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‘A thing may happen and be a total lie’: artifice and trauma in Tim O’Brien’s magical realist life writing

Version 2 2024-06-04, 11:52
Version 1 2017-07-30, 10:12
journal contribution
posted on 2024-06-04, 11:52 authored by J Langdon
Depicting patently fantastic episodes alongside the traumatic events of the Vietnam War, Tim O’Brien’s autobiographical magical-realist writing problematises pictures of the past and challenges conventional generic distinctions. Despite the often impossible and outrageous occurrences that punctuate his otherwise realistic narratives, and indeed the pointed and provocative revisions and contradictions of his self-reflexive texts themselves, O’Brien insists on his work’s authenticity. In line with critics such as Eugene L. Arva, O’Brien contends that his writing is true to the ‘felt’ experience of trauma—which trauma theorists largely characterise according to intensity, non-linearity and confusion. Nonetheless, rather than being pure outpourings of trauma, his works are clearly—and self-consciously—literary artefacts that often resonate with popular culture narratives. Undertaking case studies of the autobiographically informed magical realist novel Going After Cacciato and the short-story collection The Things They Carried, a text that suggestively functions as both fiction and autobiography, this article attends to the paradoxes of fantasy-filled ‘life writing’, revealing a convergence between magical realism and testimony when it comes to the representation of trauma.

History

Journal

Life writing

Volume

14

Pagination

341-355

Location

Abingdon, Eng.

ISSN

1448-4528

eISSN

1751-2964

Language

eng

Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2017, Informa UK

Issue

3

Publisher

Taylor & Francis