Matter That Complains So
: Posthumanist Themes in the Novels of Kurt Vonnegut

  • Andrew Hicks

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Matter That Complains So: Posthumanist Themes in the Novels of Kurt Vonnegut re-examines the prevailing critical consensus that Kurt Vonnegut was a humanist writer. While more difficult elements of his work – in particular, his emphasis on determinism – have often been the subject of scholarly attention, the tendency amongst critics writing on Vonnegut is to disavow them, or to subsume them within a liberal humanist framework. It is often argued that these subjects are depicted by Vonnegut in order to implicitly critique them, and humanist values such as human autonomy and uniqueness are thus preserved.

This thesis contends that Vonnegut’s deterministic perspective and philosophical pessimism should be taken seriously, and that the significance and complexity of his work can only be fully understood by doing so. Specifically, when Vonnegut’s work is read from a posthumanist perspective, the productive paradoxes of his work are more fully realised. Drawing on New Materialist, Eco-Critical and Systems Theory methodologies, this thesis highlights the quintessentially posthumanist themes in six of Vonnegut’s most famous novels, and emphasises the ways in which Vonnegut troubles human/non-human, natural/artificial, and material/discursive hierarchical binaries.

Vonnegut was by no means an uncomplicated humanist, but he was nevertheless a committed humanitarian. This thesis argues that incorporating these posthuman elements into our understanding of Vonnegut’s work helps to extend his message of compassion rather than restrict it, widening the sphere of responsibility and solidarity beyond the solipsistic figure of the human and into new, speculative realms of interest and concern. The Vonnegut that emerges when viewed from the posthumanist perspective is at once strange and familiar, more sophisticated and more complete – retaining the unique power of his work, while extending its purview beyond the human sphere, to the world yet unconsidered.
Date of Award19 Mar 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorTheophilus Savvas (Supervisor) & Ulrika Maude (Supervisor)


  • Vonnegut
  • Posthumanism

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