Was Kurt Vonnegut schizophrenic?

I’ve dealt with quite a few people on the disordered thought spectrum. Most of them aren’t as witty as Kurt, but some of them do use a similar way of thinking, flitting from toppic to topic, circumferential and tangential thoughts, etc.

And there is one area in Breakfast of Champions where Kurt says that the word schizophrenia always reminded him of sneezing in a blizzard of snow flakes and that “Word of honour, I am better now”. It sort of implies that he had, at least, brief psychotic disorder, manic-deperession or (most likely) schizoaffective disorder. Is this actually documented anywhere? Is this what makes Vonnegut brilliant?

Probably had some form of post-traumatic-stress disorder from the Dresdan fire-bombing incident. FTR, I’ve only read his “Slaughterhouse Five”.

I know he checked himself into a psychiatric facility for a while at one point, but I don’t remember the details.

If I were guessing, I’d say schizoaffective disorder.

Dr. J

Haven’t read enough bio to tell, but he did ghostwrite one of my favorite books “Venus on the Half Shell” by Kilgore Trout.

No, he didn’t. That was (excuse the mangled spelling) Phillip Jose Farmer. Still one of my favorite books, though.

He certainly had cause to be depressed, but I doubt whether he was psychotic. His mother committed suicide on Mother’s Day in 1942. He was a POW. His sister died of cancer shortly after her husband was killed in a train crash.

Note that he sketched a geometric-patterned graphic which he titled “Prozac.”

Perhaps he was bipolar. They say that such persons are quite imaginative and creative.

Mark Vonnegut, Kurt’s son wrote a book about his experiences with schizophrenia The Eden Express


it’s a worthwhile read although my copy seems to have disappeared in a black hole.

If Mark did suffer from schizophrenia, perhaps his father does as well, since it is familial. However, note that Mark now describes himself as not being schizophrenic, but bipolar, which, I don’t believe, is hereditary. From that link, it does not appear that Mark is so afflicted now, which would indicate that bipolar was the correct diagnosis.

On occasion, I have been heard to comment that I do everything the voices in my head tell me to do. It’s a small jest. The schizophrenic patients I have cared for aren’t exactally what I would call creative or brilliant. I will call Kurt Vonnegut creative and brilliant. Perhaps he does have auditory or visual hallucinations, but I wouldn’t think a writer as proliferate as he could concentrate on his craft if he were gravely mentally ill. Maybe just a teeny bit mentally ill? What? Stop posting? What? Why can’t you leave me alone! You never let me have fun! What?

Ah, a question of sanity. Mental illness doesn’t always fit smoothly in a category, especially since our knowledge of the mind and how it works has been increasing. Schizophrenia is a very complex problem that shares symptoms with many other types of mental problems. For example, the symptoms of withdraw and mood swings also go with bi-polar and some cases of multiple personality disorder.

From what I know of Kurt Vonnegut, I would put my money on Post Tramatic Stress Disorder, also known as “Shell Shock.” This disorder causes people to “slip” from the current time into painful memories that seem to be really happening all over again. This can be frightening to experience, and equally scarry for others to see. These episodes could easily be mistaken for hallucinations.

While there may be a possible gentic componet to this disorder, it is mainly caused by environmental factors. Living with someone with this disorder, or having a close family member with it can be very stressful. This could have been what caused Kurt’s son to need help as well.

It reminds me of a possibly apocryphal anecdote about James Joyce. Joyce couldn’t commit to the fact that his daughter was schizophrenic, seeing in her thought patterns what he had tried to do with his novels. You know, that weird connectedness of meaning.

A friend remarked to him, “You are swimming, she is drowning.”

So if Kurt was schizophrenic, of which it would have to be a very mild form, he would definitely be considered “swimming”.

I’m sure there’s a Great Debate in here somehow about the relation between creativity and mental illness.

Vonnegut recently wrote his memoirs, which detailed his longterm battle with chronic depression. He described some parts of his life as a continual battle against the urge to commit suicide.

There’s an awful lot of past tense verbs about this thread.

Did I miss something in the news lately, or do we think he had it and was cured?
[sub]Hey Mofo, nice sig![/sub]

I was also wondering if he was dead, but I checked on a Usenet group about his books and on alt.obituaries and he seems to be alive and well.

He certainly could have had schizophrenia and be cured – the disease often presents in the early 20s and improves with age. Psychosis is the main feature, but this has several “causes” including depression, manic-depression and full blown schizophrenia depending on the number and severity of episodes.

This topic is a little scary. When I read Breakfast of Champions in college (I’ve read it many times since), I identified with it immediately - although I never thought the parking lot was a trampoline or any of that. What I glommed onto immediately was the scattered, tangential expression. I think the James Joyce reference above is very relevant - it implies that “mental health” isn’t boolean - you either have it or you don’t - it’s more a continuum which is more crowded near one end. I think this is true of sexual orientation as well, but I’ll save that for a GD thread.

Lawoot’s right - Although it’s been long known that Vonnegut didn’t write Venus on the Half-Shell, I’m always amazed at how widely-held that belief continues to be. I was at an informal gathering at which he was fielding questions a few years ago. Many people had brought copies of VOTHS for him to sign. So, I asked him to speak to the crowd about the relationship between himself and Philip Jose Farmer and how VOTHS came about. Vonnegut has never met Farmer in person, and has never read the book (though he “understand(s) it’s pretty good”). Sometime after KV set his literary characters free at the end of BoC, Farmer contacted KV to see if he could publish a pulp novel under the name Kilgore Trout. KV liked the idea of having various trashy novels springing up all over under Trout’s name, and agreed to it. However, when VOTHS turned out to be a cult classic (IMHO), Farmer wanted it to be made into a movie. KV wouldn’t let him go that far, since Trout was ultimately KV’s creation. Farmer got mad and that was the end of it.