Date of Award

2011

Degree Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English and Theatre

First Advisor

Deborah Core

Department Affiliation

English and Theatre

Abstract

This research uses trauma theory, memoir theory, narratology, and recent scientific research into the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) to explore developments in the memoir coming from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Specifically, the author examines the works of Shoshana Johnson, Colby Buzzell, and Anthony Shaffer to uncover the ways in which identity, reality and truth present themselves in the destabilized narratives of traumatized subjects.

Travis Martin is himself a veteran of the Iraq War, using his first-hand knowledge as a compass to guide him through intricate memoirs written by his contemporaries. Beginning with a creative preface which details one night during his own combat experience, Martin reveals how dealing with the lingering effects of combat led him to research the words of others to better understand himself. In this journey, Martin examined how the ability to remember and record experience in memoir is limited by the human brain's ability to perceive combat. Martin concludes that war memoirs are necessarily fictional and that all memory is suspect.

Theorists like Cathy Caruth, Paul John Eakin, and Jonathon Shay work to bring the contemporary war authors examined in this essay into the canonical debate commonly centered on established, twentieth-century authors like Tim O'Brien, Paul Fussell, Wilfred Owen, and Robert Graves. Shoshana Johnson's I'm Still Standing explains how the self created during war cannot always be reconciled with the normal, peacetime selves which merge to create the summation of experience Martin refers to as "identity." Research into the work of Anthony Shaffer explores the reality which necessitates wartime self. In Operation Dark Heart Shaffer's wartime reality is so unlike its peacetime counterpart that peacetime rhetoric fails to fully explain anything true about it. Still Martin asserts that "significance" can emerge from an exploration of opposites in meaning between the peacetime and wartime realities. This significance, Martin claims, can be examined to reveal simple, yet proverbial "scraps of truth" (O'Brien) needed to understand our own means of existence. Finally, Martin turns the lens upon the peacetime audience, using Colby Buzzell's "blook," or blog turned into a book, to make explicit the full effects of media saturation upon the storyteller and societal expectations upon the warrior. Martin examines the things missing--emotion, polish and retrospection--in Buzzell's My War to show how trauma theory demands we reexamine the war writing of all generations.

Finally, Martin concludes with an epilogue about how this research has translated itself for the classroom. As a traumatized veteran who sought the words of traumatized authors for solace, Martin finds that bibliotherapy is crucial to the success of a new generation of veterans going from combat to the classroom. Martin draws upon pedagogical theory to define, defend, and encourage the use of optional life-writing in the case of student veterans. The end product of this study is one that combines the personal and the scholarly, the creative and the practical, and the self with a country in desperate need of understanding the wars fought in its name.

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