3.2. Studying Capitalism, Reality, Language Game and Power in “Souvenir”
3.2.1 Synopsis
3.2.2 Commentary
3.3. Studying Language Game, Power, Capitalism and Alienation in “The Cruise
of the Jolly Roger”
3.3.1 Synopsis
3.3.2 Commentary
3.4. Studying Capitalism, Disciplinary Power, Language Game and Reality in
3.4.1 Synopsis
3.4.2 Commentary
Chapter 4: Grand Narratives
4.1. Studying Grand Narrative, Capitalism and Social Class in “The Package”
4.1.1 Synopsis
4.1.2 Commentary
4.2. Studying Grand Narrative, Capitalism and Performativity in “Poor Little Rich
4.2.1. Synopsis
4.2.2. Commentary
4.3. Studying Grand Narrative, Capitalism and Commodity in “Custom-Made
4.3.1. Synopsis
4.3.2. Commentary
Chapter 5: Conclusion
5.1. Summary
5.2. Findings
5.3. Suggestions for Further Research
Works Cited
Chapter One
1.1. General Background

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Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1922-2007) is renowned as a prominent American novelist and essayist. Vonnegut was one of the celebrated writers of post-World War ΙΙ in American literature. He defined himself as an atheist, agnostic and freethinker. The significant characteristic of his writing career is that for the most part in his works he combined satiric social observation and black comedy; also, he utilized surrealist and imaginary elements.
Several of his novels included science fiction themes. Actually, Vonnegut made use of the elements of science fiction and metafiction to direct the reader’s attention to the more serious issues associated with ethics and politics. His simple writing style is deceptive since it misleads the reader from perceiving the tense and unspeakable agony of the individual’s life in the twentieth century.
As a postmodern writer, in his writing Vonnegut employs some specific features; that is, the disorder in the narrative events and disruption of time or mixing past, present and future, blending of different genres, drawing the pictures, symbols or designs in the text, vicious circles and paranoia. In his works the limerick, humorous and jokes are entangled to narrate the serious facts that are really happened in Vonnegut’s lifetime.
The crucial event in Vonnegut’s life which had a profound influence on him and consequently on his writing career could be the firebombing of Dresden, Germany, by Allied armies in 1945, a horrifying happening he witnessed personally as a young captive of war. His understanding in Dresden laid the grounds for his greatest novel Slaughterhouse-Five published in 1969 as an obvious attack on the terrors of war in Vietnam, racial turmoil and cultural and social cataclysm.
Accordingly, there is linkage between Vonnegut’s life and works. War, genocide, environmental determinism, atomic bomb and technological advancement were all engendered in the postmodern epoch. He disapproved the technological science and the political economy. Common themes in Vonnegut’s works consist of the dehumanization resulted by the improvement of technology, Sexuality, fierceness, hopelessness, bewilderment, alienation, insecurity and depression.
Vonnegut was a humanist. He maintained that in the postmodern era the human being is a hapless, lonely, bewildered and desperate victim; he is robbed of his identity and integrity to transform to a totally dependent social subject. In an alien world organized by machines, the individual tries to cope with the forces beyond his control. In his novels Vonnegut compassionately praised the characters who refuse to surrender to despair and defeat.
Vonnegut’s remarkable works are Player Piano (1952), Sirens of Titan (1959), Cat’s Cradle (1963), Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), and Breakfast of Champions (1973). Galápagos (1985), Bluebeard (1987), Hocus Pocus (1990) and Timequake (1997). On the Whole, Vonnegut is the author of 14 novels and nearly 50 short stories, in addition to plentiful essays, autobiographical pieces, and plays. A number of his works have been transformed into television or film-as an adaptations- and he caused distinction to some of these with cameo role appearances.
This research is going to concentrate on seven short stories written by Vonnegut in the collection, Bagombo Snuff Box. The researcher chose to work on “Thanasphere”, “The Package”, “Poor Little Rich Town”, “Souvenir”, “The Cruise of the Jolly Roger”, “Custom-Made Bride”, and “2BR02B”. In these short stories the postmodern world after the Second World War- is depicted. The concepts which impact on the constitution and formation of the social subject in the postmodern philosophy of Jean-François Lyotard (1925-98) will be discussed by the researcher.
