Witness and Testimony

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Witness and testimony are integral to the discovery of perceived truth in the documentation of history. When concerned with the aftermath of violence and its effect on individual and collective memory however, witness and testimony face certain contradictions that can limit the veracity of the reported “facts.” The perceptions of witnesses, as well as those of perpetrators and victims, are colored by their own experiences and prejudices, making them largely ineffective at the individual level. The real power of witness and testimony reside in a society’s collective memory. In Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive, Giorgio Agamben points out that there are two very different types of witness.  First there is the testis, or external observer who holds a neutral opinion of the debated event.  Then there is the superstes, who experiences an event from beginning to end and can therefor provide testimony. (Agamben 1999, pg.17) Both witnesses are capable of providing accurate, detailed, and knowledgeable accounts of an event, yet they both have vital flaws that retard or even prevent the acquisition of truth. In the aftermath of violent events, the superstes can prove especially unreliable. Both victims and perpetrators of violence hold opinions that are too biased, diluting their testimonies. Perpetrators seek to justify their actions while victims seek sympathy and justice against those who have harmed them. A victim’s motive for bearing witness or giving testimony may be altered by their traumatic experience. If left unchecked, the victim can quickly become the perpetrator, seeking vengeance, complicating an already tenuous situation.   A victim's motive for testifying to the aggressive act is normally to make others aware of an injustice so that those others may act to prevent his future victimization by protecting him and/or bringing the perpetrators to justice. Testimony and the act of being a witness are essential to overcoming a traumatic...
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