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 unending fiction that ironically recovers own event through either recapturing and (re)disguising it. Mark Heberle considers O'Brien's occupation as a author during the prisms of post-traumatic tension sickness, postmodernist metafiction, and post-World struggle II American political uncertainties and public violence.
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Extra resources for A Trauma Artist: Tim O'Brien and the Fiction of Vietnam
Like the author himself in “The Vietnam in Me,” for example, one or more characters in each of the novels except Going After Cacciato becomes suicidal after falling into despair and grief. Norman Bowker in “Speaking of Courage” (The Things They Carried ) ﬁnally does kill himself, and John Wade self-destructively vanishes. But O’Brien’s psychically disturbed characters are not limited to survivors of combat in Viet Nam. In Northern Lights, his ﬁrst novel, Harvey Perry has been physically and spiritually wounded in Viet Nam, but his brother Paul, who neither went to the war nor has any interest in it, is the novel’s central character.
S. Man” (267). Like the author himself in Combat Zone and “The Vietnam in Me,” O’Brien’s protagonists are embarrassed witnesses to the last half of the “American Century,” traumatized by what they have gone through as observers of its violence or as willing or unwilling participants. Even as the war has receded into history from 1973 to the millennium and has increasingly become part of his characters’ past lives, the extent of traumatization has increased from book to book, as if both remembrance and amnesia were psychically dangerous.
Beyond the writerliness of the texts, moreover, O’Brien’s ﬁction is deliberately marked with the very repression, amnesia, and displacement that characterize traumatization and that make a full and clear account so 16 FA B R I C AT I N G TR AU MA difﬁcult to assemble. In trauma therapy, recovery of the primary experiences precedes and makes possible recovery of the damaged self and thus psychological reintegration. O’Brien’s narratives mimic such therapeutic revelations of the truth, but each book refabricates the trauma of its predecessors as well as anything that may have happened to or been observed by the author himself.