Publication Date



The figure of a wounded body has been part of the cultural iconography of psychoanalysis since Freud defined trauma as the infringement of psyche's protective membrane that incites a neurotic response and represses memory of the injurious event. Recent feminist and postcolonial critiques of cultural trauma theory have problematised this ‘wound-centrism’ insofar as it has privileged an individuated, event-like and time-framed conceptions of violence, and has neglected systemic, incremental, continuous and quotidian experiences of violence. This article contributes to these critiques by analysing Hanya Yanagihara's 2013 novel The People in the Trees, which narrates an anthropological expedition to a fictitious Micronesian island and sets in motion aggressive colonisation of its populations. Yanagihara's postcolonial trauma novel offers a critical perspective onto the idiom of wounding not by denying its importance for some subjective experiences of violence, but by situating it in relation to other figurations of trauma. I argue that central to this narrative is the idea of traumatic appropriation, understood not only in line with social critiques of colonial and racial regimes of accumulation and dispossession, but also as an expression of epistemic violence that assigns personhood status solely to property owners and endows colonised populations with characteristics of things and commodities.


Institute for Social Justice

Document Type

Journal Article

Access Rights

ERA Access

Access may be restricted.