Listen. Desmond Hume has come unstuck in time.
The phrase “unstuck in time” is the how Kurt Vonnegut described Billy Pilgrim’s condition in his classic antiwar novel Slaughterhouse-Five.
In Slaughterhouse-Five, Billy Pilgrim a young American GI serving on the German front in World War II, is taken prisoner by the Nazis. He spends most of the war living and working in a slaughterhouse (numbered 5) in Dresden where he becomes a firsthand witness to the Allied bombing in 1945, an event Vonnegut considered to be unnecessary to say the least.
But that’s not the whole story. Slaughterhouse-Five follows Billy’s life through his postwar years and even to the planet Tralfamador where he is taken to live in a zoo and breed with porn star Montana Wildhack. It’s a weird book, but brilliant too.
The events that take place in that slaughterhouse in Dresden are largely autobiographical. The parts of the story involving the Tralfamadorians… not so much.
Slaughterhouse-Five tackles many of the fate vs. free will themes with which Lost wrestles, all the while suggesting a universe is which all things are always happening simultaneously, thus allowing someone’s consciousness to ping-pong about in time, remembering the future and experiencing death, but not necessarily as the last moment of life.
The connection to Lost is made in “The Constant”, one of Lost‘s best episodes, when Farraday explains Desmond’s condition as being “unstuck in time.” Like Billy Pilgrim, Desmond’s body does not travel through time, only his consciousness does with the apparent result that he is able to remember pieces of the future.
I’ve said for some time that Lost is a show about time travel, and in the case of Desmond’s time travel (which is different from what Ben appears to do in the Season 4 finale) Slaughterhouse-Five provides a way of understanding what is happening to Desmond, as well as being a reminder that in the world of Lost, as in that of Billy Pilgrim, you (probably) can’t fight destiny.
More than anything, though, I suspect it is a nod from the writers of Lost to Vonnegut who had mined ground similar to Lost years before.
Check out my other Lost book posts at The Lost Book Club.