From the Position of the Victim to the Position of the Witness: Traumatic Testimony

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Testimonial narratives transmit not only history but also historicity, thereby bearing witness not only to the actual events but also (and even mainly) to the subjective, idiosyncratic meaning of those facts for the individual narrator. Analyzing two diaries that were written by Holocaust victims, this article identifies a specific character that portrays their narrators’ positions: the capacity to shift between “the position of the victim” and “the position of the witness.”1 This capacity turns this kind of testimonial narrative into one that enables not only the mere supplying of experiences but also a transformation that allows those experiences to absorb new meaning. The author’s point of departure is the assumption that the more transformation the traumatic experiences undergo, the more chances the narrator will have to turn trauma from a “negative possession,” which annihilates the traumatic experience along with the experiencing subject, into a “psychic possession” that enables recovery and growth.2 This does not mean, of course, that being a “witness” is morally or in any other sense “superior” to being a “victim.” On the contrary, the victim and the witness here are not only two characters (or two inner positions) of one and same person, but actually constitute two complementary forces that through the collapse and reconstruction of language enable the very act of testimony.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-62
JournalJournal of Literature and Trauma Studies
StatePublished - 2014


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