Kurt Vonnegut, “burn this letter”

I was shocked by the casual sexism and racism in Vonnegut’s personal letter:

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_vault/2012/11/20/kurt_vonnegut_the_author_s_advice_for_a_friend_about_to_teach_at_the_iowa.html

He uses a derogatory racial term for East Asians, refers to the Taiwanese woman as a “mistress” of a famous white male writer (a person who I believe was actually a famous writer herself, and married to the Director of the Writer’s Workshop, a less well-known writer internationally than she was). And he refers to the (apparently common practice) of famous (male) visiting writers casually sleeping with (presumably young female) undergraduates , warning his friend that their parents were still watching.

I guess it shouldn’t be shocking to remember that so many DWMs were prejudiced, and that most people thought nothing of using racial slurs and sexist objectification. But the casual & sexist use of the racist term used by American military in Vietnam was especially jarring.

Zelda has done some really great work on sexism in art (like her piece Galileo in America, where Galileo’s daughter challenges some of Brecht’s famous reliance on the invisible labour of women).

It also made me think about Vonnegut’s instruction to burn the letter — clearly he knew he was talking trash; finding this is sort of like seeing those thousands of personal emails exchanged (on gmail!) by Petraeus and other high-placed security officials. It isn’t just electronic media that has shown up the imaginations of the private-public divide to be a figment of our Victorian imaginations.

 

 

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  1. Vonnegut’s zany and surreal world reflects the absurdity of our own and really bent my mind to different modes of thinking. His work has inspired my own visual arts for quite some time and I created a tribute illustration of the author with the help of an old typewriter. You can see it at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/11/happy-birthday-mr-vonnegut.html and tell me how his work and words also affected you.

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