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Jean Améry’s 100th birthday in October 2012 occasioned new scholarship about him and his work and publications of earlier writings, including the book publication of Sylvia Weiler’s dissertation, which had been submitted in 2008 at the Free University of Brussels. Austrian-born Holocaust survivor and anti-Fascist Jean Améry, a philosopher, literary author, and public intellectual, chose Brussels as his place of residence and begun to publish in German presses only after initial hesitation. His essays on the Shoah did earn him respect in post-1945 Germany and Austria—less so his fiction—but similar [End Page 152] to Günter Anders, his contributions to the Shoah and memory debates were eclipsed by others, especially by the members of the Frankfurt School. An “Ehrengrab,” a grave site for distinguished Austrians, was dedicated for him at the Vienna Central Cemetery.
Weiler’s far-reaching study adheres to the systematic structure of a dissertation. It guides the readers safely from one topic to the next, but on the other hand, it makes the critical narrative less appealing than necessary. In more than four hundred pages Weiler examines Améry’s multifaceted work, which includes essays, critical and journalistic pieces, and narrative prose—youthful fiction such as the novel Die Schiffbrüchigen and later works like Lefeu oder der Abbruch. In addition to exploring Améry’s ideological development and his intellectual positions vis-à-vis prominent post-Shoah critics including Theodor Adorno and Hannah Arendt, who experienced Nazi persecution but not the reality of the camps, the book traces the circumstances of the author’s socialization, his changing conceptions of his Jewishness, and his significance in the European, particularly German-language, memory discourse. Intertextualities are scrutinized as well, for example the literary models Améry chose for his narratives, such as Proust for his 1945 novel fragment. Proust, according to Weiler, inspired the topic of the body as the primary medium of remembrance. In his famous collection of essays, Jenseits von Schuld und Sühne (1966), Améry conveys immediate and intense impressions of the physical experience of torture and deprivation that eclipse any heroic notion such as the often-mentioned triumph of the spirit in the face of adversity. As it were, Améry reveals a keen awareness of the body as prison, which manifests itself in different ways, through pain, sickness, and aging. Weiler explores as a central theme the “ethics of remembrance,” which initiates a comparative analysis of Adorno, Arendt, and Améry. With reference to Enzo Traverso, who asserts that the former two authors were able to “think” or imagine Auschwitz, Weiler maintains that Améry would have objected to such a notion. She adds that neither Arendt nor Adorno accorded the Holocaust, the death camps, and torture the same significance as did Améry, who had experienced them firsthand. Yet she agrees with Traverso, who observes that beginning with the 1960s the former German-Jewish exiles living in Germany had a monopoly on how to interpret the Holocaust. Améry, on the other hand, who found himself in a somewhat marginal situation within the debates of that time, articulated the lack of regard for the victims’ narratives and analyses. Weiler suggests examining perhaps the two most important postwar intellectuals, [End Page 153] Adorno and Améry, in depth as complimentary as well as contradictory models. The central issue in Weiler’s book is Améry’s ethics of remembrance. The analysis of the far-reaching implications of this aspect of Améry’s oeuvre is intended to show that with its philosophical, social, and political dimensions, this author’s approach could serve as a framework for a comprehensive Holocaust interpretation. Weiler convincingly argues that Améry’s transdisciplinary oeuvre deserves renewed attention and a central place in the Holocaust discourse.
In clear and persuasive prose Weiler presents complex intellectual discussions as well as descriptive passages with biographical and historical issues. She works with a body of Améry research that includes scholars...