Witnessing the witnesses: responding to the testimonial spaces of the camp

Authors: Richard Carter-White*, Macquarie University
Topics: Cultural Geography, Political Geography
Keywords: camp, witnessing, testimony, methodology, Auschwitz
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Virginia B, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The significance of testimony as a means of investigating camp spaces is indicated by the subtitle of Giorgio Agamben’s Remnants of Auschwitz: The Archive and the Witness. Central to Agamben’s explication of the camp as a space of sovereign exception oriented around the production of bare life is his reading of numerous survivor testimonies of the Nazi camps, and in particular Primo Levi’s famous description of the camp inhabitant known as the Muselmann. In this paper I wish to suggest that, in line with the recent broadening of camp studies beyond Agamben’s conceptual framework, witness testimony offers a literary space for investigating diverse aspects of camp spatiality, one that is accompanied by a particular set of methodological ethics, positionalities and embodiments. The paper draws on the writings of Auschwitz survivor Charlotte Delbo in order to narrate the camp spaces emergent in the literary geographies of testimony, before reflecting on the methodological challenges presented by the singular perspective cast by individual witnesses upon the highly varied social space of the camp; the ethics of reading, interpreting, codifying and otherwise responding to these exceptional, fragmented and creative accounts; and the implications of these questions for researching the testimonial spaces of camps today.

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