From the above-mentioned fictions, “Thanasphere” and “2BR02B” narrate the circumstances in advanced societies regulated by the technological knowledge. “Souvenir” and “The Cruise of Jolly Roger” deal with the events of World War ΙΙ straightforwardly. “The Package”, “Poor Little Rich Town” and “Custom-Made Bride” depict the social milieu in the American capitalist system. What inspired the researcher to undertake this study is that the entire short stories illustrate the helpless individuals entangled in the coercive environment caused by global capitalism.
In “Thanasphere”, Vonnegut shatters the borderline between the living and dead. He questions the legitimacy of the scientific knowledge since in the capitalist system this form of knowledge is deemed as ubiquitous and infallible; however, in the story some unexpected events take place that cannot be subsumed within the scientific knowledge. It happens that an astronaut as a player deviates the rules of the dominant language game as he communicates with the ghosts of the dead.
The researcher focuses on the reaction of the characters toward this so called illegitimate move of the astronaut; that the people in authority easily condemn him to be inefficient; therefore, they call him idiot and ignore him. Also, the nature of reality or truth in the postmodern world is going to be analyzed by the researcher since in this story the heads of power hide the new discovery and publicize a make-believe reality in order to maintain their legitimacy.
“2BR02B” narrates the far future where there is a boom in the science of medicine. The population of earth has increased enormously because the technology of health care has improved considerably; so that the dangers threatening physical health and soundness have been eradicated entirely. Government exerts strict control on the population. It even encourages people to die voluntarily and make room for others. Likewise, the nature of power in the postmodern period will be analyzed. The individuals in the story challenge a disciplinary kind of power system which invades the very personal territories of the citizens. It advocates suicide and self-sacrificing as a value practiced by the efficient social subject.
“Souvenir” narrates the bewilderment of language games in the wartime and how by the shift of power the dominant language game of German Nazi loses its legitimacy; hence, the individual experiences the contradicting situation in which the proficiency as a value fluctuates constantly. Duo to the improvement of technology, the production of the military machines brings about mass destruction and annihilation of the human being. The soldiers are the defenseless victims of the absurd war. Vonnegut pinpoints to the irrationality of the war when in the story on the day that the war ended still the soldiers were killed by the military vehicles.
“The Cruise of the Jolly Roger” also deals with the post-war circumstances. In this fiction the researcher foregrounds the disparity between the two dissimilar language games practiced in the army and in the public. It portrays the life of a retired army officer who leaves the army where he reckoned as his home; accordingly, the veteran faces the unknown civilian world where he was far from for many years. Encountering the new civil society, he experiences a deep feeling of estrangement and detachment.

The protagonist desperately identifies himself as an inefficient civilian among others whose language game he is strange to. In many places of this short story, Vonnegut implies the sense of alienation experienced by many veterans of the Second World War. Once being a veteran of the same war, he became familiar with the suffering; consequently, he could vividly narrate the situation of the soldiers who survived the war and came back home as an outsider who had difficulty conforming to the new setting.
The story in “The Package” revolves around the wealthy and extravagant life style of the Americans. After the Second World War America succeeded in achieving the global economic dominance thanks to the technological advancement; therefore, the American society experienced the higher standards of living. It transformed to a rich and consumer society. The amalgamation of the social strata and the mixture of high culture and low culture advocated by the postmodernists facilitated the process.
“The Package” portrays one day in life of a nouveau-rich couple whom tries to fix themselves to their social class. They try to emulate the language game of the affluent class but they cannot perform efficiently; for that reason, they get upset. Vonnegut in this short story indicates the absurd economic-based life in the capitalist society according to which the value of the individual is estimated by the objects and materials that he possesses.
“The Poor Little Rich Town” narrates the traditional life style in a village which is disturbed when the perverted technological progress comes in. Apparently, in this story Vonnegut indirectly alludes to the post-industrial capitalism that swept the world after the Second World War. The global economy subjected the other countries in the world to its homogenizing policy. Likewise, the story contrasts the pre-modern (primitive) and modern culture.
Lyotard and other postmodernist philosophers condemned modernity and lauded the premodern or primitive communities. The researcher studies how in “The Poor Little Rich Town” the arrival of progress degrades the former social bond and the individuals nearly lose their custom and background owning to the fact that they are regarded as no longer legitimated. The new system harms the social relations, warmth and friendship as well; instead, it engenders animosity and distance.
“Custom-Made Bride” deals with the objectification of the human being in the economic-based system of capitalism. The researcher studies one of the grand narratives legitimated by the capitalist system; that is fashion. In the system of production the social subject is personalized to follow the fashion. In such society the individual must be up-to-date; as a consequence, he consumes more and more product.
