Flashbacks: October 13, 2006

By FLASHBACKS  |  October 11, 2006

Shit-lit | 30 years ago | October 12, 1976 | David Moran panned Kurt Vonnegut’s new book, Slapstick or Lonesome No More!
“At last it can be said instead of just worried over: Kurt Vonnegut no longer matters. He doesn’t care, so neither should we. His past several works have been slovenly, lazy, facile (the highly popular Slaughterhouse-Five included), but since he had written two good ones — Cat’s Cradle and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater — and one brilliant one — Mother Night, a subtle, easily misread, altogether modernist work that lies squarely in the difficult, ironic, first-person tradition stretching from Diderot’s Rameau’s Nephew to Barth’s The End of the Road — one could always hope Vonnegut would return to the controlled cleverness, depth of feeling and usable self-knowledge those earlier works of his displayed. . . .

“The story, to classify this mess generously, is so unrewardingly complicated as to be unreadable, and is punctuated at virtually every paragraph either by three diamonds (signifying for Vonnegut a lapse of concentration) or by the author’s new and utterly tiresome tag-line, ‘Hi ho.’ (He’s anxious enough about the latter greasy device to apologize several times for it but, naturally, doesn’t eliminate them.)

“Such a triviality would not ordinarily be an outrage, even from so popular and seriously taken a writer. But if you knew, as I do, how great a difference his earlier books once made to high school students and teachers (those rare, accessible texts that are a nice combination of graceful imaginings, dry wit, deft characterization, perfect detail, and Large Statement), you might even say that Vonnegut’s current sloth and irresponsible self-indulgence is, well, immoral. But so he goes.”

Health inspection | 35 years ago | October 12, 1971 | Deborah Johnson called out the best and worst colleges on the issue of gynecological care.
“The best colleges on these issues seem, this year, to be the elite. Harvard and M.I.T. are the most open and giving about their services. Every Harvard student received at registration a booklet distributed by the health services with the saccharine title ‘Everything You Always Wanted to Know About UHS (University Health Service) . . . ’ It states in writing (!) that any student can obtain birth control advice (and devices), morning-after medication, and help in getting an abortion. The booklet even lists the grapevine doctors: those who will give out information willingly. (This list is one of its problems: I know from personal experience that at least two of the male doctors on the list are ready to dispense homilies on female psychology along with prescriptions.) The booklet is on the work of a woman who is now setting up sex counseling services to be run by and for students. The Health Service’s new director has also been exceptionally enthusiastic about her ideas. . . .

“Among the most repressive colleges in terms of birth control is, not surprisingly, Boston College. Its laws go beyond the Commonwealth to the Pope, who, we all know, is not enthusiastic about contraception and abortion. Last March a group called the Women’s Action Committee presented the administration with a list of demands, one of which was a gynecological clinic. A gynecologist is now on duty for one and three-quarter hours twice a week.

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