Requiem For A Dreamer
By Kurt Vonnegut
18 October, 2004
note: What follows is a conversation between Kurt Vonnegut and out-of-print
science fiction writer Kilgore
Trout. It was to be their last. Trout committed suicide by drinking
Drano at midnight on October 15 in Cohoes, New York, after a female
psychic using tarot cards predicted that the environmental calamity
George W. Bush would once again be elected president of the most powerful
nation on the planet by a five-to-four decision of the Supreme Court,
which included 100 per-cent of the black vote.
TROUT: Ive never voted in my whole damn life. I didnt want
to be complicit. But is it time I did?
KV: The planets
immune system is obviously trying to get rid of us, and high time! But
sure, go vote for somebody. What the hell.
KV: The overwhelming
popularity of President Bush, in spite of everything, finally shows
us what the American people, whom we have so sentimentalized for so
long, a la Norman Rockwell, really are, thanks to TV and purposely lousy
public schools: ignorant. Count on it!
TROUT: You ever
meet anybody who was really smart?
KV: Only one: Saul
Steinberg, the graphic artist whos dead now. Everybody I know
is dead now, present company excepted. I could ask Saul anything, and
six seconds would pass, and then he would give me a perfect answer.
He growled a perfect answer. He was born in Rumania, and, according
to him, he was born into a house where the geese peeked in the
TROUT: Like what
kind of questions?
KV: I said, Saul,
what should I think about Picasso? Six seconds went by, and then
he growled, God put him on Earth to show us what its like
to be really rich. I said, Saul, Im a novelist, and
many of my friends are novelists, but I cant help feeling that
some of them are in a very different business from mine, even though
I like their books a lot. What would make me feel that way? Six
seconds went by, and then he growled, It is very simple: There
are two kinds of artists, and one is not superior to the other. But
one kind responds to the history of his or her art so far, and the other
responds to life itself.
I said, Saul,
are you gifted? Six seconds went by, and then he growled, No.
But what we respond to in any work of art is the artists struggle
against his or her limitations.
KV: You seem unimpressed.
TROUT: I said, OK.
KV: You said it
TROUT: Sorry. You
know me: Always running on empty.
KV: Somebody else
smart? OK, try this: After the Second World War I enrolled in the graduate
division of the Anthropology Department of the University of Chicago,
the most conceited university in the country. And in a seminar for about
eight of us, half of us vets on the GI Bill of Rights, my favorite professor,
in fact my thesis advisor, put this Socratic question to us: What
is it an artist does?
TROUT: Hold on:
What makes Chicago so conceited?
KV: That it isnt
TROUT: Got it: That
it isnt high society.
KV: Bingo. Anyway,
Im sure we all came up with smart-ass answers, since a graduate
seminar in any subject is a form of improv theater. But the only answer
I remember is the one he gave: An artist says, I cant
do anything about the chaos in the universe or my country, or even in
my own miserable life, but I can at least make this piece of paper or
canvas, or blob of clay or chunk of marble, exactly what it should be.
KV: Did you forget
to take your Viagra today?
TROUT: Very funny.
But what he said an artist does is what I do every time I brush my teeth
or tie my shoes. You thought this guy was smart? Hes an ####.
KV: Look, when you
put a piece of paper in your typewriter, dont you try to make
it exactly what it should be?
TROUT: No, I just
KV: What are you
effing writing now?
about how the future has as much to do with the present as the past
does. Giraffes can only have come from the future. Theres no way
evolution in the past would have let something that defenseless and
impractical live for 15 minutes.
KV: If you say so.
TROUT: Try this:
The First World War was caused by the second one. Otherwise the first
one makes no sense, wasnt about anything. And all Picasso had
to do was paint pictures that were already hanging in museums in the
TROUT: Just trying
to be Einstein. You never know. But hey, the two people you said were
so smart were both men. Women say smart things, too. I went walking
with a woman the other day, if you can believe it, and I stopped to
retie my shoes, and she said, Every time I go for a walk with
a man he always has to stop to retie his shoes. Why wont men tie
double knots? A fear of commitment? Hows that for anthropology,
the science of man? Ill bet they didnt teach you about men
and shoelaces at Chicago.
KV: That isnt
anthropology. Thats sociology.
the difference? Ive often wondered.
KV: A sociologist
is paid by the Sociology Department. An anthropologist is paid by the
TROUT: Glad to have
that cleared up.
KV: Knowledge is
TROUT: Well, Im
off. Ciao, adios and aloha.
KV: Whither bound?
TROUT: Back to Cohoes
for an AA meeting.
KV: But youre
not an alcoholic.
the only place I can pick up women. They have their defenses down. Hello,
Im Kilgore Trout and Im an alcoholic. And Ive
met this babe named Flamingo who is a professional psychic. Shes
going to tell me our countrys fortune. Wholl win the next
TROUT: Take care.
KV: You too.
© 2004 In These