Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

“Spastic in Time”

Time and Disability in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2018), 12, (4), 391–405.

Abstract

The article demonstrates how the insights of literary critical disability studies can help to refocus our reading of Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, away from a diagnosis of the disability of its main character and toward an understanding of the ways in which the work disables normative assumptions about the social body and its functions. The novel’s “schizophrenic” temporal structure is not reflective of the temporality of mental illness, as a diagnostic reading would have it, but rather exposes the ways in which normative time and temporality have been complicit in diagnosing and disenfranchising disabled people. Vonnegut’s disabling of the entire temporal structure of Slaughterhouse-Five draws attention to ways in which different paces, rhythms, and tempos can be accommodated in narrative; yet, criticism has persisted in meeting this narrative accommodation with clinical distrust and ironic detachment. Reading Billy Pilgrim as diagnosable with a clinically recognizable disease and forcing the text to reveal a true nature underneath the illusions and delusions of both character and author is a way of disavowing Vonnegut’s most radical claim: that health, truth, and even reality itself are sociological constructs.

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Loeb, Monica. Vonnegut’s Duty-Dance with Death: Theme and Structure in Slaughterhouse-Five. Umeå: Umeå univ.-bib., 1979. Print. Vonnegut’s Duty-Dance with Death: Theme and Structure in Google Scholar

Martino, J. A. “Billy Pilgrim’s Motion Sickness: Chronesthesia and Duration in Slaughterhouse-Five.” Philament 16 (2010): 4–20. Print. Billy Pilgrim’s Motion Sickness: Chronesthesia and Duration in Slaughterhouse-Five. Philament 16 4 20 Google Scholar

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Mettler, Meghan Warner. “‘If I Could Drive You Out of Your Mind’: Anti-Rationalism and the Celebration of Madness in 1960s Counterculture.” Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies 9.2 (2015): 171–87. Print. If I Could Drive You Out of Your Mind’: Anti-Rationalism and the Celebration of Madness in 1960s Counterculture. Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies 9.2 171 87 Google Scholar

Sieber, Sharon Lynn. “Time, Transformation, and the Reading Process in Vonnegut.” Critical Insights: Kurt Vonnegut. Ed. Robert T. Tally Jr. Hackensack: Salem, 2013. 228–47. Print. Time, Transformation, and the Reading Process in Vonnegut. Critical Insights: Kurt Vonnegut 228 47 Google Scholar

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Tally, Jr, Robert T. Kurt Vonnegut and the American Novel: A Postmodern Iconography. London: Continuum, 2011. Print. Kurt Vonnegut and the American Novel: A Postmodern Iconography Google Scholar

Vees-Gulani, Susanne. “Diagnosing Billy Pilgrim: A Psychiatric Approach to Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 44.2 (2003): 175–84. Print. Diagnosing Billy Pilgrim: A Psychiatric Approach to Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 44.2 175 84 Google Scholar

Vonnegut, Kurt. Galápagos. New York: Dell, 1985. Print. Galápagos Google Scholar

Vonnegut, Kurt. Jailbird. New York: Delacorte, 1979. Print. Jailbird Google Scholar

Vonnegut, Kurt. Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage. New York: Dell, 1981. Print. Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage Google Scholar

Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five. New York: Dial Press, 2009. Print. Slaughterhouse-Five Google Scholar

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Author details

Barrows, Adam