Public memorials have long been understood as serving a political and pedagogic function. However, while traditional memorials (including those using non-traditional forms) are designed for mourners left behind, public memorials are increasingly used to commemorate and lament loss or trauma, rather than death. Such memorials are often instigated by survivors in acts of what Gomez-Barris has termed acts of ‘witness citizenship’. In an Australian, post-colonial context, public memorials have brought stories of child abuse, rape, forced separation of families and loss of land, into the public realm, both physically and metaphorically. Rather than mourning death and acting as an expanded grave site, non-death memorials can be understood as testimony, in the sense explored by Rosanne Kennedy and Tikka Jan Wilson, as an address and appeal to community. This chapter draws on ongoing PhD research into memorials that commemorate non-death loss and trauma. Using case studies from the Australian context, I offer examples of the ways such memorials both make use of existing narrative testimony and themselves ‘bear witness’. These examples offer insights into the strategies survivors of trauma and human rights abuses use to claim the right to speak and to have their stories heard within the framework of dominant national and post-national identity narratives.
On February 1st this year, in an open letter published by the New York Times, Dylan Farrow testified that she had been abused as a child by her former adoptive father, Woody Allen. Philosophically-oriented commentators have tended to respond to the text as challenging Allen’s admirers to alter their aesthetic judgements: his works lack the aesthetic value we thought they had. Such responses, we claim, rest on mishearing Farrow’s voice. We are concerned to find it. What is Farrow saying about our possible attitudes toward Allen and his films? How is she saying it? We argue that Farrow distinguishes two questions: (Q1) ‘What is the correct aesthetic judgment concerning Woody Allen’s body of work?’, and (Q2) ‘What sort of speech acts ought to be produced concerning Woody Allen?’ Farrow employs distinctive strategies to raise and answer (Q2), not (Q1). Farrow claims to have been silenced by those who praise Allen; and we adapt and use recent ideas in analytic philosophy of language to understand how this silencing works in her particular case, including Leslie’s concerning generics and McGowan’s concerning conversational exercitives. In aid of this understanding, we offer a close analysis of Farrow’s testimony to a newspaper and celebrity readership, and suggest some ways in which narrative – like that which Farrow builds in her letter – can be ethically and politically significant in ways not often discussed.
Recent theoretical revaluations have expanded the role of testimony beyond its documentary and legal function and focus on the ethical aspect of survivor testimony. Testimony in its new avatar has been ontologically reconfigured and has become a useful category to understand the silences that structure traumatic events. In the ‘age of testimony’ and the ‘era of the witness’ there has been a growing emphasis on experiential knowledge and the witness has become a ‘key political figure of our time.’ By enlarging the notion of testimony beyond the first-hand knowledge of the witness, the notion of testifying has undergone a radical transformation. Testimony has become a model of crises of representation yet its very impossibility makes bearing witness a necessary ethical responsibility. While the new theoretical paradigm offers a useful frame of reference, the larger framework of trauma seems inadequate to address modes of political agency required to effect change and promote solidarity. This paper seeks to examine how testimonial narratives can be rearticulated as narratives of witnessing. The theoretical discourse of witnessing enables a more productive reading of this narrative form and a complex understanding of the subjectivity of women. Drawing on testimonial accounts of women, the paper argues that the process of bearing witness does not seek to establish the truth of the event, rather the performative enactment of witnessing creates “effects of truth” and transforms the narrative of victim to that of an agent. Witnessing allows the possibility to respond and address others that constitutes the women as responsible social actors. In the final analysis, the paper foregrounds an ethics based on witnessing by making it central to the formation of subjectivity.
Juan José Campanella’s The Secret in Their Eyes (2009) deals with the nature of historical representation and the role of the fictionalized witness to shed light on past national traumas. Campanella’s film combines elements of two genres within detective fiction: the whodunit and the thriller. The film gives the same weight to the story of the crime and to the story of the investigation. The protagonist, Benjamín Espósito (Ricardo Darín) plays two roles. He is the detective in charge of the inquiry into the murder of Liliana Colotto, a young teacher who is raped and murdered by her ex-boyfriend, Isidoro Gómez. Twenty-five years after Liliana’s homicide, Espósito also ‘bears witness’ as he provides the audience with a written account of her murder. Thanks to Espósito, the assassin is caught but he is never brought to justice. The audience as well as the characters within the film (Espósito, Irene Menéndez Hastings, his boss, and Ricardo Morales, the victim’s husband) find out about this miscarriage of justice when they watch the news on TV. Through a juxtaposing montage of authentic footage of a TV broadcast showing Martínez de Perón with images of Isidoro Gómez (a fictional character) playing the role of her bodyguard, Campanella manages to blur the line between reality and fiction. This scene marks a twist in the film as it becomes a political thriller and brings to the fore the political repression experienced in Argentina during the Dirty War (1976-1983). It also places the audience in a position to question the advantages and limitations of image as a testimony of Argentina’s traumatic past.
This chapter considers testimony situating film installation as an immersive form of ‘life writing genres’ through Steenbeckett (2002). Egoyan uses excerpts from his film of Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, in which a haunted sexagenarian reviews self-important reel-to-reel tape recordings he made in his prime, to reflect on the pain of hubris and memories of lost love. The viewer is immersed in Krapp’s reverie through a dense aesthetic layering of technologies in space. Two thousand feet of celluloid travels around the darkened gallery on a system of pulley suspended sprockets, propelled through the Steenbeck editing table, whose small screen also serves as our fittingly obscure and distanced window onto Krapp. In her theory of ‘the kiss’ within architectural space as it relates to film projection, Lavin sees a ‘coming together of two similar but not identical surfaces that soften, flex, and deform when in contact’. Caruth analyses this ‘coming together’ in filmic architectural encounters through the lens of bearing witness to history and memory. Pérez-Gómez sees the gallery as, in fact, ‘a theatre for memory’ capable of uncovering truths, while Agamben shows that the ways of seeing experienced in filmic installations are akin to the position of the witness. Alongside these developments, Grau advocates that this witnessing in moving image installations is by its very nature an immersive ‘thinking space’. Steenbeckett is such a ‘thinking space’. Its structural and compositional features channel and inform the body’s resonance with and immersion in its immediate surroundings. Consequently, I propose the reciprocal relationship between the bodily gesture, Egoyan’s installation art and the gallery is best described through the notion of ‘dialectical immersion’: a temporary embodied spatial encounter that can only be fully understood from within.
