Corporeal territories : the body in American narratives of the Vietnam War
Focusing upon American veterans' depictions of the US intervention in Vietnam and its aftermath, this thesis argues that bodies and issues concerning embodiment form the epicentre of these representations. Chapter One uses narratives by Ron Kovic, John Ketwig, Philip Caputo and others to illustrate that military training is a transformative process wherein the recruit's body serves both as index of, and vehicle for, his metamorphosis into a soldier. As these authors suggest, training inculcates a utilitarian attitude towards embodiment: the soldier's body is, primarily, a disciplined body whose value- and masculinity- resides in 'its' power to inflict injury upon the 'enemy'. As Chapter Two demonstrates, however, such machine-bodies (and the conceptualisation of embodiment which engendered them) were 'out of place' in-country. Veterans like W.O. Ehrhart, Nathaniel Tripp, Robert Mason, and Tim O'Brien portray the Vietnam environment as inherently threatening to the US soldier's corporeal integrity. Viet Cong and NVA strategies also disempowered the American soldier, challenging his faith in the innate superiority of the machine-body. Confronting injury further undermined the soldier's sense of corporeal invulnerability. Chapter Three considers the wounding, and treatment, of American casualties of Vietnam, arguing that narratives by Caputo, Kovic, and (ex-Navy surgeon) John Parrish 'recover' aspects of injury excluded from officially-sanctioned discourse. Chapter Four extends this scrutiny of wounding, exploring its interpretation both in-country and 'back home', and highlighting Kovic's depiction of injury and its consequences in Born on the Fourth of July (1976). Chapter Five demonstrates that encounters with irreparable corporeal damage are imbued with a sense of crisis: such wounding simultaneously demands and resists representation. Texts by O'Brien, Kovic and others are considered as 'trauma narratives' here, and a connection is made between writing-as-retrieval, and the potential of narrativisation to promote psychical recuperation, both for veterans themselves and also, perhaps, for US society generally.