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“Can only the dead speak?” terror, trauma, and the witness traveller

Salgado, M (2016) “Can only the dead speak?” terror, trauma, and the witness traveller. Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 52 (3). pp. 467-483. ISSN 0021-9894

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Abstract

© The Author(s) 2016. My article considers Dori Laub and Shoshana Felman’s configuration of the witness traveller in relation to narrative witnessing across a range of texts by exilic writers. Framed and informed by Salman Rushdie’s rhetorical question in Shame, “Can only the dead speak?” — a question that foregrounds the politics of bearing witness to trauma from an exilic perspective — the paper considers the narrative mediation of secondary witnessing across the “threshold” (Agamben, 1998) that separates the primary and secondary witness. In so doing, it follows the hermeneutic logic of boundary-crossing by travelling across a range of literary registers in its consideration of the witness as insider and outsider, a mobile subject that moves across the boundaries of national and cultural affiliation. It shows how exilic writing can place a high premium on the value of a writer’s ruptured double agency and divided loyalty, which is offered as the alternative (and alter-native) discursive space in the absence of the voices of those who have been “disappeared” from the official record.

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