A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Kurt Vonnegut, W.G. Sebald & My Pentacon F
Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut 1922- 2007

Until 1964 I read every science fiction book I could find. I started this craze of mine around 1955 when I lost interest in reading about Achilles, the Greeks, the Trojans and the Spartans. That is how I first started reading Kurt Vonnegut. In 1952 he wrote Player Piano and in 1959 The Sirens of Titan. He was considered a science fiction writer much as Gore Vidal.

In 1958 I bought my first serious camera, a Pentacon F with a Jena made 50mm F-2.8 Tessar lens. On the bottom of the camera, embossed on the leather, it read "Made in USSR Occupied Zone.

The Pentacon traveled with me to Buenos Aires in 1965. In the first few months of my stint in the Argentine Navy I stayed with my mother's friends the American Sullivan family. The oldest son, John Sullivan was a conscript in the Argentine army. Since he had been educated in the US he was much older than the official age of 20. So John was 4 years older. At the time I felt I was an idealist and my world was black and white. John and I had massive arguments as he stated that the world was not cut and dry and that its colour was gray. He said that absolutes only existed in mathematics and science and in all other cases it was all relative.

In 1971, I had been married to Rosemary since 1968, she and I went to the American Mexican Institute of Cultural Relations ( a front for CIA) to listen to a lecture by Kurt Vonnegut. In his lecture (both Rosemary and I were charmed by his warm demeanor) he asserted that he had coined the term "open beaver". It was about then that I read Slaughterhouse Five and came to understand how right John Sullivan had been.

In Slaughterhouse Five I read how the Americans had sent bombers equipped with demolition bombs followed by British bombers with incendiary bombs. Some general had calculated how long it would take for neighbouring fire departments to send equipment into the fire bombed Dresden before unleashing another wave of bombers. I realized that my idea of good and evil, black and white was all wrong. John Sullivan had been right. The image of a raging lion escaping the Dresden zoo in the firestorm has been etched in my mind since. Vonnegut took care of eliminating that naivite of my youth.

Last year I read W. G. Sebald's horrific On the Natural History of Destruction and somehow it wasn't so horrific. Perhaps I had been deadened a bit by Vonnegut back in 1970. That Sebald, a German writer of note would die in an automobile accident in Norfolk, England in 2001 makes me suppose that Billy Pilgrim would have said, "and so it goes."

And yes that shattered Russian zone where the body of my Pentacon F was made was a quickly re-built Dresden.


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