‘I am the martyr (x)’ philosophical reflections of testimony and martyrdom

Sheikh, Shela. 2013. ‘I am the martyr (x)’ philosophical reflections of testimony and martyrdom. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

HIS_thesis_Sheikh_2012.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

Download (3MB) | Preview

Abstract or Description

Historically, martyrdom and testimony have always been conjoined: martyrdom has always implied some form of witnessing, as testified to by the Greek and Arabic etymologies. Taking the locution ‘I am the martyr (x)’ (popularised in Lebanese martyr video-testimonies of the 1980s) as exemplary testimony, it is argued that in the thought of Jacques Derrida each and every singular instance of testimony implies an act of martyrdom, and that a generalised and constitutive thinking of the testimoniality and passion implicit in any performative event and in each and every instance of the ‘I’ traverses Derrida’s thought. Following Derrida, it is proposed that différance be translatable as passion, albeit in a paleonymic sense that is far from simply passive. In its quasi-suicidal logic, passion is shown to deconstruct the very possibility of the ‘sui-’ of suicide or the telos of sacrifice, instead affirming survival and the event of the other (for better or for worse). By probing the possibility of ‘I am the martyr (x)’, the ‘philosophical reflections’ indicated by the title pose the motifs of passion and testimoniality as philosophy’s deconstructive conditions of possibility.

By taking the ‘encounter’ between two historical testimonies – those of Derrida and the Lebanese communist martyr Jamal Satti (d. 1985) – as a starting point, and by demonstrating the sufferances of testimony and the archive, the thesis aims to reconcile Derrida’s philosophical thinking with historical enquiry. By supplementing these testimonies with further ‘performances’ of passion and encounters with other reader-writer-witnesses from the realms of philosophy, literature and art, the scandal that is ‘I am the martyr (x)’ becomes at once both extraordinary and the ordinary story of language. Reading this ‘and’ through the ‘x’ of repeatability and substitutability, the aporias of testimony are folded into the wider context of such tele-mediated martyr-testimonies and their terrifying force and effect.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):



Jacques Derrida, testimony, martyrdom, passion, Lebanon, Rabih Mroué, performativity, sovereignty, suicide, Roland Barthes, Maurice Blanchot, Hélène Cixous, Paul Celan

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



January 2013

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

03 May 2013 10:18

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 08:39



View statistics for this item...

Edit Record Edit Record (login required)