The Forgiveness to Come: The Holocaust and the Hyper-Ethical

The Forgiveness to Come: The Holocaust and the Hyper-Ethical

The Forgiveness to Come: The Holocaust and the Hyper-Ethical

The Forgiveness to Come: The Holocaust and the Hyper-Ethical

Synopsis

This book is concerned with the aporias, or impasses, of forgiveness, especially in relation to the legacy of the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Nazis and their collaborators during World War II. Banki argues that, while forgiveness of the Holocaust is and will remain impossible, we cannot rest upon that impossibility. Rather, the impossibility of forgiveness must be thought in another way. In an epoch of “worldwidization,” we may not be able simply to escape the violence of scenes and rhetoric that repeatedly portray apology, reconciliation, and forgiveness as accomplishable acts. Accompanied by Jacques Derrida’s thought of forgiveness of the unforgivable, and its elaboration in relation to crimes against humanity, the book undertakes close readings of literary, philosophical, and cinematic texts by Simon Wiesenthal, Jean Améry, Vladimir Jankélévitch, Robert Antelme and Eva Mozes Kor. These texts contend with the idea that the crimes of the Nazis are inexpiable, that they lie beyond any possible atonement or repair. Banki argues that the juridical concept of crimes against humanity calls for a thought of forgiveness—one that would not imply closure of the infinite wounds of the past. How could such a forgiveness be thought or dreamed? Banki shows that if today we cannot simply escape the “worldwidization” of forgiveness, then it is necessary to rethink what forgiveness is, the conditions under which it supposedly takes place, and especially its relation to justice.

Excerpt

This book addresses the difficulties posed by the Holocaust for a thinking of forgiveness inherited from the Abrahamic (i.e., monotheistic) tradition. As a way to approach these difficulties, it explores the often radically divergent positions in the debate on forgiveness in the literature of Holocaust survivors. Forgiveness is sometimes understood as a means of self-empowerment (Eva Mozes Kor); part of the inevitable process of historical normalization and amnesia (Jean Améry); or otherwise as an unresolved question that will survive all trials and remain contemporary when the crimes of the Nazis belong to the distant past (Simon Wiesenthal).

Why does the value of forgiveness impose itself in the literature of the Holocaust? What does this imposition reveal about Western culture, dominated by Judeo-Christian traditions? Scholars in both German and Jewish studies have argued for the necessity, in the light of the Holocaust, to rethink what forgiveness is, the conditions under which it supposedly takes place, and in particular its relation to justice. What the philosopher Vladimir Jankélévitch has termed the inexpiable character of Nazi crimes need not necessarily imply what he called “the death of forgiveness.” However, the inexpiable, the idea of a crime or wrongdoing which cannot be atoned for or expiated, compels us to rethink the habitual understanding of forgiveness as a human possibility or power, moreover, one that, as Hannah Arendt believed, must be the correlate of punishment.

Accompanied by an extended examination of Jacques Derrida’s thought of forgiveness (as forgiveness of the unforgivable) and its elaboration in relation to the juridical concept of “crimes against humanity,” I undertake close . . .

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