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

  • Giorgos Giannakopoulos


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.”


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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

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

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