To restore witnessing of hurricane Katrina

Addressing the past maladies in her work, Walker’s attempt may be to restore or make possible a form of witnessing that is less troubled by the sick ghosts of the past, which is not the same as saying that we can have transparent, past-less forms of witnessing, paying attention and reporting. In fact this is one of the points in Kelly Oliver’s work developed in relation to her idea of the inner witness:

"The inner witness is the necessary condition for the structure of addressability and response-ability inherent in subjectivity. * The inner witness operates as a negotiating voice between subject positions and subjectivity. If one’ s subject position is the sociohistorical position in which one finds oneself, and one’s subjectivity is the structure of witnessing as infinite response-ability, then the inner witness is where subject position and subjectivity meet." (Oliver 2001:87)

So, both the bodily-present witness and the inner witness are conditioned, and the former may be troubled by maladies of the latter, which is not to say that one can ever be completely healthy. Assuming that there is no purely healthy or non-perverse position, I would hold that the distinction at stake is one between degrees of perversion that are nevertheless principal because the differences in degree are pivotal ethically, concerning different choices and different attitudes.

In exploring the possibility of witnessing in a less perverse or more responsible way, Walker’s work is confronted with a major difficulty. Taking the position of a collective witness, modern news media surely pay attention. It is very much the question, however, whether it is an address of attention. Or perhaps more fundamentally, the problem is that their rushing to the stage testifies to their determination to report. Their address of expression precedes the address of attention and this short-circuits the possibility of a witness that operates rhetorically in an ethical way. Perverting their role as witness, they may even tend to expand the perversion (as is the dynamic of perversion), by placing the audience on the chair of a collective quasi-witness. As such the audience does not have a real possibility to simultaneously turn to an audience or community. Firstly, that turn has already been made, secondly, the question is what there is to report on, as a quasi-witness. The result for any audience, even a so-called international community, is to be put in a debilitating, suffocating position.

Frans-Willem Korsten