Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History by Dori Laub
Dori Laub, author of, "Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History", discusses a concept of missed experiences referred to as the 'collapse of witnessing'. The 'collapse of witnessing' is the idea that a person can witness an event and yet at the same time not really witness it at all. Through the analysis of Laub's 'collapse of witnessing', a connection can be seen between St. Teresa and Mary Rowlandson. St. Teresa is a nun that devotes her life to God, while Mary Rowlandson is the wife of a minister that is taken captive by Indians. They both have missed experiences and/or situations of the 'collapse of witnessing'. A traumatic event that can not be understood, can not be mastered, and can not be incorporated in the social, often times also, can not be witnessed. This 'collapse of witness' can be seen in both The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself and The True History of the Captivity of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson; and the 'collapse of witness' can be used as a tool to connect these two trauma texts.
According to Dori Laub there are, "three separate, distinct levels of witnessing" (Laub 75). These three levels are, "the level of being a witness to oneself within the experience; the level of being a witness to the testimonies of others; and the level of being a witness to the process of witnessing itself" (Laub 75). The 'collapse of witnessing' is how in relation to trauma, many times a person can not witness the event because the event is beyond the realm of the social. "The events [that] are remembered and seem to have been experienced in a way that [is] far beyond the normal capacity for recall" are the events, according to Laub, that often succumb to the 'collapse of the witness' (Laub 76).
A person that experiences a traumatic event has trouble, in many ways, witnessing the event even though they were physically there. This relates to the concept that trauma and traumatic events can not be incorporated into the mainstream of the social. People can not master the concept and therefore can not incorporate the event into their everyday life and everyday understanding. Laub says, "the loss of the capacity to be a witness to oneself and thus to witness from the inside is perhaps the true meaning of annihilation, for when one's history is abolished one's identity ceases to exist as well" (Laub 82). In other words, people have difficulty being a witness, but by not acknowledging the traumatic event, by the 'collapse of the witness', it is actually the collapse of that person's identity. Therefore there is a constant struggle to not have a 'collapse of witness' in order to not lose one's identity, but also to not be a witness in order not to have to face the trauma.
The 'collapse of witness' of a person that has physically experienced a traumatic event can be connected to the latency period discussed by Caruth....