2020 – 2022: “I was there.” Laying the Foundations for a Comprehensive Phenomenology of Testimony

ABSTRACT

The underlying premise of our project is that only a phenomenology which is open to historical hermeneutics and which develops its analyses in the horizon of a philosophical anthropology of the subject is able to capture adequately, i.e. comprehensively and thoroughly, the fundamental structures of the experience of testimony and to account for the new dimension of subjectivity that this experience reveals (a dimension whose manifestations range from self-institution to absolute self-dispossession). It is precisely the specific nature of the phenomenon and experience of testimony which calls for such an approach, which combines phenomenological, hermeneutical and philosophic-anthropological directions of research.

Thus, a phenomenological approach describing the structures and sequences which are constitutive for the experience of testimony according to the guiding concepts of intersubjectivity and embodiment would be incomplete if it would not take into account both the historical inscription of this experience and its potential to make history.

Finally, the experience of testimony, through its ascending and regressive modalizations which go from body, speech to writing and back, reveals a new articulation of the “I”: the subject capable of giving testimony, of attesting through his/her own being, for the others, the truth of a past event, a subject whose condition is determined by the interplay between memory and history, by an existential fragility and by a fallible knowledge. Therefore, in order to fulfill the goal of our project, that is to lay the foundations for a comprehensive phenomenological theory of testimony, we will develop a threefold approach, combining the eidetic description, the interpretation and the philosophical reflection.

PROJECT INFO

  • Project director: Dr. Paul MARINESCU
  • Project title: “I was there.” Laying the Foundations for a Comprehensive Phenomenology of Testimony.
  • Project code: PN-III-P1-1.1-TE-2019-2056
  • Contract no.: TE 122/ 2020
  • Program: Research projects to stimulate young independent teams (TE)
  • Financed by: UEFISCDI
  • Period of Time: October 2020 – September 2022
  • Funding: 431.812 lei

RESEARCH TEAM

Current team:

EVENTS

  • Call for Papers. The Experience of Testimony: Truth, Memory, Identity. Phenomenological Approaches.
    National Colloquium of the Romanian Society for Phenomenology, 15–16 December 2021.
    For the Romanian version of the CfP, see [here];

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.
Email address: submissions@phenomenology.ro
Guidelines: https://zetabooks.com/library/journals/studia-phaenomenologica/

During the first months of the project (October – December 2020), the project team carried out the following activities:

Paul Marinescu

a/ preliminary analysis aiming to identify the main meanings of the notions of witness and testimony in Paul Ricoeur’s philosophy, starting with his 1972 article, “L’herméneutique du témoignage”, continuing with his works from the 90s (“Emmanuel Lévinas, penseur du témoignage”, Oneself as Another, Living Up to Death), and concluding with his later oeuvre, Memory, History, Forgetting (2000).

b/ examining the function of mediation specific to the phenomenon of testimony in Paul Ricoeur’s work, Memory, History, Forgetting, particular attention being paid to the way it transposes the enigma of the representation of the past from a phenomenology of memory into the field of an epistemology of history.

Cristian Ciocan

a/ preliminary analysis of the main contexts in the work of Emmanuel Levinas where he discusses the phenomenon of testimony, a special emphasis being placed on his two major works, Totality and Infinity (1964) and Other than Being or Beyond Essence (1971).

b/ identifying and examining two directions the phenomenological analysis of the testimony carries out in Levinas’ work: “the third as witness” and “the testimony as an an-archic form of the subject (the infinite and the other)”.

c/ investigating the relation testimony has, according to Levinas, with memory.

Ileana Borțun focused on connecting the theme of the testimony to the political phenomenology of Hannah Arendt, following these research directions:

a/ the status of the witness starting from Arendt’s conception of judging, in order to establish the position of the witness in relation to the event that s/he is witnessing. Hannah Arendt’s works: The Crisis in Culture. Its Social and its Political Significance (1961), Truth and Politics (1967), Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy (1970).

b/ the status of testimony in relation to the tense dynamics between action and work, which results in two major forms of testimony: spoken testimony and written testimony (together with other forms of material testimony, such as art: statues, paintings). Hannah Arendt’s works: The Human Condition (1958), Culture and Politics (1958), Labor, Work, Action (1964).

c/ The configuration of personal identity, given the fact that, in order to know who we are, we need witnesses to witness our deeds and words and to capture into stories the identity that our deeds and words reveal. Exploring the possibility of being my own witness. Hannah Arendt’s works: The Human Condition (1958).

Cătălina Condruz focused on two fundamental areas of research, both meant to uncover the phenomenon of testimony/witnessing, considered from the point of view of Jean-Luc Marion’s phenomenology.

a/ the first step consisted of an exploration and deepening of Marion’s theory of the gifted (l’adonné), in order to clarify the role and the status of the gifted as witness, within his phenomenological of givenness.

b/ the second step consisted of drafting a first research paper, aiming to put in relation Marion’s phenomenological endeavour with the hermeneutical one, specific to recent psychoanalysis.

The project team drafted the plans for four research articles, to be submitted next year to ISI Thomson or ERIH-Plus 2016 indexed journals.

Paul Marinescu and Cristian Ciocan started editing the XXI issue of the academical journal Studia Phaenomenologica (2021), dedicated to the phenomenology of testimony. A Call for Papers was disseminated wide: https://phenomenology.ro/newsletter-of-phenomenology-number-588-october-2020/

We will update this section soon.