Representing the Incomprehensible

The Postmodern Condition in "Dispatches" and "Falling Man"

  • Tia Byer


Criticism of Michael Herr’s Dispatches (2015) and Don DeLillo’s Falling Man (2007) can be divided into two mainstream interpretations. On the one hand, they are both marked as psychic trauma texts. Herr’s writing of Dispatches can be read as a therapeutic process that allows him to deal with his trauma experienced as a war correspondent during the Vietnam War. The intimate and domestic trauma in DeLillo’s Falling Man focuses on the disconnected lives of a couple and their child in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center. On the other hand, critics have aligned each text with the national trauma narrative. This article aligns itself with the latter interpretation. I propose, through a postmodern reading, that the national trauma narrated in both Dispatches and Falling Man is an example of Lyotard’s “incredulity toward metanarratives” (xxix). I argue that both texts represent the failure of the metanarrative of American Exceptionalism; the ideology that defines the essence of America as the embodiment of “supremacy” and “power”. Narrative fails in each text when the nature of each conflict deconstructs this metanarrative of national identity. This deconstruction arises from the way conflict appears to alienate Herr as author, and DeLillo’s characters from preconceived notions of knowledge. As a result of this, both authors explore the fictive nature of the human condition to present the national trauma caused by each conflict. 

How to Cite
Byer, Tia. 2021. “Representing the Incomprehensible”. FORUM: University of Edinburgh Postgraduate Journal of Culture & The Arts, no. 32 (October).