by Kurt Vonnegut
Slaughterhouse-Five Literature and Writing Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Section.Paragraph)
As a trafficker in climaxes and thrills and characterization and wonderful dialogue and suspense and confrontations, I had outlined the Dresden story many times. The best outline I ever made, or anyway, the prettiest one, was on the back of a roll of wallpaper [...] The destruction of Dresden was represented by a vertical band of orange cross-hatching, and all the lines that were still alive passed through it, came out the other side. (1.4.2-3)
The narrator talks about writing 5,000 pages of his Dresden novel before actually getting to Slaughterhouse-Five. What makes the event so hard for him to write about? He describes the normal things that go into a novel—"climaxes and thrills and characterization and wonderful dialogue and suspense and confrontations"—none of which Slaughterhouse-Five actually has. Why might a book filled with these things be precisely not what the narrator wants to write when tackling the topic of war?
And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like "Poo-tee-weet?" (1.15.2)
The only sound left after a massacre is birdsong, so birds have the last word. Is this why the narrator also claims that his novel on Dresden must, inevitably, be a failure—because, in the end, there can simply be no words for such an event? Do you agree?
My other book was Erika Ostrovsky's Céline and his Vision. Céline was a brave French soldier in the First World War—until his skull was cracked. After that he couldn't sleep, and there were noises in his head. He became a doctor, and he treated poor people in the daytime, and he wrote grotesque novels all night. No art is possible without a dance with death, he wrote. (1.20.1)
We have been talking about the "dance with death" as something soldiers must do. They have to come to terms with the fact that they may die at any time, without warning. Still, the narrator specifically quotes Céline as saying that "no art is possible without a dance with death." Where do we see this dance with death in Slaughterhouse-Five?