Academic journal article ARIEL

Postcolonial Trauma in David Bergen's the Time in Between

Academic journal article ARIEL

Postcolonial Trauma in David Bergen's the Time in Between

Article excerpt

Abstract: Studies of postcolonial trauma investigate Cathy Caruth's contention that traumatic psychopathology, by virtue of its universality, can bridge cultural difference. David Bergen's The Time in Between tests this theory in relation to the Vietnam War. Bergen's novel recognizes trauma as an effective, though limited, vehicle of cultural reconciliation that ultimately needs to be supplemented by further discursive resistance. Although the novel's treatment of trauma resists Orientalist representations of Vietnam, forms of parallelism point to tacit cultural fissures, which are countered through narrative self-reflexivity and the frustration of what Edward Said terms the "exteriority of representation."

Keywords: trauma; postcolonialism; Vietnam War; Canadian literature; David Bergen

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In her study of postcolonial trauma, Victoria Burrows investigates and often contests Cathy Caruth's contention that traumatic psychopathology, by virtue of its universality, can both bridge cultural difference and challenge culturally determined hierarchies of power. Burrows addresses Caruth's assertion that "psychoanalysis, psychiatry, sociology, and even literature are beginning to hear each other anew in the study of trauma ... [by] listening through the radical disruption and gaps of traumatic experience" ("Introduction," American 2), contending "such a statement manifestly ignores power structures" (163). For Burrows, the negotiation between trauma and postcolonial politics is difficult:

   Amalgamating trauma theory and postcolonialism is not, therefore,
   just about individual traumatic experiences not being assimilated
   at the time of the occurrence. The synthesis is complicated by
   cultural imbalances that are bound by issues of psychic and
   material domination inherent in ethnocentrism and the invisible
   power structures of whiteness. (164)

In effect, Burrows' skepticism encourages us to question Caruth's later assertion that trauma "may provide the very link between cultures" ("Trauma" 11). This essay tests the capacity of trauma as a mental wound (1) to negotiate cultural difference and equalize power hierarchies within a specific colonial context, namely the Vietnam War, particularly as it is depicted in David Bergen's 2005 Giller Prize-winning novel The Time in Between. (2) Various critics, such as Kali Tal, Robert Jay Lifton, and Judith Herman, have located Vietnam literature within discourses of trauma; indeed, the Vietnam War is intrinsic to the development of trauma theory in the late twentieth century (Herman 27). (3) However, as Renny Christopher argues, the debilitating power dynamics inherent in colonial relationships were also an element of the Vietnam War. This intersection between trauma and colonial relationships in the Vietnam War is also apparent in The Time in Between, and therefore, an analysis of the novel offers a useful forum of investigation that ascertains the degree to which trauma can erode cultural differences between victims. In other words, this essay engages in the kind of postcolonial study of trauma Burrows describes but does so by examining how The Time in Between represents trauma as able--or unable--to bridge cultural difference between sufferers, most particularly those who have internalized an ideological apparatus that is informed by colonial relationships and power structures. (4)

In its treatment of postcolonial trauma in Vietnam, Bergen's The Time in Between represents trauma as an effective, though limited, vehicle of cultural reconciliation that ultimately needs to be supplemented and potentially qualified by various forms of discursive resistance. On the one hand, rather than solely interpreting trauma as a deadly effect of the conflict between the United States and Vietnam, Bergen's work gives credence to Caruth's suggestion that trauma "may provide the ... link between cultures," at least to some degree (11). …

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