In response to:
Easy Writer from the July 2, 1970 issue
To the Editors:
Both the tone and the substance of Mr. Richardson’s article on the work of Kurt Vonnegut. Jr., in the July 2 issue of NYR seem to me unworthy of your journal. The former is malicious; while the latter is so misleading as to extend beyond the limits of error attributable to difference of opinion and approach deliberate bad faith. Concretely, Richardson’s treatment of Player Piano as a piece of modish trash written to exploit the spirit of the times while appearing to satirize them neglects the fact that this novel was first published in 1952, at which time it was indeed prophetic. What Vonnegut anticipates in it is the virtually total relationship of standard of living to status, and the complete polarization of the community into a resentful, abused, and destructive working class and a vulgar technological elite. With the establishment of a credit-card, VIP-based structure of consumption and status in the country, and the bloody revolt of the hard hats, this has come to pass; it certainly was not apparent that it would toward the end of Mr. Truman’s administration, when a book published in Eisenhower’s inaugural year would have to be written.
Moreover, the fact that Player Piano is Vonnegut’s wordiest, slowest, and least satisfactory book—precisely because his style twenty years ago was conventional and had not yet acquired the sloppiness Mr. Richardson decries in him but which his admirers, including myself, find economical—is ample evidence that his style is very well suited indeed to what he wants to communicate. Far from being Olympian. “so it goes” to me conveys the author’s grim awareness that the honkies are killing us and that, given the structure and values of our society, we probably can’t stop them on any occasion. As Kent State goes, so goes the nation, and many other nations as well. There would be no harm in being Olympian, if a stable mountain were available; but this phrase is just the contrary—it is the written expression of a shit-eating grin. And it makes things clearer.
Edgar Z. Friedenberg