Contemporary American Trauma Narratives
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This book looks at the way writers present the effects of trauma in their work. It explores narrative devices, such as 'metafiction', as well as events in contemporary America, including 9/11, the Iraq War, and reactions to the Bush administration. Contemporary American authors who are discussed in depth include Carol Shields, Toni Morrison, Tim O'Brien, Mark Danielewski, Art Spiegelman, Jonathan Safran Foer, Anthony Swofford, Evan Wright, Paul Auster, Philip Roth, and Michael Chabon. Contemporary American Trauma Narratives offers a timely and dissenting intervention into debates about American writers' depiction of trauma and its after-effects.
developed according to a ‘checklist of symptoms’ which made it ‘easy for both doctor and patient to read, introduction 39 [since] there were also standardised packages of diagnostic questionnaires and psychometric devices’ (Shephard 385). And just as with clinical practice, so in the cultural domain this has arguably led to a vicious circle, whereby dominant theoretical staples inspire works of fiction which are in turn taken to prove trauma theory’s validity. Examples of this critical
spontaneous and pluralistic response she witnessed from wandering the city’s streets in the days following the attacks. Here, she encountered various events and objects to mark the catastrophe: ‘on the streets something fluid, personal, and varied was taking place’ (15). This significantly points to the dangers of collective trauma as lying predominantly in its monolithic assumption of metanarrative status; in the pluralistic sense encountered by Kaplan it is more complex and almost impossible to
Significantly, the passage concludes with a measure of defeat: ‘[b]ut after many years you discover that you cannot dismantle the wreck, so you move it around and bury it’ (247). Burying and repressing are conventional, if self-destructive, responses to trauma, but even these prove difficult for the perpetrator-sufferer to achieve. ANTHONY SWOFFORD’S Jarhead AND JOEL TURNIPSEED’S Baghdad Express A sizeable part of the trauma that both Swofford and Turnipseed represent themselves in their memoirs
goes to war, and afterward he turns the rifle in at the armory and he believes he’s finished with the rifle. But no matter what else he might do with his hands – love a woman, build a house, change his son’s diaper – his hands remember the rifle and the power the rifle proffered’ (123). A number of important formal and thematic ideas emerge here. Swofford relates this using a third-person voice, universalising the episode to depict soldiers or men in general, and thus distancing himself from the
suffused with dust and sand’ (172). Appropriately, given its symbolic status as a quagmire in which the US became increasingly trapped, the sand metaphor continues on into narratives of the Iraq War. Williams, like Swofford, is threatened both by its ubiquity and its somatically invasive qualities, describing a ‘world of sand and grit, thick enough some days to stick between the teeth and cloud the air to hazy white’ (69), before encountering a ferocious sandstorm, during which ‘it was in your