Advertisement

Out of the Ruins of Dresden: Destructive Plasticity in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five

  • Giorgos Giannakopoulos
Chapter

Abstract

Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five, based on the author’s experience of the destruction of Dresden in 1945, is a postmodern literary work that follows a broken narrative line, striving to assemble fragments of past and present into a unifying whole. Beginning with the author’s assertion in the opening chapter that the novel “was written by a pillar of salt,” a biblical allusion to the destruction of Sodom, this essay explores the relevance of Catherine Malabou’s notion of destructive plasticity to the structural qualities of Vonnegut’s trauma narrative. In Malabou’s thought, plasticity bears negative connotations, referring to the destructive emergence of an other that takes the place of the self when the latter is encountered with a devastating accident, an overwhelming natural or political catastrophe. The author’s metamorphosis becomes a symptom of, and a telling metaphor for, the destructive effect of the traumatic event upon the psychic apparatus. Moreover, the novel’s distinctive fragmentation, suggesting the haunting image of a city in ruins, becomes a textual manifestation of the traumatized psyche. The destruction of the narrative line into the fragmented plot is viewed as a result of the violent breach caused by the impact of the traumatic scene upon the sense of historical and narrative continuity, coherence of form and stability of meaning. In Slaughterhouse-Five, the work of the author emerges as the shattering and rearrangement of the temporal continuum of the narrative and involves, to use one of Malabou’s formulations, “the plastic art of destruction.”

References

  1. Boon, Kevin Alexander. 2011. Temporal Cohesion and Disorientation in Slaughterhouse-Five: A Chronicle of Form Cuts and Transitional Devices in the Novel. In Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut: Critical Insights, ed. Leonard Mustazza, 36–63. Pasadena and Hackensack: Salem Press.Google Scholar
  2. Cacicedo, Alberto. 2009. “You Must Remember This”: Trauma and Memory in Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse-Five. In Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, ed. Harold Bloom, 125–138. New York: Infobase. Originally Published in Critique 46.4 (2005): 357–368.Google Scholar
  3. Freese, Peter. 2009. Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five or, How to Storify an Atrocity. In Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, ed. Harold Bloom, 17–32. New York: Infobase. Originally Published in 1994. Historiographic Metafiction in Modern American and Canadian Literature, ed. Bernd Engler and Kurt Müller, 209–222. Paderborn: Schoningh.Google Scholar
  4. Freud, Sigmund. 1959. Delusions and Dreams in Jensen’s Gradiva. In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 9, trans. and ed. James Strachey, 3–95. London: Hogarth Press.Google Scholar
  5. Gibbs, Alan. 2014. Contemporary American Trauma Narratives. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Jarvis, Christina. 2011. The Vietnamization of World War II in Slaughterhouse-Five and Gravity’s Rainbow. In Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut: Critical Insights, ed. Leonard Mustazza, 80–108. Pasadena and Hackensack: Salem Press. Originally Published in 2003. War, Literature, and the Arts 15 (1–2): 95–117.Google Scholar
  7. Kellogg, Catherine. 2015. Plasticity and the Cerebral Unconscious: New Wounds, New Violences, New Politics. In Plastic Materialities: Politics, Legality, and Metamorphosis in the work of Catherine Malabou, ed. Brenna Bhandar and Jonathan Goldberg-Hiller, 111–132. Durham and London: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Khanna, Ranjana. 2003. Dark Continents: Psychoanalysis and Colonialism. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Lundquist, James. 1977. Kurt Vonnegut. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing.Google Scholar
  10. Malabou, Catherine. 2012a. The New Wounded: From Neurosis to Brain Damage, trans. Steven Miller. New York: Fordham University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Malabou, Catherine. 2012b. Ontology of the Accident: An Essay on Destructive Plasticity, trans. Carolyn Shread. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
  12. Vees-Gulani, Susanne. 2003. Trauma and Guilt: Literature of Wartime Bombing in Germany. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Vonnegut, Kurt. 1971. Slaughterhouse-Five. New York: Dell.Google Scholar
  14. Vonnegut, Kurt. 1990. Hocus Pocus. New York: Putnam.Google Scholar
  15. Watkin, Christopher. 2016. French Philosophy Today: New Figures of the Human in Badiou, Meillassoux, Malabou, Serres and Latour. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Giorgos Giannakopoulos
    • 1
  1. 1.National and Kapodistrian University of AthensAthensGreece

Personalised recommendations