20718648 | Kurt Vonnegut | American Literature

The Novels of Kurt Vonnegut: Imagining Being an American by Donald E.

Morse Review by: Christian Moraru Utopian Studies, Vol. 15, No. 1 (2004), pp. 139-141 Published by: Penn State University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20718648 . Accessed: 29/02/2012 11:27
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skeptical. career. His book is by and large a (xiv) and historicizing. solid scholarship grounded in fine close readings of individual texts and life. tradition. liked some information overall I found the readability tobe excel lent.I would recommend thisbook. Donald E." ideologies.. abstrac free-floating Like others." announces far as literary representation not. there is no "zero degree" a clean slate. speeches.To his credit. rather than theorizing discussion of Vonnegut's novels. But then at least Vonnegut texts. Besides Klinkowitz.authorof a Reader's Guide toKurt Vonnegut. especially and Mark Twain. Some backed up by thorough research on the author's well-known interviews. In spite of the shortfalls. Emerson. ined this experience in direct and indirect intertextual dialogue with a prestigious imagined and re-imag . albeit not particularly tight.his implicit to his readers: historicize (not "always. in the Preface. Given the stated aim of thebook in the Introduction. and not so E.is interestingly jarring. on the value of reading Vonnegut's novels.While McGrath finds a tra not every dition from Feuerbach through Freud. publications. Cannon Hall-Patton Museum Nevada Aviation reader.His approach has been ratherinductive. started with relation to American experience.Reed andMorse himself. in the margins of his abusive. Morse. think McGrath has hithismark. thepostmodernVonnegut has not. For half a century. Thoreau."The emphasis of this study.Book Reviews 139 are only shown in the section discussing the Non-religious western traditions views of Ludwig Feuerbach.Marx and Sigmund Freud. Mark Howard W." Morse and distinc between goes on. $64. While I might have thatis not there. writer himself has dwelt upon "theories. their have culturally and historically speaking.and unchecked deductions. scientificparadigms. 2003. "falls . if not anti-theoretical. incredulous could catch-all formulas. thougha deceptively short one. Morse responds to thecall ofVonnegut's work with an inductive method. are among thenames thatcome tomind first. and their distinguishingfeaturesas fiction. "to draw parallels tive affinities with Vonnegut's work and that of other American authors. Westport. the and similar matters. as the case may be). Ralph Waldo Emerson. Klinkowitz leading the scholarly pack now as thirty prominentcritics like Jerome years ago (a new Vonnegut monograph by Klinkowitz is forthcomingfromU of South Carolina P). For the casual agreed with these views. this is a fine Henderson."But. and it bears critics have bitten the bullet and theorized pointing out that this approach his stance toward need not be necessarily be called. After advice on tions. Peter J. though. theend of thesectiononly notes that one song "Imagine" as part of theFeuerbach tradition. or the undergraduate class. arguably. Vonnegut has been unflinchingly theside of thehuman exception. and could he has "I have attempted. Indeed. The critical sur fairlychronologically structured Morse vey has a focus. The Novels ofKurt Vonnegut: Imagining Being an American. Henry David Thoreau. xxi + 203 pp. McGrath has written a dense work. all. TheNovels of Kurt Vonnegut bears theusual marks of thecriticismon the subject: honest. well-known and so forth..and thepresentationaccessible. Donald Morse's book proves one more time thatthe is with Vonnegut industry in full swing.95 (cloth). The section's final reference to John Lennon and his I introduction. CT: Praeger." just adequately. as of "American experience" goes.

