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Améry, Jean

AMÉRY, Jean

Pseudonym for Hans Mayer. Nationality: Austrian. Born: Vienna, 31 October 1912. Education: Studied philosophy in Vienna. Career: Member, Belgian resistance network, during World War II; worked as a journalist following World War II. Traveled to Germany as a lecturer, beginning in 1964. Awards: Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts literary prize, 1972; Vienna prize and Lessing prize (Hamburg), both in 1977. Died: Suicide, 17 October 1978.

Publications

Collections

Sonderheft Jean Améry. 1978.

Weiterleben, aber wie? Essays 1968-1978, edited by GiselaLindemann. 1982.

Radical Humanism: Selected Essays. 1984.

Der integrale Humanismus: Zwischen Philosophie und Literatur: Aufsätze und Kritiken eines Lesers, 1966-1978, edited by Helmut Heissenbüttel. 1985.

Novels

Lefeu, oder, der Abbruch: Roman-Essay. 1974.

Charles Bovary, Landarzt. 1978.

Rendezvous in Oudenaarde. 1982.

Other (autobiographical essays)

Jenseits von Schuld und Sühne: Bewältigungsversuche eines Überwältigten. 1966; as At the Mind's Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and Its Realities, 1980.

Über das Altern: Revolte und Resignation. 1968; as On Aging: Revolt and Resignation, 1994.

Widersprüche. 1971.

Unmeisterliche Wanderjahre. 1971.

Hand an sich legen: Diskurs über den Freitod. 1976; as On Suicide: A Discourse on Voluntary Death, 1999.

Other (critical essays)

Karrieren und Köpfe: Bildnisse berühmter Zeitgenossen. 1955.

Teenager-Stars; Idole unserer Zeit. 1960.

Im Banne des Jazz: Bildnisse grosser Jazz-Musiker. 1961.

Geburt der Gegenwart: Gestalten und Gestaltungen der westlichen Zivilisation seit Kriegsende. 1961; as Preface to the Future: Culture in a Consumer Society, 1964.

Gerhart Hauptmann, der ewige Deutsche. 1963.

Winston S. Churchill: Ein Jahrhundert Zeitgeschichte. 1965.

Über die Tugend der Urbanität, with Friedrich Heer and WolfDieter Marsch. 1969.

Ideologie und Motivation. 1973.

Lessingscher Geist und die Welt von heute (originally a speech). 1978.

Örtlichkeiten (originally radio broadcasts).1980.

Bücher aus der Jugend unseres Jahrhunderts. 1981.

Cinéma: Arbeiten zum Film, edited by Joachim Kalka. 1994.

Ressentiments: Rede im Süddeutschen Rundfunk am 7. März 1966 (originally a speech). 1995.

*

Bibliography:

"Jean Améry: Ausgewahlte Bibliographie" by Friedrich Pfafflin, in Text Kritik (Germany), 99, 1988, pp. 70-83.

Critical Studies:

"Tragic Wisdom: Reflections on Gabriel Marcel and Jean Améry" by William Kluback, in Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, 7(3-4), August 1986, pp. 306-21; "'Heimat,' 'Ortlichkeiten,' and Mother-Tongue: The Cases of Jean Améry and Elias Canetti" by Irene Stocksieker Di Maio, in Der Begriff "Heimat" in der deutschen Gegenwartsliteratur, edited by Helfried W. Selinger, 1987; "What the Holocaust Meant in the Thinking of Primo Levi and Jean Améry" by Alexander Stille, in Dissent, 37(3), Summer 1990, pp. 361-66; "Jean Améry and Austria" by Ruth Beckermann, in Insiders and Outsiders: Jewish and Gentile Culture in Germany and Austria, edited by Dagmar C. G. Lorenz and Gabriele Weinberger, 1994; "The Passion of Reason: Reflections on Primo Levi and Jean Améry" by Eugene Goodheart, in Dissent, 41(4), Fall 1994, p. 518; "Homes without Heimats? Jean Améry at the Limits" by Dan Stone, in Angelaki (England), 2(1), 1995, pp. 91-100; "Wieviel Heimat braucht der Mensch? Aspects of Jewish Self-Determination in the Works of Jean Améry and Primo Levi" by Karin Lorenz-Lindemann, in The Jewish Self-Portrait in European and American Literature, edited by Hans-Jurgen Schrader, Elliott M. Simon, and Charlotte Wardi, 1996.

