Against the Natural Consciousness of Time: Trauma and Ethics in Jean Améry’s Beyond Guilt and Atonement Alan Itkin

In two decades of contemplating what happened to me, I believe to have recognized that a forgiving and forgetting induced by social pressure is immoral. Whoever lazily and cheaply forgives, subjugates himself to the social and biological time-sense, which is also called the “natural” one. Natural consciousness of time actually is rooted in the physiological process of wound-healing and became part of the social conception of reality. But precisely for this reason it is not only extramoral, but also antimoral in character. Man has the right and the privilege to declare himself to be in disagreement with every natural occurrence, including the biological healing that time brings about. What happened, happened. This sentence is just as true as it is hostile to morals and intellect. The moral power to resist contains the protest, the revolt against reality, which is rational only as long as it is moral. The moral person demands annulment of time—in the particular case under question, by nailing the criminal to his deed. Thereby, and through a moral turning-back of the clock, the latter can join his victim as a fellow human being. (“Ressentiments” 72)4

Jean Amery, ´ Jenseits von Schuld und Suhne: Bew ¨ altigungsversuche eines ¨ Uberw ¨ altigten ¨ (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1977), 129–130.

pg 251 – Freud describes the trauma as a wound that cannot heal because it has never become a physical wound.

pg 251 – Amery is ostensibly concerned with what Karl Jaspers termed ´ the Schuldfrage, the question of German collective guilt.

pg 252- The central insight of Beyond the Pleasure Principle is that different kinds of events imply different senses of time through which they are experienced and interpreted. This means that certain events, which Freud calls traumatic, can challenge the epistemological frameworks not only of individuals but of communities and social institutions, by forcing them to adopt a different sense of time from that through which they usually make sense of their world.6

pg 253 – “master the stimulus retrospectively” (32). The individual’s mind is constantly trying to relive the original experience of the trauma in such a way that it can be experienced as a normal event. This is the only explanation, Freud tells us, for the troubling dreams experienced by those who are suffering from a traumatic neurosis (32–33).

pg 254 – [… ] the wound of the mind—the breach in the mind’s experience of time, self, and the world—is not, like the wound of the body, a simple and healable event, but rather an event that, like Tancred’s first infliction of a mortal wound on the disguised Clorinda [… ] imposes itself repeatedly, in the nightmares and repetitive actions of the survivor.[9 Cathy Caruth, Unclaimed Experience (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), 4.]

pg 255 – . Freud’s musings on the nature of time in the unconscious imply that the traumatic neurosis also includes a unique sense of time, distinct from that which characterizes our usual experience of the world, a sense of time defined not by succession and continuity but rather by rupture and repetition.

Jaspers argues there that only criminal and political guilt can be ascribed to a person by another—as opposed to “moral” and “metaphysical” guilt, which come from the individual’s own conscience—and that these, too, must admit to gradations and mitigations based on an individual’s implication in the crimes committed by members of his collective.15 [15Karl Jaspers, The Question of German Guilt, trans. E. B. Ashton (New York: Capricorn, 1961), 31–36.]

pg 261 – In two decades of contemplating what happened to me, I believe to have recognized that a forgiving and forgetting induced by social pressure is immoral” (72).

pg 262 – Ethics can be thought only from the position of a kind of counter-reality, whose troubling distance from our own stands revealed in the traumatic wound created by the crime—and the rift between these two worlds may, in fact, be another way of describing the traumatic wound Amery tells us is the ´ result of the crime.19

pg 267-268 – Another way of describing Amery’s engagement with the question ´ of ethics in Beyond Guilt and Atonement, then, might be to say that he demonstrates that the rift between the real, phenomenal world and the ideal world implied by Kant’s counterfactual phrase—as if we could all live in harmony as one united humanity in a “kingdom of ends”—opened up by the crime is a traumatic wound that cannot be healed


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