Thursday, February 28, 2008

More On Witnessing

E's post clicked, for me at least, with something I wrote last week. This is the end of my theortica introduction:

Caruth's view of moving beyond comprehension to a world of witnessing is, I think, important in such a study. The scholar cannot know everything, and a displacement of that drive to know, is humbling. But as a scholar, we are expected to bring something forth from these readings. Coupled with this understanding of not understanding are two important questions: What can we understand? Are we useful only as witnesses? I argue no. What we can understand, even as only witnesses to traumatic events, is power through discourse. What we can understand is how power shapes the way these narrators write and understand their experiences. While we may be baffled, left dumb by these stories, we may even question the story's validity, we can still look at their discourse as a serious attempt to shape meaning. What we can ask of the text is not for truth but what powers are playing out in this story. Who are the players? What are the stakes? What kinds of dialogue emerge? How do our players use these discourses to shape their worlds and their bodies? By viewing power as not repressive, as something that flows out over and shapes, then the way power plays out in a memoir becomes focal. The confessional becomes a way to analyze why the inducement to speak seems necessary. What does Palmer need to know in order to function within the group? Where does this will emerge from? What kind of person does it create? Instead of looking for truths about the group, I suggest that a shift of focus brings into a play not only certain discourses but certain mechanisms of power. These mechanisms or techniques are the ways in which any group shapes humans into fitting in with the group. Further this shaping not only comes from those in power but comes directly from those being shaped. The discourse laid out in a memoir affords us a privileged seat to witness these relationships of power and discourses that shape people.

3 comments:

Jon said...

wow.

wanted to find an argument with this but couldn't after finishing it.

good stuff!

John B-R said...

Jon beat me to it, but, damn. Wow indeed.

neverneutral said...

drool