In The Gift of Death, Jacques Derrida argues that choosing to belong to the disaster is equivalent to giving the pure gift, or to goodness itself, and that it suggests a new form of responsibility for one’s life, as well as a new form of death. For Derrida, internalizing catastrophe is identical to death—a death that surpasses one’s means of giving. Such death can be reciprocated only by reinstating goodness or the law in the victim’s or the giver’s existence.
The relation of survival to the gift of death—also a gift of life—challenges us to rethink our understanding of the act of witnessing. This relation also adds nuance to our appreciation of the intellectual, emotional and mental affects of the survival of the victim and the testimony and silence of the witness, all of which are important in my analysis of radical hope. On the one hand, the (future) testimony of the witness inhabits the victim or the ravaged self (now), on the other hand, testimony is not contemporaneous with the shattered ego. This means that testimony is anterior to the self or that the self that survives the disaster has yet to come into existence through making testimony material. Testimony thus exists before and beyond disaster merely as an ethical posture—a “putting-oneself-to-death or offering-one’s-death, that is, one’s life, in the ethical dimension of sacrifice,” in the words of Derrida. The witness is identical to the victim whose survival will include an unknown, surprising testimony or an event of witnessing. The testimony discloses the birth or revelation of a new self. And yet this new self survives through assuming the position of the witness even while s/he is purely the victim of catastrophe, being put to death owning the “kiss of death.”