Religious Studies and Theology, Vol 26, No 2 (2007)

The Victim in Ethical Theology: Emmanuel Levinas and Jean Améry1

Paul Rigby
Issued Date: 22 Jan 2008


Nietzsche would regard Levinas’ ethical theology, in which the moral subject is responsible for the oppressed as “other,” as a “slave morality” which derives its moral force from resentment. In defence of Levinas’ ethics I turn to the life and reflections of Jean Améry, Jew, philosopher, atheist, resistance fighter tortured by the Gestapo, survivor of Auschwitz. His life is a “trace” of the tragic inhabiting Levinas’ theology. Améry rejects Nietzsche’s view of resentment. Drawing upon Bataille’s distinctive understanding of sadism, Améry claims that oppression is a pitiable degree of loneliness in the face of the tormentor’s lust for domination. This can be righted if the tormentor, by desiring to reverse this situation, becomes a fellow human being. Améry rejects evangelical forgiveness as a sub-moral abandonment of the oppressed’s responsibility for the oppressor. The historical impossibility of this reversal reveals the tragic destiny of the oppressed and of Levinas’ theology of the “other.”

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DOI: 10.1558/rsth.v26i2.233


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