Améry and the Twilight of Being
The topic of resentment has experienced a resurgence recently in various fields (philosophy of race, moral psychology, transitional justice, critical theory and political philosophy). The republication and English translation of Jean Améry's work Jenseits von Schuld und Sühne: Bewältigungsversuche eines Überwältigten [Beyond Guilt and Atonement: The Effort to Overcome by One Who Has Been Overcome], better known now as At the Mind's Limit: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and its Realities, is in large part credited for such a resurgence. Much of the literature takes Améry's chapter on “Resentments” as being geared towards establishing an “embodied ethic of resistance” which defies the “hegemony” of forgiveness in the Western tradition. What I argue is that Améry's own usage of the term implies a plurality of meanings, which itself forces us to go beyond this discussion. As we explore each facet of his Resentments, we come to see that it is only through a larger conceptual framework that we can make sense of their plurality and as well as what is ultimately at stake for Améry in them. Through doing so we can see that Améry's “resentments” are much more oriented towards establishing what Arendt defines precisely as “forgiveness”: an action which requires a radical re-conception of time and a re-presentation of the past within the present, directed towards the future. This dissertation will show how accepting the virtues of Améry's Resentment does not require forgoing forgiveness as a political concept, even in the context of genocide. In contradistinction to some of the literature on Arendt, it will also show that even in such circumstances, when punishment is impossible or inadequate, the virtues of Arendt's conception of forgiveness still shine forth. In fact, counter to what we might initially assume to be a limit of forgiveness, it is in the context of genocide that we can see the real possibility of “power”—as Arendt defines it within the context of the potential of people coming together to create something new—through the process of “forgiveness” writ large on the world stage. The limits of forgiveness come to appear as the conditions of its possibility. We will illustrate how Resentment and “forgiveness” in fact exist in a complementary relationship which binds them together. Améry's “resentments” manifest themselves as a call for repentance, but also in the realization of a need for such a call to be answered in turn. This call is not limited to the capacity to punish. We will conclude with an exploration of how ‘Resentments,’ ultimately guided towards reconciliation and processes of communal forgiveness, can be understood as serving a vital function in contemporary contexts of post-conflict and post-genocide societies.