The acts of faith: On witnessing in Derrida and Arendt

Philosophy and Social Criticism 37 (6):629-645 (2011)
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Abstract

In a brief comment in ‘History of the Lie’, his one sustained engagement with Arendt, Derrida criticizes the ‘absence’ of any reference to the ‘problematic of testimony, witnessing, or bearing witness’ in her work, and asserts that she was ‘not interested’ in what ‘distinguishes’ testimony from ‘proof’. This passage links Derrida’s reading of Arendt to a theme that concerns him throughout his later work, specifically the ‘affirmation’ or ‘act of faith’ that ostensibly conditions all human relations, and the possibility of sociality in general. In this article, I claim not only that Arendt did address the problem of testimony or witnessing, and the difference between bearing witness and establishing proof, but also that her consideration of these issues represents an alternative to many of the arguments Derrida develops in his later work, especially his approach to responsibility and judgment, secrecy and memory, and the relation between the self and others

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