Quiet Testimony: A Theory of Witnessing from Nineteenth-Century American Literature (BOK)
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The nineteenth century may have been the age of "our talking America," as Emerson put it, but it was also a time of extraordinary attunement to the unspoken, the elusively present, and the subtly haunting. Quiet Testimony finds in such attunement a valuable rethinking of what it means to encounter the truth. It argues that four key writers - Ralph Waldo Emerson, Frederick Douglass, Herman Melville and Henry James - work to open up the domain of the witness and the obliging text by articulating quietude's claim on the clamoring world. The approach to testimony that Quiet Testimony unfolds responds to urgent questions in contemporary critical theory and human rights. Emerson is brought into conversation with Levinas, and Douglass is considered alongside Agamben. Yet the book is steeped in the particular intellectual climate of the nineteenth century, in which speech and meaning were often understood to exceed the bounds of the recognized human subject. In this context, Melville's characters could contemplatively read the weather, and James' could spend an evening with dead companions. Quiet Testimony demonstrates how its authors' receptiveness to unexpected sources of significance allows breezes but also ghosts, trees but also a slave's scarred body to find their way into testimonial text. By following the less familiar path by which ostensibly unremarkable entities come to voice, Quiet Testimony suggests new configurations of ethical and political writing. At the same time, it provides a compelling articulation of the power of the literary to draw the world into words and touch the attentive reader.