Studia Phaenomenologica

Volume 21, 2021

From Witnessing to Testimony

Cassandra FalkeOrcid-ID
Pages 225-242

The Reader as Witness in Contemporary Global Novels

Phenomenological literary criticism has long taken the one-on-one exchange with an other as the model for thinking about the reader-to-text relationship. However, new novels portraying genocides and civil wars are more likely to position readers as witnesses. Drawing on Jean-Luc Marion’s description of the subject as witness as well as works by Kelly Oliver and Jacques Derrida, this article offers a phenomenological description of the reader as witness. As witness, the reader is situated both by the literary text and also by his or her particular embodied and intersubjective relations to the world. Constituted and no longer constituting, the reader/subject as witness finds herself a site in which other’s decisions have already been made, and her responsibility arises from the decisions she makes possible for others in the future.