Rachel ZolfSep 7, 2021
No One's Witness
A Monstrous Poetics
Duke University Press 2021
In this episode, I interview Rachel Zolf—a poet whose “interdisciplinary practice explores questions about history, knowledge, subjectivity, responsibility, and the limits of language, meaning, and the human”—about their new book, No One’s Witness: A Monstrous Poetics, published by Duke University Press.
In the text (which is both an essay in the etymological sense of an attempt as well as a longform poem, a making), Zolf activates the last three lines of a poem by Jewish Nazi holocaust survivor Paul Celan—“Niemand / zeugt für den / Zeugen. [No one / bears witness for the / witness.]”—to theorize the poetics and im/possibility of witnessing. Drawing on black studies, continental philosophy, queer theory, experimental poetics, and work by several writers and artists, Zolf asks what it means to witness from the excessive, incalculable position of No One. In a fragmentary and recursive style that enacts the monstrous speech it pursues, No One's Witness articulates the Nazi holocaust as part of a constellation of horror that includes the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Israeli occupation of Palestine, and settler-colonial practices across the globe Thinking along with black feminist theory's notions of entangled swarm, field, plenum, chorus, No One's Witness interrogates the limits and thresholds of witnessing, its dangerous perhaps, and language. Zolf’s No One operates outside the bounds of the sovereign individual, hauntologically informed by the fleshly no-thingness that has been historically ascribed to blackness and that blackness enacts within, apposite to, and beyond the No One. No One bears witness to becomings beyond comprehension, making and unmaking monstrous forms of entangled future anterior life.
Britt Edelen is a Ph.D. student in English at Duke University. He focuses on modernism and the relationship(s) between language, philosophy, and literature. You can find him on Twitter or send him an email.