Document Type


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Humanities. Volume 4, Issue 3, Pages 369-392.

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Dominant theorizations of cultural trauma often appeal to the twinned notions of “recognition” and “solidarity”, suggesting that by inviting readers to recognize distant suffering, trauma narratives enable forms of cross-cultural solidarity to emerge. This paper explores and critiques that argument with reference to postcolonial literature. It surveys four areas of postcolonial trauma, examining works that narrate traumatic experiences of the colonized, colonizers, perpetrators and proletarians. It explores how novelists locate traumatic affects in the body, and suggests that Frantz Fanon’s model of racial trauma in Black Skin, White Masks and The Wretched of the Earth remains essential for the interpretation of postcolonial texts, including those to which it is not usually applied. The analysis further reveals tensions between different texts’ appeals for recognition, and suggests that these tensions problematize the claim that solidarity will emerge from sympathetic engagement with trauma victims. As such, the paper makes three key arguments: first, that trauma offers a productive ground for comparing postcolonial fiction; second, that comparison uncovers problems for theorists attempting to “decolonize” trauma studies; and third, that trauma theory needs to be supplemented with systemic material analyses of particular contexts if it is not to obfuscate what makes postcolonial traumas distinct.


postcolonial literature, trauma studies, Frantz Fanon, settler colonialism, African literature, migrant literature, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, recognition, solidarity




© 2015 Hamish Dalley

This is the final published version of the article, made available under the CC-BY 4.0 license.



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