Evidence of Absence: Wounded Masculinity and the Problem of Representation in the Literature and Film of the Iraq War
Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
Operation Iraqi Freedom, the protracted conflict that lasted from March 2003 to December 2011, presents novel challenges for writers and filmmakers attempting to represent one of the first major American wars of the 21st century. My thesis examines varied attempts to represent OIF, specifically as a means of constructing an American masculine subject in the new millennium. Through a reading of the key cultural productions of the war, I demonstrate that this attempt to recuperate masculinity confronts writers and filmmakers with representational gaps and ideological contradictions. The writers discussed in this essay propose and critique a sense of manhood precariously balanced between moral integrity and masculine resolve. My first chapter addresses the narrative of the trauma hero, which endeavors to represent masculinity through wounding and healing. These narratives, however, fail to conceal the rift between passivity and violent action. My second chapter examines the figure of Sergeant William James in Kathryn Bigelow’s film The Hurt Locker. James’ masculinity attempts to fuse these poles of activity and passivity, creating an incoherence that brings the wound to the level of narrative, forcing circularity and compulsive repetition. My final chapter looks at Ben Fountain’s novel Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk. My reading of the novel reveals that the wound that appears on a psychological level in the trauma hero and on a narrative level in The Hurt Locker is at its core a representational wound, one that emanates from the preemptive structure of the war as a whole. Fountain’s novel shows that the pleasure of consuming masculine representation is actually the pleasure of representational mediation itself, which both revels in and conceals the nature of its visual frame.
Biel, Jacob, "Evidence of Absence: Wounded Masculinity and the Problem of Representation in the Literature and Film of the Iraq War" (2017). Honors Theses. 213.
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