Secrets and Lies: Testimony, Ethics and the “Act of Faith”

Stuart Fisher, Amanda (2009) Secrets and Lies: Testimony, Ethics and the “Act of Faith”. In: TaPRA, Plymouth University. (Unpublished)


Many ex-service personnel recently returned from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan report symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. Yet there is very little NHS or MoD support for these individuals who often end up disaffected or criminalised. I wanted to construct a performance project that could respond to this situation and tell this ‘untold’ story of combat. However, I have encountered a hitch. A military psychiatrist explained that many ex-service personnel fabricate stories about their experiences of war. This, he suggested, is often a mean of coming to terms with the difficulty of readjustment following deployment.

Veracity and authenticity are synonymous to our conception of testimony. The testimonial subject who speaks of his experiences but also lies, throws up many challenging questions both in regard to the philosophical truth claims of testimony and to the ‘messy, pesky, risky business’ of developing a research methodology and a practice that can ethically negotiate this possibility.

By drawing on Derrida’s writing on testimony (1998) I explore this ethical dilemma and suggest that by conceiving testimony as a paradoxical discourse we recognise its capacity to engage simultaneously with both truth and fiction. If we conceive testimony not as a ‘descriptive’ or ‘narrative’ process but rather as ‘an act’ of faith does it then become possible to distinguish between testimony that is put forward seriously ‘in good faith’ and a ‘fiction of testimony’ that ‘lies’ or ‘pretends to tell the truth’ ( Derrida 1998)? And can this ultimately enable us to negotiate an ethics of practice that can respond to these challenges?


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