By Mark A. Heberle
A Trauma Artist examines how O'Brien's works variously rewrite his personal traumatization in the course of the warfare in Vietnam as a unending fiction that ironically recovers own adventure through either recapturing and (re)disguising it. Mark Heberle considers O'Brien's occupation as a author during the prisms of post-traumatic tension ailment, 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
That detachment is not limited to women, Vietnam-era civilians, or Americans who grew up after the war. , together with those who rejected or protested it from afar, such as Bill Clinton. All of us have the idle privilege of either considering or ignoring what Tal (1991) has labeled “Other People’s Trauma” (246) as well as the Vietnam experience more generally. For the combat trauma survivor who becomes a writer, however, the experience cannot be forgotten nor can it be as satisfactorily resolved in ﬁction as it has been for Mason and her readers.
The memoirs of W. D. Ehrhart, a Vietnam Marine combat veteran, provide an instructive contrast to works that deal with Other People’s Trauma. 2 W. D. Ehrhart is one of the ﬁnest of American Vietnam War poets, the editor of several collections of others’ war poems, an important Vietnam War essayist, and the author of four Vietnam memoirs. Between February 1967 and February 1968 he served as a Marine in the war and saw action in some of its heaviest battles. In his introduction to Unaccustomed Mercy: Soldier Poets of the Vietnam War (1989), Ehrhart noted that “Vietnam has been a permanent fact of my life, a chronic condition, a shadow companion as welcome as a tattoo with an ex-girlfriend’s name on it” (1), a statement that suggests how the trauma of Vietnam continued to afﬂict this former combatant many years after leaving Viet Nam.
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. American history is seen as a series of power plays and atrocities against indigenous peoples, whether Native Americans or Vietnamese, and 22 FA B R I C AT I N G TR AU MA Nixon’s fall is seen not as a vindication of the constitutional system but as an abrogation of the punishment that he justly deserved.