The story narrates the life of a genius and artist who represents postmodern aesthetic taste. He designs his wife according to the latest fashion but he pays no attention to her feelings and opinions. The woman at last protests to her subjection in view of the fact that her identity is lost; she is degraded to function as a pleasure commodity. The events in the story stand for the condition of the social subject in the capitalist system that is personalized to serve the interests of the market-driven economy.
1.2. The Argument
In this research-in order to apply the postmodern theory- the researcher selected short stories that depict the world condition in the closing days and after the Second World War. The two World Wars had a lasting effect on the understanding of human being of himself and the world in which he lives. The events of war; that is, the massacre of the millions, devastation, loss of family members and homelessness caused great depression and desolation among the war survivors.
In addition to what was mentioned above, the conventional perceiving of the natural world overturned and the understanding of humanity went through adjustment with the current circumstances. The ideas and beliefs, that people had faith in, were shattered. The human being no longer considered himself as the center of the world or the noble creature; on the contrary, he was reduced to be a bewildered and dependent subject who was easily manipulated in the hand of the owners of capital.
In the postmodern period the social position of the individual is defined by a series of language games in which he joins as a member. In order to be a member of a legitimated community the social subject must conform to the dominant moods of norms and values which are legitimated by the system of production. This way the political economy organizes and regulates the life of the individuals (Lyotard, Postmodern).
The seven selected short stories represent the postmodern world from different perspectives. Some depict the individual in the bewilderment caused by war. The values promoted by previous language games fell out of circulation at the end of the war or there was no role in the community of the civilian subjects to be played by the soldiers involved for the years in the war.
Other short stories narrate the postwar world in which the society formed on the social policy of the global market. After the humiliation engendered by war, the social subject declined to be a site for the intersection of the language games; if he was not able to play the game efficiently, he is left unnoticed and marginalized in the public.
All in all, in the selected fictions, the social subjects’ interactions in the economic system will be evaluated in accordance to postmodern theory formulated by Lyotard.
1.2.1 Research Questions
1. How the nature and identity of the postmodern social subject in the theory of Lyotard is illustrated in the short stories? And what place does the social subject occupy in the intricate social pragmatic of Lyotard?
2. On what ground do Lyotard and other postmodern theorists condemn the homogenization and universalization processes legitimated by the global capitalist system? How the methods of homogenization are exemplified in the short stories?
3. According to the characterization in the stories, why is the postmodern social subject constituted to know himself in interaction with others in the society? What criteria distinguish an efficient (conformist) social subject from a non-conformist one?
4. Going through the stories, by which procedures capitalist power relations establish their legitimacy and constitute the social bond? What apparatuses the system produces to implement the normative behavior, standards and dominant moods of representation in the social body?
1.3. Literature Review
For tracing the formation and constitution of the social subject according to the postmodern theory, the researcher makes use of the following valuable books. Lyotard’s best book to begin with is The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1984); because, it is the most debated text among Lyotard’s book and the most helpful for the researcher. Several key concepts like power, language game, scientific knowledge, metanarrative, performativity and legitimation that will be discussed in the research are introduced in this book. The significance of the book lies in the fact that it assesses the state and quality of technological knowledge legitimated by the advanced western societies in the postmodern era.
Other valuable books of Lyotard are The Inhuman: Reflections on Time (1991) and Political Writings (1993). The Inhuman: Reflections on Time consists of significant essays. They cover a considerable scope of subjects that some of them would be useful for the researcher. Political Writings (1993) -the most advantageous book for the researcher- edited by Bill Readings and Kevin Geiman is an assortment of beneficial essays. In these essays Lyotard discuss political issues, media and intellectual. In the last chapter of book, Lyotard scrutinizes the political situation in Algeria when he was a member of Socialism ou Barbarie.
The researcher has studied various further books written or edited by other authors and critics about the philosophy of Lyotard. Judging Lyotard (1992) edited by Andrew Benjamin is a medley of beneficial compilation of essays related to The Postmodern Condition by American and British writers. In order to gain a comprehensive knowledge of the postmodern, the researcher proceeds with The Cambridge Companion to Postmodernism (2004) edited by Steven Conner. This book is an introduction to postmodernism as a critical movement; besides, the book elucidates the relevance and impact of the postmodern theory to cultural studies, sociology, human sciences, literature and art.