* * *

Jean Améry first gained recognition in Germany when he began to write explicitly for a German audience in the mid-1960s. Having refused to travel to Germany and write for a German audience since the end of the war, Améry did not begin to write about his experience of the Holocaust until 1964. He read the resulting essays on German radio before they were published as a book (At the Mind's Limits ). Beginning in 1964 Améry undertook a number of lecturing journeys through Germany. His pen name, Jean Améry, is partly a direct translation of Hans Mayer, Jean being the equivalent of Hans (as well as a reference to Sartre) and Améry a French sounding anagram of Mayer.

Améry's writings are largely reflections on his experiences in the Holocaust and their consequences on his own life and on wider society. He wrote as an intellectual who had been permanently removed from his natural context of life and work. His work is characterized by the dilemma of being rooted in German culture and language and the awareness that this culture and language has disowned him. Most of his published work is autobiographical, having his Holocaust experiences as their underlying theme. Other significant autobiographical publications deal with the issue of aging (Über das Altern ) and suicide (Diskurs über den Freitod ).

Améry's German and French intellectual heritage is displayed clearly in his work (frequent quotes and allusions). His style—which features irony, parody, and travesty—is reminiscent of Tadeusz Borowski . Améry remained in a permanent exile from the German cultural context, while continuing to write in German. His work should be interpreted as part of the postwar development of German literature as well as of the emerging literature of Holocaust testimonials. Authors such as Alfred Andersch and Ingeborg Bachmann responded to his writings in their own work. Améry's writings express the dilemmas of German-Jewish Holocaust survivors whose entire cultural and linguistic tradition before the war was identified with Germany. The violence done to the German language by its misuse during the time of National Socialism and the forced separation of German Jews from this cultural context meant that an assimilated Jew such as Améry, who did not have any Jewish education, was removed from his natural cultural environment without having any other tradition to take its place.

Améry was philosophically indebted to Jean-Paul Sarte's Existentialism, and his interpretation of his Jewishness follows Sarte's views. Améry did not receive a Jewish education, and although he was aware that his family was regarded as Jewish by others, his own Jewishness became significant only with the application of the Nuremberg Laws in his native Austria in 1938. He identifies as Jewish only because he has to, having been robbed of any other positive cultural identification.

Always a keen observer of postwar West Germany, Améry became a political voice in the 1960s. Motivated by Existentialism's political implications, Améry critically examined the politics of the left and far left in 1960s Germany, expressing particular disappointment at the emerging anti-Zionism of the left (1967). Améry supported the State of Israel, convinced of its necessity in a post-Holocaust world, though he did not want to live there himself.

Améry's writings express a sense of abandonment and loss of home. His essay on Heimat (Home) is particularly poignant in this respect. After repeated suicide attempts, Amery killed himself in 1978, overdosing on tranquilizers in a Salzburg hotel. He interpreted suicide as a rebellious act of a free person. In contrast to the camps where death was ubiquitous and controlled by the guards, Améry interpreted suicide as an expression of regaining control of one's own life.

As a writer Améry saw himself as a redundant person, his warnings about the anti-Semitic politics of the German left having gone unheard, his "mission" failed (raté ). Having begun his career as a writer for a German context in his 50s, he felt that he had come too late. Commentators have repeatedly noted that many German intellectuals appeared to treat Améry as an "institutionalized conscience" and as a "professional Jew," one that could be called on in times of need, but whose message could otherwise go unnoticed.

Améry's writings contain little description of his experiences in the camps. They are instead reflections on the human capability for inhumanity. Guided by the humanistic tradition of the Enlightenment, Améry's voice is an ambiguous and challenging mixture of hope in and despair at humanity.

—K. Hannah Holtschneider

See the essays on At the Mind's Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and Its Realities and Radical Humanism: Selected Essays.

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