By Vonnegut, Kurt; Davis, Todd F.; Vonnegut, Kurt
Explores the ethical and philosophical underpinnings of Vonnegut’s work.
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Extra info for Kurt Vonnegut's crusade, or, How a postmodern harlequin preached a new kind of humanism
Many critics of postmodernity’s consumer culture—building upon the work of Theodor Adorno, who argued that industrial societies, such as our own, undermine critical thought among the population in an effort to further the national economic machinery—claim that postmodernism is conservative in nature, reifying the productions of power that exploit and oppress by transforming that which is marginal into consumer goods; what at first appears to be the positive recognition of local cultures and the assertion that their knowledge is valid, quickly disappears into subtle marketing strategies, well-wrought cogs in the wheel of late capitalism.
It is humanity’s desire for assurance that Vonnegut points to as the cause for grand narratives, but his understanding does not soften his scathing attacks. Long before Derrida and the theoretical project of deconstruction reached its peak in English departments in American universities, Vonnegut subverted the structures of his culture, as he showed the absence of any real center behind the truth espoused in worker manuals and newspapers, in the speeches of CEOs and ministers. Player Piano is set against the industrial environment of the near future, one that closely resembles Vonnegut’s own experience in the corporate world from 1947 to 1950 at General Electric in Schenectady, New York.
More to the point, as some critics of postmodernism have challenged, can there be a system of morality, an ethics, if there is no center or essence on which to base it? Such questions—often asked by critics of postmodernism and avoided by its advocates—expose the perplexing dilemma of postmodernity: if, as Zygmunt Bauman argues, “there are no longer any rules or norms to guide inquiry, no overall validity, no universal, unequivocal basis for truth or taste” (197), then how can one make decisions about daily living, an activity that will inevitably include moral conundrums?