By: Zsasha Flores
Kurt Vonnegut is an author most famous for his novel Slaughterhouse-5, a staple in the postmodern canon. He was a counterculture darling with even the New York Times labeling him, upon his death, “the counterculture’s novelist.” However, Vonnegut’s public persona was not genuine, rather it was a carefully calculated and brilliant case of self-marketing.
The picture of above is of Vonnegut during his army days. Before the publication of Slaughterhouse-5, Vonnegut was a straight-laced and clean-shaven. Vonnegut knew his counterculture audience would not take kindly to his mainstream appearance; therefore, he manufactured a new persona. He grew his hair out and began to look scraggly; he became what one would expect the author of a postmodern, satirical, sci-fi, stream of consciousness novel to resemble.
Vonnegut’s rehashing of his public identity begs the question- What makes an author? Furthermore, would his novels have failed had Vonnegut not looked the part?
Vonnegut is likely right. It is doubtful his 60’s hippie audience would be drawn towards a satiric novel about war written by someone who looked like he belonged to the orthodoxy against which they were rebelling. Slaughterhouse-5‘s semi-autobiographical aspects would not be revoked regardless of whether Vonnegut adopted his eccentric demeanor or not; however, readers would not be receptive without it. What does that say about society and literary circles? It seems that it is not enough for an author to simply put out compelling work; he or she must look the part too.
Vonnegut died April 11th, 2007 at 84. So it goes.