I have an essay in the new issue of Onsite Review. It is about witnessing, forensics, and the status of speech today. You can read it in Onsite, get an online subscription to the magazine, or read a version of the essay below the fold.
In the spring of 1960, Mossad was in Buenos Aires planning the abduction of Adolf Eichmann, when it heard that Josef Mengele was in town. The agents running the operation didn't want to jeopardise it by taking on another target: Eichmann was captured and Mengele slipped away; his remains were exhumed in 1985. In Mengele's Skull: The Advent of a Forensic Aesthetics, Eyal Weizman and Thomas Keenan claim that Eichmann's capture and subsequent trial inaugurates the 'era of the witness', in which giving testimony against the excesses of state power becomes a central feature of political life. In contrast, the analysis of Mengele's skull, carried out in the 1980s, heralds the rise of a political emphasis on material objects and their forenisc analysis. As the figure of the witness loses authority in the 21st century, it is forensics—in architecture as much as in archaeology—that will increasingly take centre stage, legally and politically. It is not man that will testify, but his ruins.