Unstuck in Time

This is the way designed by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. to tell the adventures of Billy Pilgrim, main character in ‘Slaughterhouse 5’ novel  (1969) who suffers from intermittent blips of consciousness during which his mind is traveling randomly across his whole life span from birth to death, experiencing or re-enacting in full sensibility different events which frame the narrative of his existence.
This is an interesting way to get freed from the linear or classical approach of time experience in literature, it arises from the avant-garde movement of the “streams of consciousness” from early 20th century (Virginia Woolfe, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Hermann Broch…), at the exception that Vonnegut introduces here a fantasy component which is not only the ability to project or travel into one’s own past, like in a flash-back, just much more vividly experienced, but also in a flash-forward by projecting the character into his own future.
And here comes the originality of this design because flashing oneself into the future could be just a matter of imagining that future, as we do in our everyday lives, but no, it is one’s own future for real. In other words the character gets the ability to see his entire lifespan “through the fourth dimension” whose life therefore gets completely determined “in advance”.
No freedom, no free will, destiny like in old textbooks is written ‘from the eternity’. This is the flaw with this method, once you start playing with the idea you finish in utter despair.
I remember a long ago having read an extraordinary short story from Norman Spinrad, “The Weed of Time” (1970) just based around this concept. Now I wonder whether Spinrad imagined the concept alone or had just read Kurt Vonnegut’s novel published one year earlier?
The problem with both Spinrad or Vonnegut is that they need to postulate a deus ex machina to make the effect happen (a drug or aliens) while a literary challenge would be just to put the reader into feeling or deducting himself, without such easy explanations, what is happening to the narrative flow. This requires mastery of narrative, style, perspective and “editing” (like in cinema) of a greater scale. This is why sometimes Science Fiction looks so childish to me despite its high qualities in terms of content, insight and open-mindedness. Nevertheless, as Vonnegut says…
So it goes.


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