Over the last decades, there has been a growing interest in the role of testimony and related phenomena and, in particular, an increasing attention to the phenomenology of the experience of testimony, its distinctive structure and significance. This interest is attested by the growing number of various phenomenological studies closely investigating the experience of testimony. Some of these studies approach this topic in response to the atrocities of the 20th century, which pushed the experience of war-related testimony to the limits of the unrepresentable. Other approaches either focus on the “irreplaceable singularity of the testimony” or, on the contrary, are concerned with the role that testimony in general, understood as a structure of transition between memory and history, can play in the construction of historical facts. A number of phenomenologists approach the experience of testimony in light of the issues of the self and the ability to be oneself. In this context, testimony is understood as a mode of inner truth and attestation of oneself. The significance of testimony has also been investigated from a theological perspective; and, in particular, has been conceived of as a saturated phenomenon or as having a paradoxically revealing nature. Certain phenomenologists argue that the experience of testimony is essentially paradoxical, or even inherently impossible for reasons other than theological, reasons related, for example, to the poetic experience of language.
This wide variety of approaches and interpretations reflects the complex constitution of the phenomenon of witnessing. The witness is, first of all, a relevant bodily presence who claims to have observed an event. His or her witnessing presence is confirmed through numerous acts: attention, perception, memory (retention), imagination, inference, etc. In its declarative phase, the testimony is a genuine speech act, based on several operations of staging a narrative and intertwinement of description and interpretation. The nature of this speech act is deeply dialogical or communicative, since any testimony is meant for someone; it entails an addressee. Thus, it employs fundamental attitudes pertaining to the sphere of intersubjectivity, attitudes such as trust, reliability or suspicion. In most cases, the intention that animates the testimony is truthful: by referring to an event in the real world and confirming its occurrence, the witness factualizes the event, transforming it into a historical fact. Moreover, by certifying the reality of an event that s/he witnessed, the witness establishes him/herself in the public space as a guarantor of truth. Her/his testimony is, in principle, reiterable, and thus contains the seeds of a promise of truth, and a truthful engagement in the public space. The testimony has a fiduciary dimension: the witness more or less explicitly solicits trust in connection to her/his testimony offer. The witness can maintain her/his testimony over time and can be summoned by others to support the reliability of the testimony when facing some other event(s) or testimonies with which it seems to be in conflict. These considerations might be sufficient to indicate how complex the experience of testimony can be in a world where virtually any individual has the technological means to offer testimonies and/or ask others to do so.
As these topics continue to pose challenges for phenomenological investigations, we invite researchers to engage with them, to consider related issues and methodological tools which can shed new light on, and can give phenomenological access to, a wide range of structures and meanings of the phenomena of testimony and witnessing.
Extended Deadline: January 30, 2021.
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