Trout-in-Cahoes by Kurt Vonnegut
There is an excellent exhibit of writer Kurt Vonnegut’s abstract art prints at the National Veterans Art Museum near Milwaukee Avenue and Irving Park. Go check it out!
The exhibit contains Mr. Vonnegut’s satiric look at life and it challenges us to consider the madness of modern life such as war, illness, hate and human weakness.
The exhibit is called Vonnegut’s Odyssey and it opened on November 11, 2016 (yes, we missed the opening but now we are playing catch up). The interesting exhibit consists of thirty-one prints which the museum acquired thanks to the generous support of the Nielsen family. The exhibit will continue until May 6, 2017, enough time to hop on a CTA bus and see it.
The museum is located at 4041 N. Milwaukee Avenue and it’s open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Tuesday to Saturday each week. For more information call (312) 326-0270 or visit the museum’s website at www.nvam.org/. Admission, by the way, is free.
Now let’s talk about Kurt.
Kurt Vonnegut died on April 11, 2007 in New York City when he was 85 years-old. He was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on November 11, 1922. He was a Hoosier, as people from Indiana call themselves, and Vonnegut was very proud of it. He admired Eugene Debs, a socialist union leader from Indiana who ran for president in the 1920s.
Among Vonnegut’s most popular books are Slaughterhouse-Five; Cat’s Cradle; Breakfast of Champions and Mother Night. If you never heard of him or have never read any of his books, you can still catch up.
Slaughterhouse Five is his most acclaimed novel and it is based on his personal experiences during World War II in Germany. You see, as it happened (as it was meant to happen, he’d say) he was captured during the Battle of the Bulge in Dresden, Germany, and spent the better part of the war as a prisoner of war in an underground slaughterhouse.
Dresden, if you don’t already know, was fire-bombed and burned to a crisp from the air by the NATO allies, the good guys.
While in captivity Vonnegut and his soldier buddies were ordered from time to time to go out among the ruins of burned out Dresden and collect the dead bodies. War, as you know, is hell. Vonnegut used some of his war experiences to create Slaughter House-Five, considered a masterful anti-war novel.
Another of his popular novels is Cat’s Cradle which is about the fictional inventor of the atom bomb and his odd adult children. It is also about a dictator named “Papa” Monzano, who rules a fictitious island country in the Caribbean. He also has a beautiful daughter named Mona.
The novel is also about a native named Bokonon who invents a new religion and who fights against the repressive measures of Monzano.
By the way it should interest you to know that Kurt Vonnegut worked at the now defunct City News Bureau here in Chicago and also studied anthropology at the University of Chicago.
He wrote a thesis but, as it happened (as it was meant to happened, Vonnegut would say) was rejected. However, in 1971 the University of Chicago made amends and granted Vonnegut his degree based on the creativity in Cat’s Cradle. And so it goes.
After Vonnegut returned from World War II he worked as a public relations writer hut gave it up and even tried his luck at becoming a car salesman. Fortunately he started selling short stories in the 1950s to magazines like the Saturday Evening Post and later published his first book, Player Piano, in 1952.
Vonnegut, who also contributed later in life to the local magazine In These Times, published a total of fourteen novels in his lifetime.
Vonnegut also taught creative writing at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, my own alma mater, from 1965 to 1967 during the height of the anti-Vietnam War and Hippie years. He lived at a beautiful Victorian house which still stands at 800 N. Van Buren Street in Iowa City.
This is the house in which he wrote Slaughterhouse-Five. He was 43-years-old then and also threw some mean parties, I have read, each year on May Day.
Later in his life Vonnegut turned to painting and created many interesting art pieces. Some of which you can see at this exhibit at the NVAM.
Now let me explain about the phrases “and so it goes” and “as it was meant to happen” that I have thrown around in this story.
They are Vonnegut’s and the first one, “and so it goes”, comes from Slaughterhouse Five where Vonnegut uses this phrase at least 100 times. The phrase is used as comic relief in the book when unexpected and unexplained events take place such as when some character dies or questions of mortality arise in the book.
The other phrase, “as it was meant to happen”, is Vonnegut’s also and comes from his novel Cat’s Cradle and it relates to destiny and free will as Bokonon, the character in the novel who invents a new religion, believes that all that occurs, planned or unplanned, is meant to happen.
And so it goes, folks. Go see his paintings.
Trafalmadorian-Polychrome by Kurt Vonnegut.
Antonio Zavala is a freelance writer who lives in Chicago and writes about the people and neighborhoods of Chicago.