testimony – a good question


“Why is the witness’s speech so uniquely, literally irreplaceable? What does it mean that the testimony cannot simply be reported or narrated by another in its role as testimony? What does it mean that a story – or a history – cannot be told by someone else without forfeiting its unique authenticity, the palpable nature of its reportage?” (p.52)

“…the testimonial narrative expresses the urgency of victims [-p.45] whose eyewitness accounts seek redress and justice and challenge official discourse.” (pp.44-45)

“The testimonial process is a dialogue with a willing listener wherein, apart from socio-political realities, the witness to the trauma, the listener of the tale and the ultimate reader/recipient are made to confront existential questions that tend to be displaced from day-to-day living.” (p.45)

“Repossessing one’s life story through giving testimony is itself a form of action, of change necessary to complete the process of survival after traumatic events have been experienced.” (p.45)

“It must be recalled, however, that the narrative voice in testimonial literature is a collective enterprise: The protagonist testifies as an autobiographical voice (a signatory first-person narration), representative of the experiences of a larger group unwilling or unable to find a public discourse. It is the interviewer (as solicitor and receiver of the testimonies) who provides a vehicle (the literary text) that presents the realities of the testimonial voice to a larger Western audience. Hence, the testimony is organized in such a way that it is raised to the level of inquiry of universal significance. The narrative voice becomes the subject of a quest concerning what the experiences testify to; the witness becomes a questioner, and the asker is perceived as not merely a factual investigator but as the bearer of the testimonial’s philosophical address and inquiry. In short, the testimonio‘s other voice is neither the last word of knowledge nor the ultimate authority on the historical events narrated, but one more topographical and cognitive position of yet another witness – the reader. Rigoberta Menchú, Esteban Montejo, and Jesusa Palancares (Josefina Bórquez) collaborate to ensure that the social questions raised in their texts will continue to be pondered by the reader. The inquirer, in other words, not merely raises these questions of enduring historical importance but is also the source that takes apart all previous answers of the oftentimes one-sided distorted official story of authoritarian regimes by offering an alternative version of a broken silence.

In recent decades reader response criticism has focused on the role of the reader. The reader is no longer a passive receiver of the meaning inherent in the narrative text but an active participant in the actualization – indeed, the production – of textual meaning as an interpretive accomplishment, much like members of an oral storytelling audience.” (italics in original, p.46)

Ref: Elena De Costa (c2002) Voices of Conscience: The power of language in the Latin American Testimonio. pp.41-57 in Eds. Irene Maria Blayer and Monica Sanchez Storytelling; Interdisciplinary & Intercultural Perspectives. Peter Lang: New York


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