Society Dreams: Kurt Vonnegut

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A dreamy scene on Park Avenue of those about-to-pop orange peony double tulips (a Darwin hybrid called Gudoshnik). Photo: JH.

Friday, April 19, 2024. Spring is here. Two days ago we had a most beautiful day with temps right up to 73. Off came all the warmer outerwear. Yesterday it returned to a very chilly low 50s. Had to bundle up again; put our sweaters and outer jackets and coats on, with the additional forecast in these chillier numbers.

This week’s dream subject is Kurt Vonnegut, best-selling American novelist (14 novels, three short story collections, five plays and five non-fiction works). More collections have been published since his death at 84 in 2007. I knew him only slightly through his wife, the esteemed photojournalist Jill Krementz, whose classic portraits have graced these pages many times.

Yes, that’s Kurt Vonnegut, me, and Jill Krementz at one of the cocktail parties they often hosted with a guest list that was distinguished and not infrequently famous — particularly in the words and the art.

In Memoriam. Written on 4.12.07Kurt Vonnegut died two nights ago here in New York. I saw him only several weeks ago at the birthday party of his wife Jill Krementz. I was a big fan of Vonnegut’s when I was in college, reading all of his books. I hadn’t read anything of his in years however, until last night when I saw an excerpt from Slaughterhouse-Five.

So I started reading it, and, of course, I found myself laughing out loud and finally reveling in the pleasure of pure Vonnegut (who somewhere within is pure me, or something like that).

I had the pleasure of the man’s presence a number times, however, I cannot say I ever really had the pleasure of his company. I found him somewhat intimidating and highly uninterested in me, and so I was both cowed and in awe. This tells you a little more about me than it reveals about him, of course. I could see from observing those whose company he kept that he was as revered and amusing an individual as he was a writer of books.

I should add that despite my own diffidence in his presence, I never wavered from my sense that I was in the presence of a brilliant man, a humanist, an ironist; an artist and a humble giant.

Kurt Vonnegut and Pumpkin: “Naps are a great way to kill time. If I have nothing to do I’ll take one. My dreams are so worthwhile.”

Society Dreams: Kurt Vonnegut

by Lauren Lawrence

The Dream:I Sometimes dream that I murdered someone many, many years ago, and the police have only now found undeniable evidence that I was the one who did it.”

The Interpretation: As one would expect from the novelist, Kurt Vonnegut’s dream pulls you in with a certain narrational gravity. The writer’s unconscious appears to have been the subject of investigative reporting. The police — the superego — have found what they were looking for all along: Undeniable evidence of his culpability. What was covered over — repressed — has now been found: In Oedipal terms, a fading record of an ancient guilt perhaps, or a validation of hostile impulses that were lain waste. That the indictment is expressed without indignation reveals the veracity of the wish for self-recrimination. Yet, in that the dreamer is wanted in the truest, most dire sense, another wish is to be sought after.

What has been done away with — or murdered — is censorship or repression, in that Vonnegut’s dream is one of conscience and responsibility. In this view, what was killed in the past was a part of the former self, the old existence of the dreamer, as it were, which brings remorse. As death symbolizes finality, an irreversible abandonment or departure may have occurred. One understands how the passage of time encourages reflections about personal significance. As such, in the long run all actions and choices are measured and accounted for.

when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist.” — Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

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