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Bass, A. (1994). Testimony. Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History: By Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub, M.D. New York/London: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, Inc., 1992. 294 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 63:146-150.

(1994). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 63:146-150

Testimony. Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History: By Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub, M.D. New York/London: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, Inc., 1992. 294 pp.

Review by:
Alan Bass

For almost thirty years there has been an uneasy relation between clinical psychoanalysis, as taught and practiced in the institutes, and the profusion of psychoanalytic endeavors in the university, particularly those areas of the university most involved with structuralist and deconstructive thought. So uneasy, or guarded, has this relation been that at times it seems difficult to believe that both endeavors are based on the study and re-evaluation of the same thinker—Freud. What is significant about Testimony, is that it is a joint effort by a professor well known for her psychoanalytic and theoretical commitments and a psychoanalyst well known for his work on severe trauma. Shoshana Felman teaches French and Comparative Literature at Yale, where Dori Laub teaches in the medical school and directs the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies. Their book testifies—to use a word given new meaning by them—to the clinical, pedagogical, and theoretical expansions that become possible from a wholehearted, nonphobic (on both sides) encounter between the two worlds. Felman and Laub's concern with questions crucial to psychoanalysis and to contemporary history (what is trauma? what are its effects? how does it compel us to expand or change our thinking?) gives their work both poignancy and impact.

As the book tells it, Felman consulted Laub when her 1984 seminar on "Literature and Testimony" went into crisis. Moving through texts in which the question of bearing witness to a crisis or trauma was central, the course culminated in the viewing of two testimonies from the Holocaust archives. The interviews, conducted by Laub, had a disorienting effect upon the students, an effect that grew over time. Disturbed by her student's unexpectedly extreme and persistent reactions, Felman sought counsel from Laub, since he had already given much thought to the effects of bearing witness to trauma on both speaker and listener.

Felman decided to integrate her students' responses with the theory she was elaborating in the course, which already overlapped with some of Laub's thinking.

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