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Vonnegut Expressed Skeptical Nature with Humor

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Throughout this morning, we're remembering a novelist Kurt Vonnegut, who died on Wednesday at the age of 84.

(Soundbite of archived interview)

Mr. KURT VONNEGUT (Novelist): You know, I don't mean to intimidate you and your listeners but I have a masters' degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And Kurt Vonnegut said that tribalism was a powerful force in American life. He got that point across by writing up the future. The United States broke up into futile states led by the king of Michigan or the Duke of Oklahoma.

INSKEEP: In another novel, "Player Piano," Vonnegut described the world where machines do all the work, leaving most Americans with nothing to do except buy consumer goods.

(Soundbite of archived interview)

INSKEEP: Has any part of that turned out to be true to you?

Mr. VONNEGUT: All of it. Where have you been?

MONTAGNE: His slapstick novels included time travel and alien abductions. His main characters included a Nazi collaborator and a man convicted in Watergate. The jokes contain Vonnegut's commentary on our times, even as Vonnegut insisted that his writing wasn't important.

(Soundbite of archived interview)

Mr. VONNEGUT: Ink on paper, it doesn't matter anymore. Television is the whole story and it is the way to communicate now and so there's no shortage of satire now. And the subject is still what idiotic, complicated animals human beings are.

INSKEEP: Vonnegut never turned away from tragedy. In 1968, he wrote on his novel, "Slaughterhouse-Five," Robert Kennedy was shot two nights ago. So it goes. And everyday, my government gives me a count of corpses in Vietnam. So it goes. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. went on to criticize the war in Iraq, one of his last public acts before he died yesterday of complications from a fall. So it goes.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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