Améry, Arendt, and the Future of the World


  • Anne O'Byrne Stony Brook University



Améry, Arendt, futurity, homelessness, world


Of all the terms Jean Améry might have chosen to explain the deepest effects of torture, the one he selected was world. To be tortured was to lose trust in the world, to become incapable of feeling at home in the world. In July 1943, Améry was arrested by the Gestapo in Belgium and tortured by the SS at the former fortress of Breendonk. With the first blow from the torturers, he famously wrote, one loses trust in the world. With that blow, one can no longer be certain that “by reason of written or unwritten social contracts the other person will spare me—and more precisely stated, that he will respect my physical, and with it also my metaphysical, being.” In a vault inside the fortress, beyond the reach of anyone who might help—a wife, a mother, a brother, a friend—it turned out that all social contracts had been broken and torture was possible. His attackers had no respect for him, and no-one else could or would help.