but were educated business people who, without asking permission and advice from the Anglos, set up their own banks and schools and so on. Anglos' resentment of this intolerable self-sufficiency persists, although unspoken, to this very day.


//Kurt Vonnegut//

And so it goes.

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