Skip to Content

Performances of Witness

«Back To Seminars

Organizer: Ariel Leutheusser

Co-Organizer: Martha Henzy

Contact the Seminar Organizers

The subject onto whom testimony is bestowed - the secondary witness - is defined by Dori Laub as the actor who, as listener, “is party to the creation of knowledge de novo,” is thus implicated in the act of knowledge production and the effort to preserve memory. Emerging from the psychoanalytic turn of trauma studies at the end of the 20th century, the secondary witness and its attending perspectives converged upon the collapse of knowledge and the failure of language as essential expressions of the unspeakability of memory. In the decades that followed, the role of this secondary witness has expanded out to encompass our evolving relationships with surveillance, spectatorship, and the mediated self.

To witness is now a public act: our monuments, museum spaces, and mediated lives online situate us squarely within the gaze of a commemorating public. The problems and possibilities of a framework of unspeakability often find their articulations at the site of the living witness. What does it mean to witness? What are the implicit and explicit expectations upon the witness of an event, and how - and is - the possibility of eliciting the experience of witnessing communicable to others not present. Of what import is proximity and experience to the potential of bearing witness to and offering testimony of an event?

Building on the work of scholars such as Michael Rothberg (The Implicated Subject), Diana Taylor (The Archive and the Repertoire), Dora Apel (Calling Memory into Place), and Christina Sharpe (Ordinary Notes), this seminar seeks contributions that explore articulations, expressions, and performances of memory and experience relating to the act of witnessing - and the many divergent and even oppositional poses taken by the witness as well as those beholding the witness and the act of testimony. We are interested in the relation of the beholder of testimony to objects of testimony and witnesses of events, and the attempt to elicit affective experience.

This seminar calls for papers that explore our present encounters with emergent pasts: we will explore how an ethics of witnessing intersects with the representation of memory, public performance of allyship and implication, the fashioning of everyday objects into memorials, the secondary witness as a function of legal and archival systems, and the many tensions between witness, spectator, and surveillance. Among the questions we will consider are:

We are particularly interested in papers relating to:

The position and pose of the witness (and its converse)
Ethics of witnessing
Literary nonfiction
Performance studies and performances of witnessing and testimony
Fictional representations of witnessing and testimony
Witness testimony in legal settings, and representations of
Monuments, performances, literary objects
Embodiment and the act of witnessing
Forms and modes of representation in relation to textual objects of witnessing

«Back To Seminars