Date of Graduation

12-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Graduate School

Advisor

Mohja Kahf

Committee Member

Luis Fernando Restrepo

Second Committee Member

Constance Bailey

Keywords

Iraq War, Nationalism, The Other, Trauma, Trauma Hero, Veterans, War Literature

Abstract

War is so omnipresent in our contemporary world that the story of war is too important to be left to fiction writers to frame and give meaning for. This dissertation provides an analysis of two dominant patterns in contemporary Iraqi and American prose fictional representations of the Iraq War: the individualistic trauma hero narrative and the nationalistic, collective narrative. I argue that the trauma hero myth that dominates American representations of the Iraq War psychologizes and de-politicizes war experience alienating the victim of trauma by decontextualizing their experience and negating the Other. On the other hand, the sweeping nationalistic narrative in Iraqi war writing overstates the political dimension of the war experience of Iraqis, representing them as collectivities under war, which negates their individual experiences as mere trajectories for the collective trauma of the nation. These two narrative patterns epistemologically disserve readers by mystifying war and framing war experience according to different ideological agenda. Examining the Iraqi and American literary traditions of war writing before and after 2003, the dissertation contextualizes the development of these patterns exposing their discursive limitations. Reading Iraqi and American narratives of the Iraq War against each other provides a comparative understanding of the war experience from opposite sides. In addition to reading the texts as narratives and counternarratives of certain ideological constructions of the war story, I examine texts that exemplify these patterns and others that oppose and undermine them creatively. I read selected novels and short story collections that represent civilian and military people’s perspectives on the war. I find similar tropes, stereotypes and some genuine intercultural connections in the texts and the cultures they come from. The study highlights how this literature can help veterans and non-military individuals navigate their war traumas and restore their sense of identity and meaning to their lives. However, I stress the critical drawback of indulging in cultures that perpetuate trauma and alienate individuals to serve the existing power structures. Studying the literature of the Iraq War comparatively is necessary for a cross-cultural understanding of the human experience of war and for a productive cultural conversation to emerge.

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