Once again I find myself repeating what is probably going to become my mantra for 2011: ‘Context is everything’.
The late Kurt Vonnegut wrote some pretty good work, but his real skill wasn’t as a writer, per se, it was as an observational satirist.
What he found easy was exploiting the societal weaknesses, highlighting the structures of irrationality that we sometimes build around us.
Because he had a keen brain that looked for the satire, Vonnegut expressed opinions on many things.
As a result, he is oft quoted, particularly by late-teens schoolchildren, as if repeating his words imbues the speaker with a degree of higher knowledge.
And so it was when I was a late-teen schoolchild.
Today I saw someone deriding this NHS poster with the words ‘Who says we don’t live in a nanny state’:
I’ll let you think on their words and this poster, given two factors:
- That there are those in our society who aren’t as bright as you or I and who, frankly, *need* to have detailed information on how to clean themselves
- That the NHS produce generic information leaflets like this, most of which will go in to institutions where some people are heavily medicated, and aren’t allowed out by themselves
But the thing that got my ire was that the person who chose to ridicule this NHS poster quoted, not long afterwards, Vonnegut:
‘You cannot be a good writer of serious fiction if you are not depressed’
This is, plainly, bollocks, and a good example of why Vonnegut sometimes dropped the ball.
Depression is no more a condition for elevating a shit writer of serious fiction to ‘good’, than is baldness. Or acne. Or suffering hallucinations.
Vonnegut could not have written Slaughterhouse Five if he was a shit writer with terminal depression, no more than I could write Ender’s Game (Scott-Card) if I was a manic depressive.
Which Scott-Card isn’t.
So here, because this really minor thing has obviously got my goat, is a nanny stateised version of the Vonnegut quote:
‘You cannot be a good writer of serious fiction
- If you are not depressed (nb. this statement may not be true)
- if you are not a good writer of serious fiction
- if you cannot read
- if you don’t know the rules of narrative
- if you are not aware of the differences between active and passive voices
- if you do not know the rules of tense consistency
- if you cannot write with flair and imagination and, above all, accuracy’
- if you have no ability’
Sorry, I don’t know why someone who has depression (the person who highlighted the NHS poster and used the Vonnegut quote) effectively saying, ‘Look at me, I’ve got depression, I’m going to be a great writer’ – when they are actually borderline illiterate looking for excuses for not being much cop with the business end of English literature – has so annoyed me.
But it has.
I shall go and make breakfast now. It might make me less annoyed.
p.s. Vonnegut’s ‘If God were alive today, he’d be an atheist’ is tempered by Scott-Card’s activism within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Hypocrites Saints