"Novel writing doesn't ivory walls bears out Morse's thesis." his not unlike His Twain. the theone hand. Vonnegut never quite abandons his criticismofAmerican society and culture. The constant focus onWorld War II. regarding who we are or want registers a ence of evil inhistory. His view ofAmericanness is. thencopingwith thefifties. the Vietnam episode.140 UTOPIAN STUDIES andWalt Whitman in thenineteenthcenturyattemptedto imagine a new American literature and culture free from the influence and constraintsof Europe?one that would sound its 'barbaricyawp over therooftopsof the world. novelistic has novels?with lar?and sort of "shift in attitude and tone" (23) between pre-5laughterhouse-Five (1969) Cat's and Mother the most popu Cradle. Further. on Bomb. dystopian ratherthanUtopianvision holds sway throughout. deconstructing etc. is this identity pay for our questionable victories. publicly relevantundertakingis afoot inVonnegut's work. Breakfast of Champi for technologi vividly our penchant our self-congratulatory by zeroing more tales to expose their the underbellies. To be sure. a project that. theCold War. dubious politics. seem tobe challenging thispresencemore forcefully The latter optimisticnote. changed. speaks to a central collective anxiety: the anxietyof self-repre sentation. if not fighting in. progress. social inequities. at even ifwe decisions?is ons. The think. stable.which lays emphasis on "human kinship and love" (23).the question. and so on. achievement" (xiv). backdrop partial. the on most representative writers of our time. simply put. raise questions to be.to the critic expansion.more significantly still.black humoresque. Deadeye cal.ecology. Player Piano.?are these discoveries.criticistinnature. the dilemma of collective identity. an identity all? But then.' Vonnegut imagining being an American in the second half of the twentieth centurydoes so against the of their ifconsiderable. Still. problems.one more time. In other. insists.outside its fic major. are still the decisions?the making our advantage? the progress?to and other novels document Dick. And also like Twain. which pays intertextual homage toTwain?and to a whole traditionthatgoes back to Montesquieu andVoltaire?uncovers thedehumanizingpotential of computeriza tion (33) and asks.What happens to us when who and what we are is no longer decided by humans?Would we still boast an agency.but it would apply. of what it means tobe anAmerican in the second half of the American century. Campbell's? How American was he when hewas passing himselfoff?so successfully?as a Nazi sympathizer(and vice . the satiric. nuclear. "profoundly work consistentlyhad shock value ever sincePlayer Piano (1952). theuntold and unspeakable tradeoffs. I whole book because it rendersjustice toVonnegut's entireoeuvre. the pres in on particular agents of suffering and destruction on a somehow to rock the boat of our and question comfort deepest beliefs. Vonnegut's popularity in the academy and.their corporate ambiguities. Morse shows that main issues. As Morse one observes. the contemporary novelist "remains. Readers of all categories have sensed that a disturbedby thevalues of thesociety in which he findshimself (19).deployed negatively by limningextreme situations and gloomy possibilities. technology. public life and institutions. Cat's Cradle. World War II. the critic sentative American writer of the latter half of the twentieth century"(1) for thegen eration of readers living through theDepression.has graduallymade him one of the maintains in the Introductionthat"Vonnegutmay well be the repre fact. witnessing. rather pessimistically. among Night the later novels. Player Piano. or ecological self-annihilation. one! What about Howard W. The former tend to accept. thenscience. technological breed serenity": this is theepigraph to Morse's second chapter. and Vonnegut has identifiedearly on in his career the historical crises whose literarytreatment are likely to yield thebest answers. Vonnegut sets out able answers Vonnegut is intent upon "disturbing" readers. pricewe un Mother Night asks. tional as it may be.

Dick and its relationshipto postmodernism. and dystopian projections to "disturb"us. In each chapter. in Martian Time Slip. level. This stimulating book studies the fictionof Philip K. between the isolated individual and the social or transcen dominate or infiltrate dental entities that Dick's fictive worlds. Especially thoughtful examples of this approach include his analyses of theNazis. 2003. our under and formal issues" (viii) and "to broaden sympathetic description of Dick as "a humorous. empathetic and paranoid. and perhaps becoming. affectionate and cynical. Utopian. standingof Dick's fiction and our age" (ix). as Vonnegut invitesus to ask ourselves in thepost-evolutionary (devolutionary?)fableGalapagos and elsewhere. and.Book Reviews 141 versa) (53-58)? Or. as a metaphor for "the nullityof capitalism" (158). a differentspecies. IfDick's fictiveworlds often?to borrow from the book title? involve terror.Palmer clearly continues the tradition Marxist Dick criti of cism thatPeter Fitting initiated in 1975 in his groundbreaking"Ubik: theDecon of struction Bourgeois SF. Liverpool: Liverpool UniversityPress. this is hardly thepoint. It also describes the scope and purpose of the (viii). In this context it examines various tensions in Dick's work? notably those between novelistic realism and Dick's impulse towards fantasyand narrative whimsicality. of the imagery of accelerated time. above all.alongwith an apt and and undecided" pontificating to focus on "historical book gloomy. of Through a Scanner Darkly as a portrayalof "a narrowingdown and strip in ping away of personal identity postmodern society" (177).and thesecond. excessive. Greensboro Universityof Christopher Palmer. unquenchable writer. he is also rightto respond. thefirsta generally thematic works in group of threechapters. restless." Within this social and political context. Palmer also perceptively examines the various narrative sub Exhilaration and Terror is divided into twoparts. exaggerating. betweenDick's human istand ethical impulses and theposthumanistconditions in his novels thatinevitably threaten them. Christian Moraru North Carolina. and social conditions of his era. in TheMan in the High Castle.The point does not lie in theverisi militude of the mock-Darwinian metamorphoses involvedbut in theforce of a criti cal vision thatuses biological metaphors and other sci-fi.economic. ix + 239 pp. arewe not betteroffby identifying ourselves with. Philip K.Christopher Palmer draws parallels between various aspects ofDick's vision and sensibilityand thecul tural. ?18. The Preface presents these issues clearly and gracefully.But. and of thevarious tran scendent powers thatpermeateDick's SF as images of our dominant postmodern cultureof consumption. Dick: Exhilaration and Terror of the Postmodern.95. between thepolitical of and the theological implications Dick's SF.at an aesthetic and metafictive versions and struggles with closure thatare perhaps thedistinctivecharacteristicof Dick's fiction. as agents of the irrationalviolence of twentieth-century history. nine chapters thatfocus on specific . narrative trickery his with themis perhaps the truest expression of his aesthetic exhilaration.Morse has done a fine job of casting lighton thisdefiningaspect ofVonnegut's work. "posthuman"?Morse remindsus thatsome criticshave found the Galapagos scheme implausible. topunctureour uncriticalpipedreams.

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