To launch the research, the researcher selected seven short stories from the collection of Bagombo Snuff Box (1990) written by Kurt Vonnegut. This book is comprised of 23 magazine short stories accompanied by an introduction written by Vonnegut. For the first time the stories were published in Collier, Saturday Evening Post and Cosmopolitan magazines during the years 1950 to 1963. Some of them were revised from their magazine publication to include in the collection. Generally, the seven preferred short stories narrate the American social milieu after the Second World War.
The researcher likewise studies the works written on Kurt Vonnegut and his style of writing. Critical Companion to Kurt Vonnegut (2008) by Susan Farrell begins with explaining Vonnegut’s writing career; then, the writer introduces Vonnegut’s works briefly in alphabetical order and adds a short commentary. Another book, Kurt Vonnegut (2004) by John Tomedi explains in full details Vonnegut’s life and career. The writer comments on Vonnegut’s works and shed a light on their background and motives.
Some articles would be included among the resources to enhance the researcher’s knowledge on the topic. On capitalism, “Capitalism and Its Regulation: A Dialogue on Business and Ethics” (2005) written by Martin Parker and Gordon Pearson and “The Direction of Contemporary Capitalism and the Practical Relevance of Theory” (1997) by Andrew Chitty clarify the roots of capitalism and the way it regulates the social communication.
Also, “Individual Agency, the Ordinary, and Postmodern Life” (1995) by Jaber F. Gubrium and James A. Holstein discusses the construction of the individual’s agency in the postmodern era. “Jean-François Lyotard” (1984) by Jean-François Lyotard and Georges Van Den Abbeele is a worthwhile interview with Lyotard in which he comments on his books; also, “Rephrasing the Political with Kant and Lyotard: From Aesthetic to Political Judgments” (1984) by David Carroll explicates the functioning of Lyotard’s political philosophy and applies it on the current social-political practices in the contemporary society.
John R. May in “Vonnegut’s humor and the Limits of Hope” (1972) studies Vonnegut’s style of writing. May asserts that Vonnegut is introduced as a “black humorist”; in order to assess the validity of this label, he divides Vonnegut’s famous novels in two triads. In each group May investigates the judgment of Vonnegut on human being and society as well as the possibility of change in the condition of the individuals.
Another article, “The Vonnegut Cosmos” (1982) by Loree Rackstraw studies Vonnegut’s common theme; that is, the harsh reality of life and the failure of the traditional institutions in Western civilization. Rackstraw provides some examples from Vonnegut’s works; after that, he explains how in his novels Vonnegut faces the disgusting reality and the loss of humanism in contemporary American culture.
The researcher looked for the theses and dissertations in ProQuest which study about Kurt Vonnegut and his works. “Historical Uncertainty and Moral Ambiguity in Postwar America: An Examination of Selected Black Humor Novels of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.” (2000) by Jeffrey Matthew Foster from University of Rhode Island is dissertation that studies how Kurt Vonnegut exemplifies the American black humorist and the contention that Vonnegut is not a satirist. Also, the researcher developed a critically useful-definition of black humor.
“The Concept of Dignity in the Early Science Fiction Novels of Kurt Vonnegut” (2003) by Scott Allen Dye from University of North Texas is a thesis. It surveys the early novels of Kurt Vonnegut that depict the societies and characters that have become callous and downtrodden. As a matter of fact, Vonnegut suggests that the human condition may little by little worsen. To him the key to happiness is dignity and the individual should found this key within himself.
Another dissertation entitled as “The World According to Kurt Vonnegut: Moral Paradox and Narrative Form” (1995) by Bo Johan Otto Pettersson from Abo Akademi examines all of Vonnegut works to date specially his novels. The researcher claims that Vonnegut’s literary career as a whole displays many naturalistic features and the deterministic view of mankind.
Merlin Snider from University of Southern California in his dissertation named “Morals and Irreligion: Kurt Vonnegut as Social Ethicist” (1988) maintains that the work of Vonnegut is investigated for its contribution to religious and moral values. The ethical involvement of Vonnegut lies not primarily in suggesting special moral precepts, but in exploring the cultural and religious foundations by which we understand ourselves as moral beings, thereby revealing the taken for granted values, paradigms, and myths of the culture. The researcher concludes that Vonnegut contributes to the positive moral worth of human being above ideological abstraction.
1.4. Thesis Outline

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