Force Inside Identity: Self and Other in Améry’s “On the Necessity and Impossibility of Being a Jew”


  • Deborah Achtenberg University of Nevada, Reno



Améry, Sartre, identity, self, other


In a statement too strong even to summarize his own views, Jean-Paul Sartre famously declares in “Existentialism is a Humanism” that “man is nothing other than what he makes of himself.” It is bad faith, according to him, to attribute what I am to my family, culture, condition, etc., because through awareness of what I am and have been, I can determine whether what I am will continue into the future. Human being, as a result, is nothing but what he or she has chosen or decided. 

In “On the Necessity and Impossibility of Being a Jew,” Jean Améry rejects that view.He explicitly rejects the idea that “I am what I am for myself and in myself, and nothing else.” In doing so, he is one of a group of Jewish thinkers, including Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Derrida, who reject Sartre’s ideas about Jewish identity and identity more generally, ideas expressed particularly in Reflections on the Jewish Question but amplified by views expressed in “Existentialism is a Humanism” and Being and Nothingness.Those in the group go out of their way to express their gratitude to Sartre for writing on “the Jewish question” after the war--Sartre who wrote because he saw no mention of the 77,000 Jews in France who were deported and murdered by the Nazis.