Historically relegated to the private sphere of Latin American society, women’s entrance into the public arena of politics took place primarily under the military-authoritarian governments during the second half of the twentieth century. In Madre de Mendoza the reader is presented with the life story of María Isabel Figueroa, an Argentine mother who began her activism after her daughter disappeared. At first María Isabel did not necessarily take her daughter’s militancy seriously but becomes involved in social activism because of her children’s own personal commitment, even though she did not necessarily accept their socio-political philosophy in its entirety. We will see how María Isabel’s social activism develops during the various stages of the Argentinean dirty war and how in being an active militant or guerrera in search of her missing daughter she becomes a ‘mother’ to many. This testimony works through not only personal and collective trauma but also acknowledges and vindicates the number of disappeared. Although she did not begin as a revolutionary, María Isabel, in the end, becomes a militant mother who not only searched for her disappeared daughter, but in the end, mothered many other revolutionary children.
Giving personal testimony has become an integral part of how Northern Ireland has attempted to deal with the aftermath and reconciliation attempted after the Troubles. This is a challenging process as Northern Ireland is a place where official and personal histories clash, where trauma invades memory and where all aspects surrounding the conflict are politically charged and often times traumatic. In recent memory, many of those impacted by the conflict in Northern Ireland have given testimony on their experiences during the Troubles. For a society such as this, testimony allows those who haven’t had their stories told or recognized, to finally have a chance to share their experiences, to have a voice. This chapter will explore the value and agency that individuals gain through the telling of their stories and will discuss the history of testimony projects in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Many victims of the conflict have waited so long to have their stories heard and recognized as truth, that the giving of testimony can be viewed as a cathartic experience for them. The collection and exhibition of testimony will also be discussed with regards to the museum sector in Northern Ireland. Utilizing museum theory, this chapter will relate the collection of this testimony to the ethics of display as well as the effectiveness of personal testimony in the exhibition space. Through the exploration of the newfound ‘moral agency’ of the museum, the potential of the museum space as a proper arena to collect and display personal testimony on the Troubles will be studied.
The aim of this chapter is to discuss the performative character of testimonial on the basis of a Polish theatre production Transfer! (2006) directed by Jan Klata. The production is based on memories of Polish and German citizens who were expulsed from their houses in the course of the resettlement programme enacted in the aftermath of the Second World War. The production’s cast combines actors with amateurs who are the remaining witnesses of the event. However, the performative power of the testimonial does not emerge from their words but it is an effect of the nexus of artistic strategies comprising storytelling, strong physical presence of witnesses onstage and particular scenographic structures. Thus, in the course of the performance, the credibility of the witness is built by means of non-intellectual elements instigating spectators’ engagement and affective reception. In order to reveal the socio-political implications of Klata’s production, the chapter utilises a theoretical framework combining the theory of witness from Paul Ricoeur’s Memory, History, Forgetting with elements of Erika Fischer-Lichte’s aesthetics of performativity. Consequently, the analysis reveals that each testimonial emerges at the intersection of three crucial factors: text, body and spectator. As for textual elements, German and Polish testimonials are scripted by means of different dramaturgical strategies. In consequence, the testimonials have significantly influenced the performances of the two groups of amateurs. The importance of the spectator manifests itself as Transfer! has been presented to a variety of audiences in Germany, Poland and Russia provoking dramatically different reactions. Therefore, the chapter demonstrates that each configuration of the three elements changes the status of the testimonial itself as well as its social importance.
On 19 February 2013, an Taoiseach Enda Kenny apologised on behalf of the Irish government and citizens to the victims and survivors of Magdalene Laundries for ‘the hurt that was done to them, and for any stigma they suffered as a result of the time they spent in a Magdalene Laundry’. This apology marked the advent of a new era in Ireland as, unlike previous governments who had denied responsibility, Enda Kenny fully acknowledged the role of the State in the maintenance of institutions that actively abused women’s rights. This speech also addressed a topic that has preoccupied authors, journalists, and filmmakers for the past twenty years: the culpability of the State, society, and individuals in the formation of a national identity that prized the heteropatriarchal family unit and implemented Catholic Church teachings on sexual morality in ways which were particularly oppressive for women. The foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922 led to close co-operation between the Irish government and the Catholic Church. This collaboration was so great that the Archbishop of Dublin directly influenced the writing of Article 41, that concerning the family, in the 1937 Constitution of Ireland. This section conferred onto women a status that reduced them to mere symbols of the nation and limited their roles to that of wife and mother. As a result, marriage became the only acceptable medium for female sexuality, with any deviation classed as abhorrent and shameful, and perpetrators ostracised and hidden away from society. Through an examination of the testimonies of the female protagonists of Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture and Anne Enright’s The Gathering, my chapter will seek to investigate how the most basic unit of Irish society, the family, facilitated the pervasive misogyny that enabled what James Smith terms ‘Ireland’s architecture of containment’. It also seeks to examine the importance of such testimonies in propelling society to admit culpability for the abuse of women on a national scale, and illuminating the path to recovery from the traumas of the past.