By Mark A. Heberle
A Trauma Artist examines how O'Brien's works variously rewrite his personal traumatization through the struggle in Vietnam as a endless fiction that ironically recovers own event via either recapturing and (re)disguising it. Mark Heberle considers O'Brien's profession as a author during the prisms of post-traumatic pressure disease, postmodernist metafiction, and post-World warfare II American political uncertainties and public violence.
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Extra info for A Trauma Artist: Tim O'Brien and the Fiction of Vietnam
It represents the author as a ﬂagwaving seventeen-year-old Marine volunteer from Perkasie, Pennsylvania, pursuing dreams of heroism in Viet Nam and ﬁnding only meaningless violence punctuated by the loss of comrades and the increasing callousness of himself and those who survived. Passing Time (1986) interweaves Ehrhart’s ﬁnal year in the Marines after returning from Viet Nam, his experiences as a student-veteran at Swarthmore College, his passionate involvement with Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and a period of aimless wandering and traveling after graduation, culminating in his service as a deckhand on an American oil tanker in 1974.
In contrast to the full resolution of Mason’s In Country, however, the trilogy presents gestures of closure that leave the trauma unresolved. Thus, Ehrhart’s public acknowledgments of guilt in having devastated Viet Nam represent moral enlightenment but give him no satisfaction. The guilt generates extensive reading by the student veteran and ultimately produces his own historical and political critique of American society and the institutions that allow the war to continue, killing Vietnamese and Americans for the beneﬁt of an ideology that he has come to reject.
Each was linked to an important political movement, and while ﬁn de siècle French anticlericalism and post–Great War paciﬁsm have passed away, the rights of women and children remain at the heart of contemporary feminism. Just as the related therapy is a revised and reformed version of the earlier work on hysteria, so shell shock therapy, initially intended to get soldiers back into the trenches as quickly as possible, has been more humanely ad- 10 FA B R I C AT I N G TR AU MA vanced in the wake of Vietnam, starting in 1970 when the psychiatrists Robert Jay Lifton and Chaim Shatan began working with antiwar veteran discussion groups.
A Trauma Artist: Tim O'Brien and the Fiction of Vietnam by Mark A. Heberle