By Mark A. Heberle
A Trauma Artist examines how O'Brien's works variously rewrite his personal traumatization throughout the warfare in Vietnam as a endless fiction that sarcastically recovers own event by way of either recapturing and (re)disguising it. Mark Heberle considers O'Brien's profession as a author during the prisms of post-traumatic rigidity illness, 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
Too loud, too quiet. Too alive, too dead. . An hour in the Chinese market district . . is like an hour in combat” (57). The alternation of the two interwoven chronologies of Viet Nam and Cambridge is itself carefully fabricated to reﬂect traumatization. The resulting fragments parody the linear narrative suggested by the chronological headings; they formally enact a series of ﬂashbacks from a present state of grief over the loss of Kate to the devastating visit to Vietnam when they were still together.
The Vietnam in Me” alternates an account of O’Brien’s return to Viet Nam in February 1994, accompanied by his companion Kate Phillips, with his reﬂections later that summer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, concerning the subsequent breakup of their relationship. The magazine’s cover reproduces a 1969 photograph of a shirtless and helmetless O’Brien in Quang Ngai Province, Viet Nam, where he was serving as a combat soldier in a battalion of the Americal Division. Filling the entire page, the image fashions O’Brien as the archetypal grunt, the American soldier in Viet Nam, but it also authenticates the writer as an experienced combatant: This is not simply any Vietnam veteran but, for the magazine’s readers, the most well-known and admired novelist of the war.
This paradoxical combination of the abnormal and the universal obviously makes trauma a powerfully dramatic subject for representation and suggests one reason for O’Brien’s resonance with his readers. “Usual human experience” can become something alien for those who have gone through extensive distress, of course. Anyone who survived Auschwitz or the obliteration of Hiroshima became part of a radically devastated community separated from the expectations and experiences of normal human society.
A Trauma Artist: Tim O'Brien and the Fiction of Vietnam by Mark A. Heberle