The Invention of the Eyewitness: Witnessing and Testimony in Early Modern France
In an examination of eyewitness travel writing in thirteenth- through sixteenth-century France, Andrea Frisch studies the figure of the witness at a historical juncture and in a cultural context in which that figure is generally thought to have begun to assume a recognizably modern form and function.
Whereas most accounts of early modern travel literature tend to read modern presuppositions about witnessing and testimony back into the material, Frisch approaches the early modern witness in terms of the cultural legacy of the Middle Ages. Through primary readings in law and theology, Frisch documents the tension between the ethical witness (the characteristic witness of premodernity) and the epistemic witness (the modern witness) and explores the impact of that tension on the figure of the witness in pre- and early modern French-language travel literature.
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Consequently , for testimony there must be the instant . And yet , on the other
hand , this condition of possibility is destroyed by the testimony itself . . . . The
moment one is a witness and the moment one attests , bears witness , the instant
... with the right hand raised but not necessarily on the Bible : “ Et feront faire
ledict serment aux tesmoings lays la main ... de nostre Seigneur Jesus Christ ” [
175 ; “ And secular witnesses shall take the oath with their right hand raised . . .
and it ...
... et Pierre le Carpentier decided to outfit a ship for the East Indies ” ) . The third
person governs the account throughout , whether the subject at hand is the ship '
s inventory or a description of “ choses singulières inconnues en Chrestieneté .