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  • Revision in Permanenz: Studien zu Jean Amérys politischem Ethos nach Auschwitz ed. by Sylvia Weiler and Michael Hofmann
  • Alan Itkin
Sylvia Weiler and Michael Hofmann, eds. Revision in Permanenz: Studien zu Jean Amérys politischem Ethos nach Auschwitz. Peter Lang, 2016. 207 pp. US$54.95 (Hardcover). ISBN 978-3-631-66829-0.

Jean Améry is best known for his autobiographical essays about the displacement, torture, and internment he endured at the hands of the Nazis. Over the course of [End Page 397] his career, though, he wrote not only essays on many topics but novels, journalism, and criticism in which he proved himself to be among the twentieth century's most original thinkers. Améry described his intellectual life as a Revision in Permanenz. The oxymoron contained in this statement—the change implied by Revision, the stability of Permanenz—perfectly captures an essential quality of his thought: the unflinching engagement with paradox necessary to rethink Western philosophy in the wake of the Holocaust. It is no wonder, then, that the editors of this new essay collection on Améry have taken this statement as their theme. These essays continue the admirable work embodied by much recent Améry scholarship, spurred by Klett-Cotta's publication of Améry's Werke from 2002 to 2008, to resituate the critical engagement with Améry in the context of his entire oeuvre. While the "permanent revision" of Améry's thought is not an explicit topic of most of the contributions, inasmuch as they do take this broader perspective, they all reveal the changing nature of his thought summed up in this statement. Far more striking, though, is the way they stage conversations between Améry and other writers and thinkers—both familiar and unfamiliar interlocutors of Améry's—and it is in the new perspectives on Améry's works these conversations open up that the value of these contributions lies.

The volume grew out of a 2009 conference at the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach, and the significant time lag between the conference and its publication means that some of the most trenchant essays have been published in other forms since. It is divided into three sections. The first, "Jean Amérys Ethik," is described in the volume's brief introduction as an attempt to reveal the system of ethical thought behind Améry's writings. It begins, though, with Irene Heidelberger-Leonard's consideration of the ethical quandaries she faced in writing her excellent biography, Jean Améry: Revolte in der Resignation (2004). One of the central challenges of writing Améry's biography is his presentation of a stylized self-image in his essays—how to separate the wahre Dichtung from the dichterische Wahrheit (16)? Her solution is to face the issue head-on, telling the story of Améry's life through his writings, especially because autobiographical self-fashioning was a "life necessity [lebensnotwendig]" for Améry (16). Michael Hofmann attempts to explain a perplexing contradiction in Améry's writings, that between his clear awareness of the collapse of Western values in the Holocaust and his firm embrace of the humanism enshrined by the Enlightenment. Hofmann's admirable solution is to put Améry's work into dialogue with Axel Honneth's social theory, finding in Améry's humanism another version of Honneth's idea that essential to human life is a "struggle for recognition" we realize in social and political life. Sylvia Weiler's contribution offers a more concise version of the central argument of her insightful 2012 book, Jean Amérys Ethik der Erinnerung: that Améry develops over the course of his oeuvre a form of ethics that both imitates remembrance in its rejection of closure and allows for a kind of remembrance adequate to confronting the ethical abyss of the Holocaust. [End Page 398]

Part 2, "Literatur- und Kulturkritik mit und nach Jean Améry," includes contributions by Christian Poetini (also published elsewhere), on Imre Kertész's 2003 novel, Liquidation, as an homage to Améry, and Hans Höller, on how Améry's essays exemplify a new form of literary reading that takes the rupture...


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