Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Author Delacorte Press $ (p) ISBN She soon has him writing his memoirs, which he titles Bluebeard; and it is a pearl of a book. Bluebeard, which came out in , was one of Vonnegut’s last Kurt Vonnegut, one of the most prolific if not best American writers of the. BLUEBEARD By Kurt Vonnegut. pp. New York: Delacorte Press. $ BY the high imaginative standards of Kurt Vonnegut at his best.
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It does, however, provide insight into the aspects of the modern situation that Vonnegut sees as central and meaningful. Perhaps more than any other post-modern author, Vonnegut has thoughtfully tackled why post-modernism, as a reflection of its time, has confused or even destroyed the lines that have traditionally separated high art from low art, things such as literature from things such as science fiction.
One of the many tasks Vonnegut undertakes in Bluebeard is not only to accurately reflect his time in history, but also to depict the unique challenges that writing about his time presents the writer. In the process, Vonnegut also reveals the often hidden significance in such difficulties.
Bluebeardbeing the mock-autobiography of an elderly, wealthy and retired expressionist painter, Rabo Karabekian, presents its fictional author with many of the challenges Vonnegut himself has faced.
This in itself is too complex of an issue to be treated fully in an essay of this length, therefore this essay will limit its inquiry to one aspect of the unique difficulties Vonnegut has confronted in Bluebeard, in an effort to illustrate to the reader how each and every aspect within the novel could be as thoroughly examined with insights just as rewarding.
Celeste, a typical fifteen year old, owns every book by popular fictionist, Polly Madison. Throughout the novel, at different points, Rabo approaches the teenagers to ask them what they think about certain things, and almost always Rabo is appalled by their lack of knowledge or even interest in anything at all. He has given both popular culture and literary tradition a voice. This tension can be seen in all works of postmodernism, in their tendency to allude to popular culture rather than literary tradition.
Vonnegut does not give simple answers to this tension, but rather explores its ramifications on the process of writing. Even the name Polly Madison, by alluding to the name of a popular bakery, alludes to the commercial nature of the culture that has no need for ancient knowledge.
This begs the question, if allusions like this to popular culture better depict the time and represent it to the reader, is not an author concerned with authenticity obligated to use them?
Vonnegut takes both sides of the argument in the novel by way of Circe and Rabo, and the novel becomes more a novel that debates writing about the modern age, rather than simply a novel about the modern age. It is this understanding of the essential inability of modernity to reconcile itself with a past it cannot deny, that marks Bluebeard as Vonnegut in clear command of his facility, and fully matured in his understanding of what it means to be American in the second half of the twentieth century.
This inability of high culture and low culture to reconcile themselves is evidenced in the lack of critical appreciation for Vonnegut. The seeming incompatibility works both ways. To more fully understand the significance of the two view points represented by these two characters, the nature of their relationship becomes increasingly important. Rabo, besides being an expressionist painter and collector, fought in World War II, Like Vonnegut, and in many ways was haunted by the war.
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Circe, on the other hand, has just lost her husband and is vacationing along the coast while writing a biography about her recently deceased husband, who was a doctor. Circe, being nearly 20 years younger than Rabo, brings a youthfulness and freshness iurt Rabo identifies as specifically post World War II.
vonnrgut She convinces Rabo to write his autobiography, which results in the text of Bluebeard. So, in a very real way to the internal structure of the novel, the novel itself is a product of the marriage of high and low culture, which reinforces such a marriage as the essential image of the post-modern situation. In the novel, Rabo has a huge potato barn that is his painting studio.
Rabo has secret places where either Circe cannot, or he will not let her go. The complexity of this relationship, and the obvious tensions and harmonies between the two characters, serves to reinforce an interpretation of the novel as the process of writing about the difficulties in recording the modern era. If this is the modern situation, Vonnegut is right in saying the modern situation is a situation struggling with awareness of itself as much as anything else.
The awareness of the break between modernity and the past is as much a part of modernity as the commercialized Polly Madison children on birth control. So many more aspects of the novel complement and are complemented by this aspect of Bluebeard that it seems essential to illustrate at least one such relationship. The novel also explores the nature of abstract expressionism, and as might be supposed, Circe Berman and Rabo Karabekian have quite different views on the art form.
In essence, they are both recognizing the fact that abstract expressionism has nothing to do with vonnegkt, but while Circe abhors its disconnectedness, Rabo takes shelter in it.
This illustrates another tension within the modern mind. This tension is parallel with and informed by tension between literary tradition and popular culture already discussed. It is specifically this: Escapism, Indifference, Optimism, and other answers come to mind, but Vonnegut goes to the underlying issue, blhebeard is that the modern situation is better characterized by tensions between different philosophies and social forces, rather than attempting to define it rigidly one way or another.
This brings to question, are any such evaluations, records, fictions, or histories that vonnnegut not present the tension of forces that inform the social, moral, artistic, and individual choices, preferences, and attitudes accurate or valid?
This places it at the heart of the innovative spirit that defines all great American literature. Studies in Contemporary Fiction 35 Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.
FYI I loved the book I’m going to reread Breakfast of Champions next. Thanks for writing this hub Thanks for the kind comments! I think my personal favorites are Slapstick, Sirens of Titan, Breakfast of Champions, and of course Slaughter House 5 if you are looking for further Vonnegut suggestions.
Of course, any Vonnegut you have handy will probably do just fine. I am a Vonnegut fan. I loved bbluebeard Bless You Mr. Rosewater,” and I’m getting ready to read “Jailbird.
Well written and articulated hub.
BLUEBEARD by Kurt Vonnegut | Kirkus Reviews
I also thought the book drew the conclusion that men have made a mess of the world why not give women the chance to do the same or better? Wasn’t that in there? What a horses ass huh? I’ll always love Vonnegut, in a way for me he was my first real Mark Twain. He brought a real, not pompous or erudite, look at the world to me. I stand by Vonneguts works too, how great is a writer when he can comfort you with cynicism?
That’s his genius as far as I can see. Thanks for the kind words. I am glad that someone else feels Bluebeard is worthy Vonnegut. I’ve got some friends who don’t like it as much cause it’s not as terse or wacky ukrt his earlier works, not sure how much I agree with that appraisal, but I’ve heard it. Vonnegut can certainly turn a phrase, can’t he? Makes you see yourself against the big picture so clearly that I sometimes wonder why I didn’t see it before hand.
Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say? Really great, I’m coming back to finish this in a bit, I’ve really enjoyed your introduction analysis of one of my long standing favorites and Bluebeard one of his more obscure and vonnegit favorite works.
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