Today’s post contains the final entry, originally written last fall on the date indicated below, in the series of entries from my philosophical journal reflecting on the works of Auschwitz survivor Jean Améry. Not long after publishing the book on suicide I address in the following entry, Améry succeeded in committing suicide himself.
In his writing on suicide, as earlier in his writing on aging, and first of all in his writing on Auschwitz and all that name stands for, Améry demonstrates an adamantine fidelity to the truth as he has been given to experience it and, above all, to the truth of resistance, even and especially against that against which no resistance can ever hope to succeed, at least if success is measured by the standards of that very “reality” to which, in resiting it, one refuses to submit.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Jean Améry, On Suicide: A Discourse on Voluntary Death, trans. John D. Barlow (Bloomington and Indianapolis: University of Indiana Press, 1999).
[Otto] Weininger [the Jewish but anti-Semitic, misogynistic author of Geschlecht und Charakter (Sex and Character), who killed himself in 1903 at 23] could not bear to be a Jew: he was one. My housemaid [i.e., one Améry read about in the paper, who killed herself because she could not become the beloved or a popular singer she’d become fixated upon] could not bear to be an anonymous woman upon whom the singer’s attention was never bestowed: she was one.
By suicide, they did not become what they were not (a non-Jew or the singer’s lover, respectively). Nevertheless, in a certain sense, (p. 27) “at least in a foolish way in the moment before the leap,” each “was” (his emphasis) what he/she “could not be because reality would not allow it to [him/her]: Weininger as a non-Jew, the girl with the broom as the sweetheart of the singer.” Each rose up against reality and became, in that foolish instant, what reality would not let each be, in effect, to use a line from a couple of pages later (p. 29), “by de-selfing their self themselves” (his emphasis).
Compare the “resistance”and “revolt” of “striking back” at Auschwitz, and of remaining faithful to the truth of aging: In all three cases–Auschwitz, aging, dying –in the act (or event) of such resistance there is the only possible victory here, that of the revelation of the truth–a truth against Auschwitz, age, and death, one showing that those tree are the illusion: “I passed by again, they were not there.”
Or it is no doubt better to say the suicide revolts not against death as such, but against the failure (he prefers and uses the French échecas more expressive–even as sound–of what he means) of one’s life. Such failure is one of the two common conditions back of the decision to kill oneself [according to him], the other being “disgust with life,” [such as] one experiences life in (p. 47) “[l‘]naussée, one of the basic constituents of a human being,” and wherein life [in the biological sense: the living as opposed to the “inorganic”] is experienced as I [myself] perceived it could be on my way to Mazatlan by train years ago, namely (as he puts it in parentheses a few lines before the remark on “nausea”), “a malignant tumor.”
Thus, p. 60: “What is suicide as natural death? A resounding no to the crushing, shattering échec of existence.” A refusal to live the life of “a failure.”