Kurt Vonnegut passes — have we lost an anthropologist?

As we all know by now, “Kurt Vonnegut passed away this past week”:http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/12/books/12vonnegut.html?_r=1&oref=slogin. Like everyone I read Vonneugt in high school — I remember Sirens of Titan and Cat’s Cradle in particular — but some how I was never as turned on as other people. At any rate, as we’ve noted on the blog more than a couple of times, Vonnegut is someone who anthropologists sometimes claim as their own. Vonnegut famously flunked out of the anthropology program at the University of Chicago, and was only awarded an MA years afterwards when one of his novels was submitted in lieu of a thesis. Is our invocation of Vonnegut as ‘one of us’ a sign of the not-unusual desire of academics to capitalize on connections with famous alumns, or is there something in Vonnegut’s dour reflexivity that we can see as genuinely anthropological? Is his brief connection with our discipline an interesting piece of trivia, or can we find resonances of our worldview in his? Its an interesting question.


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at rex@savageminds.org

4 thoughts on “Kurt Vonnegut passes — have we lost an anthropologist?

  1. Vonnegut’s focus on the importance of kinship and extended families in his worlds, his focus on technology’s impact on culture and culture’s power over the individual are among the more significant anthropological traits of Vonnegut. He often claimed his years reading anthropology deeply impacted his writing and world view.

  2. “I think about my education sometimes. I went to the University of Chicago for a while after the Second World War. I was a student in the Department of Anthropology. At that time, they were teaching that there was absolutely no difference between anybody. They may be teaching that still.
    Another thing they taught was that nobody was ridiculous or bad or disgusting. Shortly before my father died, he said to me, ‘You know-you never wrote a story with a villain in it.’
    I told him that was one of the things I learned in college after the war.”

  3. “Oh a sleeping drunkard
    Up in Central Park
    And a lion hunter
    In the jungle dark
    And a Chinese dentist,
    and a British queen–
    All fit together
    in the same machine.
    Nice, nice, very nice;
    Nice, nice, very nice;
    Nice, nice very nice–
    So many people in the same device.”

  4. i think “we” need to be careful about intellectualizing and creating a “we.” i think mr. vonnegut’s work serves to inspire different forms and approaches to the study of….us.

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