The Passion of Reason: Reflections on Primo Levi and Jean Améry

The Passion of Reason: Reflections on Primo Levi and Jean Améry

The dominant wisdom about the Holocaust is that its enormity surpasses comprehension. Having shattered traditional faith (how could God have permitted it to happen?), the Holocaust has acquired the sanctity of deity and become the object of a kind of reverence. Like a religious mystery, it has been shrouded with taboos. Silence is better than speech, because speech trivializes the mystery by representing the events in familiar terms. The sense of outrage that greeted Hannah Arendt’s thesis about the banality of evil can in part be explained by the feeling that she had violated the mystery in translating the experience into the quotidian. Theodor Adorno writes from a sense of the sanctity of the experience, its unspeakableness, when he declares the impossibility and immorality of any writing about the Holocaust. The uniqueness of the Holocaust precludes comparisons, and comparison is essential to discourse. So better silence than speech or, if speech is inescapable, it must always know its limitations and finally confess its impotence. Speech is necessary, because total silence would mean oblivion, and the moral imperative is never to forget.

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Wurgraft | University of California Press Lima